Who wouldn't want to be the next bestselling author of a hit literary series like 'Twilight' or 'Hunger Games'? Unfortunately, Stephanie Meyer's position isn't the kind that is for hire. Plus, the odds of gaining fame akin to Meyer or Suzanne Collins is, as they say, one in million -- and probably even slimmer.
Fortunately, you don't have to be an author to get into the book business. The publishing industry is full of different types of job options that could satisfy your love of literature and pay your bills.
My aunt, author and AOL Jobs Diva Lisa Johnson Mandell, knew of my secret dream of writing fiction -- so, while we were on our quest to find the right career for me, she thought it would be a good idea to introduce me to several of her connections in the publishing world. As the author of 'Career Comeback: Repackage Yourself to Get the Job You Want' and several other books, Lisa knows a person or two in the industry. "Perfect," I thought: New York is certainly the place to be if publishing is your thing.
It starts with an agent
Traditionally the first stop on the road to getting a manuscript published is finding a good literary agent. Major publishers will return your manuscript unopened, unless it comes through an agent, who will also negotiate for the best deal possible if a publisher is interested. So naturally our first stop was Trident Media Group, located by the Flat Iron Building, to meet with Lisa's agent, Eileen Cope.
Lisa and Eileen explained to me that a good agent will know and understand what publishing companies are looking for and be able to give their clients honest opinions and criticism of their work. It sounds like a fascinating job, but like most other occupations, it takes time in the publishing business to gain enough experience and to build the network necessary to be a top agent. They told me a good place to start would be as an agent's assistant, and introduced me to Eileen's, a smart, warm and friendly girl about my age by the name of Alexandra Bicks.
After chatting with her for awhile, I realized that the perfect candidate for an agent's assistant is one who loves reading -- book ideas and scripts filter in daily. Also, someone who has exceptional writing skills to help polish proposals and write correspondence with publishers and clients. And then there's possession of a persuasive pen, because you are constantly attempting to help convince publishers to invest in your clients' manuscripts. Since Eileen is so good with the media, sometimes Alexandra works with journalists and critics who are covering their clients' books as well.
On to the publisher
Once a literary agent successfully scores an author a deal with a publishing house, the publishing house takes over. So the next stop our industry tour was Hachette Book Group, which published Aunt Lisa's last book, as well as books by David Sedaris, Nicholas Sparks, Emma Donoghue and Steve Martin. We spoke with Karen Murgolo, who has been in the publishing industry for years.
I was surprised to hear how enthusiastic she is about the future of the book publishing industry. After all, everyone is saying that eBooks will do to the publishing industry what the MP3 did to the music industry. Aunt Lisa and her editor discussed that while adapting isn't easy, there will always be people who love to read, and while it's hard to charge the same price for an eBook as you would for a hardback, the eBook requires a lot less overhead to produce.
But again, I found out that you don't just become a top editor like Karen. As with agents, a good place to start is as an editorial assistant, and Karen's assistant Philippa "Pippa" White showed me the ropes. The basic requirements are similar to a literary agent's assistant: Love of the written word and outstanding writing skills. An acute attention to detail and strong editorial skills are also a must. It isn't uncommon for editorial assistants to spend hours of their personal time reading and editing manuscripts to keep up with the demands of their job. But it is just a small sacrifice for bookworms that would most likely be reading in their free time anyway.
In addition, Pippa was nice enough to share with me what it's like to be a twenty-something in New York City, which is substantially different from Southern California. The culture, the crowds, the career opportunities and the dating situation are all substantially different than anything I've ever been exposed to -- but not in a bad way. I began to be intrigued at the prospect of finding out if I would be up to the challenge of adapting.
The next step
So if I became serious about moving to New York and trying to get involved in publishing, both Eileen and Karen advised taking a graduate specific course designed to help individuals break into book, magazine or digital media publishing. Columbia and NYU offer intensive, six-week summer programs that prepare young graduates for careers as editors, literary agents, publishers, designers and publicists. The programs include workshops and presentations from some of the most well known figures in publishing. A similar four-week program is available at the Publishing Institute at the University of Denver.
While these programs aren't absolutely essential for a job in the industry, "it would take you a year in an entry-level position in publishing to learn what you will learn in six weeks here, and 10 years to meet all the people you will meet," according to the Columbia Publishing Course website.
A career in publishing is very tempting, and would certainly fit my love of literature; but moving to New York for six weeks next summer and then trying to find a job afterward is a bit daunting -- but not impossible. And there are still other options to explore...
-- Read the full series of Lola's Quest to Find the Ideal Job