Hey, recent grad 🙂 How ya doin?
Stressed? High off graduation endorphins? Missing the people who’ve been by your side for the past 4 years? Excited at what the world of adulthood offers? All of the above. Yes, likely that.
Well, while I’m here (In bed. Sick. Not at what is my first post-grad, full-time job in publishing) I thought I’d share some things and thoughts and tidbits of advice I recently gave a fellow alumna about embarking on and searching for that elusive first job in publishing.
To be clear, my experiences are you not yours. This is not a post bemoaning your lack of experience / praising your loads of it, it’s advice. C’est tout. Here it goes:
1) If you don’t have experience, get some.
You go to a job posting, you read the posting. It sounds right up your alley. And then you get to the bottom and your heart stops. You know what I’m talking about. We’ve all been there. That one-liner at the bottom that reads, “internship experience preferred or one year of editorial work required, etc.” Listen, I can’t remember where I read this, but there is no such thing as being overqualified. Not for us recent grads anyway. If publishing is what you want to do, get the experience you need. Aim to be “overqualified.” I certainly thought I was. And that’s when you stand out. That’s when you can negotiate a *bit* higher salary. That’s when you’re ready to take on a more challenging workload. That’s when you really begin to succeed.
Get some experience. Aim for overqualified.
2) Internships are a means to an end.
Do not be the ever-intern. We all have that friend who’s interned at an art gallery, an agency, a publishing house, etc. for WAY too long and is pretty much the in-house waterboy. If you set yourself up as an intern, you will always be seen as that. People who weren’t interns as long as you will get full-time jobs, and you’ll be wondering what they did differently. I have friends it’s happened to and they know it. It sucks and it’s hard to get out of. Don’t be the ever-intern.
Take an internship with clear start and end dates, take the internship that allows you to learn the most, and make it clear that you’re looking for a full-time position. How? Ask questions.
- Say, I’m looking to build x, x, and x skills so that I can be the ideal candidate for “fill in the blank” position. How can I do that through this internship?
- Be unafraid to ask your boss(es), “Do you know anyone who’s hiring?” “Would you be willing to recommend me for “x” position?”
Two points related to those questions:
- It’s much easier to teach and mentor someone when they have a clear idea of what areas they need training in. I would always admit I didn’t know how to use “x software.” Why lie? They’ll figure it out. Just make it clear, through your cover letter, resume, interview, and recommendations, that you’re teachable and a fast-learner.
- If you’re a great intern (which, of course, you are), your bosses want to help you. If this is an internship in which you’ve established clear start/end dates and goals (which you did, right?), they know you can’t stay there forever and that you’re looking for a full-time position. So, unless they have an opening at their company (even better, great!) they’re happy to recommend you to publishing friends as, again, they like you and it makes them look great too.
3) Be Passionate, Be Pushy.
The people who get publishing jobs aren’t always the most qualified. This is not to say we aren’t a qualified bunch, we are. But there were likely other applicants, for our first job in publishing, who looked the same, if not better, on paper. The people who get the jobs and succeed in this industry are the pushiest and the most passionate.
- Why? Because you can’t teach Passion and Pushiness aka a natural love for the work you’re doing, even when it ain’t pretty, and the willingness to go out of your way to get something, that must be accomplished, done.
I went to a women’s college and there are mostly women in publishing so, of course, I have to add that as women we’re taught to hide our emotions and to not come off as bitchy. Men are not taught this. Throw those “lessons” out the window. I have never gotten a position I didn’t express my passion for and wasn’t pushy about following up for, etc. This is not to say be rude. It’s to say if you believe you’re the ideal candidate for a position, fight for it. Show your passions and be pushy. Cultivate that. You’ll need these traits for the rest of your life.
4) Think creatively when it comes to skill-building.
Unfortunately we don’t all have trust funds. And, unfortunately, publishing salaries aren’t rising anytime soon. So, think creatively.
- Is there a small publisher that could use a freelance editor? Are there agencies that might be in need of a remote intern (so that you don’t have to go broke moving to NYC)? Likely, yes.
This goes back to pushiness: often the best opportunities are the ones you don’t know existed. By the time I graduated, I had a wide-range of publishing experience without having spent a single summer in NYC. I’ve worked remotely as an agent intern and I’ve worked at small presses. Those positions didn’t not formally exist and the places weren’t hiring. But, I got the jobs. You have to be willing to send those cold emails. DO NOT mass email every literary agent. Use your passion for literature (ha. see what I did there?) and that lovely English degree your parents told you was silly, to persuade said company to take you on. Yes, this works best at smaller publishers and literary agents who have the autonomy to take on interns. Therefore, yes, it will require some effort (e.g. researching, following up) on your part. But you need to build your skills therefore you need the job.
5) Most people are lazy.
Now, hear me out first. There are tons of systemic issues at play (and I’m not talking about those). Issues that make it harder for POC, and other marginalized groups, to access and afford said jobs. Publishing has a lot of problems it needs to work out, and thankfully, currently is.
What you need to know is the people who are in these jobs, we are not lazy. We might joke about spending an hour on Twitter when we should’ve been editing a book, but you can bet we will finish those editorial notes. Take some time to read through CBC Diversity’s How I Got Into Publishing series and you’ll find people who through all odds and ends, got a job in publishing.
Most people, however, who idealize about getting a job in publishing that’ll be just like Carrie’s from Sex and the City, but at 22 (I laugh) are lazy. You can bet on that. Here’s what I mean:
My former creative writing professor graciously invited me to speak at my alma mater about getting your foot in the door re: entering the publishing industry. I invited the students to follow up with me.
Let’s say there were about 20 students who were curious and asked a lot of questions, thus they were the most likely to follow up. About 10 actually followed up. Of those ten, 4 replied to my reply. I got responses later saying I’m so sorry, I was busy, senior year, etc. and of course I let it go. I replied to one such person, who seemed really eager, with a list of 5 literary agents who I know have accepted remote interns. She replied saying how busy she was, etc., so I said okay and connected her with a literary agent I adore.
THIS STUDENT NEVER FOLLOWED UP WITH HER.
I’m only a year out of college, I get it. Life happens. Unfortunately, others won’t. They might take it personally (this agent sure did). And you not following up with someone in the business, is your missed chance. I got one of my internships from following up with a literary agent who spoke to the same creative writing class. We still keep in touch and she’s been an amazing help along my journey.
So, again. Most people are lazy. What you need to do is not be those people. It’s not that hard. Ask for informational interviews (seriously, you’ll learn a lot and they pay off), follow up with people you meet at conferences, personalize your cover letters and reference to books/authors the editor/agent you’re contacting has worked on/with. You will be amazed at the responses you get.
I’ve followed up with people and they’ve been shocked. Where I assumed I’d be one of 50 people and they wouldn’t remember my name. They did and they still do. Why? Most people are lazy. Just because someone doesn’t have a job to offer you today, doesn’t mean they won’t tomorrow. Just because someone’s an assistant today, doesn’t mean they’ll be one forever. We assistants have great memories.
Don’t be lazy. Don’t be rude. Most people are, unfortunately for them, both.
6) Remember why you came into the game.
This is the most important. There will be days it sucks. There will be moments when you hear some racist ish and you’re ready to quit. Remember why you came into the game.
Connected to this, don’t forget about your support systems. Within the company you’re at and outside it. I often discount people because they don’t look like me, don’t work in my industry, etc. as people who “just won’t get it.” Lately, I’ve found, it’s good to get advice from people who aren’t from your same background or position. It’s called perspective. They have it, you need it, and it helps. A mentor of mine once told me that sometimes she just wished people would’ve came to talk to her before they quit. Even simply for her to find out why they were quitting, if it was too late to change things. We need young people, more change-makers in publishing. If you’re thinking of quitting, give me holler first <3
It’s not over until you say it is. Remember why you came into the game.
On a more personal note, here are some other tidbits:
A lot of people who know me from Wellesley, think I have it all together. However, this my third job. I graduated in May of 2015 for context. It’s taken me this long to get to a place where I’m happy, and in a job and a city (and with people!) that I love. I don’t have it all together. I stress this to my younger siblings, so that they know I’ve made mistakes too. I’ll probably never “have it all together.” And I’m okay with that because life is about learning and growing (and having fun).
It’s okay if you rush into a job you end up hating. It’s okay if you get fired, it’s okay if it takes you until job #3 to find your groove. Looking back, everything happened for a reason. I’ve learned from my failures. Probably more than my successes. It’s given me thick skin. Unbelievable compassion for others. The truest of friends. And, again, a job and a city I love (even when the 6 train is delayed). At the end of the day, I couldn’t ask for much more than this. So allow yourself to make mistakes. What’s important is that you grow from them. The end of college is not the end of your growth. Anyone who says college is the best 4 years of your life, is someone you don’t need to be around.
Don’t be your own worse enemy. Don’t beat yourself up.
I’m not going to tell you getting a job in publishing is the hardest thing ever. It’s not. If getting a job in publishing is your biggest concern, your toughest battle in life, you don’t need my advice. However, it’s not easy, and if you need an ear, I’m here.
And now I’m going to take my second dosage of antibiotics (yuck) so that tomorrow I’m well enough to go back to the publishing job I adore. (This is also how I know I’m in the right job because previously I used to wish for sick days.)
Take care of yourself!
P.S. Happy Gay Month aka Pride Month (not that every month isn’t) 😉