Thursday, June 21, 2007

Ann B. Ross: Author, "Miss Julia" Novels

Last year I signed and edited a very interesting book on career exploration for young women. Firestarters is basically a series of informational interviews with 100 women in interesting and diverse jobs (and maybe a subconscious inspiration for my blog). There are a few people profiled in the book whose jobs might be interesting to readers of this blog. Ann B. Ross, a published novelist, is one of them. Here is her story, taken directly from the book.

Job Description

Ann is a writer of fiction. Her most recent novels are the Miss Julia series, of which the first in the series was Miss Julia Speaks Her Mind. At press time, she had written six books in the series and was contracted with her publisher to complete one book each year.

A Day on the Job

  • Writes approximately three to four hours a day—“I have some coffee… and then I go right to the computer.”
  • Communicates with her agent about the business end of selling her books.
  • Returns e-mails from her Web site,
  • Sends newsletters to those on her Miss Julia mailing list.
  • Promotes her book approximately two months out of the year. “My publisher sets up a tour each year, right at the time that a new book comes out.” The tour entails traveling to bookstores for book signings, speaking about her book, reading excerpts from it, and signing autographs. She also makes radio and television appearances.

Job Likes

"I like the idea of writing because it’s a world that I can escape into. It’s a world that I build, and I can put whatever people I want in it and have whatever happen that I want, although a lot of times they [the characters] surprise me!”

“I like to work alone. I do like the quiet, the silence, just the peace of being here and working by myself.” Although the writing routine is introverted, the promotion of her book provides her with a more extroverted outlet, giving her a nice balance between the two.

“It’s been amazing to me that these books have been so effective to so many people.” Ann remembers a story of a fan who told her that her sister had read these books during chemotherapy, and it was the first time her sister had laughed out loud in over a year.

“It’s a real thrill to walk into a bookstore and see a line out on the sidewalk.” Ann finds promoting the book exciting and fun, but the schedule can also be tiring.

Job Challenges

“The business end, and that’s why I am so thankful to have a good agent.” Ann feels fortunate to have an agent who looks out for her best interest and takes care of negotiations with her publisher.

Steps to Current Job

  • South Carolina Baptist Hospital in Columbia, nursing program.
  • Operating room registered nurse for five years.
  • Armstrong College in Savannah, Georgia, general college courses.
  • Blue Ridge Technical College in Hendersonville, North Carolina; took a writing class while raising her family.
  • University of North Carolina at Asheville, Bachelor of Arts in Literature.
  • Wrote two murder mysteries, The Murder Cure and The Murder Stroke.
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Master of Arts in English; wrote The Pilgrimage.
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Ph.D. in English; field of study was Medieval English Literature and Language.
  • Professor at University of North Carolina at Asheville in Literature and Humanities.
  • Writer of the Miss Julia novels.


A liberal arts degree is a great background for a writer. Study what interests you. The more experience and knowledge you acquire, the more you have to draw upon for your writing. She feels that “If you really want to write, you maybe don’t need any formal classes in writing. You can learn the skills, but not the talent, of writing from the public library. I really think the books I read from there were more help than any writing class I had.”

Ann suggests that if you don’t know what you want to study in college, you should get a liberal arts degree. “With a good, rounded humanities or liberal arts degree, you can do most anything you want to.” When she was a young woman, the two main career paths she felt were acceptable for a woman were nursing and teaching. “There are so many opportunities now that I did not feel were open to me.” Ann adds, “Don’t get married young.” She explains that it is more difficult to follow your dreams when you are married and have a family at a young age.

Helpful Personality Traits

Disciplined, self-starter, good observer of others, good ear for speech patterns, introspective of self and others and enjoy telling a story.

Hobbies & Interests

Reading, needlepoint, horseback riding, and spending time with family.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

A Plug for Using College Career Centers from Jason Wall, Career Counselor, UC Berkeley

I've met dozens of college career center counselors while working at JIST, and one of their consistent top issues is students' underutilization of college career center resources. So why don't college students take advantage of free career help before they graduate? I recently connected with Jay Wall at Berkeley, and he offers his insights on that issue, as well as some other tips on publishing jobs.

What kind of help can college students get from their campus career center?

Functionally, at the heart of any career center are counseling services. The career center is your opportunity to talk to a counselor (an objective and non-judgmental person) about your future, specifically what you plan to do for a career. The three ways most centers connect students and counselors are 1-on-1 counseling sessions that are about an hour long, "drop-in" style appointments which require no advanced sign-up and are usually 10 to 15 minutes, and workshops on almost every career development topic imaginable.

Topically speaking, I tend to think of career centers as providing two main services, each with many subsections. The two categories are

  1. finding a job
  2. applying to graduate school.

The first topic, finding a job, is very broad and includes a wide range of information and activities. If you are a freshman or sophomore, it could mean researching majors ("I want to work in publishing. Should I major in English or Communications?") and career fields ("What is a Copy Editor?"). On the other end, if you are a junior or senior, it could mean finding an internship or attending workshops on résumé writing or successful interviewing. Regarding graduate school, the career center can help with every aspect from deciding whether or not grad school is right for you, how to ask for letters of recommendation, and proofreading your personal statement.

What percentage of students actually take advantage of those resources? If the number is low, why do you think that is?

This number varies greatly from school to school but somewhere around 25% (+/- 5%) is a safe bet. Why this is, is the case is a subject of much speculation. I suggest (take it or leave it) two reasons. First, students are simply trying to survive in the present. Freshman year, students are so (legitimately) bogged down with learning how to be away from home, how to study, and even how to do their own laundry, thinking about the next step is not even on the radar. Before you know it, it's senior year and students are skidding around the corner coming in at the last minute. Second, career centers are filled with old-timers (I'm probably a good example…) who are severely out of touch with students and have no idea what is hip or exciting to students. The marketing and advertising is bland, boring, and I believe more detrimental than appealing. Most students I have worked with were very hesitant to come in but thought it was fantastic once they did.

How is helping students find jobs in publishing different than, say, people who want to be engineers?

In my experience, working with students that have very practical and "obvious career path majors" such as engineer more or less just want the basics of job hunting. "Help me with my résumé and tell me what to expect in the interview." Liberal arts careers, which would include publishing, not only have the practical job search concerns but several added stresses. These include but are not limited to, learning to convey how your major has prepared you for the job (since it is not always obvious) and also convincing mom and dad that "writing" is a legitimate career path and that, yes, you will make enough money to survive. Career counseling is a perfect solution for tackling these more theoretical challenges of job searching.

Do you have any tips for finding internships and entry-level jobs in publishing?

There is an old military saying, "When the going gets tough, the tough get going and when it gets too tough for everyone else, it's just about right for me." I think, in the beginning at least, gaining the privilege of working with words requires this as the kind of mindset and dedication.

Obviously, there are many different careers within the field of publishing (writer, agent, editor, etc., etc.) but I don't think anybody can go too far wrong by writing every chance they get and working or even volunteering in the industry as soon as possible. If you are on a college campus, you better be doing something with the school paper and at least one other publication on campus. They exist and they need help. You have no excuse. Get a portfolio of your best writing samples together, get active, and talk to people in the industry.

You've worked on both coasts (at Berkeley and UCLA, and at MIT and UMass). Which one seems to have more publishing opportunities?

Although I did read that the city where I work, Berkeley, CA, has the most independent book sellers of any city in the nation, I think it's hard to beat the corridor of cities between Boston to D.C. Just New York City alone is rampant with publishing related opportunities. Like Sinatra said, if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.

Anything else you'd like to add?

If your school's career center offers career guides by Vault, Wetfeet Press or Hoovers, use them. They are phenomenal resources for learning more about careers. O*NET and the Occupational Outlook Handbook are also good resources.

Monday, June 18, 2007

The Publishing Work Environment

One factor that gets a lot of consideration when assessing which career you are best suited to is the work environment. You need to understand what conditions you are likely to be working in and decide whether this will make you happy.

To that end, the U.S. Department of Labor includes a "Working Conditions" section in each job listing in the Occupational Outlook Handbook (its extensive catalog of facts about the 280 most popular jobs in the U.S. economy). Here's part of that listing for the "Writers and Editors" category:

Some writers and editors work in comfortable, private offices; others work in noisy rooms filled with the sound of keyboards and computer printers, as well as the voices of other writers tracking down information over the telephone. The search for information sometimes requires that writers travel to diverse workplaces, such as factories, offices, or laboratories, but many find their material through telephone interviews, the library, and the Internet.

Advances in electronic communications have changed the work environment for many writers. Laptop computers and wireless communications technologies allow growing numbers of writers to work from home and even on the road. The ability to e-mail, transmit, and download stories, research, or editorial review materials using the Internet allows writers and editors greater flexibility in where and how they complete assignments.

I have worked in and visited many different publishing offices over the years and pretty much agree with this assessment. Managers and those with seniority are in window offices, while entry-level people are in cubicles. In book publishing I would say the "noisy rooms" have gotten better: keyboards don't make a ton of noise and laser printers are much quieter than the old dot-matrix printers. But you still have to contend with discourteous coworkers who have extended loud conversations (on the phone and in person). Office Space and Dilbert are not exaggerations.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Editing Certificate Program at the University of Chicago

I just got a flyer in the mail for this editing-related educational opportunity at Chaicago's Graham School of General Studies. If you are considering changing to a career in publishing, this would be a nice thing to have on your resume as proof that you're serious and have some related education. It is also recommended for "current editors who want to polish and update their skills" (although I think most of the objectives could be learned on the job, if you were given the chance as I was).

Benefits of the program include the following:
  • Learn the role of the editor within the publishing process.
  • Master techniques for marking up copy correctly for typesetting changes.
  • Determine how to create and use style sheets for consistency over long documents.
  • Practice the use of computer-processing software to edit documents.
  • Discuss the requirements of substantive editing, while striving to maintain the author's voice.
  • Work on becoming part of a job networking community.

For more information, check out the Graham School's Web page.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

A Foot in the Door at JIST

Here's a really entry-level opportunity to come work at a publishing company. Although the job is mostly administrative, there is the possibility of getting to help out on some editorial projects. The details:

JIST is interested in hiring someone for a part time position to help cover the phones at the front desk as well as handle a few minor tasks. The position would be for 4 hours a day, preferably 9:00 - 1:00 but this can be flexible. The candidate will need to be professional with good communication skills. If you know of anyone interested please have them contact me.

Patrick Carrillo
Manager of JIST Administration
JIST Publishing, Inc.
8902 Otis Avenue
Indianapolis, IN 46216
Ph. 317-613-4200 ext 1133
Fax 317-713-1609

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

My Day at BookExpo

Finally I have returned from Book Expo and my subsequent vacation (a week's sojourn on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, where instead of staring at a computer screen I was watching dolphins as they patrolled the coast, making sandcastles with my little girl, lazing by the pool, and finishing off the next book in my favorite genre: Brit-chick-lit).

So instead of the usual two or three days at the book fair, I had only one and a half. Here's how it went:

I arrived at my husband's hotel after 6pm on Thursday, and joined him and his coworkers for a late dinner in Chelsea. The next morning I hopped on the shuttle bus to the fair. My seatmate was Catherine Palmer, a well-known Christian fiction author (nice lady!). The ride took a while because of rush-hour traffic, so as soon as I got there I rushed to the autographing area, where the first of four of our authors, Laurence Shatkin, was just getting started signing copies of 225 Best Jobs for Baby Boomers for fans and job seekers. I hovered nearby with our publicist, listening to the exchanges he had with booksellers, librarians, and others. We both took the opportunity to float down a few tables and meet Mo Willems, author of the Knuffle Bunny books and others. His hard-core publicist wouldn't let him personalize the book for my daughter, but he sent his best regards to her anyway.

Then the publicist and I ran for a quick early lunch at the food court, and then back to our booth to await the arrival of our next author to do a signing, Jessica Carter. I fielded a couple of interesting inquiries from passers-by before it was time to head back to the autographing area for Jessica's signing of Double Outsiders: How Women of Color Can Succeed in Corporate America. She had a lot of interest in her book and as a first-time author seemed to enjoy the whole experience. The next signer at her table was Chris Elliot, so I shook his hand and spoke to him a little before taking off for the show floor.

I spent several hours making targeted visits to booths of our competitors (to pick up catalogs and meet my peers). Catalogs are heavy, so I tried to take only the most essential things (and not be, as one of my authors calls it, a "trade-show trick-or-treater"). Still, I ended up weighed down.

At the end of the day I waited in a monstrous line for the shuttle bus, and ended up sitting with a lady who does publishing market research--and works with someone I worked with at Macmillan 16 years ago (small world).

I went back to the hotel and freshened up for dinner. I walked to meet the rest of the JIST gang and authors at a restaurant near Times Square (and the former Macmillan offices at 1633 Broadway, where last century we had sightings of JFK Jr. going to his George offices).

The next morning I intended to go back to the show for another hour or two, but I ended up instead having breakfast with a friend who is a librarian in San Francisco--and whose partner, my friend from high school, is at a career crossroads. I was happy to suggest some books for him!

Then we headed off for the airport. I got home, unpacked, packed, and left the next morning for North Carolina.