Where Literary Legends Are Born

From the Assistant Desk: So You Want to Be in Publishing…

With the spring semester well underway and summer fast approaching, we thought it might be time for a post directed at people looking for publishing internships and jobs.  So, this is for you!

Whether you’re still in school or a recent grad, you’ve given it some thought and you think you want to work in the publishing industry.  Maybe it’s because you love everything about books or editorial content creation, or the idea of helping someone bring the written word to life for millions of people is particularly inspiring.  Whatever the case, you want this… so what do you do about it?

INTERN EARLY AND OFTEN

The best way to find out if publishing is for you is to try it out.  As an assistant, I went through several publishing internships before I landed my first job in the industry.  I came a little late in the game; I was an avid reader my whole life and majored in English in college, but still really wasn’t sure what I wanted to do.  I’d known of publishing as an industry, but wasn’t entirely sure what it had to offer, or, more importantly, what I would have to offer to it.  A college creative writing class (and years of helping my brothers with their homework) taught me that I might actually be good at giving editorial advice, but I didn’t know that I could make that a viable career.  After college, I applied to all sorts of jobs.  As someone with varied interests (baseball, for instance, has always arguably been as big a part of my life as books), I was very open-minded in my initial job search.  However, when a wonderful woman at my college career center with whom I’d been in contact during my time at school reached out with an internship opportunity, I remember how my heart skipped a beat reading the description.  It was an internship at a small literary agency reading manuscripts, writing reports, and offering editorial feedback.  Helping actual authors create actual work.  More than that, having influence in helping them create their BEST work.  The immediate, physical pull of that idea was breathtaking.  I applied immediately.

DO YOUR RESEARCH

There are many aspects of publishing, but one decision I had to make at some point was between the agency side and the publisher side.  My gut told me I wanted to be in editorial, but I wasn’t sure where.  My multiple internships informed my decision better than anything else, but networking was huge as well.  If you want to learn about something, you either need to go about it on your own or talk to people!  I’d applied to publishers, interviewed, and entertained the idea of going into that side of the industry, but ultimately realized I gravitate more towards the agency side.  There’s a lot of movement between sides both ways (people leave publishers to come to agencies, others leave agencies for publishers), but it’s helpful and important to know the industry AND know yourself.

KNOW WHY YOU LIKE WHAT YOU LIKE

I gleaned so much advice from so many amazing people during my time at HSG Agency and Writers House (and now here at M&O!) but one of the biggest pieces of advice I ever got was the importance of knowing why I like what I like.  This was presented in the context of reading material, but applies to so much more than that.  In order to speak intelligently about a project, you need to be able to say what works, what doesn’t, and why.  It’s good?  Why did you like it?  It’s horrible?  Why?  “It just is” isn’t an answer.  We’re in the business of convincing people to get excited about what we’re excited about; not being able to articulate that properly isn’t going to help anyone.  It’s also super important to know the market and be on top of what’s current.  Keep reading what you like and be able to talk about the books you’re interested in, and why.

PUT YOURSELF OUT THERE

As I’ve learned, there are a LOT of people who want to be in this industry.  It is very difficult to get your foot in the door.  For me, there were tons of rejections between every acceptance.  That is no reason to be discouraged!  This is a super tough industry to be in, and everyone knows it, and everyone who’s here busted their butt to get here.  As in life, if you want something, you have to prove it, and then fight tooth and nail for it.  Channel your enthusiasm.  Once you have your foot in the door, kick it open and start running.  A sizeable, unglamorous part of being an intern is the grunt work.  You might be asked to dig through dusty files for an old contract, brave the subway system to hand-deliver a manuscript, or lug large boxes of galleys up three flights of stairs.  It’s all part of earning your way, and everyone’s been there and done that.  I am enormously grateful to everyone who took me under their wing, advocated for me, and took time out of their ridiculously busy schedules to meet with me for coffee so I could pick their brain.  Putting yourself out there is the first step to moving forward!

THE CHEAT SHEET

You think you want to go into publishing?  Take these steps:

  • Do your research: Get to know the industry and figure out why you think you’d be a good fit there.
  • Prepare: As with any internship/job anywhere, preparation is key. Do your research on specific places so you’re not wasting anyone’s time (including your own)!
  • Know why you like what you like: Passion is a huge part of this industry, but being able to explain your thoughts is just as important. Be prepared to answer for your opinions with sound reasoning.
  • Intern early and often: The sooner you get started, the sooner you know if this is where you want to be, and the more attractive you’ll look during your job search.
  • Put yourself out there: So you’ve landed the internship; congrats!  Now go kill it.  Meet people.  Learn all you can.  Work hard.  Keep moving forward.

If it turns out publishing really is for you after all, you’re on your way!  If after all this you’ve decided to go into investment banking or join the circus, power to you.

Good luck!

-Amelia