“So, You Want to Work in Publishing?”–Nick Martorelli

how to get a job publishing

Welcome to the guest blogging series, So, You Want to Work in Publishing! Every Thursday you can look forward to the personal stories of how someone else broke into publishing. (For previous posts in the series, check out this page.) The guest bloggers and I hope that you find our stories encouraging, informative, and helpful in your own path to a publishing career.

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

Name: Nick Martorelli
Current Title: Production Associate at HarperCollins Publishers
Hometown: Norristown, PA, the suburbs of Philadelphia
Graduated from: Villanova University 2003, BA in English and Theatre
Where you currently work and live: I live in Washington Heights, and I work in midtown.

Your Path to Publishing:

Although I graduated with an English degree, I had always wanted to be a professional actor. And when I graduated from college in 2003, I became a full-time apprentice at a local theatre where I worked in all areas of the organization–performance and production. I found quickly that I had talent in both areas, which led to a ten-year career that included two national tours, an independent film, and union background work in two feature films that were made in Philadelphia. But in the last few years, I had not enjoyed the work I had been doing as an actor, and with my thirtieth birthday approaching I wanted to make a change, and find another industry that I would enjoy as much as I had enjoyed acting when I started my career.

Fortunately, I had spent the previous two years running Radio Hound Productions, a small production company responsible for short films, live shows, and an ongoing podcast series. I had started to enjoy the production and editorial work more than I enjoyed performing, so I started to think that my career was in a support role in a creative field. I’ve always loved reading, writing, and books in general, so I started thinking about a career in book publishing. Working with actors would be just like working with writers, and I knew that the skills I had learned in planning events as well as managing people would transfer over to any industry. (That’s the great part about being an English major–we don’t just read books and analyze images, we learn how to evaluate and communicate with others.)

As a career-changer, though, I had no professional experience in publishing. A simple online search led me to the summer programs at NYU and Columbia, and I applied for and was accepted into the 2011 NYU SPI session. It had been a long time since I had been in school, but I enjoyed the feel and rhythm of the program, even if I felt we weren’t learning any actual “information.” We learned about the current state of the industry and publishing trends in general, but it was both the networking opportunities as well as the career fair that would be the most valuable part of the program for me in my career. While my current position came directly from the SPI Career Fair, I like to think that it was my unique path through acting and producing that got me into publishing.

How did you find out about your first publishing job and/or internship? 
While there are a lot of great online resources for job hunting, and I made use of many of them during my job search, I found out about my current position in a different way. In preparation for the career fair at the end of the NYU SPI program, I applied for specific jobs at companies and then sought out the specific HR reps to discuss those opportunities. I approached the rep from HarperCollins and asked him about the job I had applied for. Instead, he was fascinated by my history as an actor and producer, and he told me about another position he was looking to fill, asking if I would be interested in working as a freelancer in e-book production.

Like many people in my SPI class, I wanted to go into editorial, and I had never considered a job in production. But since the HR rep was specifically interested in connecting me with the production position, I said that I was interested in finding out more. The next day, he contacted me to set up an interview, and my unique background helped me land the job. I worked as a contractor for eight months before being hired as a full-time employee.

What does your typical day look like? 

A job in production means working on a lot of different projects at any one time, so typical days are few and far between. But I’m generally responsible for three stages of e-book production: 1) collecting files so new e-books can be created, 2) reworking those e-books in process so they can be approved by managing editors, 3) getting the approved e-books to our retailers (Amazon, Apple, etc.) In the midst of all this, I handle corrections that need to be made to e-books already on sale, and I also track all of the e-books from our division in Canada. On any given day, I’m also handling up to a dozen special projects and tracking all of the e-books currently in production. So what I’m saying is that every day can be different, but all of them are pretty busy.

Connect with him:

Connect on LinkedIn, but please mention you saw this post.

Visit the website of my production company at www.radiohoundproductions.org (or look us up on iTunes!)

I also kept a blog about my acting days at scriptinhand.blogspot.com.

I’m also around via email at NickMartorelli@gmail.com, and I promise I’ll answer.

Publish Local: The Bookstore Press Trend

As feisty independent bookstore owner Meg Ryan once illustrated in the film You’ve Got Mail, physical bookstores have long been trying a variety of methods to compete. While in the film Meg Ryan fought against the monopoly of chain bookstore Fox Books, modern booksellers are battling against Amazon and other e-book sales by hosting author events, selling their own e-readers (Barnes and Noble),  freebie promotions, and partnering with the Google e-bookstore so that they can gain revenue from selling e-books on their own websites. But, as this article explains further, some daringly innovative bookstores are “taking a page from Amazon by producing titles themselves.” Personally, I think this is an excellent idea!A major factor contributing to Amazon’s success is that they offer something nobody else offers–content for the Kindle–and they’re expanding upon this advantage with their six publishing imprints47North, Thomas & Mercer, Montlake Romance, AmazonEncore, AmazonCrossing, and The Domino Project–by offering original content that readers can’t get anywhere else.

I like the idea of writing local, but the commitment needs to occur through all the levels of publishing. Bookstores need to stock–and more importantly, publishers need to publish–local literature that celebrates local themes, traditions, experiences, history, and settings. I think it’s a great idea for bookstores–the book lovers who are in the trenches every day, reading, selling, reviewing, buying, and perusing books–to recognize that lots of readers like to read local and offer them original, authentically local content that they can’t–and wouldn’t want to–get anywhere else.

An E-Reader Battle: Kindle Fire vs. Kindle

My boyfriend completely surprised me this year when we exchanged gifts and I unwrapped a Kindle Fire. Only last Christmas, his parents had shocked me by giving me a traditional Kindle so I was not expecting the newest product in the Kindle line. Though in the past few months I was aware of the release of newer versions, the novelty of my traditional Kindle had certainly not worn off. Admittedly, when I first received my Kindle last year, I was hesitant. I was (and still am) a staunch supporter of libraries and physical books. I had never enjoyed reading on computer screens and wasn’t sure I would like reading on an e-reader. However, after downloading and reading several books, I was completely won over by the format.

Because the Kindle has an e-ink screen, it feels exactly like reading a physical book (none of those sore-eye-inducing back-lit screen problems associated with Nooks, for example), with bonus features: it was easy to get newly released books that my local Barnes and Noble hadn’t yet put out for sale, the books were generally cheaper (at the time I was a broke college student who had a hard time sustaining her reading habit), and I was stunned by how much lighter it made my suitcase when we packed for our Savannah vacation–one Kindle is significantly lighter than an assortment of five paperbacks and two hardback books, because I can never tell what reading mood I’ll be in once I have free time, so I pack a sizable travel library. Also, I love that I never have to relocate my place in the book because the Kindle bookmarks my page for me.

The Kindle Fire has received a slew of mixed reviews, so I wanted to give it a thorough testing before I shared my opinion. To cut to the chase, I love it!

Good Things about the Kindle Fire: It’s everything, all in one device! Music, Books, Magazines, Newspapers, Videos, Web. The Kindle is excellent for the purposes of reading basic chapter books, but doesn’t serve much in terms of other functions.

  • Magazines and Graphic Novels: It’s in color so now I can read color-centric publications that I couldn’t read before on my Kindle. I’ve already subscribed to Better Homes and Gardens magazine (I should finally own my very own New Jersey condo by January 20th, cross your fingers for me!) for decorating ideas and, even though it’s more expensive to subscribe on a tablet than to the paper version, I so much prefer reading magazines on tablets! The bonus videos that show exactly how to do DIY projects and the imbedded apps in which you can change the colors on the walls with a simple touch are incredibly useful and exceed the possibilities of a print publication.
  • Videos: It’s so much more convenient to bring around than my laptop (especially because my laptop battery is dead so I need to trail the power cord behind me and set-up near an outlet) and, using the free trial of Amazon Prime, I’ve already watched the entire first season of Downton Abbey (a 1910s-period British television show that is amazing!) for free while on the treadmill.
  • Web: As long as I can connect to Wi-Fi, I can check my email, facebook, twitter account, blog–everything.
  • Books: The layout of books is more attractive on the Kindle Fire than on the Kindle–it includes headers and less typos/spacing errors.

Less than Ideal Things about the Kindle Fire:

  • Books: Back-lit screen makes it feel like I’m reading on a computer. Also, the screen is so sensitive that sometimes is jumps forward a huge amount of pages and often when I go back to read a book after doing something else for awhile, it failed to hold my page and I need to go searching through to find where I left off. Also, because the screen is not e-ink, there is a definite sun-glare when reading outside or in the wrong light.

So, in conclusion, I still love my traditional Kindle for book-reading purposes, but am super excited about the opportunity to read magazines and graphic novels–and enjoy other media–on the Kindle Fire. Even though I know the Kindle Fire was probably designed to replace and expand upon the other Kindle products, I plan on carrying both around with me, so that I’m prepared for whatever reading experience–books, magazines, blogs, web–I’m in the mood for.

Readable Christmas Presents: The Best Books of 2011

For those of you stuck in that dangerous position of having more Christmas shopping to do, but no idea of what to get, the bookstore is a great one-stop shop to get something for everybody left on your list. I won’t mention which books I might have gotten for who (you can’t spoil the surprise and share Christmas secrets on the internet!) but I’ve coupled each title with a little snapshot of who the perfect gift recipient would be.

The Language of Flowers (by Vanessa Diffenbaugh)

Victoria has been shifted around the foster care system her entire life and, upon her eighteenth birthday, she ages out of the system and needs to learn how to take care of herself. The best part of this book is that she actually speaks in the language of flowers. In the Victorian era, suitors would send flowers with certain meanings, to give their beloved clues as to their feelings. Victoria has her own dictionary and makes a name for herself as a floral arranger, helping engaged couples design their perfect, meaningful bouquets. This is probably one of the best-written books I’ve read in a long time; I admire the beautiful prose, the characters, and the strong relationships that are woven throughout the plot. The author’s inspiration for the book is as interesting as the book itself; she’s actually started her own program called the Camellia Network to support kids as they transition from the foster system into adult life. NPR did a feature about the book here.

Perfect Reader: female, ages 15 and up. It’s marketed to an adult audience, but it’s a crossover and definitely appropriate for young adult readers too.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and the rest of the Millennium series (by Steig Larson)

I think the movie trailer gives a good clue as to what the book is about.

Perfect Reader: male and female adults who love crime shows like Law and Order. There’s some graphic, definitely adult material so make sure you buy this for someone who won’t get offended by the contents. I’m almost done the third book and, personally, it seems like the first is going to win as my favorite because it was a mix between Cold Case and historical fiction.

The Help (by Kathryn Stockett)

Set in the 1960s, Skeeter is a writer trying to break into New York publishing, but is stuck living with her parents in a small Mississippi town with people and ideas she feels she’s outgrown. With the help of Aibileen, a friend of Skeeter’s own childhood nurse/nanny/maid, she interviews numerous black maids and compiles a book about all the dirty treatment and secrets the maids endure.

Perfect Reader: female, ages 13 and up. Bonus points if they like historical fiction. Warning: the book does use dialect in the dialogue, so if the gift-receiver has ranted and raved about hating that sort of writing style, steer away from this book (even though I think it is hardly noticeable and works really well).

My Name is Memory (by Ann Brashares)

This love story is epic. As Amazon explains it, “Daniel has spent centuries falling in love with the same girl.” Starting with the beginning of civilization, two souls destined to be together are constantly reborn into new bodies, in new centuries, in different countries, castes, and cultures. Let’s just say that the timing never works in their favor. For added frustration, Daniel remembers her, no matter how many time he reincarnates, but Sophia never remembers, and he has to work at making her fall in love with him all over again, each time. A little like 50 First Dates in theory, but much more like Romeo and Juliet in practice.

Perfect Reader: female, ages 12 and up who’s ready for a love story more beautiful and heart-breaking than Romeo and Juliet.

Thirteen Reasons Why (by Jay Asher)

It starts with Hannah’s suicide and her story unfolds on thirteen recorded audiotapes–her suicide note–to the thirteen people she blames for her fatal choice. She had tried to make friends and tried to ignore the rumors, the mean comments, and pranks, but she felt like she had exhausted every avenue and nobody else would or could help her. It’s a beautifully-told, heart-wrenching story that gives you a new perspective on what you say and how you treat other people. Check out the book’s website here.

Perfect Reader: male and female, ages 13 and up. This is a must read for all high school students, in my opinion, so they have the opportunity to consider bullying and it’s repercussions. The plot is centered around suicide, so avoid the book if it’s an emotionally-sensitive topic for the gift-receiver.

The Sherlockian by Graham Moore

Two plot lines are woven throughout the book: the contemporary one is trying to solve why a famous Sherlockian scholar has shown up murdered in his hotel room. The historical one is set in London and centers around Sir Conan Doyle (author of Sherlock Holmes) as he tries to shake off the famous character that he hates being overshadowed by while solving a serial murder case. Fabulously plotted and written, it had me intrigued and guessing until the end and eager to read all of the original Sherlock Holmes stories. The book even has it’s own official blog. Didn’t know a book could be so talented.

Perfect Reader: male or female, ages 16 and up. Perfect for anyone who’s read the Sherlock Holmes books, loves the Robert Downey Jr. movies, avidly watches House (if you didn’t know, House=Holmes, Wilson=Watson), or is considering membership in the Baker Street Irregulars.

The Eyre Affair and rest of the Thursday Next series (by Jasper Fforde)

My boyfriend introduced this series to me–he found the first book under his sister’s bed–and it’s about Thursday Next, who’s a literary detective (she protects books targeted for crimes) by day, and a book-hopping trainee with Miss Havisham (yes, that Miss Havisham) by night. She can travel in and out of fiction, sauntering through famous scenes as the books are being read and chatting with the characters after the reader’s eyes have left the page. It’s set in a speculative history 1980s version of England and there is an official government unit of time travelers, so history is always changing, and I hedge to say that it’s a bit like Harry Potter in that there is a constant crop of new, crazy, fascinating, nearly-magical inventions popping up every chapter. These are just fun, action-packed, clever, enjoyable reads.

Perfect Reader: male or female, ages 14 and up. Must be well read to get all the literary references and jokes; for example, the first book uses a cast of characters from Jane Eyre and Great Expectations, another pulls characters from Hamlet. Make sure the gift-receiver has read the book or else they will be unimpressed with the witty brilliancy of this series.

 

Dear Indie Bookstores: Stop Judging Books by their Covers

When you’re driving, sometimes you encounter some very important people–read, jerks–who break all the rules; they go fifty miles over the speed limit, weave around you in closely-packed traffic, and almost cause four car crashes before they speed out of sight. Some people get mad at these rude drivers and let out a stream of nasty, name-calling expletives. I, along with other optimists in the world, prefer to believe that they have a good reason: their wife is having a baby, perhaps, or maybe they’re rushing someone whose finger just got bitten off by a rabid wild monkey to the hospital.

Well, something similar is going on in the bookselling world right now. Readers are going to the physical, brick-and-mortar book stores, talking to friendly and well-read booksellers, getting book recommendations, perusing the shelves, reading through a few pages, and then writing down the ISBN number–or taking a picture of it on their smartphones–to purchase it much cheaper on Amazon.com. As it stands right now, whether indie or corporate (like Barnes and Noble), booksellers are pretty much united in a hate war against Amazon. Not that I can totally blame them, because Amazon is using some dirty tactics themselves. If you haven’t heard about it yet, Amazon has designed a Price Check app and they’re encouraging all consumers to go to a physical store on Saturday, December 10th, take a picture of the bar code, and compare it to Amazon’s listing price. (For further details on this, read the Wall Street Journal article.) Just for doing that, Amazon will take an additional five dollars off up to three purchased items. As one rightfully outraged bookseller puts it, Amazon’s app is essentially “spyware” using other people’s stores as their own “showroom.”

The result? Feeling that their businesses are threatened, bookstores are lashing out. Not just at Amazon, but at readers. Whatever you prefer to call them–whether “thrifty shoppers,” “smart shoppers,” or “unloyal customers”–these readers are now also labeled as the enemy; they’re given hostile glares in the store and are bombarded with pointedly unpleasant articles, shaming them for their activities.

I have to make a confession about myself before I continue: when exploring a bookstore, I often write down the title and author of new books I’m interested in and then leave a few hours later without making a single purchase.

Some of you are probably feeling the hair on your back raise in outrage (not that I’m accusing you of having a hairy back) and you’re already calling me all those things that you normally call those obnoxious, rude, jerky drivers that you encountered on the road today. For a moment, I ask you to suspend your anger and consider that I belong to the second party: those people who have a really good reason, if asked. Consider my reasoning first.

I currently live in the suburbs of Philadelphia and for as long as I’ve lived here–read, age five–there has never been an independent bookstore. When I lived in NYC this summer, there was one on practically every corner and I couldn’t resist purchasing something every time I walked into Three Lives or St. Mark’s Bookshop. However, home has only ever had the options of Borders and Barnes and Nobles (now reduced to only the latter). My annual total of book-buying purchases are split about 50/50 between Barnes and Noble and Amazon Kindle books.* Some extreme indie bookstore supporters might criticize me for not driving into the city for all my reading needs and frequenting an indie bookstore there. On occasion, I will, but frequently I won’t because:

  1. It takes forty minutes to get to the closest Philly indie bookstore
  2. Parking costs a minimum of twelve dollars
  3. I have such an appetite for books that I would never have the time to travel that far for books as often as I need them

And this ravenous bookworm appetite is what brings me to my next point: though I might live by Erasmus’s motto, “When I get a little money, I buy books. If any is left, I buy food and clothes” (in fact, I’ve completely deleted my clothing budget this year in favor of more reading material), but as I’ve dedicated myself to working within the book-loving publishing industry, I can’t quite afford to buy every single book I want to read. That leaves me with only one alternate choice.

Do you want the NYC Public Library to go out of business?

That’s right. You guessed it. I’m talking about the tried and true, free public library system.I love my library, but due to budget cuts, it’s under constant threat of closing. To keep afloat, the hours of operation have already been slashed and my favorite library has unfortunately been transformed into a “Popular Fiction library.” When I asked a librarian what this meant, exactly, she told me that they would add more couches, a coffee machine, and reduce the book collection to include primarily popular titles and authors (read: much beautiful literary fiction got booted and Stephen King now has a whole bookcase to himself. Hence, the source of my undying resentment towards him). All of this was to be done, she explained, so that the library was “more like a Barnes and Noble.”

So this is my dirty little secret: I go in bookstores and write down book titles. Then I go home and log on my computer. I put all of those titles on my goodreads to-read list. And then I go to the library and get free hard copy books, free audiobooks of the best and newest fiction for my 1.5-hour commute, and free kindle loans. I pay late fees often and gladly, because it’s less than buying the books and it supports my local library at the same time.

So, Dear Bookstores, hear my plea: I understand that you have to prepare for the worst. But sometimes, consider holding off on those expletives, give a reader a break, and believe that she’s writing down those book titles to support her local library.

*I love my Kindle and the ebook reading experience and am not ashamed of it. I also love Barnes and Noble and having their massive store nearby to browse. I think splitting my purchases between the two is pretty fair.

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Choices: Do New Writers Have to Submit to Online Literary Journals?

Like Chicken Little, a lot of people are running around shouting that the publishing world is going under.  This allegedly inevitable transformation to digital is going to delete jobs, while journals and magazines that don’t keep up and reformat for iPad will go extinct.  Literary journals are traditionally characterized as small and underfunded.  Basically, they’re doomed.

Personally, I didn’t worry about it until I got a rejection letter from a literary agent (Fall 2010) explaining that due to the combination of a poor economy and the “state of the industry,” they couldn’t consider any queries at the time.  I read it once.  Twice.  Followed it up with a minor panic attack.

However, once the panic attack resided, I realized that the reality and the future of publishing is more complex than the popular “the end is coming” opinion and we should explore all the angles of the discussion before having any more panic attacks.  Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner, for example, argues that it will be generations before print sales are bypassed by digital sales.  Even then, he promises that print magazines will always be available for those who want them.  Do you think Wenner’s opinion is defined by the fact that he is part of an older generation and, therefore, that he’s totally wrong in his belief?  I definitely agree with him that magazines are chained to reader demand.  If readers want it in print, the magazine better continue to provide it.  For example, magazines geared towards older, less iPad-happy demographics, such as Real Simple aren’t going to jump into the digital market anytime soon because the average 30-45-year-old doesn’t own an iPad.  They aren’t the appropriate market for digital magazines yet.  Do you think creative writers and literary journal subscribers will cling desperately to their paper reading materials in a similar way?  Or do you think all creative writers and readers will abandon the format in favor of e-readers?  Which do you prefer to read?

Then there’s the whole issue with trusting the publication.  As writers, how comfortable do you feel submitting your short stories to an online literary journal?  I admit I’m kind of traditional.  I trust ink on paper and associations with respectable MFA programs.  I’m rather proud and protective of my short stories.  The chances of someone copying, pasting, and plagiarizing my short story online gives me nightmares.  The existence of content farms don’t let me rest very easy, either.  It’s a difficult position to have, too, because many print literary journals are harder to get published in because submissions are so high.  As emerging writers, do we have to submit to newer, less established, online journals for a better chance at getting published?

What do you think?  Are you comfortable getting published in online literary journals?  Are there any in particular you trust?  How do you decide they’re trustworthy?

While you’re waiting, leave a comment!

The One Downfall to Being Published Electronically: You Can’t Sign a Kindle

Personally, I started out being rather iffy/stand-offish/old-fashioned about the whole e-book revolution.  Give me a physically bound book or give me death, I cried over-dramatically.  I was particularly fond of Meg Cabot’s continued complaint that ebooks are not bathtub friendly (not that paper books are really very compatible with getting wet either, but at least they don’t carry the threat of electrocution should they be dropped in the tub*).  But then my boyfriend’s parents gave me a beautiful beautiful kindle for Christmas and I realized how awesome it was.  One of the main benefits is that I do not have to drive to Barnes & Nobles the day a book came out in stores.  I can buy it in my own home, for less money!  (And by home I totally mean my bed.  In my pjs.)  Also, I could downgrade to a smaller purse because I didn’t need the space for three books at any given time anymore.

The moral of the story is that e-books are now formally a BIG DEAL and I’m really glad that I jumped on the bandwagon.  They’re such a big deal in publishing that, in mine and others opinions, they significantly change the entire view of self-publishing.  For a long time, the perception was that everything self-published was so personal and completely unedited that only immediate family members were going to buy it.  There are some exceptions, of course.  John Erickson, author of the Hank the Cowdog series, self-published and sold thousands of copies out of the back of his pickup at rodeos.  His books became so popular that a traditional publisher proposed a traditional book deal.  So if you’re struggling to self-promote right now, stay committed!  It might pay off big.

Obviously, though, self-publishing requires a huge time commitment to self-marketing.  However, with publication avenues like Kindle that offer a national audience, it’s becoming easier and self-published 99cent books are becoming best sellers.  Which choice is best for you?

There were lots of developments with magazine apps and the iPad this week, if you want to keep updated.  Also, if you have an iPad you might want to check out Nomad Editions.  How long before literary journals follow suit?

It might be awhile before that happens, but there’s definitely an increase in online literary publications.  If you’re hesitant about being published on the internet, something to consider is that, statistically, you have a better chance of getting published.  Think about it.  If a print issue only has 40-pages, they are bound to that space limitation.  But the internet can have endless amounts of pages.  Philadelphia Stories, for example, prints some stories on their website that they didn’t have room for in the print copy.  And Painted Bride Quarterly offers the unique opportunity to get published on their website through their monthly Sidecar.

On a separate note, for those of you going through the critique and editing process, you’re not alone.

*I actually have no idea whether or not e-books emit electricity when drowned.  They plug into wall outlets like a hairdryer, though, so I worry.