Tuesday, April 18, 2017

9 Things 2017 Graduates Need to Get a Job in Publishing

Guest post by Cassandra Jones. Cross-posted from the Bonfire Lit mailing list.

The end of the spring semester is approaching, and with it comes Commencement at campuses all across the country. So many college seniors (myself included) are thinking about how to get from here to there, from recent humanities graduate to entry-level employee in the publishing cosmos.

If you’ve always been fascinated with book culture but now need to capitalize on your obsessive knowledge of writers and writing in order to pay the rent and afford the upkeep on your coffee habit, here are nine tips to ready yourself for the literary job market.

  1. Experience in collegiate literary magazines will give you the editing, formatting, and marketing skills you can point to proudly in an interview. You should understand how to take a project from nebulous idea to printed product. This process takes dedication, organization, and creativity—all qualities any future employer will be interested in, especially employers in the media and publishing industry.
  2. If you don’t have experience with lit mags, don’t panic. Use the summer to build up your CV. Submit to your school’s alumni publication or to any magazine of your choice—Duotrope, The Review Review, and NewPages are all places to find markets ready to ready your submissions. (Consider submitting to Clarion; even if they don’t take your work, they’ll give you good, actionable feedback, and recommendations for other venues.) If that’s not your style, begin a blog on WordPress or Tumblr. All this work will show employers that you are involved as an active participant in the publishing realm; so make your resume current!
  3. You don’t have to be a marketing master, but you should be informed about basic mechanics. Familiarize yourself with the concepts of inbound marketing. Inbound marketing is customer-centric marketing methodology which aims to provide content that will attract viewers. Outbound marketing, on the other hand, focuses on ‘interruptive’ methods (mass e-mails and TV ads, for example). Practice writing blog posts, tweets, LinkedIn, and Facebook blurbs that revolve around educating the customer—if you provide useful information, they will see you as “part of the conversation” instead of an isolated salesman. Use your marketing knowledge to generate content in newsletters or gain more followers on social media platforms—you’ll transform into an employer’s magic millennial dream. This kind of business-oriented knowledge is highly valued in all aspects of the cultural industry, including publishing.
  4. Be aware of social trends and cultural phenomena. Working at Aevitas Literary Agency in Boston has taught me to keep my ear to the ground. What have I seen in the news or in my friend group’s interests that would make a good book? What YouTuber or Twitter user could write that book, and what kind of content would their followers form a readership for? Introducing new ideas or book proposals based on your personal outlook keeps you passionate, and, more importantly, innovative. Parse out a few ideas of your own, and have them in your back pocket for an interview. (Here’s a freebie: “Donald Trump’s tweets turned into a children’s book à la Go the F*ck to Sleep.) Illustrate that you know how not only to conceive an idea, but how to work that idea up into book-form.
  5. Find a mentor. If there is a professor or administrator who facilitates the literary magazine at your college, contact them. Ask how they got involved in litbiz, what the greatest challenges of their publications are, and what advice they have regarding the publishing market. If you’re interning, don’t be afraid to ask your advisor many, many, questions. You work there for free (or not for free, if you’re lucky), and knowledge is the currency you should feel entitled to claim as compensation for your efforts. Ask about the roles of the professionals around you, about the process of book-making start to finish, of your supervisors’ own journey from student to their current role—really, just ask intelligent questions until you run out and then get back to work. Then, ask more the next day.
  6. Have a handle on the tech and relevant programs. No one will expect you, right out of the gate, to be the next Mr. Robot, but it will help you to have an understanding of the primary nuts-and-bolts of systems like InDesign, Photoshop, and HTML. Every hour of familiarity you have with these programs puts you one step higher on the learning curve.
  7. Keep tabs on the industry. If you have the cash, or are looking for a grad present to suggest to mom and dad, buy a membership to Publisher’s Marketplace. Here you can find books by ISBN codes, authors, subjects and other forms of sales data. You’ll be able see how they are selling, or not selling, what their price points are, and which house they were published through. You can also see titles scheduled for upcoming publication, members, and agents—all in all, it’s the ideal database for all things book-related, and a good place to familiarize yourself with (as the name of the site suggestions) the publisher’s marketplace. I also suggest Manuscript Wish List. This one is a bit less serious but still fun. Agents, Editors, Publishers, Literary Assistants, Editorial Assistants, and Interns gather here to throw out ideas for books they wish existed, and share requests for manuscripts. A visit here is good for a quick fix on trends.
  8. Diversify your search. There are many ways to be involved in publishing other than being an editor or author. Look into Design, Sales, Marketing, Production, Public Relations, and E-books. There’s also more employers than just “The Big 5”—Penguin Random House, Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins, Macmillan, and Simon & Schuster. Each of these huge houses has many small imprints, many of which operate with a degree of independence from the parent company; any could be a place where your resume would find a way in. Dig in, do some research, and look for the less obvious opportunities.
  9. Don’t give up. You’ve got your degree—likely a humanities degree—and you’ve got your passion and your ambition; but you’re not getting called in for interviews, and you’re getting tired of sending in applications. Don’t let yourself be weighed down with a chip on your shoulder. There are numerous ways to get into publishing, but not if you limit your choices lacking patience or perseverance. To get from here to there, just do what always works: capitalize on your assets, think outside the box, and stay resilient.
Cassandra Jones helps to manage the Bonfire Collegiate Literary Network, a joint project of Pen & Anvil and the BU BookLab.

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