So, You Want to Work in Publishing

Publishing exists outside NYC! Get a hands-on internship at a local publisher near you!

I got my dream job pretty much right out of college: an editor at a book publishing company. But as those of you who have broken into the publishing industry know–and as those who haven’t broken in yet, probably suspect–it wasn’t easy to get a job in publishing.

When I went to The Susquehanna Review launch party a few weeks ago, I had a lovely conversation over dinner with a university poetry professor. When she heard I worked in publishing, she started peppering me with questions. “Most of my students want to know what they should do to get a job in publishing,” she explained. “What should I tell them?”

I remember, not too long ago, being the same desperately uniformed student. I went to a good state university with a wonderful creative writing program, but we didn’t have any fancy publishing classes like a lot of universities apparently do, no connections in the publishing industry to secure internships, and pretty much zilch guidance for how to break into publishing. If you majored in English at my school, it was assumed you were also majoring in Eduction. Everyone in turn assumed that every English major had a pretty standard, prearranged teaching career ahead of them. Though there were classes dedicated to technical writing and other practical skills that could translate into a book-loving writing-enthusiastic career other than teaching, little effort was dedicated to preparing English students for those alternate careers outside the classroom. If a student wanted a publishing internship, for example, they needed to do the research, find the opportunity, and arrange for it themselves. It was a daunting and, as I found out, often fruitless task.

When I attended the NYU Publishing Institute and started meeting other publishing enthusiasts, and even when I secured my current job, I started hearing about all sorts of internship opportunities I WISH I had known about beforehand.

So in memory of my own desperate and unguided attempts to break into publishing, I’ve decided to start a weekly guest blog series, “So, You Want to Work in Publishing.” A bunch of publishing professionals I know have agreed to participate–people who work at the big names like HarperCollins, Wiley, and Hachette and others who work in equally awesome, but less known companies outside of NYC (for those of us who don’t dream about living in the city).

Every Thursday, from now on, you can look forward to the personal stories of how someone else broke into publishing. The guest bloggers and I hope that you find our stories encouraging, informative, and helpful in your own path to a publishing career. I’ll update the new So, You Want to Work in Publishing page every week so that you can easily find the links to each guest blog post. I’m going to organize them by position (editorial, production/design, marketing, etc.) so that you can specifically read about the type of publishing experience you’re dreaming of.

Today, I’m going to kick off the blogging series with the story of my own path to publishing:

Name: Hannah Karena Jones
Current Title: Assistant Editor
Hometown: Langhorne, Pennsylvania
Graduated from: Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania, May 2011
Where I currently work and live: I live in Monmouth Junction, NJ and work about a half hour away in Piscataway, NJ

My Path to Publishing: Since I was in elementary school, I knew I wanted to be an author. I was that kid who brought books out to the playground at recess and preferred reading to the monkey bars (I always fell off them! Every time. I was completely athletically challenged). But I was told by everyone that it wasn’t a “real job.” It was an “and” job. I’d say, “I want to be a writer,” and my teacher, girl scout leader, etc. would say, “That’s nice. What else are you going to do? You’re going to be a writer and . . .” and then stare at me expectantly. (Even when I was in elementary school, they wouldn’t let me just write “author” down as what I wanted to be when I grew up. So I also put down veterinarian.) I can’t remember the moment, exactly, that I decided I wanted to be a writer and editor–I suppose it was a natural thought process to want to read and work with books all the time–but I remember my mom and I doing research and discovering the Columbia Publishing Course and the New York University Summer Publishing Institute when I was  freshman in college. Because both courses are designed for recent graduates or young professionals trying to switch careers, I had to count down the years until I could apply. Thankfully, NYU accepted me. More on that later.

Before I graduated, I managed to cram in a lot of experiences. I served on the Warren Literary Art Journal prose and poetry review boards for two years and then I served as the co-chief editor of the publication for two more years. I fell in love with reading short fiction, memoir, and poetry and actually really enjoyed the production process, once I figured out how to use Quark and InDesign software, and was dedicated to finding a job at a literary journal–until I realized that there basically isn’t a paid literary journal position in existence anywhere in the world, except for maybe The Paris Review.

So I putted around and did an online editorial internship with Philadelphia Stories, where I read and critiqued submissions, sent out rejection and/or acceptance letters, and organized electronic files. I also job shadowed a literary agent for a few days, to get an idea of what an agent actually did (a lot of legal contract stuff and a lot of rejecting query letters who ignored her submission guidelines). One of the most valuable experiences I had was designing the website for Watershed: The Journal of the Susquehanna, a fabulous publication Professor Jerry Wemple had founded a few years before, for a class. That in turn lead to an opportunity to serve as the managing editor of the journal, where I was chiefly responsible for designing the page and cover layout.

I think the best way to put it is that I thought I wanted to work in publishing before the NYU program; I thought I wanted to work in magazines (literary journals, specifically) and I thought I wanted to be an editor. But after the six-week intense crash course in all things magazine, book, and digital publishing, I knew I wanted to work in book publishing and I knew I wanted to be an editor (I was also open to subrights positions because they get to travel all the time!) The six-week institute dedicated three weeks to the magazine industry and three weeks to the book industry. Digital publishing and discussions on the rise and importance of e-readers were emphasized throughout the program.

Students were divided into groups for hands-on projects; first they had to launch their own magazine–complete with a business plan and cover designs–and then they had to launch their own book publishing imprint. From beginning to end, the program offered daily lectures and panel discussions totaling in over 150 editors, publishers, content directors, web editors, marketers, publicity directors, art directors, literary agents, production managers, professional bloggers, booksellers, and authors, exposing students to the wide landscape of publishing and the various jobs within it, while at the same time offering the opportunity to forge invaluable professional contacts.

I learned a lot at the program, both about publishing and where exactly my niche in publishing was. Because I was exposed to pretty much every kind of publication and publisher, and every type of person involved with the industry, I learned exactly what positions and what kind of companies I would be interested in working for. I was able to hold my own in interviews; instead of saying I wanted to be an editor simply because I love reading, I was able to cognitively have discussions about the publishing industry, developments in ebook technology, and ask informed questions. The program was great for me, as a last-ditch effort to dive into the publishing industry (and it’s one of the best ways to break into the NYC publishing scene, if that’s your goal).

Opportunities I wish I knew about when I was still a student:

All the publishers in the Philadelphia area who offer internship opportunities! I honestly believed that the only publishing internships available were in NYC, so every summer I would apply for the super competitive spots at the HarperCollins Summer Internship Program, the Penguin Internship Program, and the Scholastic Summer Internship. I thought I had “failed” every summer when I didn’t get one. If only someone had told me that there were so many quality internship opportunities right here in the Philadelphia area! Running Press, Quirk Books, Princeton University Press, and the Internship Program at Penn Press all offer internships in multiple departments.

How did you find out about your first publishing job?, specifically looking for “assistant editor” job openings. But I found out about a majority of the jobs I applied for on the Publishers Lunch Job Board, the job board for publishing positions. Also, I’d recommend signing up for the Publishers Lunch and Shelf Awareness newsletters. They’re a great daily read and a great way to stay updated about the publishing industry (and any position openings).

What does your typical day look like?

I work 9-5 and spend a good chunk of the morning responding to emails from authors, and other people involved in our publication process. Some days I read a lot, some days I don’t read/edit anything besides the promotional copy in our book catalogs. My job is predominately about organization and keeping a slew of books (about forty-five titles a year) on schedule; I need to make sure the copyediting is done on time so that typesetting can begin on time so that the book comes out on time. I create page estimates and P&L’s*, present books at cover meetings, do book checks to identify and eliminate errors, and edit the content on our website. Every day is a different mixture of these responsibilities.

Connect with her: As you all know, you can follow my blog, follow me on twitter (@HannahKarena10), friend me on goodreads, and, if you’re interested, add me as a professional connection on LinkedIn.

If you’re a publishing professional interested in contributing to the blog series, feel free to contact me at

*Profit and Loss statements compare the forthcoming book you’re working on to other comparable titles–for example, sales of book #1 of The Hunger Games are a good indication of how many books the second volume in the series will sell–with the chief goal to decide how much the book should cost and how many copies should be ordered.

Published by hannahkarena

author & book publishing person.

44 thoughts on “So, You Want to Work in Publishing

  1. Thank you so much for this! I’m currently a journalism student but have been thinking more and more that perhaps the road towards publishing is the path for me. There are not too many publishing companies in Canada, however, which will make it tough for me – Do you know the process for US companies hiring Canadians? Thanks for the great post and you’ve gained another follower =)


    1. a) You’re so welcome!; b) I’m so glad the series will help you out; and c) I’m extra glad to hear that you’ll be stopping by the blog! Publishing in Canada instantly makes me think of Being Erica, a TV series I LOVE (and, shamefully, I admit it’s on Soap Network). Are you familiar?

      There were a handful of students at the NYU program this summer from Canada interested in getting publishing careers in the United States. I think it’s harder to get a job in the industry, as a non-citizen–I know for the Australians and Europeans in the program, they were told flat out that they wouldn’t be hired unless they had the skill set for a managing position–but I’m pretty sure I remember some of them saying that the US and Canada have a special relationship which makes paperwork pretty easy (the publishing industry, as a general rule, apparently doesn’t really want to sign work visa paperwork stuff).

      I’ll see if I can get a Canadian friend to guest post!


      1. Admittedly, I have never seen Being Erica, but if it’s about publishing in Canada, I have to put it on my list!
        Going to the States for any work is hard — If I plan to continue with journalism, I would kill to work for a magazine in the States (like Nylon, etc.) or Time Out New York, but I wouldn’t even know where to start. Nice to know it’s just as hard in publishing…
        And that would be great!


      2. Definitely put it on your list! There’s also time travel, which is always a plus.

        At the NYU program, magazine publishing was included. I visited Time Out New York’s offices and met with a lot of the staff. They have a pretty regular intern program (and also, branches like Time Out Toronto and Vancouver, have you tried an internship there?) so maybe it would be worth getting a summer internship with them. Also, I remember they said they have a lot of loyalty–like their interns usually rise up after they’ve “done their time” and get regular staff positions. Are you into editorial? They just posted a summer internship recently:


  2. Great idea, Hannah!. I attended Radcliffe Publishing Procedures Course ages ago, a summer program like the one you attended at NYU, and that gave me a big break. But of course everyone thought (as many still do, alas) that publishing ended at the Hudson and East rivers. Internships at local small / regional presses are a great way to learn the ropes. I wrote rejection letters for Sierra Club Books and organized slides, back in the day when images came in on slides.


    1. Thanks Lindsey! Wow, Radcliffe–people seem to whisper about that program in awe on the internet. It was THE program to attend. I think, if I remember correctly, that Columbia is the “decedent” of that program in that a lot of the staff and structure moved as a body when it moved from Boston to New York. If you don’t mind me asking, how did Radcliffe help you break into publishing? Did it offer you personal connections, or was it super impressive on your resume?

      Writing rejection letters is the worst part about internships–I always tried to add in some extra comforting words, to soften the blow. But then when I was getting emails in reply to those kinder rejection letters, begging me to reconsider, I started to stick to the form rejections. Did you generally like your internship at Sierra Club Books, though?


      1. The RPPC (or PPC, as we called it) was very helpful in “opening doors.” At the end of the summer, they held a “career day” for us at the Harvard Club (!!) at which representatives from publishing companies showed up to meet us. That’s how I got my first job, as an editorial assistant. I do recall, however, feeling that there was a strong bias toward NY as the ONLY place for publishing, which I found a bit myopic. The internship at Sierra Club Books was a good experience, and I think helped me be accepted at Radcliffe. This was ages ago (1984), and I know that the RPPC (as such) is no longer.


      2. Publishing seems to be even tougher to get into. Even though the NYU program warned us there was no guarantee that we’d get a job in publishing from the program, we all assumed that it would at least “open doors.” SPI (as we called it) would be our way to get our foot in the door, the extra thing on our resume that would help make connections and at least help us score interviews–getting the job would be based upon our merit after that. But in the end, very few people got jobs as a result of NYU. As I’m reading over the guest blogs people have been sending me, I’ve become increasingly aware that NYU didn’t actually open many doors for many people.

        We had a career day too, but it was a huge disappointment. Some HR people wouldn’t shake our hands, when we approached them–after waiting in a long line at their booths–they’d tell us that no jobs were open and the likelihood of getting chosen to even interview for the forthcoming jobs was slim. Most of them would shrug their shoulders. “Sorry,” they’d say. “We can’t help you.” We didn’t understand why these companies even bothered showing up if they weren’t interested in job candidates. HR people who did seem friendly, who gave us their cards, told us to follow up with them, and maybe even mentioned a potential position, never once replied to any of our emails or applications. Even with NYU I think most of us felt like we were repeatedly running against a brick wall. If publishing programs don’t open up doors, what will?


      3. Wow. Stunning. I wonder how much of our different experiences was due to the different times — my Career Day in 1984, yours (I assume from your photo that you’re younger than I!) in a different publishing climate. A lot, I’d imagine.


  3. I love this! Could be very useful as I am a student studying creative writing and attempting to gain some experience in publishing at the same time!


    1. Very cool! Glad the series can prove useful to you. Have you gotten any publishing experience yet? Any cool internships you’d recommend?


      1. I’ve just started two internships, one with Ford St Publishing and the other with the RMIT Creative Writing Anthology for 2012. The latter showcases work from my degree.
        Both are giving me heaps of editing experience and I’m really enjoying them so far. I haven’t had any other experience yet. It was very difficult trying to get them.
        I think what I’ve learnt in looking for internships is that volunteering and making a nuisance of yourself is good.
        Also, what I did was to pick out every publishing house and literary journal possible and start emailing. I sent out 22 emails and finally got a positive response from just one person. That was all I needed. You put your name out there, something will come of it.


      2. I would totally agree with you that volunteering and making a nuisance of yourself pays in the long run! I badgered agents at writing conferences until one agreed to let me job shadow her and volunteering leads to connections, which often leads to information, tips, and recommendations.

        I’m so impressed by your dedication and persistence! Publishing houses and literary journals seem so unapproachable sometimes . . . I’m not sure I would have been brave enough to do what you did! I’m so glad it worked out for you and I hope others take your advice!


  4. Hi, I am a recent college graduate interested in someday working in publishing. I’m glad I came across your blog! Unfortunately I did not do any internships with publishing companies as a student and I can only hope it’s not too late to do it now. You indicated you worked with Philadelphia Stories and did the NYU Publishing Institute Program. What other kinds of experience did you have that helped you get your current job? Is there anything I can do to gain experience that won’t require me to break my back to get it?


    1. Even though you’re not a student anymore, there are still lots of internship opportunities–some of them will even pay (minimum wage). I mentioned everything I ever did publishing-related in this post (working as an editor on campus publications, etc.) The Philadelphia Stories internship was a mostly remote one, meaning I did most of the editing and organizing and emailing from my own college apartment. I only “came into the office” (two hours away) once or twice a year. So if you want to dip into the industry without having to do a five-day a week unpaid internship, I’d look for remote opportunities like that, (if you like reading YA lit, I known Sucker literary magazine is looking for interns/editorial board readers, and all the work is done remotely) or local publications. Look on their “jobs” page and almost every literary journal, small magazine, and smaller publisher will post that they offer internship opportunities. You just have to email them your resume. Some will be very happy if you can just commit a couple hours, regularly, a week to help out and get some in-office experience. Where do you live? Maybe I can point you in a good direction.


      1. Thanks! I actually live in Philadelphia (forgot to mention that) which I’m sure is milling with opportunities. Would you say it’s also important to try non-remote internships at places like QuirkBooks and Running Press in order to secure a job in the competitive field of publishing? I only graduated a few weeks ago but I hope employers don’t have anything against people that choose to do internships after college.


      2. Philadelphia has some decent opportunities. If you have the time, an in-person internship is always better. QuirkBooks and Running Press offer awesome, respectable publishing internships that would not only look great on your resume, but would really prepare you for an entry level job. Employers don’t care when you did your internship. They just care that you did internships/got experience chronologically before you became employed with them.

        Also, Philadelphia Stories doesn’t require you do to the internship remotely. It’s best to cram in as many internships as possible, and Philadelphia Stories doesn’t require a huge time commitment–they often need help at special events every few weeks/months, and have editorial meetings once every two months or so–but you meet great people who will really try to help you get a job (and will write you recommendations) so consider doing this and one of the above-mentioned internships at the same time.

        Other opportunities you might consider: University of Pennsylvania Press offers internships and, if you don’t mind traveling a little bit, so does Princeton University Press. If you can’t get into these houses right away, Philadelphia has a huge scientific-publishing industry. Not ideal if you’re really passionate about fiction, but it gets you experience and it’s not frowned upon. Maddie (she was one of the guest bloggers, if you want to go read her post) did a year at a scientific publisher and just got an awesome position at Macmillian in NYC!


      3. Thanks again for the advice. I was wondering if you have any other publishing internship suggestions that will offer me the option to work from a remote location? I want to see what other options I have out there.


      4. I don’t know of any others, personally, but I’d recommend you check out and look at the internship opportunities, specifically. Check out (small) publishers you’re familiar with and just look at their internship information. You might be surprised at the opportunities.


  5. I just wanted to thank you SO much for this post. I’m a recent journalism graduate looking to break into book publishing. I also thought the only publishing internships were located in NYC—I live in Philadelphia. So glad to hear that’s not the case! I will look into the local Philadelphia companies you mentioned.


  6. Hi, Hannah!

    I started reading your blog over the summer. I graduated from a creative writing program here in NYC in 2010, and had no idea what to do with that. I was waiting tables, and when I (happily) got fired from a position, I decided to write a book and find a new way of making a living. During downtime from book writing, I stumbled across your blog. I was specifically interested by this part of it, and decided to look around on (which I’d never heard of before) for an internship. I’m currently interning at a fabulous, editorial-based literary agency in Midtown, and moving on the path towards working in the industry. I just wanted to thank you for the info and advice on here. It was so helpful!



    1. Pam! I have been having the most awful week and your comment made me feel warm/fuzzy and so incredibly happy! Thank you! I’m so happy to hear that the internship–and the industry–is treating you well and that my little blog was able to offer a bit of guidance/encouragement! What an awesome success story! I’m planning on restarting the “So, You Want to Work in Publishing?” series in January, with a slew of new posts. Would you be interested in contributing? There’s never been a post about what it’s like to work inside a literary agency before. I think you could offer a great insight to other readers!

      PS: How did that novel turn out with all that free time you had?? Are you still working on it?


      1. I would love to guest post in that series! Just let me know when.

        The novel is going well. I sent out a second draft of it and got several requests for the full manuscript from small presses and agents. The jury’s still out on a few, but I’ve gotten great, helpful feedback from others. And my partner, a freelance editor, is helping me with a third draft. So my fingers are crossed that things will turn out good one way or another! Thanks for asking 🙂



      2. Hi Pam! I’m planning on rebooting the series in mid-February. I like to collect a series of guest posts ahead of time, so it’s easy to just post them on the per-scheduled date and not worry about missed deadlines, etc. Would you like to submit a post by Friday, February 1st?? I’m really excited to start the series again! I love reading about everyone’s experiences :] And the enthusiasm the readers have for the series is just amazing.

        THAT’S SO EXCITING THAT YOU’RE GETTING POSITIVE FEEDBACK! eeeee! And they’re asking to READ IT!! All of it!! I know December’s pretty slow in publishing, especially for responding to queries, but I hope you hear something amazing in January! Please keep me updated :]


      3. Hannah,

        I’m so sorry! With starting a new internship (happily!) in publishing, I forgot all about promising to do this. I know I’m past the deadline, but I’d still love to guest post for this if that’s possible. Please let me know. You can email me at if it’s still a possiblity!


  7. Hi Hannah,

    I love your blog. I’ve been reading it all morning. I just wanted to know if you could provide me with some input on my chances of a career in publishing. It’s taken me quite a while to realize that this would be something I would like to do. I am thinking about applying to both the NYU and Columbia summer publishing programs for 2013. I am also currently finishing a law degree. Do you think this would help/hurt my chances? I am interested in most aspects of publishing. I worked as a junior editor for a law journal previously. I am most interested in becoming a literary agent. Please let me know what you think.

    Thank you.


    1. That’s so nice to hear, glad the blog provided such interesting content for you! Your law degree could help you–depends what you want to go into. It might be helpful if you want to go into contracts/permissions/subrights (a great department that allows you to travel) and as literary agents are constantly dealing with contracts, that might help you there too! Literary agencies are CONSTANTLY having unpaid internship opportunities and publishing values publishing experience over everything, so I’d recommend getting one of those internships ASAP. Just do a google search for literary agency internships–a lot of agencies have on going postings on their websites and lots also have remote internships (where you basically read through the slush piles). Start following as many agents as possible on Twitter or their blogs; really get immersed in what they do. Job shadowing them that way might help you decide how to proceed further.


  8. Can you recommend a literary agency for remote internships? I’ve looked at but I don’t even know where to start so if you have any suggestions, I’d appreciate it.


    1. I’ve heard good things about the remote internship at Folio Literary Agency. Otherwise, I see them popping up on twitter all the time, call outs on an as-need basis. Good luck!


  9. This comes as such a relief to me! I’ve wanted to be a writer for so long but have been discouraged by the people around asking the dreaded, “And…? What’s your *real* job going to be?” So I’ve looked to editing but my college, while it has a Literature major, doesn’t have much in the way of publishing.

    I’ve been looking for internships, but all in the wrong places–I had no idea there were intern possibilities in Philly! I live so close to Philly, I can easily make it there from my house if I ever get an internship.

    Thank you so much for this, you’ve restored my hope when I had almost lost it.


    1. So glad to hear it! One word of advice, before it comes to late: Get those internships while you’re still in college! I know Princeton and Rutgers University Presses both require that students get college credit in the deal, or at least are currently enrolled students, and most places maintain the same policy. Don’t push off applying until the summer after you graduate! Good luck!!


  10. I am so glad I came across this blog post. Right now, I’m a senior at the University of Kentucky, so unfortunately, it’s too late for me to get those internships 😦 I’m also an English major, and everybody here thinks it’s a prearranged teaching career, as you said. So annoying! We only have a few creative writing classes at UK . . . nothing to serious. This makes it difficult to find support and contacts that can help me get into the publishing industry. I did search on my own time, and I got lucky. I ended up finding an editorial position with the university’s literary magazine and a creative writing abroad program (Both are amazing). So, I like to think that I did the best I could with the resources I did have.

    I couldn’t help but laugh when you said you found your first career opportunity by searching ‘editorial assistant’ on I’ve been doing the exact same thing for the past few weeks. I’ve applied for three assistant opportunities in NYC, so fingers crossed.

    Great post. I’m now in a better mood today. (BTW, you gained another twitter follower).


  11. I am so glad I came across this blog post. Right now, I’m a senior at the University of Kentucky, so unfortunately, it’s too late for me to get those internships 😦 I’m also an English major, and everybody here thinks it’s a prearranged teaching career, as you said. So annoying! We only have a few creative writing classes at UK . . . nothing to serious. This makes it difficult to find support and contacts that can help me get into the publishing industry. I did search on my own time, and I got lucky. I ended up finding an editorial position with the university’s literary magazine and a creative writing abroad program (Both are amazing). So, I like to think that I did the best I could with the resources I did have.

    I could not help but laugh when you said you found your first career opportunity by searching ‘editorial assistant’ on I’ve been doing the exact same thing for the past few weeks. I’ve applied for three assistant opportunities in NYC, so fingers crossed.

    Great post. I’m now in a better mood today. (BTW, you gained another twitter follower).


  12. I’m looking for internships in the Philadelphia area, as I’m a Philadelphia resident and would prefer to live at home as I do my internship. I found this blog post when I searched “philadelphia book publisher internships” in Google. Thank you so much for your post, especially the specific internships in the Philadelphia area that you mentioned. I knew about Philadelphia Stories and I’m working on my application for that, but it’s good to know that there’s more options. I’ve had a hard time finding leads on internships using the popular internship searching tools, so this has been incredibly helpful. Once again, thanks so much for this post.


  13. Hello I am an University student and is wanting to be a part of the publishing workforce. But I struggles to choose, would philosophy major be enough to get me in or I need to do english or writing major? Because I am picking two major and one must be philosophy unless I change it into minor. Or is it better to go to somewhere like NYU rather than university? I am in Australia. Thank you very much in advice


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