Dear Your Royal Sharkiness,
I'm a college student and, like most of college students, I'm trying to figure out what to do with my life. I've been exploring various careers that might interest me, and a visit to your blog made me start thinking about becoming an agent or editor.
After a lot of introspection and sobbing, I think I know myself well enough to say that I'd be pretty well-suited for a job as either an agent or an editor. However, I realized shortly thereafter that I don't have any idea what is required to get one of those jobs. I recall you mentioning having interns and assistants around the office, which seems like the sort of job someone would take on their path to becoming an almighty shark like yourself, but are there other requirements that I'm not aware of? Are there steps I should be taking now for preparation?
To become an intern here, which is the first step toward a paid job in publishing, you have to be in college, or be graduating soon. Generally you'll need a degree. It doesn't have to be in the obvious field, English, but you will have to know how to write cogently and clearly.
And you'll need to be well-read. That's the biggest thing you can do to prepare for a job in publishing: know what's being published NOW.
We still laugh when recalling the intern applicant who told us her favorite book was Beowulf. It's ok to love Beowulf, but editors aren't looking for Beowul, and agents aren't selling it. You need to read the books being sold and published TODAY.
So, make a reading plan depending on your interests. If you love literary fiction, you'll read the finalists for the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Booker Prize.
If you love crime fiction you'll read the short lists for the Edgar Award, the ITW Thriller Award, the Anthonys, Macavitys and Agathas. You'll read as much of the Soho Press list as you can.
You get the idea.
And one of the very very best ways to learn a lot about a genre quickly is to read anthologies. Best American Short Stories, Best American Crime Stories, the Sisters in Crime Anthologies, the ITW anothologies.
You'll learn the names of well-known writers and start seeing the names of up and coming writers.
Reading is the key to a job in publishing.
Writing well is the second.
And don't skip math class. A good portion of my day is spent using math, and if you think a calculator will solve your problems you're wrong. YOU have to know which numbers to put where. All the calculator does is tell you if your sums are correct.