How Simon & Schuster’s New Imprint Saga Demonstrates How Exactly to Plan Your Own Publishing Business

One of the major questions sometimes asked in an editorial internship interview concerns your long term goals: are you someone interested in working your way up the chain of a publishing house within an established framework until you earn a leadership role, or do you intend to use your experience to start something of your own making? If your goal is the latter, then you should be prepared to explain such a goal with businesslike language and concrete details during the interview, as a way of showing your initiative and seriousness for the book pub profession. No one would expect you to have an innovative new model that redefines publishing or discovers an untapped market as a twenty-something college student, but it does benefit you to know the necessary rhetoric in terms of what it takes to start your own venture.

What is your starting list of titles? Will you rely more on acquiring new novels or purchasing backlist titles to start? How will you manage to pull authors away from the publishers they’re currently with to join an unproven venture? What thematic differences or production strategies would you employ to distinguish your publishing house or new imprint from those currently out there?

In an age when publishers are merging with one another, buying competitors, and dropping unprofitable imprints with rapidity, it’s rare to see too many new imprints created today. But Simon & Schuster has recognized the continued profitability of the sci-fi/fantasy market, and has likely observed how dedicated speculative fiction imprints like Ace Books for Penguin and Orbit for Hachette have achieved huge successes of late. S&S already has impressive science fiction writers on their list—Ursula Le Guin and Stephen King, for example—but they have chosen to progress beyond relying on big bestsellers in the genre. We’ll discuss here why their business model looks promising before it even begins, and the business lessons we can take out of their initial strategy for our own entrepreneurial plans in future.

Step 1: Find young, up-and-coming, award-winning authors: Of Saga’s first four original titles being released, three were written by nominees or winners of the Nebula and the World Fantasy Award. Two of the books are the authors’ debut titles. A third was written under the pseudonym of an award-winning speculative author, so in some ways the book is “his debut” as well. But the most important point in my mind is that these authors have won awards primarily for their short stories and novellas, not their books.

If you pay attention to major science fiction awards or speculative short stories, you know who Ken Liu is in particular. He has won two Hugos and one Nebula in the past four years, and has been nominated for several other pieces. Simon & Schuster acquiring his first novel is a major win for the imprint’s credibility, but for many readers his undoubtedly excellent first book will come as a pleasant surprise.

Pardon the upcoming baseball metaphor for non-sports fans, but think of yourself as Billy Beane and literary magazines and short story websites as the minor leagues when it comes to building a roster of authors. Certain authors will show the qualities you’re looking for in small doses, and they will be hungry for the chance to prove themselves with your assistance. Give them that chance, and you will have acquired new talent, and likely their loyalty when it comes to selling their sequels.

Step 2: Acquire these young authors: Other imprints are eying the same young authors as you, and they have the funds and established reputation to steal away these authors before your fledgling imprint can hope to reach them. One of my major duties as an intern for Heyday Books in California was updating an Excel document of “writers to watch,” from which the editors could search for new talent for the annual New California Writing anthology. Publishers are more proactive in finding authors than you’d expect from their huge slush piles, and it’s somewhat difficult to stake a claim on a new author without someone else having discovered her first.

But somehow, Saga found a way to not only claim Ken Liu’s rising star, but also steal Genevieve Valentine away from Prime Books. This publisher released her debut novel, Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti, which won or was nominated for several prominent awards. But Valentine has chosen to move on to S&S for her next book. Did S&S offer more money, or did the prestige of a Big Five publisher do enough to woo her away?

I have no insider knowledge to answer this question, but it remains an important issue nonetheless. You can’t simply decide that you want to kickstart a new fantasy or romance or mystery imprint without determining how independent you want your operation to be. Will you sell your business plan to a major publisher in order to have a monetary cushion and a name that draws authors? If so, you have to determine which publisher has a gap that your imprint can fill. If you plan to strike out alone for the sake of autonomy, then you need a stronger incentive to attract good authors to your new house, such as higher author revenue. Some independent publishers like Greywolf Press have achieved enormous success acquiring authors simply by paying them more money than the industry standard, but you have to determine if you can afford such a plan.

Step 3: Establish a distinctive style from the outset: Saga will not succeed on the strength of its authors alone, but must also create a brand of literature that will be familiar to readers, and to the booksellers who choose whether or not to place the books on store shelves. In a previous post, I discussed the clever business strategies that has allowed Orbit Books to succeed, including eye-catching covers and an emphasis on new paperback releases. They don’t focus on a single area of speculative fiction, however; their “About Us” page mentions their dedication to publishing “across the spectrum of Science Fiction and Fantasy – from action-packed urban fantasy to widescreen space opera; from sweeping epic adventures to near-future thrillers.” Saga also will not likely restrict its acquired novels to one area, and you shouldn’t feel pressured to make your proposed imprint overly specialized or limited.

But Saga’s first four books already have an interestingly ominous aesthetic: two ruined cities—one burning and another occupied by evil forces—a cracked helm, and a red snake as a symbol of the future. Orbit’s books, even its darkest dystopias like Feed, always seem to have a humorous, gleeful detachment from reality, but Saga’s initial list seems to be targeting the Game of Thrones crowd that craves solemn realism in its escapism. This choice isn’t just motivated by a trend, though; when I visited S&S’s offices in February and spoke with a couple of the editors there, they argued that the publisher has made its name on serious literature, and on seeking quality titles that establish trends rather than acquiring derivative copycats of the Harry Potters and Twilights that other publishers create. Thus, even S&S’s fantasy epics may be required to attain literary greatness. You have to determine whether your hypothetical house will have a similar culture that defines its acquisition or design choices.

Step 4: Don’t be afraid to break your own rules with the backlist:

Saga’s frontlist is deadly serious, yet its backlist mixes gothic horror and optimistic fantasy, with creatures ranging from dragons to vampires. The horror titles somewhat match with the contemporary titles’ aesthetic, but the Dragonsong titles by Hugo award winner Anne McCaffery don’t belong except for the fact that they are great fantasy novels. It doesn’t matter. The books have already sold very well, and don’t need to be matched up with new titles to keep selling well.

Conclusions: When trying to come up with an idea for your own future publishing house, the pressure is on to come up with some impressive niche subgenre, and that may be the necessary approach for founding a new literary magazine. However, your prospective employer should be just as impressed by a well-researched business plan that shows you thinking like they do.

In case you haven’t guessed, I’m an avid fan of speculative fiction novels, and would love the chance to found or run my own sci-fi/fantasy imprint in the future. I will be following Saga’s initial months very closely as a perfect case study for my own future goals. If you have an interest in a particular genre, be sure to follow PW and genre-specific publishing blogs closely for comparable news about new houses and imprints, because they may also provide invaluable information for your career.

Thanks for reading!

Source article: http://io9.com/take-an-exclusive-peek-at-the-most-anticipated-scifi-im-1591612349

 

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The Jane Friedman-Open Road Media Model: Thinking Creatively About Backlists and Acquisitions for Your Publisher

Original article: Publisher’s Weekly‘s Open Road Launches Series for Controversial Works

Open Road Media is an ambitious new publisher that focuses on acquiring eBooks from authors with large, underappreciated lists, defunct publishers, and other creative avenues to create an impressive digital platform of primarily backlisted titles. The company’s CEO, Jane Friedman, once rewrote the book on marketing by inventing the author tour, and now relies on professionally designed book trailers, social media, syndication, and other unconventional methods to sell books that other publishers, major and minor, have passed up.

While Friedman, who recently visited Emerson College to speak about her publishing career, is currently intent upon getting the first “e-riginal” eBook in the New York Times Book Review, she has already succeeded in a contemporary publishing model that shows the potency of eBooks as a primary channel of sales with the right marketing strategy. Equally important, she has relied upon the old publishing model of creating themed lists of books that will attract audiences.

Most recently, as described in the article above, Open Road launched Forbidden Bookshelf, which takes older books that exposed a dark, uncomfortable truth but never achieved enough exposure to sell or reach a wide audience. Of the five initial books on the list, many were published in the 80s and 90s, and all of them to my knowledge by different publishers. It’s hard to find information on their past publishing history, because they were all essentially defunct until Open Road rediscovered their potential and purchased them.

Relying on backlists is nothing new to major publishers, who can take risks on exorbitant author advances because of the safety nets provided by contemporary bestsellers like Harry Potter or Twilight, or by the classics everyone reads in school, or is supposed to, like To Kill a Mockingbird and Huckleberry Finn. There is an uncreative complacency inherent in this model, where big publishers rely on and market guaranteed moneymakers and let other old titles stagnate. Friedman’s publishing house taps into the very resource that big publishers have left dormant, and succeeds as a result.

If you get an acquisitions or marketing job with a major publisher, don’t spend all of your time on new titles if you can. Some new editors have made a name for themselves finding out-of-print, obscure, or public domain titles, repackaging and rebranding them without an expensive author advance, and selling them to great success. Another example: at the risk of sounding both morbid and callous, there’s a major market for the unfinished or unpublishable stories of deceased authors, from Nabokov’s unfinished novel The Original of Laura to Octavia Butler’s undiscovered short stories (Open Road recently acquired Butler’s stories).

But even then, these strategies perpetuate the idea that publishers need to find the next bestseller or gem in the rough, rather than create a compelling list of several titles from what you have. In the digital age, all a book may need to suddenly start selling is a revamped cover that looks fresh on a digital platform.

But how easy could it really be to just make a compelling list from old titles? I’m glad you asked, hypothetical reader! I think that lists can be compelling on their own, like Open Road’s inspired flirting with controversy, or they can stem from current events or blatant plagiarism. Here’s some examples:

Piggybacking on major classics: If you’re sitting with books like Huck Finn and Grapes of Wrath on your list, you can cash in on them individually or look for other road trip or transformative journey novels to group with them. Find modern narratives of race to accompany sales of Invisible Man and Native Son. Sell despicable protagonists with Lolita. Think Amazon’s effective recommendation system, only tailored to your publishing house’s list rather than to KDP titles and your competitors.

Feminism in any genre: In solidarity with #yesallwomen, whip out old titles with strong female protagonists, or speculative societies dominated by women. You can look at the success of recent Kickstarter campaigns like Women Destroy Science Fiction and Athena’s Daughters to see how readers are craving stories with empowered women at the forefront, so dredge through the majority of your male-dominated titles for older works that will still inspire interest today and repackage them for a contemporary audience.

Hollywood and hipsters: when Star Wars episode VII comes out in a year or two, pull out the space operas from your list that inspired Lucas or expanded upon his model. For this week’s dragon-themed movie and show finale, pull out your own dragon-themed books and claim they put Drogon and Toothless to shame. Basically, show awareness of pop culture and current events happening around you in order to attract young reading audiences, while also asserting bluntly how much books are than other forms of media. Book lovers eat that kind of thing up (or at least I would).

I believe that publishers should be more dynamic about eBook marketing when it comes to taking advantage of their massive backlist, and that if publishers ever become serious about taking book distribution out of Amazon’s hands and back into their own, then they have a lot to learn from Open Road about improving their digital marketing platform. For better or worse, we’re joining publishing in a dynamic period of growth and change, and predicting how publishers should change themselves to survive and thrive will hopefully prepare us for what’s ahead.

Thanks for reading!

Publishing Technology: Would foldable Kindles increase ebook sales?

Source article: Slate’s “It’s Almost Time to Roll Up Your E-Reader and Put It In Your Pocket.

If you could fold an eReader into your pocket, would you be more likely to buy one? And if so, how would that change when and how you read?

Here’s a short summary of the article: Nokia and its technology partner showed two designs for LCD screens that could be folded in halves and thirds. I’ll let you read the original article for the technological details and pictures (I’d post them here but I don’t want to anger the copyright gods), but supposedly you can fold them “about 100,000 times before they wear out.”

Takeaways and Implications:

1. Unless I’m missing something, I’m not sure why a patent presumably owned by Nokia would lead to foldable Kindles, as the article implies. Maybe Amazon will buy the patent for their reader from Nokia, or is already researching their own alternative, but it could also be that Nokia would release a competitive eReader device using this technology as a selling point. The problem is, Amazon dominates the ebook market so completely that it’s a risky proposition to try to break into the market. Publishers will never give a new distributor the same unbalanced deal that Amazon is demanding right now from Hachette and others, and so they would never be able to compete against Amazon’s loss-leader pricing.

2. Foldable eReaders wouldn’t just be competing against Kindles; they’d also compete against smartphones. You’re selling the idea with these hypothetical products that you want to carry a book in your pocket and whip it out to read on the train or in the bathroom. But you’ll have to convince consumers that they want to read more than play Flappy Bird, listen to music, text, etc. Will these eReaders simply have ebooks, or will they have other capabilities like Kindle Fires? Will they be comfortable to hold, or easy to break or lose?

3. Oyster, the “Netflix for books” program that allows you to read unlimited books for a monthly fee, started out solely on mobile platforms. It focused on changing the reading experience by emphasizing the “% read” and “time left to finish” aspects of the book. This type of eReader would probably want to emphasize a similar experience if it hopes to capture the mobile market, by translating the book into the modern mindset. A lot of book lovers don’t love this type of reminder and avoid ebooks for this reason, but perhaps this type of interface will reach a different audience.

4. Technology companies love planned obsolescence as a means of getting us to buy their newest products every 2 or 3 years. The fact that foldable eReaders stop working by design after a certain point means that the company cannot be blamed for the eventual failure of the device, but it might convince consumers to not buy it in the first place.

I think this technology is fascinating and could contribute to an enjoyable reading experience, but there are still plenty of questions to ask about how it would be incorporated into the current ebook market. Let me know in the comments if you think this is a great or terrible idea, or if you think I missed something.

Thanks for reading!

Deciding How Many Internships You Should Apply For (aka The Story of Goldilocks the Editor)

Once upon a time, there was a young editor named Goldilocks. She lived at the edge of the City with her family. One morning, while she was on her way back from school, Goldilocks wandered into Manhattan and found herself surrounded by huge skyscrapers leased by publishing houses. She was very frightened until she saw a friendly job board in the distance with a dozen internships up for grabs…

I’d continue, but you probably see where I’m going with this. Depending on where you live, you can find an incredible number of opportunities to get your foot in the door, provided you do your research. So how much effort does Goldilocks need to put in to ensure she gets her perfect job, without burning bridges with too many applications or leaving her days cold and empty for a semester? See what I did…sorry, I’ll stop now.

I’m here to help people formulate their strategy, if only by relying on the stories of my mistakes to give some important advice.

  1. Don’t ever assume that most of your applications will lead to a response,
  2. so plan ahead by estimating which publishers will take longest to respond (if at all),
  3. and then make a hierarchy of which internships you want the most, which you would turn others down for, and which you don’t really want to do.

To figure out your plan of attack, the first step is recognizing that not all publishers are created equal when it comes to responding to applicants. Publishers have two basic styles of attracting interns to apply for internships: post three hard deadlines for Spring, Summer, and Fall positions on a dedicated career page and wait for the applications to come pouring in, or use college career sites, job fairs, and specific website postings to announce an opening with a specific application window. I would argue that the likelihood of a publisher bringing you in for an interview is directly proportional to how much effort they took in getting you to apply.

If you respond to a recent listing, that usually means a staff member has dedicated herself to the task of intern wrangling and will respond within a week. I think that publishers feel obligated to give responses and interviews to those who were watchful and enthusiastic enough to respond quickly to a listing. If you have confidence in your interview skills, this is the only window of opportunity you’ll need, though keep in mind that not all interviews are created equal: I had one interview where it became immediately apparent by the interviewer’s indifferent attitude and the 15-minute duration of the meeting, including the questions I’d prepared, that someone had already won the position de facto. Overall, once you respond to a listing, you typically have three to four weeks until you’ll have a potential decision: one-to-seven days for an email acknowledging the application, about 1-2 weeks until the scheduled interview, and anywhere from 2 days to 2 weeks for their decision.

Job listings are straightforward; hard thrice-a-year deadlines are a total crapshoot. More people apply to positions that one can find easily on a dedicated internship page, and the editor or HR rep in charge here is more likely to see applicants as a mass of annoying, unproven applicants than hard-working professionals. Moreover, take that attitude with Boston publishers and multiply it by a ten for paid positions, and by a hundred for New York publishers for their summer programs. Unless you apply well before the actual hard deadline with a cover letter that jumps out somehow among the hundreds of other applicants, you won’t even get a response—except perhaps a rejection email two months later, or an announcement on a Facebook careers page stating all positions have been filled.

The hard math: I’ve gotten interviews from 80% of job listings I’ve responded to with an above-average success rate, while <40% of the other category even responded, with half of those responses promising interviews.

Herein lies the dilemma. You have no way of knowing when or where internship listings will pop up, nor any idea when certain publishers will respond if at all. For my summer internship search one year, I applied for 10 internships in early March and got 2 responses in March, 2 in April, and 2 in May. My best example of the awful choices you’ll have to make: I literally received an email notification for my dream internship in the middle of my second interview for another position at X publisher, which would offer me the job two days later. I ended up losing both and going with a third from a later job listing. Another more pedestrian problem: coming off a fall internship with a great publisher, I applied to only 2 or 3 positions that spring with confidence that my updated resume guaranteed my success. That spring semester was incredibly boring.

Prepare yourself for this anguish in advance, because it’s part of the job description for interns-seeking-work. But you also have to be prepared to make hard choices before reaching the interview phase. If you’re offered an interview when you’re still waiting on the position you really want, consider turning down the interview. You will receive no strong assurances from your dream position in the time it takes to hear back from your safety pick, and publishers are much more understanding toward turning down an interview opportunity than turning down a position you convinced them you wanted a few days ago. So if you go into an interview, you have ostensibly decided that you are abandoning any other future offers you might receive.

 

Your plan of action:

Find the websites for the best publishing houses in your city and their corresponding internship pages, and write down the deadlines for the next internship period. Choose five that you’d want to work for, and of those five try to include at least two or three that allow you to apply for more than one department to avoid the cluster of editorial applicants. By my math, you’ll hopefully hear back from two, and that’s all you want to handle. You can certainly try applying to as many as you can find, but it may not be worth the effort. Consider making iCal or Reminder messages for a couple of weeks prior to the deadline so you have time to construct personalized cover letters for each.

Then start trolling every specialized job board you can find. Try Bookjobs for a huge listing of internships, half of which are up to date. For Bostonians, try Bookbuilders of Boston for a great list of jobs and internships that is regularly updated. Register yourself on publisher websites that send weekly updates on jobs with specific keywords like “intern” and “editorial,” such as Pearson or Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. And if you’re truly serious about publishing as a career, consider enrolling at a school with a specialized publishing program. Emerson College has regular job fairs that publishers frequently attend looking for interns, and other publishers often send listings to our media coordinator to distribute to students. These perks make your job of researching opportunities that much easier. I’m sure Columbia, NYU, Pace, Portland State, and other publishing programs offer similar opportunities.

As I stated above, apply to listed jobs with the knowledge that you’ll have an answer quickly, and that you have to accept the loss of other potential opportunities without any regrets. You’ll regret it much more if you turn something down only to find nothing else waiting for you.

There are ways of improving your odds, from better cover letters to better interview strategies, and I’ll be covering those in depth in upcoming posts. But a lot of it comes down to luck and hard numbers, and my estimates only go so far.

So good luck, and thanks for reading!

Should Publishers “Window” Their Products Like Hollywood?

The recent Book Expo America conference in New York was dominated by two discussions: the lack of diversity in publishing and the Amazon-Hachette negotiations. I think publishers were relieved that Amazon’s bullying came into the limelight at the ideal moment to drown out as much talk about their egregious shortcomings in diversity, both at the editorial and authorial level, as possible.

And the mental effort of solving publishing’s economic problems while ignoring its social inequalities has led to some very interesting notions about how to “save” the industry. One I found personally intriguing was the idea that publishers abandon the simultaneous print-ebook release date model that has become ubiquitous for most trade publishers. In a recent Publishers Weekly article, Codex Group CEO Peter Hildick-Smith argues that publishers should “follow the film industry’s successful model of releasing new content in premium format first, followed by discount formats in later releases…as a way to ‘give bricks-and-mortar stores a chance to do what they do best,'” a practice known as “windowing” because of the staggered release windows.

So, in the same way you choose between going to theaters, buying the Blu-Ray, or indulging in both for the latest Marvel movie, consumers would choose between buying the more expensive hard copy immediately or waiting for Amazon’s cheaper Kindle copy (since, let’s be honest, all ebook sales happen there at this point). Publishers would have to step up on marketing for the release dates of both versions, however. And just as movie studios put deleted scenes and cast commentary on their DVDs, publishers would need to step up on enhanced ebook features—hyperlinks, embedded media, and interactivity—to make them more attractive.

As intriguing an idea as it is, I don’t see it happening. Amazon explicitly bans “windowing” in its contracts with publishers, and the company would know how that kind of contract concession would damage their business. Amazon can sell books and ebooks at a loss so long as it owns the market on tablet e-readers with Kindle, Paperwhite, and Fire. But would you buy the latest Kindle if you knew that the latest books wouldn’t be available? Maybe, maybe not. On the publishing side, pub houses would be loath to raise marketing budgets on an uncertain scheme, and would have to start hiring more programmers to create enhanced ebooks. They haven’t done so yet precisely because Kindles are the worst of all the eReaders in terms of enhancements, and while Apple ebooks can have exciting features, the Apple store just doesn’t provide enough profits to justify the effort.

Having Amazon as the primary e-tail and major print retail sales channel cripples the opportunity for publishers to try new tactics, encouraging a fatalistic conservatism of trying to preserve what little profits remain. Amazon purports to be a Wild West-style landscape where any author with a good story can make millions; the fact that it continues to squeeze the life out of the publishing industry, big houses and small, shows that Amazon only cares about authors that spit out more Kindle Singles. While publishers this week tackled economics to avoid issues of diversity, I believe these issues are irrevocably linked: a rich, thriving publishing industry doesn’t guarantee that opportunities will arise for more writers of color, LGBT+ writers, or female writers, but an industry writhing under the thumb of its distributors all but erases such a possibility.

Until publishers cut themselves off from Amazon and attempt to sell directly to consumers, or else attach themselves to an Amazon retail competitor that is willing to give them a better deal in exchange for exclusives or some other perks, this problem will persist. For this reason, if you want to join this field, it’s important not only to keep yourself apprised of the economic issues of the field, but also become an economist yourself if you can. Although Mr. Hildick-Smith’s plan has some flaws, he’s thinking radically about the kind of changes that publishing needs to make in order to not only survive, but adapt into something new—a profession that inspires pride while still generating a profit.

The Benefits of Interning With a Small Publisher or Literary Magazine

In an earlier post I described the types of internships that can supplement your editorial experience—production, digital, domestic and international subsidiary rights, permissions and contracts, and editorial at literary agencies. These experiences not only augment your resume, but also allow you to see other areas of publishing you might work in one day before returning to editorial work. However, these specialized internships aren’t available in many places outside of a few East Coast cities where book publishing is common. So if you’re limited to whatever kinds of editorial internships you can find, consider finding a student staff position or internship at a literary magazine or an internship with a local publishing house.

With larger publishers, departments are typically isolated from one another, both physically in the office and by design in organizational structure. Thus, these positions typically offer “brown bag lunches” where all the interns meet with staff from different departments to learn about the overall publishing process. Or your department supervisor arranges for you to have a brief one-on-one informational interview with an employee with another department. While these opportunities can be extremely helpful, your supervisor won’t ever give you any actual responsibilities outside of the department, because she herself has no access to that stage of the book-building process.

Working at a smaller publisher or literary magazine, however, may provide an opportunity for more interdepartmental responsibilities, and you should feel free to express your interest in such opportunities during an interview. Many supervisors may want you all to themselves, but so will their colleagues. Hierarchies and workflows have much more flexibility at these smaller companies, and employees often shoulder extra responsibilities and always accept assistance because of this fact. If you can find a publisher that truly relies on its interns to function on a daily basis, you are in for a more challenging and rewarding experience.

I lucked into such an opportunity my first semester at Emerson when I accepted an editorial internship at Ploughshares, a nationally acclaimed lit mag. I started out simply doing administrative work and some occasional editing, but was able to take on more responsibilities as the semester progressed, including doing edits for the Winter and Spring issues. Yet I also wanted to expand into production work, and convinced the Production Manager to give me a variety of tasks. By the end of the semester, despite having never worked in HTML or InDesign before, I had assisted in designing the print and digital layouts for the upcoming issue. Meanwhile, my fellow interns also took on non-editorial work, one of whom so impressed the Pshares staff with her graphic design skills that she ended up designing the covers for their novellas.

The best internships reward and encourage initiative, and provide an educational experience in areas you never knew you needed to know. If you aren’t in Boston, New York, or the handful of other cities with large book publishers, consider finding an editorial position where they welcome the kind of unfocused exploration I found. Then use the breadth you’ve attained to show your versatility in future interviews.

Thanks for reading!