Friday, October 8, 2010

A gig in publishing

I am a business student and aspiring YA writer. For a while now, I’ve been thinking, if the whole getting published thing doesn’t work out - or even if it does - I would love to work in the publishing industry, especially for children’s books.

So how does one go about pursuing a career in the publishing industry? I’ve researched a lot about the publishing industry during the course of submitting past novels. For example, I know that interns don’t get paid very much (if at all), and I realise that the Australian publishing industry is very small, and publishing as a whole is experiencing a downturn at the moment. I also know in April, some Australian companies invite job applications for internships. I’ve looked at all the available publisher websites, but there is next to nothing on job opportunities.

I’ve considered emailing various editors in the children’s department and asking about any internship opportunities, but there are a few issues I’m concerned about. Firstly, is this even a good idea? Secondly, should I mention that I am an aspiring writer who is actively pursuing publication? I know there’s some conflict of interest there, so maybe it might be better to not mention it all. However, there’s only a few major fiction publishers based in Sydney, and I’ve already submitted to (and got form rejected on a full request) by one of the biggest companies. I know they receive staggering amounts of submissions. Is it reasonable to assume they don’t remember my name?

I should add here that I definitely don’t intend to use an internship opportunity to further my aspirations to get published. If anything, on the ‘getting published’ side of things, I’m more focused on the US market, because I don’t write ‘Australian fiction’ as such (though I love reading it) and the Australian publishing industry is very snail-mail based. Querying US agents is a lot faster!

Lastly, I mentioned before I’m a business student. Would I have to take an English degree before any company will consider my application seriously? I’ve been an avid reader my whole life, and I’m passionate about books, but my ‘official’ education in literature only extends to HSC Extension 1 and Extension 2 English.

I'll start at the end first: no, you don't need a degree in English. I have degrees in all sorts of things, but not in English. What I do have, though, is a spotty history of doing all sorts of jobs within the publishing industry.

The publishing industry is like other industries: you usually have to start at the bottom and work your way up. I certainly did, and so did lots of others. For the publishing department, that often means starting as an editorial or publishing assistant. Once you're in the door, you're then more aware of other opportunities as they arise. One way to get a foot in the door is to do an internship or work experience; another way is to work as a bookseller. Bookselling is often overlooked but booksellers are also in the publshing industry. And you may find you really love bookselling and want to go into the sales side of publishing (which is generally better remunerated than the editorial side).

If you want to get into a publishing company, though, don't email anyone asking for an opportunity - it's easy to ignore an email, and we all receive so many of them. Try writing a snail-mail letter, even if it goes against your grain. Not because the industry is old fashioned, but because a snail-mail letter stands out, particularly if it's well written. Don't initially mention that you're a writer, because it will be assumed that you're wanting a job purely to get your book published and you won't get a look-in then (we're all alert to various tactics!).

And if you're really serious you could subscribe to the Weekly Book Newsletter, because that's where all the job advertisements hang out. Mind you, they're probably all on etc as well - I've just never looked. So if you find ads for editorial assistants or jobs like that, apply for them. But it will help if you have something behind you, like bookselling - which, conveniently, is a job you can fit in around uni hours.


Anonymous said...

From the sounds of it, it's possible that my company was the one to reject this person's manuscript -- whether or not we'd remember their name out of context really depends on who receives their email/letter requesting work experience and who looked at the manuscript earlier.

In general, we don't do many internships, partially because of the huge time investment that they involve for the person supervising the intern. That said, it's more common for us to take unpaid interns and work experience students who have organised their internship through an educational institution for credit, because (a) there's a referral system, (b) it's more structured, and (c) the educational institution provides insurance if it's during term time.

The original poster should definitely apply for the APA internships that are advertised in the first half of the year - they're extremely competitive but they're paid. Otherwise I would recommend that the OP apply for entry-level positions in whatever department comes up (as you advised, Agent Sydney).

A business background is not necessarily a drawback as long as they're not the only thing the OP would bring to the job. (We're definitely going to need good commercial people as the business changes!)

prahlad said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

I'm the OP. Thanks for replying so fast! I thought it would take several weeks to get any response!

I'll keep an eye on then, and the APA internships when they open. I checked too late this year.

Thanks once again!

SARA J. HENRY said...

I want to point out how one young woman in the US did this - she started with a high school unpaid part-time internship at a local publisher, then parlayed that into "jobs" vetting query letters and even manuscripts for several agents (she never met the agents; this was all done via email - and of course unpaid), and just before she went off to university became a full-fledged literary agent.

I know that's the US and not Australia, but most people would have told her this couldn't be done. She just merrily emailed agents asking if she could intern for them, and several snapped her up. And she did such a bang-up job that when she was going to quit to intern for an agent in NYC while going to school, presto, she became an agent.

And, yes, she already has clients, and had made her first sale, I think six weeks in. At age 18.

The point being - if you have talent, put your mind to it, work hard, and network like mad (hello internet!), just about anything is possible. (She's also a writer, with a bunch of unpublished manuscripts under her belt.)

(Yes, it makes me somewhat tired just to think about it.)