Who doesn’t love talking about books?
On March 28th, during our Industry Showcase: Book Publishing event panelists from Quarto Publishing Group, New Leaf Literary, and Macmillan Publishers came to campus to discuss their roles in the publishing industry and share their experience and their behind the scenes knowledge on what the publishing world is all about.
You CAN STUDY ANYTHING, BUT Internships are essential
Jessica, a CC alumna from Macmillan working on the editorial side, shared a story about a colleague who majored in Math but interned in the publishing industry. She now edits STEM picture books. Your major may influence the specific type of content you end up working with, but in the end, it’s most important to obtain relevant publishing internship, leadership, and extracurricular experiences.
All three of our panelists had at least one internship in the publishing industry before beginning their careers. Alicia, a CC alumna who works in sales for Quarto Publishing Group, recommended that students target a large publishing company if they want to learn more about the operational side of things. She advised students to check out sites like mediabistro.com and Publishers Weekly for job and internship opportunities. Devin, an Assistant to a Literary Agent at New Leaf Literary, got her start freelancing as an assistant for romance authors. She shared that since many romance authors self-publish, they need assistance managing the logistics and marketing side of their businesses. Jessica majored in comparative literature and society at Columbia College and had various internships across industries, from film production to art galleries. Her experiences sparked her interest in storytelling, something that she emphasizes as an essential piece of publishing.
Use Your First 1-3 Years in the Industry to Figure Out what you love
Devin recommended that students use their first one to three years as interns or new employees to figure out what they loved to do most in the industry.
Ask your friends and peers working in publishing what they hate most about their jobs. That will probably be the same for you and it can give you a good idea of where you may fit best.
Jessica said that for sales, marketing, and publicity, it’s very possible to transition between roles early in your career. You’re learning so much about operations as an entry-level assistant that is applicable across roles. It can also be easier to move between different genres in your first couple of years, which strengthens your background and skills for future positions.
Being an editor; Behind the Scenes
Devin stated that the editorial path can be different than operations, sales, or marketing, since you’re on a specific trajectory. It’s more mentorship-focused, meaning that it’s similar to an apprenticeship, where you work up the ladder, being trained on different tasks and developing skills as you go. You do not jump into a high-level position as an editor; you must start as entry-level.
Additionally, Jessica shared that editorial work can be competitive. It’s not a lucrative career until you progress far. There are five big trade book publishing companies that account for over 80% of the US market share and top editors tend to stay in their positions for 20-25 years. They’re also typically restricted in number by the title count of that publishing house. There is a business component to the industry where the bottom line is determined by whether or not books are selling.
Alicia stated that editorial work is very glamorized but there are a lot of other in-house jobs available, such as sub-rights, marketing, publicity, and sales, that people should explore.
There are BENEFITS To working FOR both LARGE AND SMALL publishing companies
Alicia started her career with a big house. She said that sometimes when you’re just one person in a large group it can feel like you’re just a cog in the wheel and your job function can be very specific and siloed. However, you’ll have the benefit of a recognizable brand name on your resume and a larger network. If you work at a small house you’re typically exposed to more things and are able to take on more roles. It can be a great way to get hands-on and significant experience, as well as collaborate with employees across levels of management.
Consider the Health of the Part of the Industry You’re going into
Alicia loves working with children’s books since they’re always changing. She said that this part of the industry is very healthy and stable since children are still reading tangible books. Since you will not be able to choose the types of books you’re reviewing at the beginning of your career, it can be even more important to be practical about the part of the industry you focus on. Alicia loves that every day children’s books are changing and coming up with new subjects and ways of presenting the material.
Don’t go into Publishing Just to Get Published
Our panelists all agreed that if you work in publishing, your employer will want to feel like your first priority. Devin stated that sometimes if an applicant states they’re interested in being published, it can actually be a deterrent to getting hired because her publishing house has experienced employees quitting soon after being hired after they make connections in the industry. Jessica said that a colleague of hers was able to get an in-house publishing deal, but that your job still needs to come first. If you happen to write on the side, working in publishing means that you’ll have a good understanding of the industry and know people in the field, but it shouldn’t be the reason you want to work in publishing.
If you are interested in becoming published, the panelists recommended having a strong social media presence. This is one of the first things a publishing house will assess.
You WILL BE TRAINED ON YOUR GENRE
The publishing house you work with will train you on the genre you end up working with. It’s not essential to be a huge fan of the type of books you’re trying to publish. Instead, it’s important to be passionate about the field and interested in learning more. The only exception is when you’re interested in working with a publishing house that has a specific focus, like literary fiction. In that case, it’s more important to be passionate and knowledgeable about the genre.