Interview: Editor Lauri Hornik and Mental Health America show young people “Where to Start” their mental health journey in new book

MHA Admin

Fri, 04/05/2024 – 09:38

Photo of Lauri Hornik by Annabel Braithwaite
by Edward Schmit, MHA VP of Digital Marketing

Editor and publisher Lauri Hornik went looking for a mental health book that didn’t exist. Something that was relatable, free of the usual jargon, and could help young people with lots of questions safely navigate their mental health. Something that could show them “where to start.”

When Lauri couldn’t find a book quite like this, she teamed up with Mental Health America and artist Gemma Correll to create “Where to Start: A Survival Guide to Anxiety, Depression, and Other Mental Health Challenges.” Since its launch in 2023, thousands of copies have been sold, and it was recently featured alongside Lauri in People magazine.

With an esteemed career as an editor, Lauri recently formed her own imprint, Rocky Pond Books, at Penguin Random House, where she focuses on publishing authentic and hopeful mental health stories for kids and teens.

To celebrate the paperback release of “Where to Start,” we sat down with Lauri to learn more about her career and how the book came to life.

Mental Health America: Could you describe your background in publishing and talk about the role of an editor in the creation of a book?

Lauri Hornik: I started as an editorial assistant right out of college at a children’s book publisher, and I have apprenticed my way up – which is how editors do it, really. They start as an assistant, and they observe their supervisors, and then gradually come up with their own technique. I think every editor has a different process, but mainly what an editor does is find projects to publish, develop those projects with the authors, and if it’s a picture book, then with the illustrator too. Also, to be the advocate for the book in-house, to sales, to marketing, and then sort of the clearinghouse for all of the information moving forward.

For finding projects to publish, there are a million different ways to do it. “Where to Start” was a book that I very much wished existed when my daughter was in middle school and beyond. So I started thinking about, okay, who would be writing this book? Where’s the best content? And I was so admiring of Mental Health America, and when I was digging through the website, all of the information that I really wish I had found at the time was there. So that seemed like a natural match. I was thrilled when I got the chance to collaborate with you on it.

Mental Health America: You recently launched an imprint at Penguin Random House with a focus on mental health stories. What was your inspiration?

Lauri Hornik: The inspiration was absolutely wanting to put out more content for kids and teens primarily about mental illness and the mental illness experience – and wanting those books to be very authentic. I wanted them to be informational and also provide comfort to people going through difficult emotional things.

I felt most of the books published for teenagers were about teenagers observing mental illness in others rather than being in the point of view of someone struggling. The norm was often about living with a parent who was depressed, for example. So I wanted my books to offer much more firsthand experience.

Even with picture books, which I do a lot of, I aim to introduce coping techniques for kids aged four to seven. Certainly, kids that age are contending with anxiety and grief. I’ve published a number of books about those topics for young kids because they help make sense of these difficulties, and adults in their lives can use the book to help steer them.

Mental Health America: And you named the imprint Rocky Pond. What does that name mean to you?

Lauri Hornik: Rocky Pond was my childhood swimming hole when I lived in Hollis, New Hampshire. It’s where we went in the summer. It was a pond with a raft. So the logo is very much a drawing of Rocky Pond and the raft that we would swim out to. When I was trying to think of what to call this imprint, I realized that piece of my childhood and my teenage years was really representative of coming of age, of becoming more brave.

For one thing, the rumor was that there were snapping turtles under the raft. So if we were going to swim to that raft, it was a very brave thing. What if the snapping turtle got ya? So, it was about pushing through discomfort. And exploration—and definitely childhood.

Mental Health America: There are many books with mental health themes that don’t have happy endings. But you’re looking for stories that are comforting and ultimately strike a theme of hope. Why is this especially important to you?

Lauri Hornik: Yes, that is absolutely a goal. One thing that led me to that was what my daughter, as a young teenager, was choosing to read. She was reading adult books that were not aimed at helping a young person make sense of an experience. They offered a very authentic experience, but the guidance and the gentle touch wasn’t there. So I would love for the books I publish to offer some guidance and hope to readers who are just at the beginning of trying to figure out what’s going on in their heads and how to move forward through struggle.

Living with mental illness is something so many people do, and it’s something to contend with, but not something that is entirely negative. There’s plenty of richness that comes from pushing through an experience like that as well.

Mental Health America: What was the process like collaborating with Mental Health America on writing “Where to Start”? How did you decide what resources you wanted to include?

Lauri Hornik: Well, there immediately was a decision to not be very heavy on jargon, to be very, very clear and use plain language because the book is meant to be the introduction, the first step. If you feel like something is off, if you’re struggling with something and you don’t quite know what, if you don’t know how to talk about it. This book is about what might be going on and how to talk about it and who to talk about it with. So, just making that language really accessible and clear.

An adult nonfiction book about mental health might cite studies, might go into the science, you know – so not that stuff. That’s for another book. And I think we all agreed that was the way to go. And that’s very much the language on the Mental Health America website, so we were absolutely taking the tone, the content that was already there.

person sits and reads MHA book Where to Start

Mental Health America: This book was written for teens and young adults, but many older people find so much to relate to in it. Can the audience be even broader than you intended?

Lauri Hornik: I absolutely agree that it translates to a much broader audience than what it’s marketed for. When the people at Penguin were figuring out how to best position the book, there was a lot of discussion about whether or not to include the word “teen” in the subtitle, and it was MHA who felt that “teen” should not be included because a lot of the primary audience for this book would be twentysomethings. It’s definitely broader than just teens.

But the initial inspiration was that it would be for even 12-year-olds, kids when they’re first starting to experience symptoms—that often starts in middle school. I wanted the book to work for middle school and beyond.

Mental Health America: You’ve published many different types of books, some of them picture books, and “Where to Start” features artwork by Gemma Correll, a longtime partner of MHA. Gorgeous, funny, relatable illustrations. They really bring an extra bit of light to the book. Can you talk about that collaboration and share your thoughts on including illustrations in young adult books?

Lauri Hornik: Gemma’s cartoons were one of the first ways I found Mental Health America and one of the first pieces in trying to figure out what this book should be. I absolutely wanted artwork that would be another expression of the experience of mental illness that is accessible, that feels good, that feels like, “Oh, this person gets me,” and “Yes, that’s me.” Gemma is the master of that, so it was a thrill to have her be a part of the project. And I think artwork of that sort in a book can be a shorthand of expression and a way for a reader to feel a quick connection to the book.

MHA book Where to Start lays open to page with ADHD feels like information

Mental Health America: Thousands of copies of “Where to Start” have been sold so far, many directly from the Mental Health America store. What do you think is resonating so much with readers?

Lauri Hornik: It was a book that was really needed and that didn’t exist yet. People hear about it and see this is the content they’ve been needing. They’ve been trying to grab it from various spots, and now it’s all in this nice, compact, pretty book. It also has worksheets, which are very handy too. I think it’s a book that when the person who needs it hears about it, then it’s an obvious choice.

“Where to Start: A Survival Guide to Anxiety, Depression, and Other Mental Health Challenges” is available to order at Mental Health America’s store and wherever books are sold.

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Author: MHA Admin