This past Thursday, Christopher Newport University (my beloved alma mater) invited me to return and speak on a panel about careers in publishing. What an awesome opportunity to return to my old stomping grounds and impart my wisdom to those who are walking the same path I once walked.
My fellow panelists included a children’s book author, an author relations manager, a sports writer, and a journalist. And the students asked some very good questions. So, I’ve decided to write a few down and pass along my advice.
What advice do you have for those wishing to pursue a career in publishing?
My first piece of advice, and one which all of my fellow panelists agreed upon, is to get as much experience as you possibly can. Find internships. They will teach you what you cannot learn in the classroom and allow you to build valuable skills and connections. I also recommended joining campus organizations such as the literary magazine or newspaper in order to get that experience. And these roles are especially important because you get to experiment and learn from failures and form opinions relatively-risk free. For example, I was the editor of the literary magazine at CNU for two years and running a literary journal taught me more about publishing than any of my coursework.
Also, sometimes, you have to make your own opportunities. Write a blog. Find a platform to showcase your talents. No one may be looking right now, but when it comes time to have a portfolio and apply to jobs you will be glad you did.
How can you best stand out to employers for internships and full-time jobs?
Your love of books does not make you special in the publishing industry. Everyone in publishing loves books, prove that you are realistic about the business. I always recommend students who want to go into publishing learn as much as they can not only about literature and writing, but about marketing, finance, law, and technology as well. Especially in a time where companies are downsizing and evolving and looking for employees that can wear many hats, possessing these hard skills is going to make you a more attractive candidate.
Do you think you need a graduate degree for a career in publishing?
I had done a lot of thinking about this while I was still a graduate student at NYU. Yes, I HATED New York City, but I am not the kind of person who will not suffer through an uncomfortable situation for a good outcome. I noticed that all of my professors and contacts in New York who had the editorial jobs I had thirsted over since I was two feet tall did not have more than a BA. I spoke with my internship coordinator at the time, and we discussed how NYU would have been worth it’s weight in the connections, but if I was not going to stay in New York after graduation, it would be more viable for me to get out into the world and get experience and take on as little debt as possible.
So, I say this…If you can go to grad school for free or almost free, then go. If not, then I would suggest just getting as much experience as possible under your belt. In the end, that’s what employers are looking for. And, of course, I can only speak to the value of a degree in publishing.
Is it ever frustrating that most of publishing is in New York City?
This question tugged on my heartstrings. I’ve been back in Richmond for five months now, and it is a heartbreak I deal with on the daily. I love publishing. I feel so blessed to have found a field where I know for sure it is what I could do for the rest of my life. It was a harsh kick in the gut when New York and I didn’t get a long, because, let’s be honest, publishing is in New York. But, I am not someone who gives up, so I told this student that in all honesty, yes it’s frustrating as hell, but if you’re willing to work a little harder and really utilize your networks, you can make publishing happen anywhere. That’s why I started my freelance editing, to continue to do what I love and make my own opportunities while I looked for more stable work in the publishing world of Richmond.
Think outside of the box and find opportunities that will lead to satisfying careers in places where you feel at home. I commend that student for understanding the city life would not make her happy, I wish I had had the same self-knowledge. But authors are everywhere and with the digital world expanding, the industry is changing. There’s probably an opportunity just around the corner.