How To Prepare for a Publishing Job While Living Outside of New York City

Just like you might have to move to Detroit to design cars or Silicon Valley to work for major computer companies, you may end up having to move to New York City or Boston to track down book publishing jobs and internships with major publishing houses. You can find small or independent publishers, academic presses, and isolated imprints of New York-based houses sporadically throughout the country, but those positions can be competitive, or seldom are open for interviews due to lower turnover rates than you’ll find in NYC. That means before you can get a job with that small publisher in your hometown, it might make sense to apply for jobs where more are available before bringing your expertise back home.

So does that mean that after you graduate college, you should just move to New York and hope you can find a job? Maybe, but before you take such a big step unprepared, there are a lot of things you can do to improve your job chances before ever setting foot in New York City.

This post will cover various resume-building experiences you can attain at college, graduate school, or from the comfort of your own home, experiences that will broaden your publishing expertise and before applying for paid positions or even internships.

College/Personal Experience

Literary Magazines: Lit mags are a great place for any budding editor to get his or her start, especially because of the thousands across the U.S. many can be found on college campuses. Future editors need practice reading a lot of slush stories to train their literary eye for what is or isn’t considered “good enough” for publication—or, to put it bluntly, train yourself to say “NO” firmly in the face of mediocrity and only accept the best—in case you ever have to read unsolicited (“slush pile”) manuscripts and make recommendations to your superior. Future marketers and publicists, meanwhile, can receive training and experience in campus and community outreach when it comes to soliciting submission, selling your magazine, and organizing events.

More official literary magazines run by professional staff will give you a stronger entry on your resume, as well as opportunities for mentoring and informational interviews about next steps for your career. Student-run publications, meanwhile, allow ambitious students to garner early experience in leadership and management roles. Ultimately, this extracurricular showcases your passion for stories and writing to future internship coordinators and employers, so don’t pass up the chance if you’re still in college or if a professional mag is nearby.

College Newspapers: If you’re interested in working at a print/digital magazine or newspaper, this experience is a major asset that will open a lot of doors for you. Several positions ask for anywhere from 3-10 writing clips, so save your best articles for job applications, or polish them up and post them on a LinkedIn account. Acting as a student editor also shows that you can work in a fast-paced environment and have a record of meeting rigid deadlines. Even if you’re more interested in book publishing, you can still use this experience to trumpet your skills in copy-editing, personnel management, and working as part of a team or with superiors/underlings depending on your place within the organization.

Bookselling: Whether you track down a position with an independent bookstore (yes, they still exist) or work for a pittance at Barnes & Noble, you’ll have a vital new cornerstone to your resume. Take a couple of minutes to read this article of quotes from publishing executives who got their start as booksellers. Or check out this Tumblr post by a Hachette recruiter, who informs applicants that “one of the most valuable experiences you can have is to work at a bookstore.” To summarize, these positions may not pay that well in the short term, but will make you an immediate expert in customer service and ideally expose you to a network of authors and literary agents that come to promote books in your store. You will become acclimated to speaking about books and discover first-hand through conversations with customers which books are popular with different demographics. Acquisitions editors need to know their projected readers’ interests and wants before deciding which novels to purchase, and sales reps have to work with bookstores and booksellers regularly.

Freelancing: Try working for a professional copyediting site like oDesk or get a membership with the Copyeditors Freelance Association, as a way to sharpen your reading/writing/grammar skills. Or try something with less pressure, like offering to edit your friends’ papers or your creative writing classmates’ novels. It’s inevitable that you are going to have a semester where you couldn’t track down a job or internship, so use freelancing as a way to keep your skills sharp and possibly make some money on the side. Rest assured that freelancing is definitely something you can and should put on a resume, especially if you can build up a client base or get positive reviews for your work.

Make Your Own Publication: If you can’t find a literary magazine, journal, or newspaper that interests you at your school, then try making your own! A lot of colleges have student officers or associations that listen to proposals for new publications or projects and can grant funding for your dream project. There is no better way to show your healthy initiative, business acumen, and skills than to bring in a physical copy of something you helped to make and co-found or co-manage; even if it fails spectacularly, it’s still a great story to discuss. My Emerson classmates and I received funding from my school to create and print a lit mag this past spring, and in each interview since then the interviewer has always seemed impressed by this fact.

Technology/Skills to Learn

HTML/CSS: Publishers have fully embraced the eBook phenomenon, which means there are a lot of jobs out there for editors who know code well enough to turn their books into ePub and Mobi (Kindle) formats. At the same time, publishers are struggling to figure out issues like selling books directly to consumers to sidestep Amazon, which means anyone who knows how to work with websites will also find a home. So whether this means taking college classes in coding or hand-coding a personal website to show off on a business card or resume, you should find a way to acclimate yourself to this technology.

Adobe Creative Suite (InDesign, Photoshop, Illustrator, Dreamweaver): If your college offers free downloads of Adobe, take advantage of the offer immediately or you’ll regret it (like I do…..). Most publishers rely heavily on the latest version of creative suite, and will expect you to be at least familiar, if not proficient, in it. And I’m not simply talking about jobs for designing print layouts or covers. I’ve used InDesign during an editorial internship and for a lit mag, Photoshop during multiple positions including my current eBook production internship, and Dreamweaver to design an eBook for a work sample. Try taking computer classes like the ones found on Lynda.com that focus on individual Adobe platforms.

Chicago Manual of Style (or AP for magazines): Sorry, everyone who grew up learning MLA or APA style, you need to scrub out your brains and get used to CMS. If you are at all interested in doing freelance copyediting or proofreading for a publisher, you need to be an expert with the CMS style guide. In lieu of a class on the subject, there are online tests available for you to practice your grammar and knowledge of the English language.

Microsoft Office: You might roll your eyes when you see this in a job description, but proficiency in using Word styles and Excel formulas can be an important way to prepare yourself for an entry-level job.

Informational Interviews and Learning About the Industry

Informational interviews are an excellent way to make contacts with people at a publishing house for which you’re interested in working, even if you are thousands of miles away from New York. They aren’t, however, a guaranteed way of getting a job or even being considered for one when a position opens, so you shouldn’t do them for that reason alone. Instead, find a way to get in contact with someone in a job you find intriguing and see if they’ll give you 20-30 minutes of their time. I’ll do a full blog post later that goes into greater detail about these interviews, but for now, suffice to say that they’re a great way of knowing what you’re getting into with the job and what you still need to learn or get better at before you try applying with your favorite publishing imprint.

Another thing to keep in mind is that editorial jobs are the most competitive of any publishing jobs by far. But if you study the book creation process, you’ll see that there are a lot of entry level positions—acquisitions, production, eBook production, development, domestic/international subsidiary rights, contracts, permissions, marketing, publicity—for you to explore. The more you know about this industry, the more likely you’ll find the job that is the best fit for you. This is more about the “objective” of your resume than your actual experience: would you be happy in more than one position, and do you want to make yourself qualified in several areas to become a multifaceted candidate with management potential, or put all of your effort into one area?

Graduate Publishing Programs

There aren’t too many publishing programs nationwide. The main programs that I’ve heard of: EmersonNYU and Pace University in New York, George Washington University in D.C., and Portland State University in Oregon. You could also include Columbia’s summer program on this list as a microcosm of what these graduate programs provide.

You absolutely don’t need an MA or MS to succeed in publishing, and plenty of people have succeeded without it. But during my time at my Emerson program, I had the chance to work for two different, award-winning literary magazines in Ploughshares (professional) and Redivider (student-run), I learned how to use all of the applications above and took coding and copyediting courses, and I was given an excuse (papers) to conduct informational interviews with writers, editors, and publishers of my choosing, both remotely and in person during a school-sponsored trip to NY to visit publishers like Simon & Schuster, Hachette, and Penguin.

This post wasn’t meant to be one big advertisement for Emerson; rather, it should show you that the program simply facilitated what I could have been learning and experiencing on my own if I had known what I needed to do to get my dream job. You should choose whether you feel comfortable learning about publishing and technology on your own time, or whether you would rather attend a program that can teach you what you need and want to know.

Conclusion

Many people want to work in the book industry, and there are a lot of editorial opportunities out there for anyone to take advantage of. So it’s never too soon to start making yourself as well-rounded and unique a candidate as possible to distinguish yourself from the pack. This means making yourself technologically savvy, giving yourself a multitude of experiences with different publications to discuss during an interview, connecting with as many people as possible via interviews and social media (read: LinkedIn), and maybe joining a graduate or certification program that will officially sanction your publishing knowledge.

My next newbie-publishing posts will probably cover informational interviews, or maybe I’ll just throw out a giant list of links starting with Publisher’s Weekly of every website you should be reading to stay informed about the industry, something that is very important when it comes to interviewing for an entry-level position. And if I’ve missed some great ways to get editorial or publishing experience, feel free to throw them into the comments below.

Thanks for reading!

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Preparing for a Publishing Internship Interview, and Follow-Up Questions You Should Ask Your Employer

Getting an actual interview with your dream publisher, or with any publisher, lit mag, newspaper, etc., is more than half the battle. Without fully knowing what the internship coordinator, editorial assistant, or HR rep looks for in a cover letter, getting a callback could be likened to winning the lottery—a lottery with decent odds, admittedly, but still leaving too much up to chance. Now, at the interview section of the process, you have much more control over making a good impression and feeling out what the interviewer wants from his or her intern.

In short, don’t let your upcoming interview stress you out. Most interviews follow a very similar, easy structure that this blog post will help you to prepare for:

  1. General questions about your publishing goals and background
  2. Questions about your traits, problem solving, attitude, and likes
  3. Logistical details and questions about start dates and dress codes that you should resist the urge to focus on;
  4. A Q&A period about your prospective position and publisher, a deceptively important opportunity to reveal things about yourself.

Interview formats

Interviews range in duration and style of questioning depending on the format of the interview. You may be questioned by the internship coordinator, the editorial/ production/ marketing assistants directly above you, an HR representative, or an assortment of each. See if you can discern from their emails—or directly ask if an in-person interview is preceded by a preliminary phone interview—the format of the interview and who will be questioning you, as this information can be extremely helpful in determining how to prepare for an interview.

For my seasonal (3 month) internship interviews, the number of interviewers ranged from 1-3, but the number didn’t matter. One person, usually your eventual supervisor, will take the lead on the majority of questions, while the remainder may have a question or two but generally aren’t as prepared or aware of your qualifications.

For a year-long salaried position I applied for, I ended up speaking with a dozen or so people in a three-round interview with editorial assistants, editorial department heads, and their HR representative. Fortunately, this interview was simply a longer, repetitious version of shorter interviews, with almost entirely the same questions coming up in each segment of the interview.

General Questions

Be ready for variations on the standard questions that come up in almost every interview:

i. Describe your interest in book publishing. Why are you interested in a career in editing?

ii. How have your past experiences/internships prepared you for this position? How are you qualified for this position?

iii. Why are you interested in this internship/working for publisher name here specifically?

iv. How are you a good fit for this position/company?

v. What do you hope to get out of this position?

The first two to three questions of an interview are usually these, so these questions will decide the first impression you make on the interviewer. I can’t help you in terms of avoiding nervousness and exuding confidence, but I can advise you on the content of your responses.

First, try to strike a balance between why they’re a good fit for you and why you’re a good fit for them. These questions naturally invite self-centered answers, but don’t spend too much time explaining how this internship will advance your career or why X publisher has always seemed so interesting (though this personal touch is still important). If the internship listing/webpage had a list of everyday tasks, describe how your work for them will supplement the skills you already have—a chance to praise yourself while showing your awareness of what the job entails and what you will and won’t need to learn on the job.

Similarly, if the internship is in the same field as past positions on your resume, explain how old experiences prepare you for this position while explaining how this position is somehow different or better for your career than past jobs. And most importantly, try to describe your general interest in the profession as well as your specific interest in the position. If you explain your interest in a career in editing or your love of the publishing industry, you show that the position is more than a line on your resume, which makes you a more attractive candidate.

Memorizing Anecdotes

You will then likely be asked two styles of questions: describe a situation at work that shows certain qualities or problem solving, and state certain accomplishments you are proud of. I lump these categories together because in either case you should have a selection of anecdotes ready to answer such questions as the following:

  1. What is your greatest strength/weakness? Don’t just state a quality for each. For your strength, give a short anecdote that exemplifies your strength. If you choose leadership, be sure you have something on your resume that actually tested your mettle. For your weakness, describe a moment where you realized you had a weakness in that area and how you are now working to fix that weakness, or are at least aware of it. They will appreciate the honest assessment, particularly if it is an area they specified on the job description like organization, multi-tasking, customer service, independence, or other common qualities you feel uncomfortable with.
  2. Describe a moment you dealt with a difficult supervisor/colleague/customer and how you solved the problem. This question has almost always come up for me, especially in editorial positions where my job is to email or speak with authors on a regular basis. Have an anecdote ready for each of these if possible, but be sure to focus more on your patience and graciousness rather than how much you hated your boss or hate annoying customers—unless the story is hilarious or absurd, in which case draw it out! It never hurts to show you have a sense of humor about these things, and your interviewer will likely empathize and have similar stories from their own time in your position. I’ve also had two different internships give me writing prompts asking me to respond to an angry customer to diffuse the situation, one as part of the application and one during the interview.
  3. Describe a time you worked as a team/led a team. You should hopefully have a good anecdote from a non-work source for this type of question, like participating with a literary magazine, community service group, school group project (that has to do with publishing, hopefully), or other examples.
  4. Describe a time that you had to multitask/prioritize; describe how you plan or organize your day. This question speaks for itself. Basically, your employer wants to know that you can handle the pressure of having multiple jobs to get done at once and that you know how to prioritize, both at work and in your everyday life.
  5. What are you most proud of/what is your greatest accomplishment? As I mentioned in my very first post about what not to say during an internship interview, be careful about what you would choose here, and have something prepared. It doesn’t necessarily have to pertain to publishing, though it certainly doesn’t hurt. For instance, if you describe how proud you were to have your name on the masthead of your college’s lit mag, you can use that to segue back into your passion for publishing. However, you can certainly use something else so long as it shows qualities that your employer will want in his or her intern.

Miscellaneous Questions

  • What are some of your favorite books/authors?
  • What blogs/newspapers/publishing websites do you read?
  • What do/did you study in school and how did it prepare you for this position?
  • What writing experience do you have?
  • What is your dream job/where do you want to be in five years?
  • Are there any others you’ve run into that I’ve missed? If so, feel free to post them in the comments and I’ll add them!

Questions to Ask Your Employer

For a good summary of the types of questions that impress interviewers, check out this thorough article by College Magazine. But to summarize, think hard about what you need to know during the interview phase. Some typical questions you might ask—what is the dress code, what will my average day consist of, when will I have your answer, can I take the internship for college credit—don’t tell the interviewer anything about you and bog things down. The interviewer may give you some of that information later anyway, and you can always figure out the office dress code and work culture on the job, or email about college credit or other logistics.

Instead, take the time to focus on the two people in the room, as well as the people that have been there before. Ask about how this will benefit your future career, specifically if this will prepare you for an entry-level position. As a follow-up, ask what other interns moved on to do, to see if they have found the kind of success you are looking for. Then feel free to shift the flow of the conversation toward the interviewer: how did they get involved in publishing/this publisher, and what is their specific job at the company? The above article notes that “interesting questions relating to background or questions showing that a candidate has researched and done his or her homework demonstrate passion and determination…[and]only a handful of people…[ask] personal questions.” Shining the spotlight on your future boss will show you the type or person you might work for, and allows them the chance to talk about themselves while giving you some breathing room as the interview winds down.

Conclusion

All of this information collected together may appear daunting, and there’s no way to predict every single question that a given editor will care to ask about. But that doesn’t matter as much as you simply coming into the interview with these key assets: a clear self-appraisal of what you want out of this internship and your future career, knowledge about the publisher and its books/authors, a series of personal stories that show your skills, experience, growth, and areas for improvement, and some questions that show your initiative and priorities.

I hope this was helpful for you! My next non-current events post will cover how to get relevant, non-internship publishing experiences outside of publishing hub cities like New York and Boston that you can use for those pesky anecdotal/situational questions.

Thanks for reading!

HarperCollins’s Direct Sales Plan: Necessary or Futile?

If you can’t negotiate with Amazon, beat them at their own game of sales, or remove them from the equation entirely. Many industry experts and would-be experts like me have bandied this solution about, one where publishers will sell directly to consumers on their website. Now, HarperCollins is trying this strategy on a revamped website that sells both print and e-books directly to consumers, according to Publisher’s Weekly. While there will be some sales, most books will be sold at full price. The website does provide links to major retailers like Amazon and B&N, however.

I discussed this solution in a previous article, where I noted that publishers could improve their social media and marketing by having greater circulation on their websites, particularly considering most visitors to their sites are job-seekers. I also questioned whether publishers would be able to provide appealing prices to consumers when confronted with Amazon’s predatory loss-leader pricing. If consumers are going into bookstores only to buy the books they find on Amazon, you can bet that they will find it even easier to search for books on the publishers’ sites and then open Amazon in a second tab from the comfort of one’s home.

HarperCollins is clearly wary of the latter problem, which is why they are providing links to the Amazon page; it knows that it currently cannot compete with Amazon on pricing and that consumers may not end up buying their books on the site, but they want readers to at least start their search on the HarperCollins website.

The comments on the Pub Weekly article provide an apt summary of some of the problems of HarperCollins’s strategy:

  • Multiple readers are treating this strategy as the final nail in the coffin for indie bookstores, since publishers are trying to cut out the middle man distributors through direct sales. Frankly, I don’t believe that the website in its fledgling state will have that significant of an effect–people who shop at indie bookstores aren’t going to abandon them to use this website, and people who buy books online do not bring their business to physical retailers anymore anyway. What does matter is the abrupt shift in the public image of publishers, from the bullied, struggling victims of Amazon to callous, bottom-line businesses abandoning their indie partners to fend for themselves.
  • Some argue that publishers don’t know a single thing about retail and should leave this area to their long-time partners (an argument that ties into the idea that they are abandoning indie booksellers rather than exploring or expanding their options). I would argue that this argument also connects to the arguments made by self-published authors and their fans, who usually lambast publishers for being out of touch when it comes to marketing their books properly. People are losing trust in publishers to market non-major titles or properly exploit social media, and this website provides an opportunity for them to redeem their stodgy image by marketing smaller or backlist titles; or, conversely, to focus on major titles and reinforce that reputation.
  • Finally, some commenters mock the very idea that consumers care about publishers and will buy books based on something other than authors, genres, or staff/Amazon recommendations. To be honest, this assessment is fair to apply to most major publishers. Small publishers and imprints can create a focused website surrounding a certain genre or subgenre of literature, but a major house with dozens of imprints lacks a focused theme to bring in consistent readership. I would personally argue that HarperCollins would do better to focus first on revamping its imprints’ websites, then bringing readers from these disparate sites to one hub retail site for HarperCollins. These publishers are making themselves “too big to fail” but in doing so they are possibly diluting their brands from having much focus or meaning.

I think print-on-demand, direct sales from exciting publisher websites are a necessary part of publishers’ futures if they want to shake off their dependance upon Amazon; moreover, I believe this strategy does not in any way signal the death of bookstores, because publishers love having as many sales options as possible and would bend over backwards to keep these channels open. By creating backup sales options, they give themselves more negotiating power and increase profitability for books in general, which could in turn mean the return of more risky midlist and experimental titles.

I still believe that publishers have a long way to go before reaching that stage, however. I have to admit that I like some of the features on HarperCollins’s site, like search categories for series of books or award winners (i.e. Hugo, Nebula, ALA, etc. for sci-fi/fantasy). Still, I think publishers need to do more to get other people on their site, not just publishing nerds like me. Maybe publishers that do self-publishing services could make some of the best-rated self-published titles available through direct retail to boost circulation from authors. Or perhaps make a greater effort to support interactive author websites that link back to the publisher. Or some other strategies I haven’t thought of; anyone have any marketing ideas to get regular people interested in publishing websites?

Thanks for reading!