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:
Twitter and LinkedIn (please mention this post).

J. K. Rowling, in Person

It took an hour’s train ride, a leisurely hour’s walk down 8th Avenue, and more than two hours waiting afterwards to get it, but here it is: J. K. Rowling’s autograph on her newest book, The Casual Vacancy.

Autographed copy of Casual VacancyWhenever I look at this signature in the future, I’m going to remember the awesome moment I had. I had literally been wracking my brain ever since I bought my ticket a month before on what I was going to say to her. I knew I would have a total of five seconds to say something while she quickly signed my book, and I didn’t want to waste it the way I had with Neil Gaiman at the National Book Festival a few years ago. After hours of waiting in line, they only thing I could come up with was to comment upon the weather. [shakes head in eternal shame]

My friend Lauren was in the orchestra and I was up in the second ring, so she got the experience first. She reported back that the assistants were rushing people through, that J. K. Rowling was super nice, and that people were actually crying and hugging each other outside after meeting her. I might mention that there were an excessive amount of people dressed in Gryffindor garb too. It felt a little bit like a midnight release party.

Surrounding by all this excitement, I sat in my seat, still stumped. I finally settled on, “Thank you for making Harry’s birthday in July. It always made it feel like a birthday present just for me.”

With Harry’s birthday in July, like mine, the books always came out in the US in July. For years, I would traditionally anticipate the release of the newest Harry Potter book more than anything else. The fact that it was always in stores the week before or the week of my birthday (July 10th) always felt like a really special treat. The best birthday gift. It sounds really silly, I realize now, when the explanation is all written down, but J. K. Rowling gave me this Christmas in July feeling that was so special when I was younger. As I sped read through the first few pages of each book, each set soon before Harry’s birthday, I always got a little thrill. My birthday is in July too! I’d think. And because I read the books in July, too, it felt like the events were all happening, right then, if only I could get myself to King’s Crossing in London I could join in the adventures. It sounds silly when it’s all written down and explained, but it doesn’t feel silly. When I told J. K. Rowling, rushing the sentence as quickly as possible, what I had to say, she looked up at me, startled, her signing rhythm halted. And then she laughed, long and loud, smiling. Then she handed me my book, and it was over.  I got the satisfied feeling you get when you say exactly what you wanted to say, exactly the way you wanted to say it.

When I got outside, my brain nothing but cotton candy in my euphoria, Lauren–who had come down to earth from her own euphoria after hours of waiting for me–guided me safely to a nearby Starbucks.

I had a conversation the other day with someone who  was already an adult when the first Harry Potter came out. The books didn’t interest her that much, and she never got the fan craving for each new release. It wasn’t significant to her because she was beyond eleven years old; the experiences and adventures were hard to relate to; she was past the age of dreaming about that green-inked Hogwarts letter landing on her doorstep, which is why I think the books held so much magic for younger readers. It’s strange to think that a whole class of fifth grade children, across the world, lucked out on being eleven the same year Harry was eleven, enabling us to grow up with him. It’s like my Christmas in July feeling; it was a special feeling that lasted my entire childhood, until the last book came out the summer before I went away to college. It was a unique feeling that only a narrow spectrum of children ever will have. I can’t imagine not having that experience or not loving the books.

Since I obviously won’t be taking the book out of the house or throwing it casually in my overstuffed and mysteriously crumby purse, um, ever, it might take me a while to read the whole thing. So if you want a review, you’d best read this one instead of waiting for one of my own. But based upon J. K. Rowling’s short reading, I think I’m going to like it a lot. It’s got the same flippant humor in each sentence and description that I remember from the Harry Potter series, though I’m well aware the content is completely different. I might go with the word “spunky,” even. Have any of you read it yet? Thoughts?

“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:

@staceykade

http://staceykade.tumblr.com/

http://www.staceykade.com/

Books Set in NYC: Tried and True, or Tired and Trite?

Have you ever noticed the sheer number of books that are set in New York City? The Princess Diaries series, the Insatiable series, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, The Great Gatsby, The Catcher in the Rye, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Rules of Civility, P. S. I Love You, Sex and the City, The Nanny Diaries, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, Out of Time (a Caroline Cooney Time Travelers Quartet book), The History of Love, Brighton Beach Memoirs, Eloise, The Cricket in Times Square, Harriet the Spy, just to name a few, and, let us not forget, according to Marvel comics, NYC is the most superhero-dense city on earth (Spiderman anyone?)

Now, I understand that New York has a lot of people and therefore a lot of stories worth telling in its long history. It has geographical elements that stories are attracted to like magnets: Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State building, the Met, the subway, Broadway, Times Square, and the offices of nearly every major publishing house and magazine in American history.

Many of these books have a sense of place so infused in them that they couldn’t properly be set anywhere else. Where else could Spiderman travel with such ease than through the network of tall buildings that is Manhattan? What would the lovely Holly Golightly be without Tiffany’s? And the children from the Mixed-Up Files without the Met? As in many good books, the setting is so important in these plot lines that the city becomes a character in its own right.

There’s nothing wrong about writing a book set in New York, but the overwhelming number of them makes me want to ask: What’s wrong with writing local?

Nothing’s wrong with it, some of you might answer. Maybe you’ve never been tempted to write a story set in New York. In fact, a lot of you probably write stories set in entirely different places. But, if you’re from a small town, a boring state, or a less-than-mainstream and popular country, do you set them there, in those places with which you are most familiar? Or do you try to set them someplace you consider more interesting, more exciting, wholly more appropriate for a good story? Maybe not New York, but perhaps some other metropolitan area: Washington, DC, Savannah, Boston, Paris, London, or Los Angeles. Do you set your stories there because the characters belong there, or because you feel pressured to set it somewhere more populous and well-known?

When I was working on my book, I struggled to find the sense of place. I live in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and in the first draft it was just easier to allow the book–even though I was morally opposed to having it set there–occur in the same place. But when I went back to edit it, I wanted to pack up all the characters and move them. Who wants to read something set in my lame region? I figured. So I struggled. I kept moving them around, jumping them from place to place, but none of them felt right. I tried New York, I tried the New Jersey coast; I considered islands and I considered a more rural location. Nothing worked.

Reluctantly, I let them move back to the Philadelphia suburbs. And it works so much better. The whole read local movement–local authors and regionally-set stories–made me realize that there is a huge amount of readers who are proud of their hometowns and would love to read about them in print. After living in New York this summer, I wasn’t interested in reading more books set in the city. Books set in small towns, far-flung regions, and places I’d never been before were refreshing reading. For a brief moment, New York lost its glamor and the self-conceived idea that all good books are set there–admittedly, there are a lot of them–evaporated. I learned to stop being ashamed of where my book really wants to be set, and embraced writing local.

(Image, No Copyright, Library of Congress)

It’s Not All Over: Go to the Harry Potter Exhibit!

Well I’ve got some good announcements and some bad announcements.  The NYU Summer Publishing Institute officially ended on Friday and I graduated with a Certificate in Publishing (yey me!).  Good news: with the institute over, I will now have time to be regular with my blog posts yet again.  Bad news, though, is that the reason I’ll have time is because, for the first time in my life, I am no longer a student, but just plain unemployed.  Sad times.

On the Harry Potter front, I have good news.  I went to see the Harry Potter Exhibit in Times Square and it was fabulous.  Before entering you can get sorted by the Sorting Hat (every kid’s dream come true).  The rest of the exhibit is mostly composed of props and outfits the characters wear, but if you pay a little extra for the audio tour, it’s totally worth it because the fashion designer for the films has some really fascinating insights on all the clothing choices.  I was almost starstruck seeing the Invisibility Cloak and all of the wands (Elder Wand included) right in front of me.  I (maybe) felt like jumping up and down shouting that I had found the three Deathly Hallows and for everyone to come look.  Maybe.  If I were to pick a wand out of the collection, I think Professor Slughorn’s would suit me the best.  My favorite part was when I could pull screaming mandrakes out of their pots!  For those of you still feeling sad about the last movie, read some of the Harry Potter focused postcards at Postsecret.com today.

Because there was a ticket deal going on, I also went in to see the Pompeii exhibit.  I totally fell in love with frescos–an art form I had never encountered before–and if you’re “mature enough,” as the sign warns, you can see what a Pompeii brothel looked like.  I’m not entirely sure why there’s a theme going on in my blog and in my recent museum visits.  First there was the Hiroshima exhibit at the Photography Center with the shadows and now there are the Pompeii body casts.  Thousands of people were smothered and buried in volcanic ash during the 79 A.D. eruption.  Over the centuries, their bodies decayed and left behind a hallow impression.  Archeologists used them as a mold, filled the pockets with concrete, and then cracked them open to reveal these horrific statues of what people looked like when they died.  Seeing the actual curve of their thighs, the impression of them pulling their cloaks over their mouths to filter the poisonous air, and some curled up holding each other made it hauntingly real.  The absolute saddest one, though, was a dog who was chained up and was slowly smothered by the ash despite his best efforts to crawl out and escape.

Still waiting on the same journals to get back to me:

  • Painted Bride Quarterly (date submitted: January 4th; what submitted: 1 fiction, 1 non-fiction)  Official Response Time:  unknown
  • Cicada (date submitted: February 16th; what submitted: 2 poems)  Official Response Time: up to 4 months
  • storySouth (date submitted: June 1st; what submitted: 1 fiction)  Official Response Time: 2-6 months
  • Weave magazine (date submitted:  June 1st; what submitted: 1 non-fiction)  Official Response Time: 3 months