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.
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: Emerson, NYU 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.
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!