Sunday, April 15, 2007

So, You Want My Job, Huh?

One of the questions I get most frequently is how a person acquires my job - i.e. how do they enter entry-level publishing. (The other question is why do bad books get published, and nobody can answer that to everyone's satisfaction, so I've stopped trying)

The answer is: Craig's list NYC. Job search: Writing/Editing.

No, seriously, that's where all the listings are, aside from the NY Times, and this day and age, by the time the ad goes out, the position might be filled. Check on Saturdays and Sundays, too. My first job was posted on a Saturday night, and I answered within an hour, and got a call on Monday morning. She said she had 100 applicants within a day for a job that paid $10 an hour.

Serious work - full-time work at a publishing house as an editorial assistant, with health and dental benefits - usually requires either an "in" (your uncle works there) or a year's experience. Many people get started as unpaid interns at publishing houses and literary agencies. Some houses even have programs in the summer that offer college credit. The programs work both ways - the company gets free workers and the workers get work experience and a reference or two.

That said, it is not actually necessary to be an intern before you become a paid worker. I came into the industry with no experience working in it and no references. I just killed in the interview. Here are some tips:

(1) Know what a query letter is and how to tell between a good one and a bad one. Subscribe to Publisher's Lunch (in case that comes up in conversation). Read the bad queries people are posting on and people's comments on them. Read agent blogs. The key moment of my first interview, where my boss obviously decided then and there not to bother with the rest of the pile of people, was when she showed me query letters and had me analyze them on the spot, and I was able to say things like, "He's comparing himself to Dan Brown - bad. He's listing being a member of the Romance Writer Association [or whatever it's called] as a credit, but anyone can be a member of that. That's not a real credit. And nothing strikes me as interesting in the hook." Etc etc.

(2) If asked what you read, list as many things as you can. Don't be afraid to list your guilty pleasures (mine was "Entertainment Weekly"). Have a good joke ready about why your favorite book is your favorite book. Try not to sound like an English major when talking about literature.

(3) If you're a writer and you're going into publishing, don't deny it, but have an explanation as to why you're not going into publishing just to get "in's" for your writing career. I legitimately went into publishing because I love reading and I love helping writers succeed. My own writing career is separate. It does, however, mean I've been in writer's communities and workshops and I'm familiar with what they're doing. That's not a bad thing.

(4) If you're applying to an agency, familiarize yourself with the client list of the agency if it's available. Read the summaries and reviews of the books on so you can at least said, "I've read reviews."

(5) Smile! Unless you have exceptionally bad teeth.

Good luck!


Anonymous said...

And so everyone sees the additional evidence that a writer must go through a $10/hr overworked membrane to get at the nucleus of an opportunity.

Is it just me or does every Rejector post make you exponentially more nauseated?

I'm with storming the Bastille ... anyone, anyone?

The Rejecter said...

I don't see what's wrong with saying that publishing is a a difficult field to get into even at the entry-level, with high competition for the worst-paying spots because they only want the most qualified people.

As opposed to, you know, the guys who who trade stocks, who will apparently take anybody who shows up at a suit for the interview. I know because my brother has no qualifications and managed to get 10 job offers in a week.

Don said...

No, rejecter, you don't understand: You see it's those $10 an hour people who are responsible for anonymous's staggering genius still being unrecognized. If only anonymous could get past that "$10/hr overworked membrane" and straight to the "nucleus of opportunity", he'd be given a 6-figure advance and be bff with every editor in NYC. And the fact that you didn't instantly recognize the genius of his cellular metaphor just shows that you're part of the problem.

Anonymous said...

The thing is, every writer thinks his or her work is the next literary masterpiece - or at least no worse than James Patterson. Maybe they're right, but probably not. I don't think underpaid interns are any less competent than their bosses and I don't mind going through them. After all, I would want my novel to sell, and the more thumbs up it receives along the road to publication, the better. If I just want a book to hold, there's always

The Rejecter said...

I guess the problem is I never took Neuro 101 like everyone else at Brown who thought it was cool. I took history classes.

Anonymous said...

with people as arrogant, inflexible, and crass-minded as you in publishing it's hardly surprising that American literature is in a bad way.

Anonymous said...

For every twenty rejections I have had over three years of submitting, whether from "overworked membranes" or from nuclei, I have received at least one request for more material.

The process reminds me of trips to the bookstore. When shopping for a good read, I may pick up twenty different books, read a few pages/the summary on the back flap, before finding one gem to carry home.

My choice depends as much on my reading taste (which changes month to month) as it does on my mood at that exact point in time.

Rather than piss and moan about membranes, I say query widely instead. If after twenty or thirty queries you have no nibbles, rewrite your query letter. If after several partials, you don't receive a request for any fulls, rewrite your opening. If after several fulls, you have no offers and no good explanation for why agents aren't offering, rewrite your novel or start over with a new one.

Sign Me,

Been there.

Done that.

Learned from it.

Rewrote first novel a zillion times.

In the meantime, since it was a first novel and therefore akin to a test pancake, I wrote a second that is now almost finished. An agent who read my first, loved it, but didn't think the market was big enough for it, has asked to see my second as soon as it's done.

Interestingly, three agents are currently reading fulls on the first ms thanks to an agent several months back who took the time to explain to me exactly what was missing.

Never, ever give up. If you are truly a writer, you will receive enough positive feedback to spur you into continuing. If you don't receive any positive feedback, something is seriously wrong and I don't think it is necessarily cellular.

Anonymous said...

To all those who resent the rejector and question her qualifications to reject, remember what Jackie Gleason said:

"You don't need to be Alexander Graham Bell to pick up the phone and know that it's dead."

Janet said...

Risibilis has shown consummate class. ahem. (I always clear my throat when I lie.)

Risible, in French, means laughable, worthy of derision. Hey, HE chose it.

Anonymous said...

You're absolutely right, all of you. Particularly the Rejector, who says RWA membership is not a credential.

Of course it's not a credential, unless learning more about craft and how to polish is a waste of our time.

The Rejecter said...

In response to Anon 8:54

The reason RWA is not a credential is because literally anyone can be in it. You could write a 500 page manuscript of Naruto slash, but if you pay your $75 a year, you're in.

While I do recommend joining it if you're a Romance writer and you want serious feedback from other writers, it doesn't mean we count it as a major credit.

Anonymous said...

I'm not asking why bad books get published. I'd like to know how bad books get published. Because I happen to have the manuscript for a bad book here...

Anonymous said...

To publish any book you may happen to have lying around, or a book you haven't written, or a book even if you have no idea for a book, become famous or infamous. For example, Fantasia, past American Idol winner, got a major deal for a book, even though her backstory is that she is self-admittedly illiterate.

And sad to say, if you have Fantasia's resume or the functional equivalent, you won't have to approach the likes of the rejecter or her boos. The functional equivalent of the rejecter, or more likely her boss herself, will contact you.

Anonymous said...

Possible Formula For Successful Publication:

Who You Know/Your Notoriety - 45%

Writing ability/knowledge - < 5%

Promotion - 50%

Dumb Luck - < 1%

Richard said...

I have no desire to do your job. There is enough crap to read without actually trying to wade through it. Although, I oftentimes feel that I am doing just that as I slog through some kitsch I paid for. I am going to read it, damn it! Because I paid for it.

Do you actually have to read the whole manuscript? Or can you stop before the gag reflex kicks in?

anon 08:52: I think promotion and connections / nororiety are much less important than appeal and timing.

If you have the right product at the right time, it might succeed. If you have something nobody wants, you can rpomote teh heck out of it and maybe 3 more people will want it.

Look at all the big Hollywood flops. They get promoted to death. But if the movie doesn't appeal to the masses, it isn't going anywhere.

Anonymous said...

"anon 08:52: I think promotion and connections / nororiety are much less important than appeal and timing."

I was thinking of specific cases I recently encountered that made me come up with that off-the-top-of-my-head breakdown.

I hope you're right.

Anonymous said...

Connections and notoriety are a great way to get published, but most first novels are written by nobodies. Sure, less than one percent of all novelists got an unfair leg up. Why waste your time whining about not being in that 1% when you still have a chance to be in the 99% of all novelists who started out from where you're standing?

Anonymous said...

as anonymous 11:38, I should add that although I didn't have the advantage of celebrity I'm a previously unpublished first-time author with a major imprint.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, but the question still nags.

I frequently buy first novels when I see them on the shelf, because I get a kick out of turning on my friends to new writers that they've never heard about. Sometimes— not that often, but more often than I think makes any sense— these books are surprisingly bad. And these are the ones I buy for myself, not the ones I leave on the shelf because I can tell they're bog-awful from the opening sentence.

The people who write these things are not celebrities. (Don't most celebrities hire ghost writers anyway? Ghosts are usually more competent.) After careful observation of the phenomenon, I'm pretty sure that what's going on is that publishers have developed a canny method for distinguishing bad books that make them money from bad books that lose lots of money.

I'd like to know more about how they are able to do that. (Yes, I expect the answer is probably: "not very well." But, I can't see how to do it at all.)

Twill said...

Write a kick-ass wonderful novel that meets the desires of a large target audience and see how quickly you develop those "who you know" and "promotion" numbers.

Kidlitjunkie said...

I can't tell you about lit agencies, but I can tell you that most of entry-level, EA-type people I work with (including me) had publishing internships. A lot of us had internships in the same house we work for now.

Sometimes, your "in" is as easy as "I interned with that editor and then when I was ready to look for a job, I emailed her my resume and she passed it on directly to the editor who was looking for an assistant."

I can't stress the value of internships enough. Not just because they look nice on your resume, and then you can talk about your publishing experience, and it looks like you've actually devoted time and energy to pursuing this particular career and you didn't just wake up one day and decide to try out for an editorial position - but also because if you're smart, that's where you can create the contacts and the "ins" that will get you hired.

The Rejecter said...

What kidlitjunkie said is obviously really valuable information. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to add that outside the highly competitive world of fiction publishing, it's easier to get a job without going through an internship first. I work in educational publishing, and most of the editors at my company were hired directly into mid-level editorial positions on the basis of their subject knowledge and teaching experience. A few others were hired because they had freelance experience as copy editors and proofreaders. For many people, this is their second career, so the editorial pool isn't as young as it probably is at fiction houses.

Or as underpaid. Salaries rise as you leave fiction publishing. The less glamorous the field and the more specialized knowledge you need, the more money you can get. Medical, legal, and technical publishing are at the top of the field, and while you won't get rich in an entry-level (or even second) job, you'll do far better than $10 an hour.

(You'll still be overworked. That's a publishing industry standard.)

So if you're reading this post looking for tips on getting into publishing, remember that the publishing world is bigger than fiction publishing. An internship can help you regardless of where in publishing you go, but if you're too old for an internship or your first love is a completely different field of study, there are other ways to get an editorial job.

Kidlitjunkie said...

Amen to Issendai. In my hunt for a job, I had the opportunity a couple of times to take on a job that was a lot less glamorous and fun (and probably better paying) than my job is now.

Educational publishers especially are always looking for good people they can count on, internships or no.

You just have to figure out what it is you really want to do in publishing. One other really excellent thing to look into is associates programs. They are becoming extremely popular these days, and a lot of houses have them. Basically, you get hired at full pay with full benefits, but without a permanant position. You're hired for a year, and in that year, you're supposed to work in three different departments. It's meant for people who know they want to work in publishing, but aren't sure yet in what field.

It is also a way to get an in into a company without an internship. And once you're in, and you make yourself valuable, odds are extremely good that once a permanant position opens up, your current manager (or your previous manager, depending on how long you've been in the program) will pass along your resume and put in a good word for you, and you will get hired.

Sarahlynn said...

"Medical, legal, and technical publishing are at the top of the field, and while you won't get rich in an entry-level (or even second) job, you'll do far better than $10 an hour."

I wish! When I started as an EA at a major medical publisher 10 years ago, I made $8.81/hour. I busted my butt to get promoted to ADE 8 months later because I couldn't live on that. Obviously, salaries have increased over the past 10 years, but EAs are still not that well paid, even at large companies. I ended up in marketing rather than editorial, because I got to do a lot of the same fun stuff and I made a lot more money. (And I had a much better office.)

Dolce said...

I really appreciate your frankness. I appreciate knowing that something is going to be a challenge.

I am left wondering, however, if it is possible to break into publishing if I am a)not an English major (I was a political science major) and b)if I am in San Francisco instead of New York? Is there any hope at all?

Marian Schembari said...

This is wonderful advice, thanks so much for posting this! Even though this was written quite some time ago, I think the tips are definitely still relevant. I actually run a website entirely dedicated to getting into publishing. It also chronicles my own job hunt. There are tons of creative and innovative ways to get your foot in the door, so definitely check it out:

aspiringpub said...

I actually found this quite helpful! Thank you, rejector.