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

Editor Ariel Richardson offers guidance to get you started in your publishing career.

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? 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 are out there?

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.

What education do I need?

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.

Where can I find job listings?

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!

What should I read to prepare?

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

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!

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 watch a 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 exist 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:

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.

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

Ariel Richardson is a Children’s Editor at Chronicle Books in San Francisco.

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