Ms. Recent Graduate Editing/Publishing works at Harper Collins Publishers. She emphasizes that hard work when you start out – “paying your dues” – is the stepping-stone to greater responsibilities. Her experience highlights the importance of exploring alternative routes to finding an entry point into the industry and the importance of time management.
ZD: Describe your current job; a normal day.
A: My average day at Harper Collins Publishers is quite varied. My job is to support a more senior editor with the group of books and authors that he publishes; a secondary goal is to work on my own nascent list of books that I will edit and publish myself. For my boss, I help him give editorial feedback and support to his authors and generally serve as the liaison and advocate for these books to the rest of Harper Collins: marketing, publicity, production, and other departments. An average day could include anything from attending a meeting to review book cover options for one book to writing an editorial letter on an author’s most recent draft to writing flap copy. The idea is to be a sort of jack-of-all trades, someone who guides the author through the entire process of publishing a book, with an emphasis on the editorial process.
ZD: What was your major in college?
ZD: When you were in college, what did you think you would be doing when you finished? What was your actual career path? How did you find yourself on this path?
A: In college, I knew that I would eventually want to go on to a career that in some way involved writing, editing, or the like. I covered sports for the college paper and so sports-writing was a very appealing career for me. I had never had a book publishing internship or any other experience in that field, but that was always in the back of my mind as an option. So those were really the two ideas I had as a senior looking ahead to my first job and eventual career.
I decided to pursue book publishing because the state of print journalism was very uncertain when I graduated (and still is), and I felt I owed it to myself to try book publishing because on paper it seemed like a great fit for me. It was difficult to find a job during my senior year, so I applied to and attended the Columbia Publishing Course, a six-week summer program for recent college graduates interested in book or magazine publishing. The program taught me a lot about the world of publishing, and most of all it helped me get a great first job at the end of the program.
ZD: Where do you see yourself 5 years from now? How do you plan to get there?
A: In five years I hope to be a book editor working for myself (rather than for a more senior editor) either at the publishing house where I currently work or elsewhere. There is a very clear track in publishing on the editorial side that involves paying dues in your 20s. I plan to move up the next level by continuing to work hard in my current position and acquire more books for publication. The goal is to publish enough books on my own (rather than in an assisting role) to merit a position in which I devote all my time to my own books.
ZD: What did you think was the most important thing you learned while in college? Did that help you in your career? What do you wish you had studied or studied more of in college?
A: The most valuable lesson I learned in college vis-a-vis my eventual career is the need to just “get the job done.” Just as in college you sometimes need to put in a long beautiful Saturday at the library to make progress on your thesis, sometimes in publishing (and I’m sure every other line of work) you need to stay up very late to finish reading a manuscript or try another approach (or several) to a piece of writing to come up with a finished product that appeals to your boss. In this vein, an important lesson that translates from college to publishing is time management; in both scenarios you are often juggling a number of different responsibilities and you have to think constantly about time and deadlines to make sure it all gets done and done well. There is no particular academic training for publishing. The best preparation, more than being well read (though this is helpful) is to learn to be a “yes-man”—to do whatever it takes to finish the job and do it promptly and well.
ZD: Looking at where you were back in college and where you are now, what is the biggest surprise you encountered in the work world?
A: While I knew then and know now that the trip up the ladder in book publishing can be slow, I am surprised at how much editorial responsibility I have been given. Being entrusted to edit an entire book and draft editorial feedback for esteemed authors is very exciting and rewarding, and this work has been my favorite part of my job.
ZD: What do you feel is an important quality to do well in your field?
A: Important qualities are persistence, motivation, and a willingness to pay your dues in your 20s before you can really climb the ladder. Book publishing is a low-paying field with plenty of hours put in away from the office (lots of reading and editing at home), so you have to be willing to put in that time early on and take the long view toward building a career in the industry.
ZD: Do you have one piece of advice for college students interested in pursuing a career in your field? What worked? What you would have done differently?
A: Outside of applying to the Columbia Publishing Course, which worked for me, I advise those interested in book publishing to take advantage of any possible connection they have to the industry. The formal application process (on a company website, etc.) is competitive, so you should be looking at publishers’ online job boards but also working on any other way to get face-to-face contact with a member of human resources or someone who works in publishing who can pass on your résumé or provide a recommendation. Arrange informational interviews if full-time positions aren’t available. Internships are a great way to get your foot in the door as well. Contact and follow up with anyone you know who might be able to help. On the whole it’s a very word-of-mouth driven industry, and if someone you know hears about a job opening up, you want your name to be the first one they think of.
ZD: What is the best piece of advice someone has given you in your workplace?
A: While this isn’t exactly a piece of advice, many colleagues that I admire have acted out their commitment to this career path by working hard, staying late at the office and showing that hard work is a requirement to climb the ladder.
ZD: What do you do in your spare time? Do you have a hobby? What book did you last read?
A: In my spare time I see friends, exercise, cook, and watch sports. Unfortunately pleasure reading sometimes comes at a premium in book publishing, but I do try to make time for it. The last book I read outside of work was Michael Chabon’s Telegraph Avenue.