Thursday, August 30, 2007

Ask the Editor

Well, it's been a busy month here at the Publishing Careers blog! At the urging of my friend Joe Wikert, I've posted just about every weekday this August. You'd think I'd be in danger of running out of topics, but in many ways I feel I'm just getting started.

I've heard from a lot of you, privately and through comments, and you don't know how happy that makes me. I think it's great to share as much knowledge as we can about our careers and our industry. I also know that a lot of my readers have been in the business for a while, so I want to try to keep posting topics that reflect everyone's interests and questions.

I would also like to branch out and include topics on other areas of book publishing beyond editorial. There are lots of fascinating jobs in marketing, sales, design, and production, so I am really going to make an effort to share their stories with you as well.

So I need your help. What questions do you have? What topics would you like me to investigate? What tips can you share with the group? Let me know who's out there so that I don't keep feeling I'm writing just to hear myself talk!

Have a great Labor Day weekend. See you in September!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Publishing Executive Recruiter: Steve Ganz of Personnel Associates

You've probably heard the term "headhunter" used in reference to someone who goes out to find people to fill a company's specific job opening. Believe it or not, there are actually recruiters who specialize in the publishing industry. And Steve Ganz of Personnel Associates in southern California, specializing in educational publishing, is one of the nicest. I got a chance to chat with him this afternoon and ask some relevant questions.

First off, do you work with entry-level candidates?

Not a lot. But not because I don't want to. Usually when a company hires me to fill a position, they are looking for a specific level of experience beyond entry level. They can find plenty of entry-level candidates on their own.

In a nutshell, how does the recruiting process work?

First the publisher calls me. They are the clients and pay the bill. Usually the hiring manager or HR person has a very specific need--for example, a marketing person with experience in psychology textbooks. I have a database of about 20,000 resumes and can sort them and pinpoint someone with the exact experience. These people are not usually actively looking for jobs, but they don't want to miss any good opportunities. So when I find a match, I call or e-mail them. If they are interested in knowing more, we have a more detailed conversation. Then I send their resume to the hiring company.

Do job seekers pay you to find them a job?

No, just the opposite. The company pays the fees and I work for them.

Is it OK for a candidate to send their resume to more than one recruiter?

Yes, it happens all the time. But if I am working with you on a specific opportunity, it's best to talk to me first before contacting other recruiters or applying directly to companies. Often I am aware of the same opportunities and can help you get an interview through my own contacts.

What's the geographic distribution of companies that you recruit for?

Sixty percent are in the NYC area (75% if you include Boston). Usually 10% are on the West Coast (although right now that number is about 30%), and 5 to 10% are elsewhere.

Do you have any hints for college students hoping to break into the field?

If you want to be an acquisitions editor and then progress up to execuitve editor and publisher, a better way is to get into a sales job first and then progress to higher roles. In educational publishing, acquisitions editor really is a sales role--you're selling potential authors on the idea of publishing their book with your company. Many salespeople are tasked with looking for potential authors, so it's a natural progression to acquisitions editor.

I also have a list of helpful websites that I send out when entry-level people (with less than three years of experience in publishing) contact me:

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Publishers Weekly Annual Salary Survey

It's that time of year again--the publishing industry's trade magazine, Publishers Weekly, has released the results of its annual salary survey. (If you're saying to yourself, "hey, didn't you just write about this in March?" the answer is yes. That was the 2006 survey, which took several months to circulate itself to me in the office's shared subscription.)

This time they got more specific with the salary numbers than they did last year, which is great. Average salaries for people with three years of experience or less, by department, were as follow:
  • Editorial: $30,100
  • Sales/Marketing: $$34,000
  • Management: $62,500
  • Operations: $40,350

To get a look at what the future holds for those who stay in publishing more than a decade, here are the average salaries:

  • Editorial: $71,000
  • Sales/Marketing: $93,125
  • Management: $149,000
  • Operations: $65,000

The usual caveat applies: Jobs in places with a higher cost of living tend to pay more. But not enough more. In New York there is so much competition for the jobs, they feel they don't have to pay fairly. As evidence, the median entry-level salary in editorial/sales/marketing in the Midwest is $44,750, whereas in the Mid-Atlantic (which includes NYC), it's only $51,000. That's a difference of just 12%. Meanwhile, the cost of living in NYC is 115% higher than it is in Indianapolis, according to's Cost of Living Comparison Calculator.

The survey includes a lot more data about gender, bonuses, and company size. And as always, there's a cherry on top: 82% of respondents said they would recommend a job in publishing to college graduates.

Monday, August 27, 2007

The Elements of Style: Don't Take an Editing Test Without It

When I was in college, my beloved advisor and mentor, Dr. Sam Longmire, one day handed me a copy of Strunk and White's The Elements of Style. "Read it," he said, "and take it to heart."

Arrogant college student that I was, I don't think I read it right away. But a few years later when I faced taking Macmillan's pre-employment editing test, I decided to break it out and see whether I could learn anything quickly.

To my great surprise, it was a good read. It was quick (less than 100 short pages), easy to grasp, and interesting. It all made good sense and I did indeed take it to heart.

A few days later as I sat in the conference room with the editing test in front of me, I was delighted to see that several of the errors on the test came straight from the book. Had I not read it the night before, I probably would have missed those.

So, you know the rest of the story. I passed the test and got the job. Eight years later when I faced the JIST editing test, I again broke out that little book and again found it directly useful.

I think you know where I'm going with this. Read it and take it to heart. You won't regret it.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Minnesota Book Publishers' Roundtable

On our last night in St. Paul, eight of us from JIST's sales and editorial departments trooped down Seventh Street in search of dinner. We landed at the Liffey pub. Immediately upon entering, I saw a group of people around a table with a sign on it: "Minnesota Book Publishers' Roundtable Meeting." So of course I had to check it out.

I approached the group and talked to the publicity manager from Llewellyn, a new-age publisher in Woodbury. She was excited to hear about this blog and promises to share her experiences for a future post. (Hint: she got her experience through an unpaid internship.)

In the meantime, a great source of information about publishing careers in Minnesota is the Minnesota Book Publishers' Roundtable's website.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

EMC/Paradigm Sales Meeting

I'm here in St. Paul enjoying being immersed in a totally new experience for me: textbook publishing. It's completely different than the trade and reference publishing I have always been involved in. It can take up to two years to edit and produce a book. Reps actually go to schools and colleges and meet with potential buyers one on one.

Yesterday was a long but interesting day. In the morning we spent two hours per book learning about the newest textbooks from EMC. Discussion focused on the unique features of the books as opposed to the competing books, and on strategies for selling these books. The reps are all very experienced, enthusiastic, and clever in figuring out ways to sell the books.

After a fantastic Italian buffet in the hotel atrium, it was time for JIST to introduce itself to the reps. Unfortunately, weather and other issues delayed several of our presenters and sales reps, so we had to wing it. I was in charge of advancing the PowerPoints for our presentation to the college reps. Thank goodness our marketing VP arrived just before the presentation started, or I would have had to speak with no preparation about books I've never read!

After a full day of presentations, they loaded about 150 of us on buses (the reps plus the entire EMC/Paradigm Minnesota staff) and took us to the riverfront, where we caught a dinner cruise down the Mississippi. The food as fabulous, the weather finally cleared up, and we enjoyed getting to know our new colleagues and exploring ways we can all work together in the future.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Leaving for Minnesota

I'm leaving for the EMC/Paradigm/JIST sales conference in beautiful downtown St. Paul. (I'm not being snarky--I've heard it's very nice.) Tonight I'm meeting with a literary agent whom I worked with on Over-40 Job Search Guide. Then the rest of the week will be non-stop product meetings peppered with group activities, such as a dinner cruise on the Mississippi.

In my absence, I've asked my husband to be a guest blogger and tell you all about his upcoming trip (his eighth annual, I think) to the Frankfurt Book Fair in Germany.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Editors Are Evil

There's an undercurrent out there among frustrated writers and authors that magazine and book editors are pure evil. There was even a writing contest based on the theme, and the winning entries are, well, amusing. One editor has decided to capitalize on the notion that editors take pleasure in rejecting people. He's got a blog and a book called Evil Editor Explains: Why You Don't Get Published.

Really, though, I think we're just misunderstood. We are under tremendous pressure to find material that fits ALL of the following criteria:
  • Will sell enough copies to pay for itself and generate a healthy profit.
  • Fits with the company's mission.
  • Is well written (so that it won't cost too much to edit it).
  • Is written by someone who will be a pleasure to work with (this often takes a backseat to the "healthy profit" notion above)
  • Will be attractive to the media and get lots of play.
  • Hasn't been done before (or if it has, the first book on the topic has sold like gangbusters and we can ride on its coattails).
  • Provides a new spin or angle on a perennially popular topic.

So rejecting a manuscript is rarely personal. I've seen plenty of great books that I had to pass on because I knew they wouldn't sell, or WE couldn't sell them (but maybe someone else could). And I never do it without a pang of regret. I always think maybe I could be rejecting the next Chicken Soup phenomenon.

And I am sensitive to the feelings of those whose work I reject. Think of someone putting their heart and soul and years of work into this book, only to have a little twerp like me dash their dreams. It's not fair. But it's my job. It would be much less fair of me to publish your book and then not sell any.

And even after we agree to publish a book, there are authors who have a violent reaction to having their work edited. I have been threatened with bodily harm for having to cut 50 pages from someone's book. But the majority of authors are grateful for the polish that we apply to their writing, making it into a "real book" that will hopefully sell well. In the words of the immortal Caroline Dow, my late journalism professor: "Everybody needs an editor."

Friday, August 17, 2007

A Day in the Life

Today was a somewhat-typical day for me (although, as Mark Long said, there is no such thing as a typical day in publishing). I didn't get to do a lot of "product manager" stuff today because I have several books in the production stage that required immediate attention. In a nutshell, here was my day:

  • 6am: Get up.
  • 7am: Wake and dress preschooler.
  • 7:20am: Leave for preschool.
  • 7:45am: Pry crying preschooler from leg and fight rush-hour traffic to get to work.
  • 8:10am: Arrive at work (happy that the new office is much closer to home).
  • 8:15am: Check and field e-mails. Forward chapters from author to freelance copy editor.
  • 9am: Review and edit index for book that's going to the printer today. Send to layout, along with endorsement quotes for the inside front cover and final corrections to the interior.
  • 10am: Fulfill two requests for pre-publication galleys from college career centers (the publicist usually does this, but she's in Cabo this week).
  • 11am: Forward request to author from sales department to write an instructor's guide to go along with a new trade title.
  • 11:30am: Put finishing touches on two chapters that I ghost-wrote for the new edition of our former owner's top-selling resume book. (Someone call Fox News--some authors don't write their own books!)
  • 12pm: Walk to lunch at Chile Verde with four coworkers (a birthday celebration).
  • 1pm: Resign myself to checking layout's work on proofreader corrections to another (messy) resume book going to the printer before month end.
  • 3pm: Another birthday party--Ritter's frozen custard in the break room. No wonder we're all fat.
  • 4 to 5pm: ??? Tie up some loose ends. Maybe call some of the wannabe authors that I owe a call. Maybe wait until Monday. Maybe just send passive e-mails instead.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Cincinnati Publishing Scene

Building on our conversation yesterday about pursuing your dreams in the Midwest, I decided to take Cincinnati as an example and see what book publishing action is going on there. I found information on the following companies:

  • F+W Publications: This one is a big player by any city's standards, but especially so in Cincy. In addition to their bread-and-butter special-interest magazines, they also publish books on just about any topic you can name. They recently acquired one of JIST's direct competitors, Adams Media, which publishes the Everything series. They also publish the Writer's Digest books. I talked with a couple of their guys at BookExpo in March, who seemed to disparage living in Cincy. But they said they loved Indy, so go figure--the grass is always greener on the other side of I-74?

  • Emmis Books: An offshoot of Indianapolis radio/magazine conglomerate Emmis Communications, this company is headquarted in Cincinnati because Emmis stole someone from F+W who preferred to stay in town. They publish regional-interest books that "have both a universal appeal and a distinct sense of place, with a nod to the past and a bright eye on the future." I do wonder what's up with them, though. The parent company hasn't been doing well, and the publishers site looks like it hasn't been updated in over a year.

  • Standard Publishing: This is JIST's new step-sister company, owned by the same private equity firm in NYC. "Wait 'til you get your BMWs!" the sales manager joked to me at BookExpo. Standard publishes Christian educational books for kids, teens, and adults.

  • Menasha Ridge: Although its website says it's located in Alabama, it's in the BookExpo database as being headquartered in Cincinnati (anybody know what's up with that?). Menasha specializes in travel and adventure books, and formerly published the Unofficial Guides for Frommer's.
  • University of Cincinnati Digital Press: Electronically publishes material on Native Americans and the West. They don't actually print their books, which saves them a ton of money. They hire student interns.

I found a handful of very small self-publishers as well, but they generally don't have the means to hire anyone. But they are still possibilities to volunteer and get some experience. There are also the usual newspaper and magazine publishers. Althogether, not a bad showing for a small Midwestern city.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Ryan Healy on Big City Life

A topic that comes up occasionally in this blog is living and working in the Midwest as opposed to New York City. I consider it one of my main missions to help people who want to work in publishing but don't want to live in New York.

Ryan Healy is an occasional guest blogger on Penelope Trunk's Brazen Careerist blog. I thought his comments today were interesting. He's been living in a big city but is ready to chuck it all and move to Cincinnati (or someplace like it). Penelope herself left New York last year after doing a scientific study on the best place in the country to live. She chose Madison, Wisconsin.

With the Internet, there is simply no reason people can't live wherever they want without compromising their career dreams. In theory. But it still takes considerable work to make it happen.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Publishing Programs

I've mentioned before that you can major in a lot of different fields and still end up in publishing. But if you knew from the very beginning that's where you wanted to be, it might make sense to go to a college that offers a specific undergraduate or graduate degree in publishing or publishing studies, or whatever. has a list of such programs for you to consider. But of course, most of these are on the East Coast. Closer to home, the University of Indianapolis offers a minor in writing and publishing, directed by my former coworker (and current author), Dr. David Noble. Dr. Noble has promised to give us an insider view of the program in the coming month, so stay tuned.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Free Teleconference: Promotable People

This coming Thursday (3 to 4pm eastern), one of my authors, Susan Britton Whitcomb, is offering a free teleconference to promote her latest book, 30-Day Job Promotion. In this teleconference, Susan will

  • Reveal 10 characteristics of highly promotable people.

  • List the organizational factors that will enhance or impede the likelihood of promotion.

  • Share some common mistakes that individuals often make when going for a promotion.

  • Illuminate the five A's to a powerful promotion plan.

  • Offer a career model to determine one's promotability factor.

  • Describe the "crucial conversations" with managers that are prerequisites to being promoted, including what and what not to say, when to say it, and how to follow up.

  • Highlight some common roadblocks to promotion, such as being too valuable in one's current role, having a difficult relationship with one's current manager, and dealing with the organizational politics, along with strategies for how to manage these roadblocks.

So you're saying, what's the catch? Well, there isn't one, really. Susan just wants to get the word out about her book. Oh, and it's not a toll-free call. But seriously, Susan is such an amazing source of ideas on careers that I urge you to check it out. You can register here.

Friday, August 10, 2007

RU Linked In?

Any job search expert these days will tell you that the key to finding a job (or clients, or vendors, or whatever) is to network with people. As much as 80 percent of jobs are found through networking. But for some reason that concept has a stigma. People think networking is all about taking advantage of others. But really, it's a two-way street: If you help me now, I will be willing to help you later--or vice versa.

But the Internet saves the day yet again. Now you can build and manage your personal network online. Virtually gone are the days of having to call someone on the phone and use a script to ask for help.
There are dozens of professional networking sites online, but the biggest one by far is LinkedIn. How it works is that you sign up for the site and provide a profile of yourself. You want to make it sound impressive but authentic. Then you can search the site for people you already know and send them an invitation to join your network. Once you do, you can see who's in their networks. If you see someone who works at the company that you want to get a job at, you can ask the person you know to introduce you.
Lots of people have expressed trepidation about joining. They think they'll get spammed or harrassed, have their identity stolen, or be forced to recommend the office drip to their idol. I have been a member for almost a year now and haven't had any problems. If you don't want someone in your network, you can ignore them. And they'll never really know whether it's intentional, or maybe you just didn't get their invitation. Like, I'm not taking it personally that my cousin ignored my invitation to join my network. He's got a new baby. I'm sure he's busy...
So check it out, and look me up. If I know you or you can make a convincing case, I'll join your network.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

How to Write a Great New-Grad Resume

It's the perennial "chicken-and-egg" problem: How do you get a job without experience? And how do you get experience without a job? Professional resume writer (and book author) Louise Kursmark has some ideas of where to look to find evidence of your abilities for your resume when you haven't had a related, paid, professional job. Here are her thoughts, taken from her book, Best Resumes for College Students and New Grads.

Before starting to write, think about the sources you might consider in searching for this evidence. Your recent educational experience, of course, is a prime source for relevant material. But don't stop there! You've had many opportunities to develop and demonstrate specific skills, and you'll want to consider a wide variety of sources when compiling your proof.

Keep this list handy as you start writing. It will help jog your memory and give greater depth to your resume than if you concentrated only on your most recent college experience.
  • Education (degree, major studies, class/team projects, theses, case studies, areas of concentration, research

  • Academic honors and awards

  • Other honors and awards (leadership, contribution, peer recognition)

  • Extracurricular activities (clubs and organizations, varsity and intramural sports, fraternities and sororities)

  • Internship or co-op experience

  • Employment (during the school year, summer jobs, prior professional experience if you're a nontraditional student)

  • Volunteer activities (high school, college, community)

  • High school (academic honors, significant activities)

  • Travel

  • Family background

  • Special skills and interests

In addition to searching your memory, you might find evidence of your abilities in any of the following:
  • Performance reviews from your various jobs

  • Letters of recommendation from teachers, friends, and employers

  • Your college application materials and application essay

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

What Should I Major In?

Planning a publishing career can start with choosing a college major. My knee-jerk reaction when asked what a person should major in is "English, communications, or journalism." And a lot of sources will back me up on that. But I know just as many people in the field who majored in something else seemingly unrelated.

The Association of American Publishers hosts a publishing careers site called This site has job listings, informative articles, and much more that I will delve into further in future posts. But what caught my eye today was their section on matching your major to a specific publishing area (such as sales, editorial, or marketing). Here is their list of majors and the areas of publishing that you might get into from each of them:

School of Arts & Science

  • Editorial
  • Publicity
  • Managing Editorial
  • Sub Rights


  • Editorial
  • Managing Editorial
  • Publicity
  • Marketing
  • Sales
  • Production
  • Contracts
  • Sub Rights

Computer Science

  • IT
  • Internet Development


  • Editorial (children’s)

English Literature

  • Editorial
  • Managing Editorial
  • Publicity
  • Marketing


  • Editorial (adult)
  • Managing Editorial
  • Legal/Contracts
  • Sub Rights


  • Editorial
  • Managing Editorial
  • Publicity
  • Marketing
  • Sales
  • Production
  • Legal/Contracts
  • Sub Rights

Library Science

  • Editorial
  • Marketing (education and library marketing)

Media Entertainment

  • Marketing
  • Publicity
  • Sales


  • Editorial (adult)
  • Managing Editorial (adult)

Political Science/Studies

  • Editorial (adult)
  • Legal/Contracts


  • All Areas


  • Editorial (adult)
  • Managing Editorial (adult)

Romance Languages

  • Editorial
  • Managing Editorial
  • Sub Rights


  • Editorial (adult)

Social Sciences

  • All Areas (excluding finance)

School of Business

Accounting & Finance

  • Finance
  • Sales

Business & Business Related

  • Finance
  • Sales
  • Marketing
  • Managing Editorial
  • Legal/Contracts
  • Production


  • Finance


  • Publicity
  • Marketing
  • Advertising
  • Promotions

School of Fine Arts/Visual Arts

Art & Design

  • Art & Design
  • Advertising
  • Promotions
  • Production

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Summer Sales Meetings

It's that time of year again: Time for textbook salespeople all over the nation to gather in one place to hear a week's worth of presentations on six months' worth of new books by day and then party all night.

At least that's how I understand it, as a sales spouse. My husband Jason took off yesterday for a week in Orlando to learn all about the new books for Addison Wesley, Longman, Allyn & Bacon, and Prentice Hall. The truth is, it's excruciating: They start as early as 7:30am and sit in the same room until 6pm, listening to marketing people recount what's new about the new textbook editions. For example, they might spend four hours hearing about economics textbooks. Bleah!

But after hours, they take advantage of the fun things at their meeting destination--mainly restaurants, but some hardy souls always end up closing down the disco. Usually there are special events as well. Several years ago I accompanied Jason to the Baltimore sales meeting, during which they took us for a harbor cruise on the Duck, and then to a dockside restaurant where you get to shatter crabs with little wooden hammers.

But my second-hand perspective ends this year. Our new parent company, EMC/Paradigm, has its own summer sales meeting in its home city of Minneapolis/St. Paul in two weeks. I will be going mainly as an observer to learn about their products. They will also be learning about ours, but are primarily interested in our textbooks and workbooks. I may be called upon to back up the marketing VP's presentation at some point, but I don't anticipate having to do any presentations of my own. As a recovering introvert, that's a relief!

So I'll report more on my trek to the Twin Cities in a few weeks. I'm relieved that our meetings don't overlap with those of Jason's company. We get to tag-team taking care of our three-year-old daughter instead of having to beg a grandma to take her for a week!

Monday, August 6, 2007

Assignment: Bookstore Visits

I promised to share an assignment with you from last year's Denver Publishing Institute. This assignment comes from Carl Lennertz, VP of Marketing and Independent Retailing at HarperCollins. If you're interested in learning more about how and where books are sold, give it a try!

"Visit at least two bookstores, one being a chain (Barnes & Noble, Borders, etc.) and the other an independent bookstore. Also visit the book department in at least one of these: Costco, Target, or Wal-Mart.

"In the chain or independent, look at three areas:

  1. The displays near the front of the store
  2. Displays at the end of the aisles (known as endcaps)
  3. The area near the cash registers

"Look for things like signs, stickers on books, bookmarks, and floor and counter displays. Also look for "staff pick" sections. Make a list of the things that you see, and also make note of what kinds of books dominate the front tables: seasonal themes, bestsellers, paperbacks, sale books, and even non-books. Also, take samples of any handouts, from bookmarks to newsletters. In Costco, Target, or Wal-Mart, just make note of what kinds of books are carried and how they are displayed. Write up your impressions and note which stores you visited."

I would also add a few more steps:

  1. Make note of the different sections that books are grouped into. Pick two or three sections that are most appealing to you personally--the books you are most likely to read and buy.
  2. In each section you select, find out who are the three dominant publishers--the imprints you see most often in that section.
  3. Go home and look up these publishers on their Web pages. Where are they located? What are their hot new releases? What jobs do they have available?
  4. If you can identify someone at the publisher who has a job you are interested in, send them an e-mail and ask whether you might be able to interview them about their jobs--no more than 30 minutes, and never use this time to try and get a job offer. Just find out what their jobs are like.

If anyone wants to share the results of their research with other readers of this blog, send them along and I will be glad to post about them.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Mark Long: Publisher, TSTC Publishing

Earlier this week my long-ago mentor and blogging idol, Joe Wikert at Wiley, gave my blog a mention on his. I commented on his post, asking for more volunteers to share their stories. The first one up to the plate was Mark Long, publisher of Texas State Technical College Publishing in Waco (see his "Simpsonsized" photo at left). Mark is a former English professor turned publisher, and his story of how he got where he is now, and what his job is like, is inspiring. Here's the text of our interview:
1. So you say you "backed into" a publishing job. How did that happen?

In 2003 several of us in the English department at Texas State Technical College Waco, a two-year technical college, collaborated on a first-semester comp anthology called Techne that we published through Kendall/Hunt, a custom textbook publisher. Around that time, as I was getting burned out on teaching (or, rather, grading), my wife asked me what I really wanted to do if I changed careers. It was an easy answer as I said, “Go into book publishing.” So she said, “Well, let’s figure out a plan to do that.”

I couldn’t afford to go back to school or take a completely entry-level publishing position—too many student loans and house debt and the like for that!—so after talking to a lot of different people at the school and considering a multitude of different factors the school decided to start its own in-house book publishing division—as far as I know the only one of its type for a two-year college—to publish textbooks and related materials. In May of 2004 I moved out of the English department to head that up. I would have to add, though, that being trained as a writer in grad school had left me seeing the publishing world as a very mysterious place that I didn’t really understand—much as the Leon Barlow character in Larry Brown’s novella “92 Days” that was later made into the movie Big Bad Love—and I thought that by going into publishing I might gain some insight as a writer that would be helpful.

Before I moved into publishing in 2004 I had been teaching college English for about ten years both in grad school and as an adjunct at different colleges before I got a full-time teaching job at TSTC in Waco, Texas, in the fall of 2000. Originally, though, I had gone to grad school to study creative writing and that was an emphasis of my master’s degree. Also, while I was in grad school I had worked on the staff of a couple of journals that the English department at the University of North Texas produced and became interested in the mechanics of publishing at that point. Right before grad school I had spent a couple of years writing TV show descriptions—those 25–30-word tag lines—for newspaper TV listings and that was a big influence in going to grad school to study writing (especially the kind of writing actually I wanted to do) instead of working to make TV as accessible and attractive to people as possible.

2. Do you prefer publishing to teaching? Why?

Overall, I do prefer publishing to teaching. That’s mainly because, I think, that I’m a project-oriented person. When teaching—especially at a technical college like TSTC, where we only taught three different classes in the English department—you begin each semester at the same point—students taking first-semester composition—and there was never any sense of forward motion from semester to semester. Had I been teaching at a four-year college with actual English majors of my own, I think I would have felt differently about it.

In addition, I made the mistake one semester of figuring out that at the rate I was going I had 62,500 papers left to grade before retirement. That was pretty much the point at which I knew I needed to do something else. I felt like I was turning into a professional paper grader for a living instead of really being a writing teacher or even, as I had always wanted to be, a writer who happened to teach. It’s been my experience that at some point sooner or later most (college) teachers become burned out—for a variety of reasons—and I never wanted to find myself being that kind of person.

Plus, given the production resources we have, it’s cool to come up with new and different projects to do. For example, we’re working on a bird’s-eye-view map of the Waco campus as a promotional giveaway and have been talking about doing a series of flip books—those books where you have animated scene when flipping through the pages—based on great moments in philosophy to complement an ethics reader we’re putting together.

3. What were the most important transferable skills that enabled you to make the transition?

First, given that we publish textbooks and related materials, one of the big advantages I had was a teaching background. When I talk to faculty about publishing projects I can talk shop with them about students, teaching, and what it’s like to work in the college environment on a day-to-day basis. Second, although I never had any formal copyediting training or anything like that, I had graded so many papers over the years that I had a pretty good handle on what good writing needed to sound/read like. Finally, I think one of the advantages of my liberal arts background was that, although I had no business training, I had learned to be a life-long learner, so that the first couple of years I really crammed as much reading and research as I could into my days to learn what I had discovered that I needed to know.

4. What do you do at TSTC Publishing?

Officially I am the publisher who oversees TSTC Publishing. That means I manage our three full-time staff members (editor, graphics specialist, secretary) in addition to 10–15 interns per semester. In addition, I’m the liaison with upper-level administration at the school. I also, by default, spend a lot of time traveling for the sake of project acquisition as well as promoting books that we’ve already published. In the larger sense, I work with our stakeholders—our staff, our authors, the school administrators—to formulate our long-term growth strategy and then oversee the day-to-day tactical efforts to make this happen.

5. What type of material do you publish?

We primarily publish textbooks, both general use and custom. In addition, we do some one-off projects like a TSTC cookbook we did a couple of years ago for the school’s 40th anniversary and a coffee-table book about the history of the school we have in the works right now. Initially, we worked a lot with TSTC faculty around the state—there are four stand-alone colleges in the TSTC System—but we’re scouting for more projects outside of the school as well as initiating our own projects within the publishing office—in particular, technical dictionaries and some other technology-related materials—instead of relying solely on faculty to develop books from scratch. The school had also done some publishing on an ad hoc basis in the past, so we distribute some of these books as well. We also produce our own marketing materials: flyers, brochures, calendars, direct-mail pieces, posters, and so on. Plus, we do some pro bono work each semester for different non-profit groups as our production schedule allows.

6. What's a typical day like for you?

One of the things I like about publishing is that there are really no “typical” days. Every day has its own set of concerns, so the job is continually different and interesting. In general, though, when I get to the office I’ll check my e-mail to see if there are any fires to put out and then I’ll check with Tammy Turner, our secretary (who’s really our office and business manager) to see if we’ve had any sales since the previous day and/or if there is anything else sales/distribution/business related that needs to be addressed. Then I touch base with Todd Glasscock (our editor) and Grace Arsiaga (our graphics specialist) to see how things are going with the current production cycle. After that I may talk to our printers, various bookstore folks, authors, and other people to either get projects into the works or sell books that we’ve already done . . . most of these activities falling into the category of building and maintaining relationships.

Basically, I’m always trying to find and/or put together the most lucrative projects possible for us to do that, once they are set up, I hand off to Todd and Grace to shepherd through the development and design process. Then, when they’re done, Tammy handles the business end of taking and filling orders and tracking all the related paperwork. Plus, because we’ve got four colleges in Texas, I spend a fair amount of time traveling to each of them to talk to people as well as attending an ever-increasing schedule of conferences and conventions. As it has worked out, I really don’t spend much time in regularly scheduled meetings or serving on college committees, so my schedule is always relatively flexible to be able to deal with potential projects/problems as soon as they arise.

7. Your press has a blog. What was the philosophy behind starting it up?

One of the things I found most frustrating when I first moved over to do book publishing—back in those days it was just me in an old conference room where I’d read books about publishing and try to figure out what to do next—was that I felt like I was working in a vacuum. Sure, I was reading books and trying to put our first projects together, but I didn’t really have anyone “in the know” I could talk to about day-to-day operational issues. Much of this gap was eventually filled by reading different publishing blogs—most of which are on the blogroll at our blog—where the theory in the books I was going through was fleshed out by the anecdotal experiences of people actually in the business. So, when we got to the point where we had actually published some books, I wanted to talk about what we did and how we did it to join the ongoing online “conversation” about book publishing. Plus, as a writer who’s become a publisher, it gives me an outlet to do some writing that I might not have time to otherwise do.

8. Do you hire students as interns? What qualifications do you look for? Do you pay them or do they just get class credit?

We use 10–15 interns a semester on a regular basis. Two-thirds of these are graphics interns who come from the TSTC’s Advertising & Design Print Technology program and the rest are editorial interns who come from the journalism and/or English departments at Baylor University, the four-year college in Waco. Right now interns don’t get paid but do get class credit. (Once we become more financially sound I want to set all these positions up as paid co-ops.) We do have a work study and a student worker—both former graphics interns—who do graphics work and are paid. All the work done by the interns will go into production at some point—it’s not like they’re just shadowing other people doing “real” work—so that by the end of the semester they have generated good portfolio pieces and have been an integral part of a publishing operation in addition to receiving class credit.

As far as qualifications go, we’ve had pretty good luck with their program chairs steering good prospects our way. We might cut one or two loose a semester, but that usually has to do issues like reliability—coming to work when scheduled—as opposed to a lack of graphics or editorial skills.

I really like having interns in the office because we have a new set every semester and it keeps things fresh and interesting with new people around. Plus, unlike my English classes, which most students saw at best as a necessary evil, the interns are doing work they will do after graduation so their attitudes, in general, are much more positive than your typical English comp student.

9. What advice do you have for our blog readers who might want to transition into publishing like you did?

First of all, I think you need to be a person who likes books for their own sake and doesn’t just see them as impersonal objects to be sold. This is especially important because publishing books is a highly collaborative project where you have a lot of people all down the line investing a lot of time and energy so you need to respect all those contributions.

In terms of getting a sense of what publishing is all about, I’d suggest finding publishing-related blogs to read on a regular basis because there are plenty of good ones out there that cover all aspects of the publishing industry from authors to agents to editors to graphic designers and everyone else in between. In addition, I’d suggest reading Thomas Woll’s Publishing for Profit to get a handle on overarching publishing issues while looking at Dan Poynter’s Self-Publishing Manual to see the down-and-dirty nuts and bolts of publishing whether you’re self-publishing or not. Finally, I think The Columbia Guide to Digital Publishing, even though it is a few years old now, provides a good overview of where publishing is headed in the future.

I think many of the skills that people need to be able to develop to be successful are related to building good relationships. Most of publishing means working with many different people in different locations with different concerns that you have to be able to respect and effectively negotiate. Being honest, flexible, and finding solutions instead of becoming wrapped around the axle at the first opportunity—with any book project there are many opportunities for this to happen—is of paramount importance. In addition, you have to earn the reputation of being someone who is a “closer”—that is, has the tenacity to follow a project through to the end—and does quality work instead of someone who can start a project but can’t see it to the end.

As for making the transition into publishing, I’d suggest looking at specific job categories—editorial, marketing, graphics, financial—and figuring out which one suits you best. Then, I’d suggest getting the best education you can—no matter what the degree itself might be—in one of these areas. Also, informational interviews—talking to people in the field in that area you want go into—are a great way to learn more and network at the same time. Most of the people I’ve met in the publishing industry have been extraordinarily generous with their time in talking about what they do and offering advice to any interested parties. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, do whatever you have to do to put together a portfolio of work that’s gone into production—not just class projects and the like—whether it’s pro bono work or whatever else—because people want to see that you have real production experience and not just the theory alone.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Denver Publishing Institute Celebrates 30 Years

Out in Denver right now, 100 of the best and brightest publishing hopefuls are soaking up gallons of invaluable information on what a job in publishing is like. For 30 years now, the Denver Publishing Institute has served to inspire and educate recent college graduates and career changers on the business—and the joys—of book publishing.
I have recommended this course to all of the job seekers I have counseled. Ironically, I never attended it myself. A UE alum who had attended the institute came to campus to talk it up and I met with him. When I got it out of him that he was working in New York City as an editorial assistant at Harper & Row and making $13,000 a year, and that the institute cost thousands of dollars to attend, I wrote off both the institute and a career in publishing. (That guy since went back to school and became a doctor, so I guess he, too, was bothered by the compensation structure.)
But last year my boss, JIST Associate Publisher Susan Pines, was invited to be a guest panelist at the institute. She came back so full of praise for the knowledge and experience the students gained, that I had to take another look at it. Now I wish that I had gone! "The Denver Publishing Institute is an express lane to a publishing career. Students obtain years of publishing knowledge, experience, and connections in just one month," Sue said.
Yes, it’s expensive. Tuition, room and board, and fees will run you over $5,300. But the lectures and workshops on all aspects of publishing, and the dozens of well-connected guest speakers (not to mention a week devoted to career counseling), are well worth it, if you’re serious about wanting a publishing job and think your resume might be a bit thin.
Before you get there, you’ll have to complete a barrage of homework assignments that are more challenging than my first five years on the job (I have copies of last year's assignments and may put you to work in future posts). The highlight, Sue says, was when the students had to formulate book proposals and “pitch” them to her and the other editors in attendance. The proposals were so well done that she almost wanted to actually give them contracts!
The deadline for applying to next year’s institute will be in late March, with notification of acceptance in April. Admission is competitive and there is no financial aid. But how can you put a price on this kind of experience?

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Back to School Means Back to Thinking About Your Career

As back-to-school time approaches, I am reminded of advice that I have heard from several college career counselors: It pays to start thinking about your career as soon as possible. In fact, in a recently released survey from the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), 71% of 2007’s graduating students had started their job search by March. Of those, 79% had already applied for jobs. And of those, 51.2% had already accepted their post-graduation job. (Of course, those majoring in liberal arts were less likely to have applied yet--presumably because of the less-clear career paths.)

But even starting to think about your career at the beginning of your senior year isn’t soon enough. Shawn Graham, an Associate Director of the University of North Carolina’s MBA Career Management Center at the Kenan-Flagler Business School, shared with me some back-to-school career tips for underclassmen:

  • Choose your classes wisely. Use your coursework as an opportunity to expose yourself to different career paths and to develop prerequisite skills for those areas.

  • Meet with a career counselor. If you already have a job-search plan, they can help you evaluate its effectiveness. If you don’t, they can help you structure one.

  • Have focused flexibility. Narrow your search to two or three different career paths. If you’re not sure what you want to do, rule something out.

  • Talk to faculty in your major to get their thoughts on possible career paths. Also talk to classmates and family members about careers. Get a feel for what they do and how they got there.

  • Attend career workshops and events. Both offer a great chance to gather career information. Depending on the event, you might also be able to network with recruiters at your target companies.

  • Do your career homework. Your job or internship search can take just as much time as a college-level class. Dedicate time to researching career options. Check with your campus career center about available resources. Vault and Wetfeet are usually great places to start for an overview of popular career paths.

Shawn is the author of the upcoming book, Courting Your Career, from JIST.