Guest Post: Getting Into Publishing (You Gotta Do It For The Love)

Hey guys, Sooz here! I’m so excited to share this guest post with your from Danielle Barthel, a literary assistant from New Leaf Literary. She offers her own personal experience and insight for breaking into the publishing industry—which I’m sure many of you know isn’t the easiest thing to do.

Hello Pub-crawlers!

I’m so happy to be doing a guest post here this week!

I recently read a comment on Alex Bracken’s “You Tell Us: What Do You Want To See” post asking us to talk about hard lessons we’ve learned. For me—and I don’t think I’m alone—one of these lessons was the importance of following my passions. This was most relevant to me when I was trying to find a job in publishing.

RobinHoodDisneyThe truth is, this is not an easy industry to crack, and there were times that I felt like it was never going to happen. What kept me going was the simple fact that I’ve wanted to work with words forever. I remember the first time I finished a full length book all by myself—one of those big hardcover Disney books that were based off the movies. Remember those? I was so proud of myself.

flashlightBooks were just my thing. Growing up, I was the kid who got in trouble for reading at night by the light of my yellow American Girl flashlight-lantern (it looks a little like the one here, but I couldn’t find the exact picture).

When I reached the age that I no longer got into trouble for staying up late reading, and I still wanted to do it even though it was no longer “forbidden fruit” (and this was about as rebellious as my conscience let me get), I knew that my obsession with books wasn’t going away.

BrockportI actively realized that this was more than a passing rebellious phase, but instead a passion for something greater, when I left for college. I went to undergrad at The College at Brockport, State University of New York. It was five hours from home and the biggest leap I had ever taken outside my comfort zone. My fears about homesickness, not making friends, and being unhappy battled with my desire to learn about all things book related. Now loving books was more than just a passion—it was moving me towards a career.

I majored in English and took entire classes dedicated to Shakespeare, American lit, British lit, and young adult lit—I couldn’t believe it was a requirement to read Harry Potter in a real college class!

yorkAnd it turned out that Brockport had one of the best study abroad programs around. I could wax nostalgic about my love of England, and specifically the town of York, for hours, but I’ll spare you. Instead I’ll just say I hope everyone has the opportunity to do something that scares them (like finding your own way in a foreign country without Google Maps) at least once in your life. Because it’ll bring even clearer into focus both who you are, and what you want out of life. Or at least it did for me.

Coming home, I knew with certainty—books, words, and the people who worked on them were inspiring and I wanted to be a part of it. So I went to the University of Denver’s Publishing Institute, where I spent an entire month learning more about publishing. It was eye-opening and informative, and when I returned to New York, I set up a ton of informational interviews with wonderful, willing agents and editors to learn even more, before someone I will be forever grateful to suggested that I look into internships.

Even though it might sound like things happened quickly, they didn’t. I spent a few months doing interviews, both informational and for actual jobs/internships. I had this intense Excel grid of people I had emailed for interviews, what they were for, when I met with them, if they responded…

When I got my first real job rejection (for something I had been feeling so good about), I was pretty devastated. Wasn’t I doing everything right? English degree, Denver Publishing Institute grad, interviewing up a storm. Why was I still jobless?

Something I didn’t understand until after I’d been applying for jobs left and right is not to discount things completely out of my control, like being in the right place at the right time. I applied for an internship at Writers House, one of the biggest agencies in New York, after a recommendation from an informational interview. The Writers House intern coordinator initially called me because I was a Denver grad. I got the internship because of a mix of networking and timing and because I fit what they were looking for. All those factors together jump-started my career.

I’ve now worked in the industry I love, at a company I love, for three years as of this January. And after everything that’s led me to this place, it always goes back to my love of books.

So my lesson is this: follow your passions. Do what you love just because you love it. Don’t let those terrifying “what ifs” control your life. Thrive on challenge. And be open to the fact that you don’t have all the answers. That’s okay too.

Following her completion of the Denver Publishing Institute after graduation, Danielle began interning at Writers House. While there, she realized she wanted to put her English degree and love of the written word to work at a literary agency. She became a full-time assistant and continues to help keep the New Leaf offices running smoothly.

In her downtime, she can be found with a cup of tea, a bar of chocolate, or really good book…sometimes all together. Follow Danielle on Twitter!


7 Responses to Guest Post: Getting Into Publishing (You Gotta Do It For The Love)

  1. Marc Vun Kannon Jan 27 2015 at 9:35 am #

    These sound like the same reasons one should have to become an author. Write because you want to, because you must, because the stories won’t leave you alone.

  2. Pat Jan 27 2015 at 10:09 am #

    Danielle hit it right on the head “Do what you love because you love it.” I’d lost sight of that over the past year or so and have only recently allowed myself to enjoy and follow that thinking. And it feels so good to be back in the saddle again! Thanks for the insight into the “other side” of publishing. Didn’t realize the agents/editors have just as hard a time as we writers!

  3. Kim Graff Jan 27 2015 at 11:28 am #

    I love this post! I’m interning for a literary agency myself right now. It’s not easy to get into the industry, but it’s so much fun—and I love it. Even when I’m diving through the slush pile, or the requested pile, or any of it. It’s much better to do what you love, then to be stuck at a job you hate 🙂

  4. Stacy Jan 27 2015 at 1:10 pm #

    I love your sentiment, and for unattached 20-somethings, I absolutely agree with it – Risk everything to live the life you want to live; go for it all! However, the older one gets, and the more intertwined one becomes with other people’s lives, the m0re dangerous it becomes to risk it all.

    I thought that at 20-something, I knew what I wanted. But now, many years later, I have realized that the life I want now is very different from the life I wanted then. That said, to risk it all to change everything would mean putting my husband and kids at risk, too. And that complicates matters significantly.

    So, to add to your claim, I’d say this: if your young and unattached, go big; risk everything; go for what you love and don’t hold back. But if your older and attached to many other people who depend on you for their livelihood, plan your risks wisely. The consequences have a wider ripple effect when other people are attached to you for their very survival.

    I apologize in advanced for my curmudgeonly jaded candor. It’s not to say that one has to stay stuck in the sludge, and that is not what I am doing. However, the risks have to be more calculated and offer some security when kids and mortgages depend on the incomes my husband and I bring in.

  5. Chris Bailey Jan 27 2015 at 6:26 pm #

    Great post! If you find joy in your work, you’ll never dread getting started in the morning.

  6. Sarah Jan 28 2015 at 9:04 am #

    This is a great post! “Do what you love just because you love it. Don’t let terrifying ‘what ifs’ control your life” I really needed to hear that today.

  7. Cassie Jan 31 2015 at 6:49 pm #

    I definitely understand this. I’m 23, just moved to NYC, and on the hunt for jobs in publishing. I had an interview at Writers House, but I was not so lucky and was rejected. It’s rough reading all these interviews (and almost every site I get on, workers all started out there), knowing that I didn’t make it. I’ve had a few grown-up job interviews though, and I’m still trying. It’s definitely a tough industry to get into, but it’s all I’ve ever wanted to do, and I’m determined to make it work.

    (Side note, any help/suggestions/job offers would be appreciated!)

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