Book Love

So, You Want to Work in Publishing: Advice from a Chronicle Books Editor

When I graduated from college, I knew I wanted to work in children’s literature but I had no idea how to go about doing so. What does this thing called editing actually involve? How does one get started in the industry? Where should I look for job postings? Feeling pretty lost, I spent every spare moment over the course of several months researching the answers to those questions.

Since I love chatting with people just getting started in the industry, but don’t always have the time to do so in my day-to-day, I wanted to share some resources I find valuable—and resources I regularly pass along in informational interviews.

This is a competitive industry; landing your first internship or your first job can be tough! I’m hoping these tips will help you out on your path.

What kinds of jobs?

There are SO many cool jobs within publishing. Here are just a few of the many departments: Editorial, Managing Editorial, Design, Production, Digital, Marketing, Publicity, Subrights, Sales, Web/IT, Contracts, Finance, and Operations. Do you love international travel? Perhaps Subrights is the right fit for you. Do you lust after foil covers and painted edges in the book store? Perhaps Production is where you’re meant to be.

Although this post is about working at a publishing company, I want to point out that there are so many other jobs within the book pipeline that may also be of interest: artist (writer/illustrator), agent, reviewer, blogger, bookseller/book buyer, librarian, reading specialist/teacher, and professor. Publishing wouldn’t exist without these smart and passionate partners.

Education

So often I’m asked whether you need a publishing or copyediting certificate or a masters degree to get a job in publishing. Definitely not! Publishing is a mentorship industry—the only place you can really learn the job is on the job.

But extra credentials can help your resume stand out from the pack by showing your commitment and knowledge; the other perk is that your time in a relevant educational program can be incredible for networking! When you graduate, you may suddenly have friends at major publishing houses, and when you need help, they’re only a phone call away. Only pursue if you’re interested, but if you are, you have a wide variety of options to choose from.

You can consider a publishing course—usually a time commitment of one to several months—like the publishing courses at Columbia, Denver, and NYU. You could consider a copyediting certificate (usually made up of several courses, often offered online) from places like Editcetera or UC Berkeley Extension. And finally, you could consider an advanced degree, like a masters in publishing at NYU or Emerson, or a Children’s Literature masters at Simmons College, and many more.

Email Newsletters and Job Postings

Publishers Weekly and Publishers Lunch have incredible job boards. Sign up for their daily emails for the job listings, as well as for news on the latest books, job changes, gossip, and deals in the industry. PW also offers more in-depth email newsletters on specific types of publishing—so if, like me, you love children’s books, sign up for the twice weekly PW Children’s Bookshelf. I can pretty much guarantee everyone in the industry reads it.

Sign up for Publishers Weekly’s free daily e-mail
Sign up for Publishers’ Lunch free daily e-mail

If you’re within your first five years in the publishing industry, join Young to Publishing (aka YPG)—they have a newsletter with event invitations, interviews with industry professionals, a glossary of terms (what does “institutional” mean in publishing?), free giveaways, and more. Their parties and panels are a great way to network and learn. Extra bonus: for those of you in California, there’s now a Bay Area arm!

Reading Material

As you get started, read some of the many books out there about the editorial process. I particularly love this article on the publishing backstory behind The Art of Fielding: The Book on Publishing.

These two collections of editorial letters may change your life:
Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom edited by Leonard Marcus
Editor to Author: The Letters of Maxwell E. Perkins edited by John Hall Wheelock

Bookstack1

As you dive deeper, read books about books! Critical academic works, works on literacy development, thoughtful essays, and books on illustration and how it works.

Here are a few of my favorite books on children’s picture books:
Writing with Pictures by Uri Shulevitz: This has the best explanation of story books versus picture books I’ve read, as well as a great section on storyboarding.
Show and Tell: Exploring the Fine Art of Children’s Book Illustration by Dilys Evans: A wonderful visual discussion of the work of prominent children’s illustrators like Trina Schart Hyman, Brian Selznick, and Bryan Collier, among many others.
Picture This: How Pictures Work by Molly Bang: Used in art and illustration and children’s literature courses around the world, this brilliant book will teach you about the emotion color and shape can evoke. Look for the gorgeous 25th anniversary edition coming out in Spring 2016!

Bookstack2

And finally, read the genre you want to edit. As Stephen King so aptly puts it in On Writing, “The more you read, the less apt you are to make a fool of yourself with your pen or word processor.” So, if you’re interested in mysteries, read the Edgars. If you’re interested in children’s literature, read the ALA award winners every year—and livestream the awards to get a feel for the excitement.

What’s Next?

So once you’ve done your research, what comes next?

Informational Interviews

If you have a connection within the publishing industry, reach out to see if they have time to meet with you. We keep pretty busy in this industry, but we also like helping people who are just starting out. Attach your resume, offer to buy them coffee or lunch, and keep it light and breezy—no pressure. If they’re able to meet with you, here’s how to prepare:

  • Show up early and dress professionally.
  • Bring hard copies of your resume (in case they’ve forgotten to review it ahead of time, or in case you’re introduced to someone else).
  • Mentally prepare yourself that you may be introduced to people in the company who are hiring.
  • Prepare a list of questions to ask, and write them down if you want to. They can be simple: What have they found most surprising about their job? What do they like least/best about their job? Questions show your genuine curiosity and passion, and assure the person you’re meeting with that their time is being valued.
  • Arrive curious, humble, and grateful!
  • ALWAYS follow up with some kind of thank you—whether it’s an email, a mailed card, or cookies.
  • Connect with them on LinkedIn or Twitter, or wherever you and they coexist online. This ensures you’ll be able to track them down five years from now when you’ve lost their business card—and they’ve changed jobs anyway.

Don’t despair if you aren’t able to get an informational interview right away—there’s much you can learn online. For example, check out PW’s inspiring Advice from Publishing Veterans showcasing wisdom from some true leaders in the industry:

Internships

Because publishing is a mentorship industry, many people start as an intern regardless of age or prior work experience, unless directly relevant. I held three publishing internships in different areas of publishing at different points in my career. Luckily, most internships are paid and are often full time. Check out Chronicle Books’ incredible internship and fellowship programs.

Once you land that internship, make sure you’re getting all that you can out of it. Feel free to request a standing meeting where you can ask questions about what you see going on around you. Set goals with your mentor—if you want to learn more about P&L’s or editorial letters, ensure you get the education you want. And ask your boss if they’d be willing to set you up with an informational interview with another department. Perhaps you’re also interested in foreign rights because you were Spanish minor as an undergrad, or perhaps you are also interested in social media because you have a growing following on Twitter. Everything you learn about the other departments will serve you well since we all work together so closely. An internship is an opportunity for mentorship.

Have a Plan B

Let’s face it, this is a competitive industry and landing your first internship, or your first job, can sometimes take a while even when you’re doing everything right. Don’t despair!

  • Get a bookselling job. Bookselling is an incredible way to learn about the industry—since you get to see all the latest greatest books and you get practice hand-selling books to customers every day, you can network while being wined and dined by publishing professionals eager for you to sell their book.
  • Start a blog. A blog can be a great resume builder because it shows you’re engaged with the books you want to work on. It can also help with networking as you can get on publishers’ reviewer mailings and interview authors online.
  • Attend a conference or take a class. Take a class on writing or illustrating children’s books, or go to the Children’s Literature Association conference or an SCBWI conference, or engage in any educational opportunity you can put on your resume. Ask if they have a student rate or student volunteer opportunities to save costs!

Live in the Bay Area?

The San Francisco Bay Area has rich publishing community with a wide variety of publishers—including, of course, Chronicle Books—and lots of internship opportunities as well.

To learn more about the Bay Area’s publishing scene, check out this adult resource and this children’s resource. Also, keep an eye on Bookbuilders West, Books & Booze, Book Promotion Forum, and PPN for networking opportunities.

CB Books

I hope these tips help to orient you, and support you on your path. Wishing you the very best of luck in your career!

PS: If you liked this, you might also be interested in So, You’ve Written a Children’s Book…Now What?

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25 Comments

  • Leah January 5, 2016 at 2:42 pm

    Do you know anythjng about the Chicago publishing industry? I love publishing and books but adore my city too.

    Reply

    • Kat January 5, 2016 at 6:07 pm

      Same. Living in the Chicago area and would sell my arm to work in children’s publishing!

      Reply

      • Ariel January 7, 2016 at 11:41 am

        Hi Leah & Kat,
        I’m afraid I don’t know much about the Chicago publishing industry! I know there are some great university / educational publishers and some great independent bookstores, so those might be places to start (keep an eye on Midwest Booksellers Association events or trade shows). To help jumpstart your research I’d go through the LMP (Literary Marketplace) or the 2016 Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market to flag everything in your area! There are also so many talented writers and illustrators in the Chicago region, and a wonderfully active SCBWI there–I’d go to one of their conferences and see if you might be able to join one of their writing groups as an editor!
        Wishing you the best of luck,
        Ariel

        Reply

    • Suzanne March 1, 2017 at 2:34 pm

      Leah and Kat,

      One of the most innovative publishers in the US is located just outside Chicago. They are Source Books and run by a fantastic woman Dominique Raccah. She is an incredible example of successful publisher.

      Reply

  • Kary Lee January 6, 2016 at 10:20 am

    Although I am actually an author/illustrator it’s always good to think like an editor. And, I appreciate the book list. Cheers!

    Reply

  • LeeAnn Rizzuti January 6, 2016 at 1:45 pm

    Great insights and information in this post and “So You’ve Written a Picture Book,” Ariel.

    Reply

  • Sherry Portillo January 8, 2016 at 8:14 am

    Thank you for sharing your wisdom. I really want to get into publishing and had no real direction as to how to go about it. This article was very helpful and made me feel a bit at ease and cannot wait to start my reasearch.

    Reply

  • Pamela Courtney January 9, 2016 at 12:56 pm

    Thanks for sharing this. Knowing there are so many opportunities is comforting. Really. Good stuff. Really good stuff.

    Reply

  • Sofia Cardoso January 11, 2016 at 3:36 am

    Thank you for sharing your tips and knowledge, Ariel.
    I just sign up for the newsletters you recommended and I’m going to look into your favorite books on children’s picture books (I’m an illustrator and these seem very interesting).

    Reply

  • Eileen January 11, 2016 at 11:35 pm

    Thank you so much for the great and detailed post! As someone who adores the world of children’s books, I really wish the children’s publishing industry where I’m based (Singapore) were as vibrant as what you’ve described here!

    Reply

  • Leah Altoft January 12, 2016 at 2:44 am

    Hello, I just wanted to leave a comment saying thank you for a great article!
    I’m graduating from university in June and want to start a career in publishing. The task feels a bit daunting, but the information and advice you have given here is really useful and has made my goals seem more achievable! Which is always comforting.
    I’ll be keeping my eye on Chronicle internships and fellowships, as working in the US would be a dream come true!
    Thanks again for sharing your advice!

    Reply

  • Maggie S January 14, 2016 at 6:37 am

    Thank you so much for this informative post! It really gives me hope for a future in publishing! I am from Australia and aspire to work in publishing or editing some day. I just had a few questions, such as, would a Bachelor of Arts degree majoring in English mean anything to employers? Would it boost my chances of receiving internships and possibly employment? Would I be able to receive an internship or job solely on this degree, without other certificates or training from elsewhere? Also, is there anything that I can do in my own time that would look great on a CV such as working part time at a bookstore, running my own blog or freelance writing? Would these help me get into publishing?

    Sorry for so many questions, and thanks again for the insightful post!!!

    Maggie

    Reply

  • Ariel January 14, 2016 at 6:15 pm

    Thank you for all the thoughful comments, everyone!

    Maggie,
    I’m so glad you found it helpful!
    Really you can study whatever you want. Many editors were English majors, but just off the top of my head just here at Chronicle I can think of people who majored in Classics, Sociology, Music, and Art History. Yes, you could definitely get an internship or job with just a bachelors degree–though relevant experience like bookselling, blogging, or other internships is always helpful.
    While you’re still in school my biggest piece of advice is just to keep reading! Read all the latest and greatest books. Read the classics. Read books about books. That knowledge will serve you well in interviews when asked about your favorite books. And it’ll serve you well in your future job as well.
    Wishing you the best of luck!
    Ariel

    Reply

  • daniela Nader March 16, 2016 at 11:05 am

    Hi.
    Thanks for sharing.
    I am a Brazilian who love children’s book and I am looking for some classes about this fantastic world. I just moved to san francisco. Do you know where I can find something like that?

    Reply

  • Ariel March 17, 2016 at 11:45 am

    Yes! You have lots of resources here in the bay area. Many of the local community colleges and art colleges offer courses to the public. There’s also an active SCBWI here. I’d also recommend Summer Laurie’s classes at Books, Inc.: http://www.booksinc.net/childrens_book_writing_group.
    I know you’ll find something great!
    Ariel

    Reply

  • Mara Michael September 13, 2016 at 12:37 pm

    As a young writer and aspiring editor, this article was vastly helpful. I’m currently in the very-lost-and-overwhelmed phase of job searching in this field, but these resources gave me the surge of hope and positivity I needed. Thank you.

    Reply

  • Richelle September 23, 2016 at 11:49 am

    I love this! However, what if you don’t live near major publishers? I’m in Albuquerque, New Mexico and there doesn’t seem to be a lot of publishing jobs near me and I love my town, I don’t want the move.

    Reply

  • Ariel September 27, 2016 at 11:57 am

    Hi Richelle,
    I understand the dilemma!
    It depends some on what area of publishing you’d like to get in to. Copyediting, proofreading, and freelance developmental editing, can be done remotely for a publisher located elsewhere. Sales reps can be located in their region, selling to local bookstores and boutiques. And there are always ways to be involved with books–working at a bookstore, helping with a local writer’s conference, etc. Hope you find something close to home that makes your heart sing!
    Ariel

    Reply

  • Barbara October 14, 2016 at 3:28 am

    Thank you for taking the time and writing this post!
    It was informative, positive and very encouraging for a young rookie. I’m just finishing my master’s study in illustration and now applied for an Erasmus internship. My mother and father both write and collect books. My father is a journalist and my mother is a secret writer. She is very talented, but she is very modest. I have a love for books as long as I know. I always wanted to do something creative as illustration. But there is this love for the written word, bookstores and everything involved with it. Do publishing houses accept illustrators? And what area is best to look into? I have some experience of illustrating and designing two books, running workshops and writing for art projects. Is very nice how art can be connected to writing in many ways.

    Reply

  • Ariel October 17, 2016 at 10:44 am

    Hi Barbara,
    It sounds like you come from a long line of book lovers!
    You’re welcome to send along your portfolio following the below portfolio submission guidelines:
    http://www.chroniclebooks.com/submissions
    portfolio_review@chroniclebooks.com
    I like to recommend illustrators send postcards (or emails) commemorating interesting holidays–it provides a nice excuse for getting in touch with new artwork, and sending physical postcards means we can put them on display at our desks or in a book file for brainstorming.
    Best of luck!
    Ariel

    Reply

    • Barbara November 21, 2016 at 3:29 am

      Thank you very much for your reply and all the helpful information. I’m well on my way updating my portfolio, so it will clearly show my love for books and illustration.
      Great recommendation and idea!
      Kind regards,

      Barbara

      Reply

  • Alankrita Saji March 31, 2017 at 9:23 am

    Thank you so much for this wonderful post. That was very helpful.

    Can you tell what kind of courses I can take for improving my editing skills?

    Thanks again and Regards,
    Alankrita

    Reply

  • Marissa April 5, 2017 at 2:44 pm

    Thank you for this! I added all those books to my Goodreads shelf. I’m applying for summer internships now, and it’s overwhelming but exciting. I want to be an editor, but I’m applying for marketing internships as well. I want to learn as much as I can about the industry, and this is the best article I’ve found so far about breaking into it. Thanks again!

    Reply

  • Danielle July 12, 2017 at 5:54 am

    I am looking into become a full-time blogger, beta-reader, and book reviewer. Do you know how to break into this business?

    Reply

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