My path into book publishing was really a matter of general preparation colliding with an unexpected lucky moment. When I was in college, I had no idea that I could aspire to a job in publishing. After all, living in New York held no interest to me (okay, I'll be honest: It scared the life out of me).
At the University of Evansville, I majored in English lit and minored in public relations, the latter a concession to my ever-practical parents, who just couldn't believe they were helping to pay for me to study something that had no clear career path to the big bucks. I had worked on the school newspaper in high school, so I continued that in college. After returning from a study-abroad semester (Harlaxton College, woo-hoo!), I ditched my retail job and worked at the circulation desk at the local public library. And one summer, through my communications professors, I got a writing internship in the promotions department of the local daily newspaper.
Upon graduation I did a little freelance writing and ended up as an admissions counselor for my alma mater. But it wasn't a fit. I moved to Indianapolis and worked for a weekly newspaper in the suburbs (while living in the inner city—an interesting reverse-commute). But that wasn't fun, either—low pay, late nights, and an employer who believed wholeheartedly in beating the entitlement out of me and making me "pay my dues." (The devil drove a Subaru.)
So I was sitting in the Laundromat one day trying to keep people from stealing my clothes from the dryer when I picked up a newspaper someone had left. In it was an ad for a copy editor at Macmillan Computer Publishing. I sent my resume and landed a chance to take their editing test. I passed, was interviewed, and within six weeks was happily installed in a cubicle with my own computer. Back then, responding to newspaper ads still worked!
Over the course of the next five years I was promoted to production editor, senior production editor, and product development specialist. Then our company was merged with a reference unit in New York, and I got the chance to be a senior production editor for Frommer's travel guides, and then managing editor. After three years, the company was sold and I wanted to get out before I was laid off (turns out, I would have been allowed to keep my job without moving—we were sold to the cross-town rival). My former boss called and asked me to come be a development editor at JIST Publishing, so I went.
So now I've been at JIST eight years (and outlasted that former boss a second time), and have risen to acquisitions editor and product line manager. (In future posts I'll explain what all of those job titles really mean.) I think being at a smaller publisher (50 employees as opposed to 1,100 at Macmillan's zenith) enabled me to grow more and learn about the publishing process as a whole. At big publishers, everyone does a narrow job over and over. I've been able to do the work of about four different people, albeit on a smaller number of books.
Tomorrow I'll jump into the way-back machine and describe a typical day on my first publishing job as a copy editor; and in future posts I'll tell you about my later jobs. That way it will all make better sense.