Want to Work in Publishing? Don’t Be Afraid to Use Your Connections!

Amanda's publishing photograph

Welcome to the guest blogging series, So, You Want to Work in Publishing, where publishing professionals share their personal stories of how they broke into the industry. 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.

Today, I’m so happy to welcome Amanda, someone I met in the summer of 2011 during our time at the NYU Summer Publishing Program together. She offers some wonderful insight into the literary agent side of the industry–a career option most new graduates don’t think or know much about.

Name: Amanda Panitch
Current Title: Literary Agency Assistant at Lippincott Massie McQuilkin (www.lmqlit.com)
Hometown: Jackson, New Jersey
Graduated from: The George Washington University (BA in English), New York University (certificate in publishing)
Where you currently work: New York, NY

Your Path to Publishing: Growing up, I changed career ambitions about as often as I changed my socks. As a kid, I was determined to be a ballerina (I was undeterred by the fact that I had the grace of a drunken buffalo). In middle school I wanted to be a doctor. I went to college for international relations, which was interesting, but not, I realized, what I wanted to spend my life doing.My only interests that had remained consistent throughout the years were reading and writing, so I switched my major to English, and immediately went in search of internship experience that would grant me and my English degree the hope of eventual employability. After applying to every internship that seemed even slightly relevant on my school’s career site, I ended up getting a position working for Deborah Grosvenor, a literary agent then with Kneerim & Williams and now with her own eponymous agency. She was an amazing mentor and I loved everything about the work, from reading the slush to making editorial notes to the excitement of an auction, and so I decided I wanted to work in agenting.I burnished my resume with one more literary agency internship (at the now-defunct PMA Literary and Film Management) before attending the NYU Summer Publishing Institute. The exposure to all the different sides of the industry at SPI was valuable, but it only cemented my belief that agenting was the right path for me. After SPI, I did yet another internship at Writers House, which was an incredible experience and which ultimately led me to my job at LMQ.

How did you find out about your first publishing job and/or internship? Any job search methods you’d recommend? I found my job (and two of my internships) the old-fashioned way: through postings on job sites like Publisher’s Lunch and Bookjobs. The other internship (at Writers House) I heard about through the NYU SPI Career Fair. From what I’ve seen, though, I was the exception: a lot of publishing jobs aren’t even posted online, and even with those that are posted online, the application process is actually a black hole. I went on one interview for an editorial assistant at one of the Big Six and the interviewing editor told me that, while the position had been posted online, they hadn’t even had to go through those applications, as they’d had so many personal recommendations.So, stemming from that, my main advice is: use your connections! Don’t be afraid to reach out to people you worked with at internships, or your uncle’s cousin’s stepsister who works at Random House. Having someone to pass your resume along–or, even better, call up the hiring manager for you–can (and will) make the difference between getting the interview and getting stuck in the black hole of online applications.Informational interviews are another great way to get your foot in the door–they connect you with people throughout the industry, giving you more people who can pass your resume along (I went on several informational interviews during my job hunt process, and ended up getting three real interviews for positions from those informational interviews), and they also help you learn more about the company and the available positions. See if someone you know can recommend someone to get in touch with. Or, seek someone out yourself–see if you can find an alumnus from your school who works somewhere you’d like to be and ask if they can set aside a half hour for a chat (don’t go after the CEO, of course–try for assistants who were relatively recently in the trenches themselves).Most of all, stay strong–some people get a job on their first or second interview, but most don’t. It took me twenty interviews to get a job, and I couldn’t be happier with how things worked out.

What does your typical day look like? When I tell people what I do, they always ask me if I get to read all day. Alas, I do not–most of my reading and editorial work gets done on my own time, at night or on weekends. My days are filled with everything from vetting and negotiating contracts to author correspondence to chasing late contracts/unpaid advances to line-editing proposals to drawing up permission agreements to managing interns to the excitement that is navigating foreign tax forms. I also do the administrative work that is the duty of assistants everywhere, like answering phones and making schedules. If it’s a slow day, I might have a couple hours to read or type up editorial notes.

#1 Thing You’d Advise People Trying to Get a Similar Position: Use your connections. Do an internship, or several–even if you can’t financially manage a few days a week in an office or a move to New York City, there are remote reader positions at literary agencies to help you learn to navigate the slush pile and get your foot in the door (and always check to see if there are smaller publishing companies or literary agencies around you that offer internships–my first internship was in DC, which isn’t exactly a publishing mecca). Don’t forget to stress job experience outside the industry, too–though I had three internships at literary agencies, had attended a publishing program, and had graduated summa cum laude, the single thing on my resume that aroused the most interest in interviews was my stint in guest relations at a theme park, as it showed I could handle conflict. Also, don’t forget to send thank-you notes after an interview.
Connect with her:
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Are You a Series Addict?

I love reading series. Once your hooked, they give you something to look forward to (Book 2, Book 3, Book 4!) When I was in elementary school, The Magic Tree House books had just started to come out and in quick succession I fell in love with the Babysitter Club books (who didn’t?), Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Animorphs (I know, such a fad!), Harry Potter, and later The Princess Diaries, Sword of Truth, and Hunger Games. I especially love coming late to the game and falling in love with a well-established series so that, instead of counting down the days until the next book, I can start from the beginning and read through ten volumes without stopping.

In case you’re a series junkie like me, here’s some more to whet your appetite:

If you liked The Hunger Games, you’re going to love Divergent by Veronica Roth. Set in post-apocalyptic Chicago, the surviving population is split into “factions,” similar to the Districts in Hunger Games and the Houses in Harry Potter, and sixteen year old members have to go through a pretty rough bout of initiation. The second book in the trilogy came out this month, so there’s no delay! (Unless, like me, you have way exceeded your book budget and need to wait for a library loan copy. Deep sigh. I wish I had unlimited funds to buy every book I want as soon as I want it.)

This isn’t a book series, but it’s a pretty awesome guest blog series: Where Writers Write over on Kristin’s blog White Space. It totally satisfies my dual obsessions with pretty organized office interior design and learning more about about a writer’s routine and creative process. Regularly reading about other writers’ daily writing schedule and writing spaces totally inspires me to revamp my own.

Another guest blog series I’m increasingly fond of is the Turning Point series over on Distraction no. 99, the blog of YA author Nova Ren Suma. These guest posts detail the turning point in various published authors’ careers. Whether it was that first publication credit, the moment they got their first agent, or the moment they let go of their first book and moved onto a new project, the series offers a broad range of perpetually encouraging articles.  Check it out!

So, You’re Going to the NYU Summer Publishing Institute, 2012

We’ll be taking a brief break from the normally scheduled blog series “So, You Want to Work in Publishing” this week. If you’ve missed any of the advice of Season 1, you can find it all right here. If you’re a publishing professional interested in guest blogging for Season 2, just let me know!

In the meantime, Thursday posts will continue to be dedicated to the publishing industry. NYU just posted an awesome article which quotes many NYU 2011 graduates, with contributions from some of our very own guest bloggers (me included!). So if you’re gearing up to attend the 2012 institute or are thinking about applying in the future, definitely read this article chock full of advice of what to do, what not to do, and what to expect in the six-weeks you’re there.

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?

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.

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 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.