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?
Indeed.com, 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.
If you’re a publishing professional interested in contributing to the blog series, feel free to contact me at HannahKJones10@yahoo.com.
*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.