Thursday, June 01, 2017

Will working in publishing help my career as a novelist?

I work in social media for consumer goods and have for about five years now as I've toiled away on my novels on evenings and weekends. I accepted a few years ago that it's unlikely I'll make a living on just writing novels, so I've really made an effort to pick day jobs I like. Despite my best efforts, my jobs have been just kind of okay.

Recently an opportunity has arisen to apply for a job at a publisher! Social Media Manager role. The problem: it pays 2/3 my current salary. However, a writer some time ago told me that she credits working in publishing with her ability to eventually get published. "At least it's a salary," she said. "I'd do that over going to get an MFA." (Which is something I also briefly considered before ruling it out due to not wanting to go into debt.)

I know it's really the strength of the story that sells a book, but I do wonder if I don't consider at least applying for this job, I'll be missing a huge opportunity to see the inner workings of the industry and somehow putting myself at an advantage when I'm ready to query again.

I'm not expecting you to decide my life for me, but I'd love any insight you can provide.

You don't say where the job is located.
If it means moving to NYC and working at the actual publishing company, well, that's gonna test your budgeting skills, but it is a good way to get the low down on how this industry actually works (if you can call this working.)

If it's a job that's done remotely, you'll see and experience less of the day to day stuff and insider knowledge will be harder to come by.

Moving to NYC isn't for everyone, of course. I always say the only reason you should be here is if you want to be. It's too hard to live here if you don't.

But the bottom line is I think it's a good thing to experience if you want to be a writer.

And for those of you who don't have the option of working in publishing or moving to NYC, that's ok. It won't hurt your career at all. That's why you'll have me. I know enough about how publishing works for the both of us.


Unknown said...

OP, do you really want to work in publishing? Or, do you mostly want to get this job so you can publish your novels? If you do the math, will this change leave you in debt (like the MFA option), or less financially solvent?

If this is basically about the novel, there are other options. For example, writing workshops, classes, conferences, and books will improve your craft without costing a third of your salary. (If this would involve moving to NYC from somewhere less expensive, you're giving up far more than a third too). Can you afford to spend a third of your salary now on writer training? Unless you're doing this because you really want to work in publishing, that's what you're proposing: spending a third of your salary on training. And, the training is in publishing, not writing, which are related, but not the same.

I encourage career risks, but it's important to think through "the why," and the costs, benefits, and opportunity costs. Good luck!

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Do not hesitate to at least apply.
If you get an interview, GO.
Do your best, give your all, because if you do will wonder for the rest of your life, (should I have at least tried.)
There are many stumbling blocks across the paths of our hopes and dreams, do not dismiss a chance to push a few aside as you continue on your way.
Good luck.
If there is one thing I have learned, life isn't always about talent or opportunity or even luck, it's about choice.
Choose well.

Colin Smith said...

Opie: Kind of along the same lines as what 2Ns said, what harm would there be in applying? If it did nothing for your writing career, does it still sound like a job you'd enjoy--better than the one you have, even though it pays less (bear in mind, salaries can often be negotiated, and I daresay there's opportunity for advancement/more money)? Since you've come to terms with the fact that you'll probably have to continue to hold a "real" job, even if you get published, make sure you're not going from an okay job to a sucky job, just because you *think* it *might* help you get published. Plenty of published writers have great non-publishing second jobs.

Janet: So, you live in NYC so we don't have to? ;)

Amy Schaefer said...

I'm with kathy joyce . Do you really want this job, Opie? Sure, seeing publishing from the inside would be an education. But I expect you would be much better served finding a job that you really enjoy - something that energizes you, something that pulls you out of bed in the morning.

Just be sure you will the enjoy this job, not just the hoped-for side benefits.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

The only thing worse then working at a job you don't like, is working at a job you don't like which pays you too much to leave.

Like Amy said, even if it pays less, but gets you out of bed in the morning with a smile on your face, salary is enough.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

And for those of you who don't have the option of working in publishing or moving to NYC, that's ok. It won't hurt your career at all. That's why you'll have me. I know enough about how publishing works for the both of us.

oh Janet, what would we do without you (the answer we say in my family: "cry a lot")

E.M. Goldsmith said...

OP, yeah what 2Ns said. Give it a go. I have noticed lots of agents, editors, and related publishing folks do have publishing credits. So it can't hurt.

As for moving to New York. Well, that is a life altering sort of thing regardless of what you do there. And it's not for everyone. I don't think I would manage.

My daughter moved to New York. She's only been there a few months but despite being mostly broke she loves it. She is interning with an art gallery in Chelsea and working as.a bartender at night. She both paints and writes but finds her artistic endeavors therapeutic and joyful. For now, she is content to find other ways to pay bills while she masters her craft. That seems sensible to me. Regardless of how you pay your bills, keep working at your craft as you can. The publishing industry isn't going anywhere and if you write something that can be sold, someone will pick it up. Regardless of where you are and what you do to make a living.

Karen McCoy said...

I agree, at least apply. But, another thing to consider (as well as money) is time. And the consequences what might arise if your life changes drastically to what it is now. And if you'll be okay with how things go, in the event they don't unfold in the way you expect.

A couple years ago, I made a job switch similar to the one you're considering. It was within my same profession, but a much different set of skills. I was an academic librarian at a university, and I wanted to, in a word, consolidate my efforts. So I accepted a selector position in a large library system, where I was responsible for selecting children's and teen books for 20+ libraries.

Aside from the salary increase, I felt this put me at a distinct advantage--I'd know what was publishing, what was getting good reviews, and I could go to conferences and talk to major publishers. Of course, once I told them I was a selector, I usually walked home with tons of books. This was also helpful, as I run a blog where I interview authors, and helped me get access a few NYT bestsellers. I also gained a new knowledge and perspective of the publishing industry that I didn't have before--as well as how libraries decided what went on the shelf and what didn't. I've since published articles about the latter.

What I didn't anticipate: the increased levels of time and energy it took to do my new job. It was a position that had little/no training, that I basically Forrest Gumped my way through the best I could. It took at least 3-4 months to learn the job, such as the ins and outs of ordering, and the specific procedures for delineating books--including labels for picture books versus easy readers, genre stickers (there was science fiction, but no fantasy, for example) and a supervisory staff that was less than forgiving of my ability to blend into their culture, which was much different than the one I left. By the time I finally got a handle on the job, I was asked to transfer to a different part of the system--only to lose my job completely a few months later, even after I'd secured a few of these NYT bestsellers for an author event.

After significant time on unemployment, I currently have two part time jobs--one as a writing specialist at a university, and another as a K-12 tutor. I've been able to devote a significant time to working on my novels and craft, and freelance write a bit here and there, but the income isn't nearly enough to supplement things, which creates a different kind of stress, one I didn't have before. I live in an expensive place (California) and currently, my husband is carrying a lot of the financial slack (he's a Graphic Designer, and doesn't make a lot). Though I'm much happier with the free time and I enjoy what I'm doing a lot more now, I have contract positions that aren't guaranteed to last. My current contract is literally up in two weeks, and I don't know what will happen after that.

I know this has been rather long-winded, and feel free to take what you want from this story. I'm not saying to not do it, and I'm not saying I regret my decision, but I wish I'd had a different set of eyes going in. Here are some questions that might be worth considering:

1. Are you only taking this job because of the proximity to publishing? If so, that might become obvious to your potential employers, and cause trouble down the line depending on their management structure and priorities.

2. Do you feel you have a good work/life balance? Would this new job interrupt that?

3. Is it a situation where you can take your old job back if things don't work out?

5. Make a list of things you will be leaving (friends, etc.). Are there current luxuries you'd be giving up, e.g. low cost of living and not having to worry about an income?

Good luck--whatever happens, I hope you find a way to get those words out and get your novel seen by the right eyes.

Karen McCoy said...

Please forgive the Monty Python counting...Blogger rejected my original post, because it had too many characters.

Ann Bennett said...

It's hard to not throw a bit of bread on the water with a post like this. A choice like this needs to come from your gut. Like everything in life, there are no guarantees.

My impulse is to do what Carolyn with two N's says. Apply for the job. You can make a decision later.

I've always worked for the money. Late in life, I had regrets until I met one too many struggling artists my same age. Life is much easier with a paycheck. You really have to weigh how much you will enjoy the job with the pay cut.

Colin Smith said...

Karen: Blogger rejected my original post, because it had too many characters.

Since when did Blogger become a literary agent?? ;)

Seriously, I know the post isn't about you, but I really hope you find some good, secure employment soon. I know you don't regret the choices you made, and I'm sure the "insider" knowledge you gained has/will come in useful. But I'm sorry things didn't work out better for you. Please accept some big virtual hugs. :)

Lisa Bodenheim said...

OP: I'm with the 2Ns apply anyway camp. From the interview process you'll get a better feel for the pros and cons of that situation compared with your current situation. If they offer you the job, you always have the option to say no thank you. And there's lots of food for chewing with all of the previous comments here.

Karen: My thoughts are with you as you job hunt/sort what to do with the ending of a contract.

Susan said...

I thought I had something useful to add, but then the picture of Godzilla and the peeps made me pause, then laugh, then cry (from laughter).

And now I forget everything I wanted to say.

No matter. The advice from Janet and this community is stellar. OP, you're in good hands here with lots of insight to help you make your decision. Good luck!

Theresa said...

OP, mine is another vote for applying for the job. That process will help you better assess the situation.

I'll be spending the rest of the day feeling terrified for those Peeps.

Karen McCoy said...

Thanks, Colin, and Lisa, for the virtual hugs and well wishes! I heart this community.

Megan V said...

Go for it!


The worst that can happen is nothing!

Or if you get the job, then you'll really have to consider what changes you want to make in your life.

Also...start saving up :)

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

If you were not an author with aspirations of publication, would you still take this job? What are your other reasons for considering this job?

If the *only* reason is in hopes of increasing your publication chances, I don't know if that's a strong enough reason to do this.

Meanwhile, don't disparage the "it's okay" Day Jobs. They don't have to be your passion. They just have to support your passion.

Unknown said...

OP, I agree with Carolynn with 2Ns' advice, too. It never hurts to apply, and it does help you figure out what you really want if you happen to get a job offer. That said, I also think you should love the idea of working with a publisher irrespective of your publishing goals and before you take a pay cut. What if it doesn't help you get published? And what if you don't like what you see once you're an industry insider? Lots of people also leave publishing if they want to write -- it's hard to help others with their writing when you want to be writing yourself.

In any case, best of luck with your decision!

Unknown said...

Yes, I agree with the majority here - apply for the job. A more interesting job is always better no matter what the salary (as long as it's not painfully less) than a really boring job that pays well. Besides, as far as publishing goes, nothing in publishing pays well.

I had two separate jobs in publishing - once as a photo editor and once as a designer - for a total of eight years. They both paid much less than similar positions outside of publishing. But I enjoyed them, got about six bookshelves worth of free books out of it, and yes, got a bit of insight on how it works (editors will always have my respect. I've seen unedited manuscripts).

Also, as far as moving to NYC, you can always find a commuting town in any number of locations if rents in New York are prohibitive.

Good luck!

Julie Weathers said...


You'll be making 1/3 less than you do now. Will this involve a move and have you checked the living expenses where you would have to move to?

I checked into a job writing for a major game company that I would have loved some years ago. A friend who had serious connections would give me a recommendation. Then I started checking on living expenses.

"Oh, most people get a couple of roommates and share small apartments out there."

No, that wasn't a lifestyle I was willing to adopt.

At this stage in my life, I recommend people take opportunities where they find them. However, common sense never goes out of style. Understand what the job is, what's expected of you for this big pay cut, and what opportunities you'll be gaining.


I am so sorry for what you're going through. I hope things get better soon.

Since Janet lives in NYC so we don't have to, I shall hie back to Texas so the rest of you don't have to. No need to thank me. I live to serve.

Am I the only one who looked at those Peeps and thought, "I wonder how they will taste with those Sharpie faces?"

BJ Muntain said...

From what I've been seeing from many people on social media, it's hard getting a job in the US these days. Maybe, with your experience, you'll do better than them. But in any case, applying for a job isn't a sure thing by any means. And I think such jobs in NYC are even harder to get. There are a lot of people in NYC struggling to get the same work you want.

So apply.

It's when you're offered the job that you'll have to make the biggest decision, so it would be a good thing to have a yes-or-no worked out ahead of time. Make sure to ask important questions at the interview, to help your decision. Benefits, paid holidays, etc. Often, if a position doesn't offer as much money as similar positions elsewhere, an employer will try to have more non-monetary rewards, to entice people to the position. Get everything you can. Maybe having an extra week of holidays per year might make it worth it to you to get less money. I don't know. But it's something to consider.

Amy Johnson said...

"And for those of you who don't have the option of working in publishing or moving to NYC, that's ok. It won't hurt your career at all. That's why you'll have me. I know enough about how publishing works for the both of us." Thanks a kajillion, Janet.

Opie: Lots to consider. I hope all goes well for you.

Elise: Thanks for the update on your daughter. I've wondered how she's been doing in NYC. I'm happy to hear things are going well for her.

Morgan Hazelwood said...

What a tough decision! That you don't have to make until you actually have an offer. Best of luck determining what's right for you, OP.

And Oh-dear! Karen McCoy That sounds like a terribly stressful situation. I hope you find new and better contracts, soon!

BJ Muntain said...

As a note, I used to work contract jobs as a technical writer. I'd been making a fair amount at my last contract - more than I'd ever made before - and then the contract ended. It was a good job, working with good people, but it wasn't very creative, and it wasn't very interesting.

The next job I got was a term position as a communications person for a non-profit. The pay was also 1/3 less, but was equivalent to what I'd been making prior to that great-paying contract. Communications was different: more creative, much more writing involved, and also great people to work with. I was offered the position permanently, and I really enjoyed that job. The 1/3 less money wasn't a trial for me, and the stability was satisfying.

Of course, I didn't have to move for this, especially not to a more expensive place to live. But as Colin says, salaries are negotiable. And it's possible they'll help pay for your move (some employers do. I don't know about publishers in the US.)

I just realized, you also don't say it's for a major publisher. And you don't say if it will require a move, or if it is in NYC.

If it doesn't require a move - especially to NYC - I think it's more important to decide if you can live on 1/3 the salary (I could, easily) and if you'll be happy there, as I was in the communications job. That would require much less decision-making as a move would.

Stacy said...

Good luck with whatever you decide, OP!

Joseph S. said...

I'm talking through my hat here because I know no more than you, but my guess people in publishing have just as hard a time getting published as the rest of us. Maybe a tiny bit of an advantage but not much.

On the other hand I've made most of my career moves because I didn't want to have regrets looking back on my life. Every move meant a pay cut (at least initially). I was lucky in that I enjoy working and enjoyed all my jobs. That helped.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Karen, ya know, life sucks sometimes.

You learned, that which quenches our thirst and that which feeds us, can fail. Yup, milk goes sour and bread grows mold but what you wrote here today tells me something, you are a survivor.

What if you had not made the change you did?
What if you stayed safe?
Would you have written today about wondering what could have been?
Think of what you worked so hard to learn. That will stay with you forever.

I just think that before people get bogged down with a bunch of kids, house, cars, and all the ancillary crap that pile up with growing up, you take a chance.

"If only" are the cruelest words.
"I tried" are the ones to be most proud of.

Barbara Etlin said...

Go for the interview and decide later.

One thing to ask about is the amount of overtime expected. I worked as a copy editor at a publisher for my first real job. The pay was tiny and I had very little free time. I worked Christmas Day and Boxing Day (at home). If you want to write novels in your free time, you need to know that you won't have to be working nights and weekends.

Here's what I learned about book publishing:
1. Everyone works there because they love it, not for the money.
2. An appreciation for why it takes so long to produce a book from a manuscript. Average time for non-fiction or novel: 9 months, like a baby.
3. Moving up (at least at a small publisher) is difficult, so don't expect to.

Good luck!

Unknown said...

Didn't say it in my first post, but I'm for applying. Just think through what you really want while waiting to hear from them. Applying makes a concrete action toward change. Thinking helps decide the change you want. Sometimes, the process leads you places you never thought to go. So exciting! Good luck!

LynnRodz said...

That's why you'll have me. I know enough about how publishing works for the both of us.

No truer words have been said and, boy, am I grateful.

John Davis Frain said...

There's not enough information here for me to recommend one choice or another. I'm not sure if you have other commitments such as kids, parents, etc. If you're free of such things, I'd say by all means take the chance. There's a big, fun world out there. See where you fit in, and if that means taking a 1/3 cut in pay, go for it.

But one thing I think is a MUST: If you're going to apply, you need to decide BEFORE if you're going to accept an offer. Because if you're undecided, that'll come through in your interview. And then you won't get the offer. And then it'll mess with you in other ways.

Good luck with your decision. I kinda envy you the choice!

Lennon Faris said...

I love imagining scenarios where I QUIT my day job. Have no idea why, because for the most part I love what I do, and I have a good situation (decent boss and pay and hours). If it became reality I don't know that it would be so fun, though.

I'm not saying you're considering the change on a whim, OP, or that it doesn't make sense, just that sometimes real life isn't as romantic as our imaginings. Why not apply? but if you get it and say yes, I'd want a back-up plan.

Karen, I'll join the others in saying I hope things look up soon.

Craig F said...

Without a doubt, put in an application. Don't quit your day job yet, though.

You need more information and the easiest place to get that will be through an interview. Social Media Manager can mean so many kinds of things. It could be a work from home situation where they expect you to respond to every kind of troll who disses them within ten minutes, 24/7.

It might also be something really easy that allows you time to write. Find out and then follow your heart. If you are confident in your writing, know that today's money is just what it is, money to keep you alive till you are published.

Claire Bobrow said...

OP, I have nothing to add to the collective wisdom of the reef except, after absorbing the great advice and weighing your options:

1. Follow your gut.

2. Stay out of debt!
(advice courtesy of Gilligan's Island: Polonius's advice to Laertes sung to Carmen)

And, using Karen's Monty Python numbering system,

4. Good luck!

Dena Pawling said...

A job in publishing MAY give you an advantage and may not. It's all about the story. Will you enjoy the job without the book deal?

I agree you should at least apply. But also be sure to research the type of publisher and the type of work you'll be doing, where you'll be located, etc. Social media manager can range from monitoring social media accounts to creating an entire social media presence to supervising a staff of folks who are doing those things. But there is some voyeuristic pleasure in the thought of asking Trump to define covfefe (oddly my phone did not try to auto correct that lol) from a Twitter account with a blue checkmark.

Good luck.

Beth Carpenter said...

After chuckling over that picture for a while, I have to say the brave marshmallow bunny jumping on Godzilla's tail while all his friends and relatives flee is my hero. As are you, Janet. Thanks for looking out for the rest of us.

Karen McCoy said...

You all are making me misty-eyed. Thank you Lennon, Morgan, Julie and everyone else. And, 2Ns! You are so right. Thank you for everything you said; it reached me in all the needed places, like so many other things you've shared here. I tried indeed!

BJ Muntain said...

I had one more thought today while I was away from the computer:

One thing that doing social media for a publisher will teach you is how publishers market books. It might give you some insight on what to do and what not to do when you're marketing your own books.

(((Karen))) I understand what you're going through. The thing I found with contract work, though, is that you can usually find another contract. It may not be doing exactly the same thing, and that's okay. That just keeps things interesting. Good luck. You'll be just fine. You have good education, good work experience, and good contacts. You might look outside of libraries for awhile, too. There are a lot of folks out there who want people with library experience to do other things. You might check your local bookstores, especially any indies.

Also, work on your writing. I have a friend who writes children's books for a book packager. She doesn't make a living wage off it, but she made more money from those royalties in the last year than she did from her YA fantasy. (Of course, the difference in publisher had something to do with that. The book packager put the books into libraries and schools. The other was a much smaller publisher.)

Karen McCoy said...

Excellent tips, BJ. And thanks for the encouragement! I'll see about looking into that book packager thing too (*strokes chin*).

Karen McCoy said...

Oh, Claire, I just saw your comment! *guffaws*

lamandarin said...

That picture is going on a sticky note on my home screen. :) *Reminder: Be like TRex. Kill darlings*

Anonymous said...

I'm the OP. Thank you Janet and everyone else for all your advice, I love this community.

I should have mentioned that the job is in NYC, and I already work in NYC and live just outside the city, so moving isn't an issue. I'm concerned about making less money as I get older (getting married this year, hopefully having kids in a few years) and I'm also concerned about work/life balance -- I've been told this job has long hours and only 10 vacation days. I guess I'm also worried about it sucking the joy away from my writing if I'm constantly exposed to what's getting published and what's not. But then yes, also it could give me an advantage.

And yes, my dream job is to write novels full time. Not to work at a publisher. But I'm good at what I do and I think doing it for a publisher I would enjoy more than in consumer goods. I'm not the type to do a poor job even if I don't like it much.

The job isn't actually up for me to apply to yet, I just know someone at the company who knows their social person is leaving soon. So I'm also worried about submitting through this person I know and then after she pulls strings for me, I say no, and then she's annoyed ... she's also the one that told me they have a salary cap for the position... But I think you're all right -- I should submit my resume when the time comes and take it from there.

Thank you!

BJ Muntain said...

Wanderlustywriter (may I call you WLW? :) - it sure sounds like a good opportunity. It also sounds like you've got an inside track on the job. You can ask this person you know any questions you might otherwise ask in an interview, and that's good. When making your final decision, list all the pros and the cons, and rate them as to how important they are. Job enjoyment is a big pro, but it seems the work/life balance here may be a rather big con. Also remember that quitting your dayjob to write full-time is rare, so you may be working this job for a very long time.

That said, I know I'd enjoy a job like that. If I had that opportunity, I'd probably apply.

Best of luck in whatever you finally decide, WLW!