So You want to be in Publishing?

Publishing is to disappointment,
What slip-n’-slides are to moisture.
I.e. I don’t know anyone in the industry who hasn’t gotten at least a little wet.

It wasn’t until my final semester in college that I decided I definitely wanted to go into book publishing. Talk about an uphill battle.

Of course, I didn’t know it at the time: no one in this industry really does at the beginning. We are all just bibliophiles, a word we call ourselves like it is our own brand of cool. We fall in love with books and simultaneously despair when we are met with our fates: getting into the book publishing industry is not as easy as incessantly repeating, “I love books more than I love people.”

So I, like droves of graduates before me, emerge from my education chrysalis and believe in a few months I will have my assistant copy editing job at my desk in a modern skyscraper in the midst of New York City. How I wish I could pinch college freshman Haley’s cheeks and coo at my naivety.

500-days-of-summerMy friends were off happily getting their first jobs and I was living at home wondering what I could have done to save me from this shame. Picture Joseph Gordon Levitt in 500 Days of Summer during the expectations verses reality segment. Only instead of being alone on a rooftop party in the city, I am alone in a guest room in my parent’s house.

As it turns out, my parent’s assurances of “You’ve done all the right things” in college didn’t exactly hold water and I turned to LinkedIn to figure out how to get the goods.

There, I met a friend of someone I used to work with during my time in college. His sage-like advice from his desk in a modern skyscraper in the midst of New York City influenced me to such a degree that I briefly considered tattooing the words onto my arm in the event I ever needed encouragement or guidance again.

He said, “I’ll say you should be apprehensive about your job search, as a general rule with regards to publishing. It’s not easy, and some apprehension is reasonable and healthy. First off, what sort of position are you looking for? If you’re like me, looking to get into the editorial side, that’s the most competitive.

When I got out of school, I was applying blind to editorial assistant positions and heard back from no one. The journalistic, non-publishing-house experience I have is nice, but doesn’t totally apply. It looks like you have a cool writing background as well and some really admirable other experience. It’s unequivocally great; you should be proud of it and people will like it. You still need more.

Basically from what I’ve learned from people I’ve spoken to in book publishing, you need some explicitly book publishing background to get into it. That means one of two things: an internship, or a summer program.”

This was solid gold. I had a next step. So, instead of being all gung ho on getting a full-time job with one of the Big Five (Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins, MacMillan Publishers Ltd, Penguin Random House, and Simon & Schuster), I redirected my attention to every small-time publisher in my grand state of Indiana. I didn’t even look to see if they had a pre-designed form to fill out applications for internships online: I emailed every single company an email explaining why I needed them and why they needed me. That’s how I ended up writing this blog post of advice from my own desk in a moderately sized building in the midst of Indianapolis.

Many others in similar positions are surprised to learn there are publishing opportunities outside of New York. And of these opportunities, many of them are internships. Having industry specific work experience is the name of the game and this, possibly coupled with a summer publishing program  is your key to right where you thought you would be by now.

Summer publishing intensive application processes start early so the time to apply was probably a month ago, if you are anything like me and always two steps behind. Find the one you want and start saving now. In the meantime, try to work out a freelance operation with a local publisher. Anything to keep a gap off your resume, even if it is unpaid work, will probably pay off in the end.

These summer programs are called intensives for a reason: they teach you everything you need to know about the industry and usually features keynotes from executives from large publishing houses all in the span of four to six weeks. Often upon “graduating”, you will get the opportunity to network and secure a full-time position through large career fairs.

However, something to avoid AT ALL COSTS would be a masters program. My LinkedIn guru told me, “An MFA, maybe, if writing is something you’re looking to pursue. But the master’s programs in publishing, in a backwards way, actually sprung up from the summer courses, sort of stretching that experience from like six weeks to two years. They’re mainly for professionals taking night classes in order to eventually switch industries. Even then, in terms of educational value versus time and money investment, they’re pretty absurd.”

So don’t be like your friend who decided to go to graduate school because they didn’t know what else to do. It won’t work like that. At the end of your education, you will be just one more graduate who still doesn’t have work experience and is now even more expensive to hire. Let’s not even mention your crippling student loan debt and get back to brass tacks: this is a creative industry and you need to get creative about how you get your foot on the first rung of the ladder.

A third piece of advice soon to be transferred into my skin via my local tattoo artist is, “…with publishing, the way I’ve been taught to see it, New York is its own career path. It must be possible elsewhere, but in the same way it’s possible to become a movie director from outside Hollywood; it can happen, but the path seems much more random.”

Where you start is important, but it isn’t as important as just STARTING. Don’t hold out for the position in New York if it means turning down other opportunities outside of the state. They may seem unrelated at the time, but eventually you can get where you want to be going. Don’t despair: There is no one method for success in publishing, but there is success in publishing. Someone once asked, “How do I get into book publishing without breaking my back to do it?” I responded if you aren’t willing to break your back to do it, you don’t belong here. This is not for the weak; it is for the clever and relentless and those who aren’t afraid of a little water.

Haley Checkley is an intern at IBJ Book Publishing in Indianapolis. She is a graduate of Purdue University and is working toward a career in book publishing.

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