“You may well have signed up for this summer institute because you want to edit fiction or nonfiction,” Tom Allen, President and CEO of the Association of American Publishers (AAP), told the students in his keynote address at the beginning of the book session of the NYU-SCPS Summer Publishing Institute (SPI). “But in a few weeks, you’ll learn what that [editing] entails,” Allen counseled, and then added:
“You’ll also gain insight into the breath of jobs in this industry in finance, production, rights, marketing, to name a few, that directly affect the success of books. In publishing, it takes a village. It really takes a village. I urge you to be open to the many—what I think will be unexpected—opportunities that you come across that will offer you a fulfilling career within the community of literate, engaged, and interesting people.”
After this brief appeal, Allen then launched into a discussion of the effects of the digitization of books on the publishing industry. When more than half of the SPI attendees told Allen they read on digital devices, it would have been remiss for him not to focus a majority of his talk on this topic. Still, I wondered, if digital was so important, why would he have urged us to stay open-minded to all the opportunities that the publishing industry affords? As I listened to the panel discussion that followed on the future of book publishing, I had a far better understanding of what Allen meant. The panel, moderated by Julie Bosman, Publishing Industry Reporter for The New York Times, included four industry leaders and focused on how publishers could hope to succeed in the new era of e-books—and how those of us who aspire to work in this industry could help them achieve this goal. Panelist Liate Stehlik, Senior Vice President and Publisher of the HarperCollins imprint Morrow/Avon, observed that publishers could no longer afford to sit back and let book retailers do all the hand-selling for them, saying: “We’ve all, from the publishing side, really relied on the booksellers to be the conduits to the readers. Now we have to have a little more of that relationship ourselves, because readers are not going to the bookstores to find books that booksellers tell them to buy.”
Her fellow panelist Dominique Raccah, Publisher and CEO of Sourcebooks, an independent book publisher based just outside Chicago, suggested that being a publisher means staying two years ahead of the game. The best strategy, she advised, is crunching the data to find patterns of success and leading the pack in the use of new trends in technology. Then Julie Grau, Senior Vice President and Publisher of Random House’s Spiegel & Grau imprint, suggested that good packaging is pivotal to a book’s success, since today’s readers might only buy traditional books if they offered a quality reading experience that could not be matched by e-books.
Bob Miller, Group Publisher for Workman Publishing, offered perhaps the most memorable advice. Pulling out a sheet of typed notes, he read out his list of ten things those eager to enter the industry could do to get work in publishing:
Bob Miller’s “Ten Things You Might Do to Get a Job”
- Learn web design.
- Learn to write code.
- Volunteer to work for an app developer or web designer for free.
- Volunteer to work in a bookstore for free.
- Write your own blog/zine about something you’re obsessed with/passionate about.
- Read the bestseller list.
- Read intensively in a particular area. Correspond with authors/editors/other fans of that area.
- Write something and self-publish it on all the available self-publishing platforms.
- Read the top 25 publishing-related blogs (just named by Poets and Writers Magazine).
- To get an interview, write to people directly about something they’re doing that interests you. Ask for 20 minutes of their time so you can hear more about it. Don’t ask for a job in that meeting. Do come to that meeting, however, knowing everything you can about them and their company. Afterwards, follow up with research you’ve done that relates to what you discussed. Then mention your blog, your zine, your experience in web and app design, your obsession with teen paranormal fiction and the teen paranormal novella you self-published just to see what that was like. Then when they ask what kind of job you’re looking for, say “Anything. I want to learn the business from every single angle and don’t care what department I start in.”
Web design, coding, and self-publishing, oh my! Miller made it clear that, while there is no pure consensus on how publishers will stay on top of their game, we will all have to know more and do more in this business than our predecessors in the last century could have imagined. So (needless to say) Allen’s keynote remarks were spot on. I mean, why wouldn’t we want to work in subsidiary rights or publicity or web design—or all three? This is simply not the same old publishing industry, where one stayed in one area forever (or yearned for editing only), and we’re naïve if we think we can pursue work in this field without a modicum of business, marketing, and tech savvy. As we begin to put together a mock launch for a new book imprint in the weeks to come, each of our jobs will be beneficial to us, and I know that I’m ready to get all I can out of the experience.
I only wonder, now, how many people I’ll see reading books about HTML and CSS, tweeting, blogging, or tinkering in InDesign during our lunch breaks. Apparently, if we want jobs, it’d better be all of us.
by Casey Black