I had the pleasure of reconnecting with an old friend over the weekend who, 14 years after finishing his undergraduate education, has ended up in book publishing (where he belongs). In his own words, here's his journey into the world of publishing:
I'm the eLearning and IT Coordinator for Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, Inc., an academic and independent publishing house specializing in Classical (Greek and Roman) scholarship and education. My mission is to find new ways of facilitating language learning (Latin and ancient Greek) via existing and emerging technologies, and to find other ways of promoting our titles using Internet resources and presenting papers at professional conferences. I am a technical person by accident, having majored in English and archaeology at the University of Evansville (MA in archaeology from Missouri), but in the process finding computers and the shiny brand new Internet to be of infinite help to me as a scholar, writer, designer, and editor.
How I got into publishing:
In high school, I was a sports stringer for the Tampa Tribune and also wrote sports features for the Tampa Tribune and the Brandon News. I wrote for my high school paper, the Bloomingdale Senior High School Lariat, and later wrote news stories for the University of Evansville Crescent, the campus weekly, where I would ultimately become copy editor, circulation manager, columnist, and music reviewer. While at Evansville I was one of the founders of UE's first literary magazine, Pendulum, which later became the Evansville Review. I also twice edited the On-Time poetry chapbook for UE's department of English. In 1992, I held an unpaid summer internship with Archaeology magazine in New York City. I was a double-major in college (English with a writing concentration) and my work study was in the unversity's Writing Center, which I managed my senior year. My other major was archaeology, and I have spent years trying to reconcile my two loves with each other, working first for a museum software company, and now for Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers. As a kid, I was a decent writer and was able to prove myself locally by providing good copy (edited by dear old Mom), which gave me clips that earned me a slot on the Tampa Tribune's roster of stringers. That led to features, and so on. Having a student membership in the Society for Professional Journalists helped as it became my first network which ultimately landed me the job at the Trib at 17. That professional experience helped me get the internship at Archaeology, which ultimately led to work for Bolchazy-Carducci.
I work from 8:30 - 5:00, M-F, and also work from home at night and at times on weekends, more out of a genuine curiosity than anything on how to put technology to work for us. I also spend this extra time evaluating software and blogging for my company. Every day is a bit different. The morning chores are of course checking e-mail, reading and responding to forum posts, communicating with our authors and programmers involved on digital projects, reading two eLearning blogs, and basically sopping up as much information as I can about new classroom technologies and brainstorming ways on how we can put them to work for our readers. I usually block out a couple of hours to work on design projects, online demos, and web site updates. I have at least one formal meeting and usually one or two ad hoc meetings that eat up another hour or two at least. We're very big on face-to-face meetings. I'm on the Acquisitions committee and participate in our Development meetings, and bring 1-2 new, articulated ideas to the table each week to discuss and potentially implement. I have also noticed that some days are IT days where I'll do office tech support, upgrade hardware, software, etc., and then there are other days which are more creative days where I can play with new ideas and develop our eLearning projects. I do travel about four times a year to conferences to meet authors and readers and to give papers and workshops on eLearning topics. These shows usually require a solid week of following up leads and establishing new relationships with people I just met.
Advice for people who want to get into publishing:
The moral here is that when you're just starting out, nurture multiple interests without foresaking writing time. Volunteer or apply for jobs with any small-time publication you can for the experience of writing under deadline, following a production schedule, all the while learning how to create and preserve professional contacts that will ultimately become your network. By excelling (or having a strong interest) in a field outside of English or journalism, you are able to make yourself valuable as a niche writer or specialist. Having a Classics background along with significant writing/editing experience finally paid off for me with what I call my career-ending decision, working full-time for a boutique publisher of ancient authors who are still able to change the world.
You can do the same thing with physics or medicine or law, working your way into professional journals or specialty publishing houses that ache for people who are academically sound in one field, and are grammatically sound as well. Also, maintain your network of contacts, try not to burn any bridges, and keep up to date with new technology. If you haven't already, start blogging. Who cares if nobody reads your stuff; the important thing is to keep your language skills sharp. Entertain yourself and you're on your way to entertaining somebody else, and that person might very well become your boss.