Saturday, October 18, 2014

Publishing career question: what do I need to get started?

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.


LynnRodz said...

Darn, I was doing so well up until the math! (Who am I kidding? I'm too old to get a job as an intern anyway...maybe in my next life.)

Jed Cullan said...

I was so going to apply to be a Sharky intern, but I love cakes too much. Which seems to be a problem for certain agents.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

Well thanks, now I really want to do an urban fantasy Beowulf (perhaps not surprising, since I just finished writing an urban fantasy Orpheus and Eurydice).

Anonymous said...

Well, this list of honey do's actually helped me as well. I am constantly sobbing with frustration over finding the best crime/thriller/suspense books and only knew of the Edgar and Agatha awards. I wasn't familiar with Anthony's, ITW Thriller's, or Macavity's.

I only started reading in this genre last year, and now I'm hooked. Meanwhile, my credit card is suffering, yet off I go to look at these award sites.

Mister Furkles said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mister Furkles said...

Ha. I knew Algebraic Topology would be useful.

Do you know a website that list the various book awards and anthologies for each genre?

Anonymous said...

I'd suggest the questioner also start thinking about whether she's more interested in editing or agenting. The entry-route seems to be same --internships-- but the actual jobs are different, so she should read up on that a bit.

I'd suggest starting by looking for blogs of editors in the field she's interested in. There don't seem to be as many blogging editors as blogging agents, but there are a few.

Melissa said...

Working in the field you're interested in is so helpful no matter the career goal. I have a degree in journalism but discovered through working through the school newspaper I didn't have the aggressiveness to call people and chase down a story. I moved to editing.

After some experience in editing, I learned reading a book for work is far different than reading for pleasure. I moved toward design and layout. I love that part of my job because it's creative, I've made something, and it's like doing a giant puzzle. I'm also learning marketing because that goes along with design. There's so much more out there than just editing.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

And I thought all interns were young, cute, had a stethoscope hanging around their necks and were named Kildare. Oh sorry, I just had a flashback to the sixties.

John "Ol' Chumbucket" Baur said...

A healthy appetite also seems useful. Every time my first agent had news for me, the conversation always started with, "I was having lunch with editor X from publisher Y today, and she said ..."