“I was fortunate, but it’s not impossible.” That sentiment, shared with us by Paige Doscher, Editorial Assistant with Harper Design, a division of HarperCollins Publishers, was the overarching theme of our industry visit to one of the top publishing houses in New York. Actually, it might be the big takeaway from all six weeks of the NYU Summer Publishing Institute: while it definitely takes a little luck to break into the book and magazine industries, it’s also definitely possible.
Twenty-five members of the Summer Publishing Institute Class of 2013 arrived in the sleek, paneled lobby of HarperCollins. (At the same time, other groups of SPI students were visiting book publishing houses all over New York.) We were ushered into a long, handsome conference room. There was a different book on the table in front of every seat. Needless to say, a scramble ensued. But, when the dust settled and we had each read the jacket of our new book, we were more than ready to soak up every tidbit four HarperCollins speakers had to share.
Carolyn Zimatore, Senior Manager of Talent Acquisition, started us off with an impressive run-down of some of HarperCollins’ statistics. In 2012, the publisher had 222 bestsellers, 25 of which hit the #1 spot, for a grand total of 1,300 weeks on the New York Times and London Times bestseller lists. And these great books were produced by a staff of 3,000 employees, who had 25,000 collective years of experience and spent 2,000 hours working on each book. After wowing us with the numbers, Zimatore got a little more personal and shared her job history, from being an office assistant at an architecture company, to working at Penguin for five years, to making her way to HarperCollins. She also mentioned a few positions at the company that might interest us, and offered some reassuring advice about the job hunt. “We want you to always have a very positive experience here at HarperCollins,” she said of the interviewing process. “That’s my job.”
Then it was time to hear from the three recent SPI grads: Doscher, class of 2011; Jessie Edwards, class of 2009, who is Associate Publicist for the William Morrow, Avon, and Harper Voyager imprints; and Matthew Spindler, class of 2008, who is a Subsidiary Rights Coordinator.
Doscher described her day-to-day duties in some detail (from invoices, contract requests, and picking up authors at the airport to maintaining the imprint’s Twitter feed and “phone calls, of course”). She rhapsodized about working with design, saying that she loves her job because she really has to “pay attention to the beauty of the book.” She also encouraged us to be persistent in our job search and to explore different opportunities within the industry, telling us that many of her friends who wanted to go into editorial ended up elsewhere.“They all love what they do,” she noted.
Edwards, too, said that her position was a great fit. “My job is to tell people why they should love the book,” she explained. “I like being a cheerleader for my authors.” She also had a fun and unconventional story about getting hired for her first job: she said she knew she “wanted to work on romance novels since [she] was fifteen,” and she went above and beyond to make it happen. She heard about a romance novel conference, and decided to attend and market herself. It was there that she made the contact who called her one day while she was in line at the Shake Shack and offered her a job.
Spindler joined HarperCollins fairly recently, and had previously been a book scout, looking for foreign books whose rights American publishing houses might like to purchase. Most of us had never heard of book scouting, and Spindler’s description made us all curious. It’s “mostly reading and writing reports,” he told us, and there was a hum of general approval. He summed up his overall point like this: “SPI introduced me to things about publishing that I’d never thought about or just didn’t know about.”
The tour was a great experience for the penultimate week at SPI. As our time in the program draws to a close, nothing could be more valuable than seeing everything we’ve learned through the lens of a major publishing house like HarperCollins.
by Carly Britton