Last week I spoke to a college senior who was contemplating a career in book publishing (editing, specifically) and wanted my advice. I thought I’d write down a few of the things I told her.
1. Being a book person is the best. Working in book publishing is not as lucrative as working in many other professions (if you can afford to consider factors other than salary, be so very thankful that you can), but there are other rewards.
2. Rewards include: free books, working with great writers, being surrounded by smart/passionate people with similar interests, free books!
3. There are jerks in every industry. That’s life. But there are enough non-jerks to make the whole enterprise worthwhile. Learn to deal with the jerks and learn to laugh at the absurd—it’s so much better than crying in a bathroom stall. Not like I’ve ever done that, ever.
4. Oftentimes, especially at first, you might not get to work on the kinds of books you love to read. So what? Learn as much as you can. Take it all in. Dr. Phil’s book sales allowed for me to publish literary fiction. For that, I will always have a soft spot for Dr. Phil.
5. Read. Read all the time. Do not tell a prospective employer that each and every one of your favorite authors died decades ago. Have opinions about the books that get published today. Know what critics are praising today. And know what people are buying today. (Hope there is some overlap!)
6. Take a copy editing course. I can’t guarantee that you will be happily employed and secure forever. But if you can do a decent job at freelance editing, you’re going to be better off. Especially as self-publishing grows, and more authors/agents will be looking for input from freelancers.
7. Your peers are your best allies. Make friends with colleagues in every department, make friends at other publishing houses/lit agencies/PR firms/booksellers/writers/critics/etc. This is not just a helpful strategy, this is fun.
8. The book industry is not going anywhere anytime soon. It is changing, as it should. But it will be around as long there are people who want to read books—in print or on their phones and tablets, or otherwise. We like to complain in this industry. Complaining is an art form. But don’t mistake that complaining for gloom-and-doom prophesy. I think most of the people I know in book publishing are an optimistic bunch, and rightly so.