2021 marks my ten year anniversary of working in book publishing. The aluminum anniversary! (I have no idea what I could thematically gift myself to celebrate. A six-pack of craft beer, maybe?) It’s weird to think that it’s been ten years since I was in undergrad workshops at my creative writing program, shaping words into rough-hewn stories, sharing my writing with peers for the first time, scrolling endlessly through blogs for glimmers of information about breaking into the publishing industry. Ten years feels like a natural milestone to pause for reflection before barreling on to the next decade.
Unquestionably, I prioritized my career over the last ten years and it’s satisfying to review the results: I’ve worked at three book publishing companies, a series of promotions and shifts that started with assistant editor and built to senior managing editor at a Big 5. I worked so hard for each advancement and I am immensely proud of my professional collaborations with every team I’ve been lucky enough to work with. (Book people are the best people.)
I tried to prioritize writing, too. When I started my working life, I knew I wanted a work-creative life balance. Practically, I knew I had to have a day job; all those blogs I’d read had made crystal clear that creative writing would not pay the bills, with full-time book writing a rare financial success story. Amy Spalding has spoken frankly about this on numerous occasions, in various podcast interviews and elsewhere that have always really resonated. As my career has grown and I’ve learned more about how my own brain works, I’ve come to realize how important it is, for me, to have a steady, reliable paycheck so that I can spend my free time being creative rather than financially anxious, and that I need something besides writing to professionally focus on, because, as Amy puts it, “the publishing world often moves at a snail’s pace, and I’m glad I don’t have to rely on it and it alone for career satisfaction!”
I’d wanted to work in book publishing as long as I can remember, since high school at least, so much so that my mom’s friend of a friend of a friend, who ended up being Emily Giffin, wrote a very nice encouraging email with advice on breaking into publishing. I took a print out of that email to college, to reread for encouragement sometimes, and I still have it saved in a drawer somewhere.
So at graduation, I knew two things: I wanted to write and publish books and I wanted to learn how to publish other people’s books. Those were my my distant mountains, as Neil Gaiman put it. And every decision I’ve made since has been in an attempt to grow my publishing career while simultaneously supporting my writing, giving it the space, time, and attention it needed to grow.
For example, when I heard multiple acquiring editors on panels say that the demands of their day job regularly depleted all their creative energy, I started looking at other position postings. (My creative well can be a shallow, fickle thing, I needed a job that wouldn’t siphon it on a regular basis.) I love working in ManEd for this reason. It requires a lot of creative problem solving 9-5, but I can save the creative output for my personal writing time.
At the end of the NYU Summer Publishing Institute, while everyone else was signing leases with three other roommates to afford a two-bedroom bunk bed living situation, I was applying fast and furious to non-NYC publishing jobs. I knew, from college experience, that my writing process needed a quiet environment. And I would never find the time and quiet I needed in a cramped roommate situation paying NYC rent. I needed to live somewhere where the cost of living allowed me my own one-bedroom, a room of my own. As tempting as it was, I could not allow the day job mountain, and the draw of NYC trade publishing opportunities, to eclipse the writing mountain. So I accepted a position at a small academic press in New Jersey and set up my designated writing desk in the middle of the living room.
Sometimes, writing has had to take a backseat. In the earlier years, weeks of writing time would get bumped to make room for freelancing when budget required. Twice, writing time was consumed for months by hours-long daily commutes when I transferred to a new job before I could geographically relocate.
But I kept putting my butt back in the chair whenever I could and over time all those nights and weekends of dedicated writing time added up. The metrics look like: I research, wrote, and published Byberry State Hospital, wrote four fiction manuscripts, queried one of them, signed with a great literary agent who unfortunately left her position a year later, wrote and queried two more manuscripts before signing with a new amazing agent. Sprinkle throughout: going to half a dozen writing conferences, trying out several in-person writing groups, and finding/swapping chapters with critique partners online. Somehow, in those ten years, I also read [double checks Goodreads] 644 (!!!) books in an endless effort to study words and story and improve my craft.
There were other priorities, too, of course—the ones that have resulted in unquantifiable amounts of joy, the ones that fill photo albums rather than resumes and LinkedIn profiles. My now-husband and I moved in together, got engaged, bought a historic house, got married. I’ve become an aunt and a godmother. I’ve kept friendships with amazing humans. I’ve learned how to cook and how to keep plants alive. I’ve been a pet parent. We’ve traveled (…mostly to various coastlines, I’m now realizing, can you tell I’m a water sign?)
There’s something about writing this post in the early days of Spring, with the crocuses and snowdrops beginning to bloom, that has me hopeful. There’s so much about the last ten years I want to carry forward and repeat in the future. I want more words, more books in all forms (reading, writing, publishing). I also hope for more balance and peace. More good food, more flowers, and, when this pandemic abates, more friends, more family, more adventures.