Written By: Camryn Johnson
For those of us whose dreams and aspirations lie in a career in publishing, we know just how hard breaching the industry can be. From the outside, it feels like this clandestine thing – like anyone who has ever gotten a job in publishing was either given a secret password, a stroke of luck, or some golden ticket. But for most of us, we don’t even know where to start. The good news is that getting into publishing is easier than breaking into Fort Knox, but there are some things that you’ll want to know.
It’s never too early to start
At the beginning of my senior year of high school I didn’t have a clear idea of what I wanted to do with my life. I knew I loved books, and I knew I wanted to study English in college. But what to do with the degree was lost on me. It wasn’t until I stumbled upon Penguin Random House’s seasonal internship programs did it finally click that I wanted to work in publishing. They only accepted applications from rising college juniors (which was quite some time away at that point), but that only gave me the much needed time to build my resume. I got involved in all things literary during my first two years of college (joined a book club, worked on a literary magazine, worked in a bookstore), and in my sophomore year of college I accepted a summer internship with Simon and Schuster.
For someone that wants to go into editorial, having these interests gave me the experience I needed to not only boost my resume, but provided me insight into the inner machinations of the book world. For someone who still loves books but doesn’t necessarily want to be an editor, start thinking about your hobbies now. Align your interests, get involved with the activities that you love and also give you the skills necessary to impress a publisher.
Sometimes it’s not what you know, but who you know
There isn’t a lot of readily available information about how to get into publishing unless you really dig for it or ask someone. So, just starting out as the new kid on the block and nosing your way into the cool kid’s table can be incredibly daunting. But we have to remember that although publishing is a business, and is run like a business by business people, those people also love books and that is common ground. It reminds us that they are also human and a lot nicer than the 7 feet tall media moguls we make them out to be in our heads. Informational interviews are a wonderful way to not only build a network, but get a pulse of what the industry is like right now, what different publisher cultures are, and what genres are out there. This kind of interview is low pressure and very common. Most industry workers are open to these kinds of chats, especially from eager and interested individuals. Be sure to do your research on who you want to talk to and express interest in their work. You don’t want to go in cold and as if you just picked their name out of a hat.
There’s more to publishing than being an Editor
This may sound hypocritical at first, considering my main drive toward publishing is being an editor, but there are so many other departments that make the book world go ‘round. For people who love people, you might want to go into sales or subsidiary rights. If you love books and have a knack for getting other people to love books as well, marketing or publicity might be your jam. If you’re really into deadlines, organization, and like to wear many hats, managing editorial could be your place. There are so many other aspects of publishing outside of being an editor that are just as essential to the book publishing process that no one really considers or knows exist. It wasn’t until I got my first internship that I realized just how much goes into the creation of a good novel that doesn’t have to do with the actual words on the page. As I apply for different entry level positions I’m careful to not immediately dismiss an open position simply because it’s not what I think I want. The main thing is to be flexible, open minded, and don’t limit yourself to what you think publishing is all about.
Read what you want to publish…and what you don’t
This might seem like a no brainer but the greatest asset in publishing, is a well read individual. The one thing publishers look for in their team members is someone who loves books and actually reads them. Shocking, I know. But it’s important to point out because as someone who has been slacking on their reading-for-fun game (It’s not my fault Netflix is constantly calling my name), I can feel the gap in how much I know about the current market of books in my genre of choice (science fiction and fantasy), and what’s essential to my success in a publishing role. Keeping up to speed on current authors, genre trends, and the outside competition is a great way to show a publisher you know what you’re talking about, and that your passion for books is practical, not just theoretical.
It’s never too late to start either
Although it’s a good thing to get a leg up in the game early, don’t bring yourself down simply because you feel you’ve missed the mark. If you don’t have as strong a resume as you’d like by the time you graduate college, don’t fret. Take some time to build it. Having an internship at 25 or even 30 instead of 22 won’t make or break your career and the potential experience you build along the way will only benefit you. Publishing can be very corporate in every sense of the word, and trying to make your way into it can feel exhausting and even disheartening. But it can also be incredibly forgiving, especially when you’re forgiving of yourself. Don’t be afraid to take risks, and talk to people. Embark on your publishing journey at your own pace. Just don’t forget to have fun.