To Work in Publishing Or Not to Work in Publishing: That is the Question

Pub Crawl is such a wonderful mixture of things. Writing craft, publishing industry insights, Days in the Life posts, cover reveals, and so many other things. In fact, being an avid Pub Crawl reader is partly what made me curious enough to know more about what being on the inside of the industry was like. Admittedly, I’m still learning! But for any of our readers who are considering breaking into publishing, here are some of the things I’ve learned so far:

1. New York, New York

I hate to be the bearer of bad news (if you’ve never had a desire to live in NYC), but if you want to work in publishing, you are going to have a much, much easier time doing it in New York. That’s not to say there aren’t small presses and literary agencies littered throughout the country where you might be able to get a foot in the door – but New York is the hub.

2. Internships are key.

If you don’t live in NYC, lots of literary agencies offer what’s called a remote internship. This refers to an internship done mainly through email, and your main job is to read manuscripts the agent for whom you are interning has requested from writers. This kind of internship is a great way to establish if you even want to learn more about working in publishing. I did a remote internship before I came to New York, and was very lucky to have made that contact when I ended up making the move.

And if you do decide to make the trip to New York, the next step is an in-house internship. Yes, most publishing houses and agencies want you to have a bachelor’s degree at the very least (though Penguin Random House very recently nixed this notion). But what publishers and agencies look at most closely is your internship experience.

So what does that mean?

It means, know what kinds of internships will give you the experience you need relevant to the job you want. For example, small presses will usually utilize interns in a number of ways – publicity, editorial, mailing, etc., whereas a larger house will have you in a specific department, usually editorial or publicity. And a literary agency will have you doing a lot of different things because agents themselves do a lot of different things – you might be organizing excel files, writing a report on a manuscript an agent has requested from a writer, or reading queries from the slush pile.

The great thing about internships is they can help you see where you do and *don’t* want to work without too much pressure. If you thought you were destined to work in publicity, but your internship in the publicity department at X house left something to be desired, then maybe you’d be happier in editorial, or even in a more design-centric department (admittedly a rather hazy area of publishing for me).

Be prepared to have at least two internships on your resume before getting hired for a full-time assistant position (the most basic level in all publishing employment).

3. Money, Money, Money

There are downsides to internships, of course. Many of them are unpaid or pay very little but still require as much of your time as a part-time job. So be prepared to save up money for living expenses, and to look for another part-time job as well. And to have roommates. And to eat ramen for a lot of meals.

Look, it’s not glamorous – even when if you work your way up, publishing is not an industry to join for the money. You do it because you love books, and you love writers, and you want to be part of their success. Publishing definitely has its issues – diversity being its biggest one by far – but more and more spotlights are being centered on those issues, and my guess (and my hope) is those who are working their way up from the bottom right now are going to be part of the wave that initiates true, honest change.

4. Twitter is your (Networking) Friend

Twitter is a fantastic space for writers. But it’s also a wealth of publishing information, job and internship opportunities, and possible industry contacts. I found my first internship when an agency I follow tweeted about it, and ditto for my job. And I have met some of my best friends in New York through Twitter, like when I plucked up the courage to reach out to another agency assistant and asked to meet up.

The interns and assistants you become friends with when you are just starting out become the editors and agents you work with down the line. Those relationships are more important than you know, and twitter is a great way to start some of those conversations

Just keep in mind that this does NOT mean “tweet at editors or agents from whom you want a job/book/autograph”. There are still rules of respectability on Twitter – in the same way writers are discouraged from pitching agents, it’s discouraged for anyone looking for employment/internships to pitch possible employers on social media. Find people at the same level as you and connect.

5. Be Willing to Go All In

I’m just gonna say it: If you aren’t willing to dedicate your heart and soul to publishing, then it might not be for you. The image many of us have of an editor who reads manuscripts and edits at his/her desk all day is a lovely one, but unfortunately quite far from reality. In fact, most editors don’t get to do much editing, if any, during the work day at all – it’s what they do when they get home from work. The same goes for agents – much of the day is spent on the phone with publishers or clients, and it’s not until the evening commute and after that they get to read queries and manuscripts.

So why do it? Well, that’s up to you. For me, the idea of helping bring a book that I believe in to life is a seductive one. There’s really nothing better than reading a query that excites you, requesting a manuscript you end up loving, and working with it through to publishing completion.  And at the end of a stressful day, a book and its writer’s victories make everything you’ve done to get it there worth it. Being at the launch of a book you helped to, well, launch, is one of the most rewarding experiences. And the community is tight – the support is real.

I hope this has been helpful for any of you who are thinking of taking the plunge!



6 Responses to To Work in Publishing Or Not to Work in Publishing: That is the Question

  1. Kirk Kraft Feb 3 2016 at 1:09 pm #

    Thanks for the awesome (and realistic!) post. I appreciate you sharing your own experience. While I’m still interested in pursuing an internship, I should’ve considered it a bit earlier in life—as in, BEFORE marriage and four kids. Good stuff, Hannah.

    • Hannah Feb 3 2016 at 5:36 pm #

      Thanks for reading, Kirk!

  2. Kaelyn Feb 3 2016 at 4:57 pm #

    This is a really helpful post, Hannah! I was thinking about going into publishing and now I’m even more certain. Thank you!

    • Hannah Feb 3 2016 at 5:36 pm #

      I’m so glad! It’s a lot of work but a lot of fun 🙂

  3. Abby Feb 3 2016 at 7:37 pm #

    I’m so glad you listed New York as the number one thing to know – it’s so true! I moved to New York straight out of college because I wanted to work in publishing…and promptly discovered that I HATED the city. So much so that I left after a year to do something entirely different. I sometimes wish I’d pursued publishing opportunities in other less intense cities, because I dearly miss the industry. But at the time it seemed like New York was the only place to do it (and in most ways, it is).

    Anyway, this was a great post! Thanks for sharing.

  4. Marina Feb 4 2016 at 5:06 am #

    Hi Hannah, thank you for posting this. I have struggled to get my foot in publishing for years and now that I’ve finally managed it… it’s even better than I thought. I’m not in Editorial (isn’t that the first thing we all dream about?) but I found out that I’m even more excited to work in Marketing. My advice to any of you seeking out a publishing job is to broaden your focus and discover many more exciting departments. Besides, marketing is the easiest gateway in my experience.
    What you say about New York is true for other countries as well. In the UK you have to live in London (or Oxford where they have excellent publishing programmes and educational publishers) and here in Greece there is no alternative to living in Athens. I guess it’s higly centralised industry.

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