“So, You Want to Work in Publishing”–Susan Barnes

–S”]Name: Susan Barnes
Current Title: Editorial Assistant for Orbit Books, an imprint of Hachette Book Group
Hometown: Peoria, IL
Graduated from: Valparaiso University, 2011
Where you currently work and live:I live in Queens and I work in Manhattan.

Your Path to Publishing:

Same as pretty much every other student out there, I had no idea what I wanted to do when I started college (oh, so long ago 😉 ).  I changed majors multiple times (previous tries include: accounting, business and education) and none of them seemed to quite fit what I wanted to do.  Weeping and wailing in despair at my lack of a decision and the lack of a job where I could lay around and watch Friends, Scrubs, and How I Met your Mother all day, I turned to friends and family.

It was finally my sister that spoke up and pointed out that my obvious love of books could turn into a career.  Running with that, I enrolled in every English class I could get my hands on (loved my YA and Sci Fi classes, loathed theory – no offense, Prof. Bunicki! J), and  I found an online internship with ccPublishing, a small Christian publishing company in the Midwest.  At the end of my senior year, I applied to the NYU, Columbia, and Denver publishing programs, and that summer I was off to NYU!

Now here was where my road to publishing really took off.  First and foremost, I really recommend going to a publishing program.  It gives you the background you need for current information on the publishing business, people to know, and terms to learn.  I cannot tell you how relieved I was on my first day of work when I knew what it meant for a website to be “sticky” or what P & L stood for (profit and loss, fyi).  It also just looks fabulous on your resume and speaks of your commitment to learn about the business.

But, as helpful as the NYU course was, that wasn’t how I found my job.  I mentioned “people to know” earlier.  Who you meet and the connections you make is probably the most important thing you will get out of any course you take.  Publishing is a small business and very difficult to break into and those connections really help when looking for a job or internship.  I was fortunate enough to have a connection in the family.

My sister, Stacey, (yes, same sister as earlier) had a little bit more to go on than just my love of books when it came to her career recommendation.  Stacey is a published author, and since I was in high school, she had been letting me read her work and give suggestions on current high school terms, brand names, heartthrobs, and more (term: I was her beta reader – didn’t find that term out until way later).  So when Stacey helped me move to New York in June of 2011, she took me out to lunches and dinners with her connections, and it was fabulous!  I met some incredible people, but the best dinner was where an agent friend of Stacey’s, on a genius whim, brought her editor friend with her.  As it turned out, the editor’s company was looking for an editorial assistant, and she invited me to apply.

Two weeks and one interview later, I had a job.  It was unbelievable.

What does your typical day look like?

There really is no such thing as a typical day for an editorial assistant.  I will tell you that I don’t read books all day.  That would be awesome, but I don’t have time.  I create P & L’s, work on contracts, talk to authors and agents, help coordinate books that we co-publish with the UK, create front matter and back matter, transmit books, write factsheets… the list goes on and on.  I love that my job is never the same from day to day.  It keeps things interesting.

Connect with her:

I love questions!  Feel free to follow me on twitter! @sbarnesq2

Also, if you are curious, my sister’s information:





Published by hannahkarena

author & book publishing person.

8 thoughts on ““So, You Want to Work in Publishing”–Susan Barnes

    1. The program I did was through the school of professional studies, so I can’t provide any wisdom about their MFA program. But I will say that living in New York is an awesome, creative experience. You’d be surrounded by inspiration and awesome literary opportunities; and if NYU is big about anything, it’s about it’s alumni connections. So it’d probably help you out in the long run. And if you’re interested in living in NYC, it’d be a good entry into the city (less frustrating then trying to move in and make it on you’re own).


  1. Now I know what to do if I become a mulit-billionaire: Create a new university course called “Friends-Scrubs-And-How-I-Met-Your-Mother-watchology”, where students can watch the shows and engage in deep conversations in which we are all far too emotionally invested in the storylines…

    Ahh, what a perfect world. 😉


  2. Thank you for this post. I just found out I got into NYU (and not Columbia) today and am trying to speedily make a decision. I am about to get my MA and have been interning at an academic press for the past year. My interests lie mainly in academic publishing, but also bridge into narrative nonfiction and creative fiction. My job applications are going nowhere fast and I am trying to cut into the (New York) industry with as much know-how as possible. I’m trying to think practically about this and am curious when such a program is NOT a good fit? I have plenty of academic experience but came into this game late. Is this the best way to catch up?


    1. Congrats on getting accepted! I work in academic publishing myself and love it. I’m suprised that your applications aren’t getting much attention, especially with such a good long-term internship. Where do you live, if I may ask? I know that NYC companies basically throw out applications if the resume displays an address outside of the city, or maybe–if you’re lucky–in a commutable area of NJ. The only academic publishing that really exists in the city is Oxford University Press, and I think two or three students from the program last year got positions there. Wiley–huge academic publishing company–actually has a special relationship with NYU and a huge amount of the graduates have jobs there now and love it (it’s in Hoboken, right below the city). What kind of academic experience do you have, exactly?

      Basically, I’d say the program is for you if you:
      Really want to break into the NYC publishing industry
      Think you want to live in NYC but have never had the chance and want to test-drive the living experience.
      Are undecided whether they’re interested in book or magazine publishing
      Are undecided what position you’d like–maybe editorial, maybe production, maybe marketing, publicity, or subrights.
      Don’t know what those positions mentioned above are or what they do (everybody originally thinks they want editorial. The nice thing about the program was that it explained other positions to people and because they’re “less desirable” and less competitive)
      Are a senior graduating this May and have no other prospects
      Have never been able to do a publishing internship before.

      If you’ve already defintely decided to go and get your MA somewhere, this program might not be for you. It’s designed to create conctacts in the industry that you should use and network right away, to get a job. They might be wasted if you’re not available to start working full time in publishing, but plan on putting the career on hold for a year or two.

      Hope this helps!


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