Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Moonrat's Guide to Getting into Publishing

I've had a couple of reader requests for this now, and boy do I have two cents (at least) to put in, so thanks to everyone who asked.

Here are the main themes:


If you're hoping for a job in publishing, the best thing you can do for yourself is get an internship. Most publishing companies offer internships--almost all unpaid--and they really boost your resume. You should also look into literary agencies--many a successful editorial career was born at a lit agency. And since publishing is a poor industry and every company needs free labor, you shouldn't have a problem finding an internship (at least, in New York City).

To learn about available internships, start subscribing to Publishers Lunch. This is a free daily newsletter that sends out bulletins for most available publishing jobs. You should also check regularly. It's a gold mine.

Another thing that reflects really well on job candidates is experience in a bookstore, or in retail in general. This shows you have a good eye for marketing schemes and customer trends.

This all assumes that you either have a college degree or are on your way to getting one. There is some conversation about what the best degree to have is, but there really isn't any reason you need an English degree. I don't have one--I majored in history. One very good friend majored in Russian literature and film and has done wonderfully. That said, most publishing people have majored in English.

There are many, many aspects of publishing, so although people tend to think of either writing or editing, there are lots of more exciting and glamorous and well-paid jobs in other areas. Marketing and Sales notoriously pay the best, although publicists are often just as well paid. Publicists and Sales Managers get to travel the most. Foreign Rights and Subrights agents get to attend the most international conventions. Jobs in Publicity, Sales, and Marketing, in particular, translate really well to and from other industries.

My suggestion would be to keep an open mind--you can always enter one field and then segue into another. You won't be the first or the last person. Please keep in mind that all the below fields are absolutely necessary and are often overlooked.

A taster of options, with some abbreviated job descriptions:


1) Acquisitions Editor (I start here, because this is where I've been): the acquisitions editor is responsible for bringing new titles into the company. He or she is responsible for convincing the publisher to lay down the money, courting the author, and generating marketing copy for catalogs, sales sheets, book flaps, etc. The acquisition editor is, at some/most companies, also responsible for editing the book and liaising with the production department. TO WORK IN THIS FIELD: LOOK FOR ENTRY LEVEL JOBS AS AN EDITORIAL ASSISTANT.

2) Developmental Editor: at many companies, developmental editors will work with the book as actual editors once acquisitions editors have acquired the book. The DE is responsible for content and quality. DEs also exist in many lines where there are no acquisitions--for example, at a text book company or a travel book company, there is no need for an acquisitions editor, since content is basically being commissioned, farmed, and edited constantly. Often, people who thought they wanted to be acquisitions editors will find they prefer working with the text more than with the money and the crazy people you have to deal with on the acquisition side, and will pursue developmental jobs. TO WORK IN THIS FIELD: LOOK FOR ENTRY LEVEL JOBS AS AN EDITORIAL ASSISTANT.

3) Managing Editor (or Production Editor): at most companies (although, coincidentally, none of the companies I have worked for) the managing editor is the lynch pin for the product line or the company (if the company is small). The managing editor "manages" project flow, seasons lists, deadlines, and duedates. He or she also usually liaises with the copy editors, proofreaders, indexers, printers, designers, and other freelancers brought in at the production stage. Often, companies will either have a production department or a managing editorial department. I won't describe production here, since there is so much crossover. These individuals are extremely detail-oriented and organized. They are very special people who are secretly running the company. TO WORK IN THIS FIELD: LOOK FOR ENTRY LEVEL JOBS AS AN EDITORIAL ASSISTANT, A MANAGING EDITORIAL ASSISTANT, OR A PRODUCTION ASSISTANT.

4) Publisher: The head honcho. The publisher manages a list of titles or a company, and is responsible for doling out advances, making sure books are shipped, etc. Most publishers are former editors, although publishers on the whole do not have time to edit. If you want to be a publisher, it is smart to pursue a career in editorial or in marketing and to try to get an advanced degree (and MBA has worked for all my previous publishers) to show your business savvy.

5) Marketing Manager: the marketing team is responsible for consumer outreach, promotions, co-op, liaising with Sales and with booksellers, and monitoring things like jacket image and copy to make sure it best appeals to the target audience. To quote a very wise friend, marketing is where the money is. TO WORK IN THIS FIELD: START AS A MARKETING OR PUBLICITY ASSISTANT.

6) Publicist: I think you know what a publicist does? But it's more fun in books, since you really get to hobnob with celebrities. TO WORK IN THIS FIELD: START AS A PUBLICITY ASSISTANT, OR AS A PUBLICIST IN ANOTHER INDUSTRY. ALSO, BE REALLY PERKY AND SOCIAL.

7) Events Coordinator: again, pretty self-explanatory.

8) Subrights Coordinator: Subrights agents sell everything from audio and large print licenses to serial excerpts in magazines to foreign language translation rights to the rights to make your book into a calendar or mug. Subrights is your best chance of getting to use a foreign language in publishing. Also, you'll get to go to lots of rights fairs.

9) Sales Manager: Sellers are the ones who go to Barnes & Noble (as well as Urban Outfitters and tiny independents and everything in between) and beg them to stock the company's books. Sellers are the best compensated people in publishing and get to travel a lot (or have to travel a lot, depending on your perspective). Sellers are always very well dressed and usually are one of the few members of the company with an unlimited expense account. They also have very stressful jobs, since their ability to get copies of the book out is directly proportional to how many copies are printed and sold. Harry Potter with a lousy sales team would have failed. TO GET INTO SALES: YOU CAN START AS A SALES OR MARKETING ASSISTANT, OR YOU CAN EASILY COME FROM ANOTHER INDUSTRY (note--head of sales at a large publishing company just left to become CEO of Shaw's Groceries).

10) Contracts Manager: an oft-overlooked and extremely well-paid job. Contracts managers have to be bulldogs. Sometimes they will have law degrees, and companies like to have lawyers on hand, but there is absolutely no requirement that you have one. There are only like 8 great contracts managers in all of publishing, because no one thinks to go into this field, so if you were interested in working in contracts there are probably tons of ready-made jobs.

11) Legal Department: that's right, publishing companies need lawyers. A lot of material needs to be vetted to make sure the company won't be sued for libel.

12) Creative/Art Specialist: this is the person who designs the cover image and front cover text layout. An art degree helps a lot here.

13) Book designer: this is the person who lays out the interior of the book.


14) Agent: agents are, in theory, the most creative people in publishing. They think of great ideas for books, troll for authors to match up with the ideas, and pitch tirelessly to editors to get them to listen. The agent also gets all the free lunches from the editors. (And they say there's no such thing as a free lunch.) TO BECOME AN AGENT: START AS AN AGENCY ASSISTANT. OR AS AN EDITOR.


All the following well-compensated jobs are absolutely essential to publishing and often allow you to work at home:

15) Copy Editor

16) Line Editor

17) Proofreader

18) Copy Writer: generates the flap and marketing copy

19) Fact-Checker

20) Indexer

21) Outside Publicist: can anyone say Heidi Krupp?

22) Book Doctor: polishes/rewrites really shitty manuscripts before they go to the editor

23) Ghost Writer: occasionally paid millions. Shocking. A lot of them are terrible schlocky writers.

All things to think about, all exciting ways to be involved in the process.

Am I forgetting anything in this disorganized treatise?


angelle said...

Did you write the publicist blurb for me?? *bats eyelashes* This is my concern as of late. Every job description I've clicked on for a publicist in PubLunch asks for experience in BOOK publicity. Of which I have none. I don't know how to do book tours or the like. I don't have media contacts for book reviews. But I REFUSE to start at the bottom of the totem pole again, not after I've put in my three years here as a publicist elsewhere. So. What to do? Hmm. Sometimes I think I should go broader and try to get into general marketing instead. I wonder if you need an mba for that though. Most marketing jobs you do.

moonrat said...

No!! that's absolute bullshit. They happily take publicists from everywhere. You know how job descriptions always ask for impossible qualifications--eg the person in my role is supposed to be very proficient in Power Point (ha).

Trust me--your skills will EASILY carry over. Especially if you start with books that are related to the same subjects you've represented before--eg, if you're a health publicist you can work at a company that does a lot of health books, etc.

Also, book tours are on the way out--very rare these days.

angelle said...

Hey maybe I should become a schlocky ghostwriter... I might be good at that. Then I never have to dress up and can wear my pajamas all day long, which is really, my greatest dream and aspiration. No seriously, I swear, I'd be amazingly good at writing really bad writing and I'm willing to be paid millions for it.

I often wonder if I shouldn't offer to write really melodramatic Asian dramas. I bet I could make a killing, and I'd be incredible at it. Alas, my grasp of any Asian language is simply not good enough. It was a thought though. I mean if someone got paid to adapt "Il Mare" into the horrifyingly bad "The Lakehouse", I don't see why I shouldn't take some dramas involving sacrificing oneself to donate eyes and babies switched at birth, and rewrite them for Keanu to act in. He'll put on the same face as he always does (blank) as the girl cries and tells him, finally, that she has toe cancer, and he'll say with an inscrutable look -- "But. Why?" *commence sweeping sad violin concerto* Then he'll leap off a building with instructions in his pocket that his toes - which have been wrapped neatly in a hankerchief as to prevent damage from a 50 foot drop - are to be donated to his long lost love, who also, by the way, happens to be his adopted sister.

What do you think? Do I have a future career???

moonrat said...


jalexissmith said...

well it all sounds so glamorous. maybe i should forget law school and go into publishing. or maybe i could work in a legal department.

or maybe not.

Space Alien said...

I was waiting for this post.

Thank you, it has helped me. I have officially decided to drop out of school and become a full-time unpaid intern.

Freelancing is too scary. I am proud that you can do it.

Nubia said...

I want to be a publicist! Alas, it's too late--I've already started on the path to being stuck in front of a computer all day...*wah*!

angelle said...

nubia: being a publicist isn't as glamourous as all that. we spend most of our time sitting in front of a computer screen withering away too.

Sarah said...

How does one get one's foot in the door as a freelance copyeditor or proofreader? I've worked as an editor (textbooks, travel writing, consumer magazine, lit. magazine, and tech writing) and have a certificate in literary editing and publishing. I've fantasized for years about editing/copyediting fiction and narrative non-fiction. (The certificate applies, and so does some of the experience, the rest translates...)

Brittany said...

Okay so I've been reading your blog for awhile now because I'm interested in a career in the Publishing field. I'm 19 and start college this fall. The thing is, I live in Oregon so moving to New York is a pretty big deal. How difficult is it to get a position as an Editorial Assistant without having started with an internship? And if I absolutely have to start with an internship, how many hours a week would it be? Would I be able to work another job so I can pay the bills in the mean time?

moonrat said...

Brittany--I would say (honestly) the odds of getting a job without having some internship experience (and yeah, I think it's all unpaid) is near impossible (the exception being if you have a VERY transferable skill from a closely related industry, but I think internships are a good bet).

All that said, an internship will only ask you to do 1-2 days a week (unless you want to do more) and you totally have time to take on a full time job (if not, maybe, an office one). A lot of my interns wait or bartend for cash. And yeah, a lot of them end up getting jobs. Even during this recession. But be prepared to do something else for at LEAST a couple weeks.

dramaqueen said...

hi! I've worked as an academic editor and web strategist in india for the last 5 years and decided to take a break to do my master's. i've been accepted into the mlitt in creative writing at univ of glasgow. do you think that's a good program to get into trade publishing? i'm cool with unpaid internship, but until i move to the uk for college next year, are there any publishing houses that would take me on as remote freelance copy editor/proofreader? i've approached a few but no responses. or is there anything slightly higher up the ladder i could do? thanks!

moonrat said...

dramaqueen--I'd say keep sending around that freelance resume. It is a tough time now, because after all the layoffs last year there are lots of great editors all competing for the same freelance jobs. But that's not to say it's impossible to find jobs. Try contacting production departments directly, since they're the ones who usually hire freelancers.

rayna.erlick said...

Thanks for the post!
I graduated from college with a degree in English and have done 3 internships, but I haven't been able to find any listings for jobs--I'm doing an unpaid internship now at a literary agency in NYC (full-time) and watching the normal sites (PM, mediabistro, regular job boards) but I barely see anything. How do agencies and publishers feel about cold calling? Is there anything else I can do?

moonrat said...

Rayna--it's a tough time right now (I don't need to tell you), and as a result most jobs are inside-postings (you have to know someone to refer your resume, etc). My advice would be to go to as many networking events as you can. The more people you know, the better. Ask your supervisor (the agency assistant?) if s/he has any recommendations for meeting people. Join YPG and collect as many business cards as you can. Shameless networking is the key.

angelle said...

AHAHAH i totally forgot i had commented on this. all those years ago... before you were a mega-blog-star and i still commented on your blog. HEE HEE HEE!! i still think my asian drama idea is BRILLIANT.

Anthrophile said...

I've been toying with the idea of transferring from copyediting to production, but I don't know if that's feasible (or if I really mena it :-D).

Kathleen Ortiz said... <--amazing. They have at LEAST 50 internships in publishing listed, most of which are updated regularly.

Anonymous said...

I'm so beaten down it's unbelievable. With a year of experience (7 mos Lit Assistant/6 mos various internships), an MFA in writing, and certs in copy editing, no one will even call me for an interview. Ok, not true. 1 interview. They found a candidate and made an offer WHILE I WAS DOING MY PHONE INTERVIEW.

All I can think of is that I need to hang with all the editors and make some new BFFs. I'm not giving up, but much more of this and I'm going to spontaneously combust into a vulture shapeshifting were-vampire with anger management issues.

Off to yoga.

Vicki said...

Recent college grad (creative writing), unemployed, who is ravenously interested in breaking into editing. Developmental Editor, Copy Editor, Line Editor, Proofreader, and Copy Writer sound out of this world (and probably are, for me at least). However, as another Oregonian who is strapped for cash (quick shout-out to Brittany), I'm not having much luck in finding a job or internship in my area. Do you know of any publishing houses in Oregon? Or perhaps any others that allow off-site internships in these fields?

And then comes the challenge of tackling my non-existent resume.

'Word' Verification: soltroth
Used in a Sentence: Yo mamma's soltroth, she couldn't even open a car door!

lyndalepress said...

Thanks for this great post - the job descriptions are particularly helpful. I'm on on the right path, at least, with 3 of the 4 covered.

What are your thoughts/experiences on how easily people can transfer between departments? I've always hoped to be an editor, but I have background in publicity and would probably enjoy that as well. Should I go for openings that don't interest me - like sales - just to get my foot in the door? Or would that ruin chances of working in another position?

Anonymous said...

I am obviously very late in discovering your blog. However, I just want your opinion on receiving a copy editing certificate from mediabistro. Is it respected by others in the industry or would I be better off obtaining one from a university?