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How to Get a Job in the Book Publishing Industry

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Recently, Bitch Media’s podcast, Popaganda, focused on diversity on books and the book publishing industry. They noted that 89% of the industry is white and highlighted the efforts of the We Need Diverse Books campaign. The podcast spoke to several writers, but no one who works in the publishing industry itself. Since that’s my day job, it’s an issue that’s close to me. If we ever want the book publishing to reflect the US population, I figure it might be helpful to share information on exactly how one goes about getting a job in the industry. This advice might not be helpful to everyone, but I suppose it’s a place to start, right?

Here we go!

 1) Get a job in an office.

Many jobs in the book publishing industry can also be described as a corporate office job. You will need to know how to use a computer, a copier, and Microsoft Outlook etc. I know this sounds basic, but I’ve actually talked to people who think we sit here all day with paper and pen. Sorry to destroy your dream, but 99% of these jobs are computer-based! In fact, I think one of the surprising things I’ve learned about the industry is that it’s also very data-based. And if you think about it, it makes sense–any one publisher has thousands upon thousands of books in print. Yes, some people work very closely with individual books, but a lot of jobs in the industry are where you are managing quite a lot of books at the same time.

2) You don’t need to work in a bookstore or a library.

At one point I thought I would never make it into the industry because I never worked at a bookstore or library. Never fear! You still have a chance! I never worked in either and I still got a job in the industry. However, if you do have this work experience, it will only help.

3) To go to college or not go to college, that is the question.

Recently Penguin Random House announced that they are ditching their degree requirement with the explicit aim to increase the diversity of their staff. I feel a bit skeptical about this because this isn’t particularly going to stop white girls with degrees from around the country applying for these jobs (*waves* *points to self*). And true, there have been times where I’ve thought to myself that I didn’t need a degree to, say, schedule meetings in Microsoft Outlook. That said, my parents drilled into me that one needs to create as many opportunities as possible when it comes to jobs. I do think getting a college degree will give you more opportunities. While Penguin Random House is one of the biggest publishers, they are not the *only* publisher. Here are a few more reasons for  getting a college degree:

  • A college degree will expand your knowledge base. While you will bring your own unique background to the book publishing industry, you will find yourself working with books, people, and organizations that are different from yourself. For example, when I was a sales rep, I worked with various religious organizations that were different from my religious background. And while there may have not been a direct relationship between my job and that comparative religion course I took in college, I definitely felt a more confident and I could speak more intelligently to my business partners. You will also learned things you didn’t learn in high school because universities have more resources and leeway in what they can teach.
  • Your Professors are your friends. Professors have to publish books–publish or perish, they say. So, naturally, your professors will be a great resource in getting your foot in the door. Talk to your professors about where they publish, that you are interested in getting into the industry and how might they come to write a letter of recommendation for you.
  • Your friends are your future job referrals. The college social scene matters to your future. The friends you make in college will go on to get jobs of their own and quite possibly help you get a job as well.
  • You get some Skillz. Whether it’s knowing how to write clearly and concisely, how to program, how to explain the fundamentals of marketing or how to graphic design, you will acquire some skillz.

I know in this day and age, student debt is huge problem and people are asking themselves if college is worth it. To that, I say this: Be smart about it. You don’t need a degree from an expensive, private college like NYU to get into book publishing. You most definitely can get into the industry without a fancy degree, but I do think it’s important to get one. Don’t feel like you just need to get a degree in English Literature either. Get a degree that makes the most sense for you; there’s room for you in the book publishing industry.

4) Put a NYC, Chicago or San Francisco address on your resume–even if it’s not yours. 

This was one of the first pieces of advice that was given to me. If you are submitting resumes to publishers located in a particular city, you need to have a home address located in or near that city. For example, if you are submitting a resume to Penguin Random House in NYC, they are not going to look at your resume if it has a Denver, Colorado address on it. Ask a friend or relative if you can use their home address. Basically, the book publishing industry isn’t about to fly out a prospective candidate. Their most immediate concern is that you can come in to interview as soon as possible.

One of things that most shocked me about the book publishing industry in New York City was that it wasn’t quite as diverse as New York City itself. The biggest hurdle for me was that I didn’t live in New York City, so I was at a lost as to why–when the book publishing industry is at so many people’s doorsteps–why it’s mostly white. There is a longer answer to that question, but for now, let’s stick to the positive–if you already live in New York City, or in a populous city–you have an advantage.

For those who don’t want to move to the Big City, never fear! There are small publishers all around North America, so there might be one or several, near you. Any university worth its salt should have its own university press, for example.

5) Attend the Denver Publishing Institute or the Columbia Publishing Program. 

I was told the getting into the book publishing industry was notoriously competitive, so at my university, I attended a mini book publishing industry seminar where they recommend these longer book publishing courses: the Denver Publishing Institute and the Columbia Publishing Program. I applied for the Denver Publishing program and got in. It’s a month-long course that takes place at the University of Denver. The lectures are conducted by industry professionals and at the end of the course there are mock interviews etc. I spoke to some of my fellow classmates about whether or not they found the course useful. One friend said that the lectures were “meh” but the real gold was getting on the job mailing list. Another friend was able to make a good connection with an industry professional which lead to her first job. As for me, I would agree with my first friend–the lectures might not be useful for you, but the job mailing list is. Another positive about these workshops is that they are well-known with the industry, so they do make your resume stand out. And finally, the friends I’ve made at the seminar have also been a great source of support in my career even several years after the fact.

The downside to these programs is that they require an undergraduate degree and it does cost money. I don’t think it’s imperative to do these programs, but again, they don’t hurt.

6) The Wow Factor

In a competitive job market, how do you set yourself apart? Here’s your secret weapon: always include a Wow Factor on your resume. Your Wow Factor can be anything. For me, it was being an English teacher in Japan. I can’t tell you how many interviews I got from people who seemed to think that was the coolest thing in the world and just wanted to talk to me about Japan. Not only that, but it was definitely a factor in landing my first job–unbeknownst to me, the publisher worked with a Japanese publisher. It was benefit for them to have staff that understood Japanese culture.

I know not knowing what a company wants can be nerve-racking. My experience in Japan was something I did for myself and no one else. So, I think in this respect, your wow factor can be completely liberating.

7) Don’t let anyone make you feel bad for liking a particular book genre.

I once had an interview for an editorial assistant job with an editor who mostly worked with mystery books. She really wanted to know what mystery authors I read, but unfortunately, I read a little bit of everything and I thought I could impressive her with my opinions regarding narrative and structure, not name dropping. But no, she wanted me to drop some names. *sigh* (I didn’t get that job!) Anyway, my point being, if you love mystery books, romance, sci-fi, manga, YA etc.—that’s awesome! We need you! You don’t need to be some literary snob to get a job in the book publishing industry.

 

I imagine there’s a lot more that could be said about getting a job in the book publishing industry. Do you have a piece of advice? A question? Leave it in the comments below!

{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Mikhail Koulikov March 18, 2016, 12:57 am

    One thing I’d suggest is to think what exactly you, the person who wants to get a job in publishing, actually mean by “publishing”. Because “publishing” is a lot more than best-seller fiction publishing, and working for a specialized non-fiction or textbook or academic publisher is probably very different than working for one that does mostly does fiction.

    (…my own experience was working for two years for a company that describes itself as a “B2B information and events business” – and, among the many things that it does, publishes highly technical books.)

    • Anne Lee Anne Lee March 18, 2016, 5:55 pm

      I totally agree! I wonder if the diversity survey was done among academic presses, what the breakdown would be.

      On the other hand, I do feel for people who want to work in fiction. Selling fiction is so much harder than selling non-fiction. You are selling a “fantasy” and sometimes that fantasy isn’t what our racist world wants to hear.

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