SPI Stories: Recent Grads Sound Off

As potential SPIers frantically prepare their applications for the NYU 2017 Summer Publishing Institute, we thought we’d ask some members of last year’s class to give you an inside peek at life during and after. Read on to hear from a sales assistant for SHAPE, a member of the production team at Thrillist, and an assistant to a literary agent. Their candid comments are a great way to learn more about NYU’s renowned six-week summer program for recent college graduates interested in careers in books, magazine and digital media. If you haven’t started that application, there’s still time! The final deadline is March 13th. For more information, or to download the brochure and application, click here.



saunders-headshotTanner Saunders is a Texas born, New York based travel writer who currently works for the lifestyle website Thrillist as part of the production team . His work can be found on Thrillist, Matador Network, American Profile Magazine, Spry Living, and more. He is also the father to a rambunctious pug named Wrigley Wayne. Follow his adventures on Instagram @tizanner and online at TannerSaunders.com

CENTER FOR PUBLISHING: From day one of SPI, you knew you wanted to work on the magazine side of the industry. What drew you to a digitally-focused company like Thrillist over a more traditional magazine media company?

TANNER SAUNDERS: Originally, I thought I only wanted to work for a print-based publication like Travel + Leisure or Afar. As we learned more about digital media throughout the program, I started to realize the opportunities available for someone like me in the digital space. I am interested in so many aspects of media, primarily writing, but also video, music, and social. At times it was very hard to figure out where exactly I would fit in at a traditional print publication. Digital roles move very quickly and the projects can be pretty fluid, so it feels like there’s an opportunity to learn and grow in different areas I haven’t explored before. There are also a great number of digital publications like Thrillist that cover multiple verticals, so it’s a great place to really figure out where you belong.

CFP: Tell us a little bit about your day-to-day responsibilities as an Editorial Production Assistant.

TS: I could argue that my team at Thrillist is sort of the backbone of the company. Nearly every single piece of content filters through the productions team, because we build the articles, source the images, and work very closely with every single vertical on the site. My job allows me to work very closely with multiple editors to make sure a story looks and feels the way they envision. Working closely with the editors and constantly reading copy has taught me how to be a better writer and more about the role of editors. I also work very closely with our creative team to make sure we have high quality images, graphics, and video to accompany every piece. I am constantly communicating with PR agencies, freelancers, and even mom-and-pop businesses to create our stories. My job is fast paced and, at times, all over the place, but I really do love it.

CFP: What’s the office culture like at Thrillist?

TS: Like most digital media companies, the Thrillist is generally laid back and lighthearted. We have an open concept office and work at pods with various teams. Our conference rooms are named after animals, which makes my weekly Wednesday meeting in Chipmunk a little more humorous. Since Thrillist is a major player in the national food and drink scene, we have sponsored happy hours at least once a week, and our editorial team makes a point to have office outings every couple of weeks. We take our work very seriously, but we don’t take ourselves too seriously, which makes the day-to-day very fun. I also know that my managers and editors care about me as an employee and take the time to make sure I’m learning and growing in a way that will allow for upward movement. We also have an office dog, Neptune, who keeps us smiling and relaxed. (He’s also insta famous. Check him out @neptunethedoodle)

CFP: Your magazine imprint, Roam, was the winning magazine project last summer. How did the mock book imprint and magazine launch projects at SPI help you?

TS: My long term career goal is to work a travel editor, so when I found out that I would serve as the Editor-in-Chief of the travel project, I knew it was time to figure out how this all really worked. Working with my team on Roam forced me to learn a new style of leadership that’s much, much more like the real world than any leadership role I’d had before. We all had huge ideas, which was incredible, but it was my job to narrow the scope of our ambitions and create a finished project. This project taught me to dig deeper in whatever I’m working on, because that’s ultimately the reason Roam came out on top. We focused on the little things, which ended up making the biggest difference. We also focused on innovation, researching new trends and then applying them to our project; I think that’s what impressed the judges most.

Our final project was a tangible binder, presentation, and set of skills and experiences that we were able to take into interviews once SPI was finished. That made all the late hours, crazy photo sourcing, and money spent on coffee worth it.

CFP: What takeaways from the Summer Publishing Institute have you found most useful in your career development?

TS: I’ve already mentioned a few above, but I could go on for days! One major thing SPI taught me was that it’s okay to reach out and ask questions. During the Magazine program we had the chance to hear from Pilar Guzmán, the Editor-in-Chief of Condé Nast Traveler (and one of my personal heroes). I wasn’t sure what to say to her, but I ended up telling her about Roam and she offered some very heartfelt and insightful advice. I’ve managed to build some professional relationships with industry leaders just by taking the time to reach out and say thank you. You’ll never know the answers to question you don’t ask!

CFP: What were the three things you loved most about SPI and why?

TS: 1) Having guest speakers who were not only key industry players, but kind and caring people.

2) Making new friends with diverse backgrounds, goals, and stories, and then spending the summer experiencing NYC with them.

3) Presenting our magazine project and sharing what we had spent three non-stop weeks working on, plus seeing the incredible ideas from my peers.

* BONUS: Spending every day in the beautiful and historic Woolworth Building, which really made my first summer in NYC dreamy and authentic.



bartnett-headshotErin Bartnett is an assistant at Denise Shannon Literary Agency.  She is a graduate of Rutgers University and the NYU Summer Publishing Institute. Before beginning her current job, Erin studied contemporary literature at the graduate level and taught essay writing at the University of Virginia.  She will complete her Master’s in English Literature from the University of Virginia this spring. She enjoys reading books peopled with lyrical voices that make her see the world anew.  

CENTER FOR PUBLISHING: You’ve said networking was a huge part of how you found your job. Can you tell us a little more about your experience during the job hunting process and how you ended up at the Denise Shannon Literary Agency?

ERIN BARTNETT: You’ll hear it again and again—the people are the best part of this industry.   I wanted to take advantage of every opportunity SPI offered: to be curious, to ask questions, to introduce myself to guest speakers after each session.  I knew I wasn’t going to get a job if no one knew I was looking.

After each session at SPI, I would follow up with speakers and ask for an informational interview.  I went on an informational interview almost every day after SPI.  At each interview, I would ask for recommendations for additional contacts in the industry, then be sure to write thank you notes (on physical paper, stamped and sealed!) to every person I interviewed with.

Looking for jobs can feel like a solitary task, but by the end of August, I had a really incredible group of people in this industry looking for jobs for me, too.  The position opened at Denise Shannon Literary Agency, and someone I interviewed with sent me Denise’s contact information.  I interviewed with her and started the very next week.  The time I spent bouncing from interview to interview was formative —I can’t recommend the informational interview enough.

CFP: Why did working at a literary agency interest you more than working inside a book publishing company? We’d love to hear more about the thought process behind that, as well as your impressions after four months on the job.

EB: When I started looking for jobs, I was convinced I wanted to be in editorial. I still find editorial work really compelling, but working at a literary agency means that I have the opportunity to be one of the first readers and also participate in the editorial process. I get to work on a broad sweep of literary ventures in so many different mediums—books, sure, but also literary journals and magazines; music, stage, and film adaptations; and literary events.  But perhaps the best part of working at a literary agency is the fact that agents celebrate the authors that make this industry possible. I am exposed to more of the working pieces of the industry, and I am grateful for that.

CFP: Being an assistant at a literary agency usually means wearing a lot of different hats. What does your typical day look like? What responsibilities do you look forward to most on a daily basis?

 EB: The only thing that is “typical” is the learning.  Every day I feel like I learn something new about the industry, or culture, or the capacities of language.  My typical tasks include vetting contracts for authors, reading queries for agent representation, communicating with co-agents on foreign rights opportunities for our authors, tracking payment and contract details for our authors, writing copy for pitches, going to author readings and book signings, and managing various office operations.

As for favorites responsibilities… can I have a “top 3?”  Vetting contracts, reading author manuscripts and offering feedback, and getting to know our authors.

CFP: What do you find most challenging about your position?

EB: The most challenging thing is the most exciting thing—there is still so much to learn!  Understanding how to manage contract and payment schedules for all of our authors in various countries in various mediums; what to look for in a contract, in a query, or in a manuscript; and how to prioritize the daily tasks required to manage an office all takes time. I’m grateful to have Denise Shannon as a mentor.

CFP: What SPI session or event had the biggest impact on you?

EB: In the Magazine Session, we could volunteer (pretty early in the session) to get up in front of the entire group and pitch our mission statement to several highly respected members of the industry.  I was terrified, but went up to pitch with our magazine project Editor-in-Chief.  Afterwards, I was able to talk to one of the panelists, and she told me to “forge on.” From that moment, I realized how invaluable it was to overcome small fears and insecurities to make myself known, to be unashamed, eager, and curious, and to reach out for advice and guidance.

CFP: If you could go back and give yourself one piece of advice before SPI started, what would it be?

EB: Follow your senses.  Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want. Get ready to soak up all the joy that’s about to come your way.  People who work in the world of words really are this good!



img_7257Samantha Driscoll got her bachelor’s degree in English Writing and Rhetoric from St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas. She moved to New York City to attend the NYU Summer Publishing Institute 2016, and she is now a sales assistant for SHAPE magazine. She is also a contributing writer for Elite Daily and Thought Catalog.

CENTER FOR PUBLISHING: First, let’s be honest: not all students gravitate immediately toward a career in sales! What drew you to your current position?

SAMANTHA DRISCOLL: I was originally interested in the editorial side of publishing, mainly because it’s the only aspect that I’d had experience in, but also because I love to write. I actually interviewed for an editorial position at SHAPE, but didn’t end up getting the job. I got called back in a week later to interview for the sales assistant position, and I couldn’t be happier with my current job.

CFP: What do you think is the most exciting part of working on the sales team at SHAPE? What was the biggest surprise when you started?

SD: I’m most excited to be working for a magazine that I’ve been reading for many years. I never dreamed that I would be working for such an esteemed women’s magazine when I first began my career in publishing, so the fact that I came straight from graduation to the second largest young women’s magazine in America amazes me.

I was surprised at how many different teams come together to bring the print publication to life each month. Coming from a background in editorial, I always assumed that the writing was the most important part of the magazine. While it is important, there wouldn’t be a magazine for people to read if it wasn’t for the advertisers.

CFP: What are your specific duties?

SD: I’m a print sales assistant, so I am directly assisting the account executives who sell the ad pages in our issues each month. Some companies do have integrated print and digital sales teams, but at SHAPE I work solely on print Request for Proposals (RFPs) for advertisers and clients. I help secure the ad positioning each month in addition to maintaining our comp (free) list and keeping all negotiated rates updated in Salesforce.

CFP: SPI offers career advice and opportunities through panels, resume review sessions, and the career fair. How did these help you?

SD: The networking panels and events SPI provided for its students were unparalleled. On the last day of the magazine program, Christine Guilfoyle, who is the SVP and Publisher of SHAPE, spoke to us about the ten things you should do to land a job in publishing. I spoke to her after her panel and she ended up being the person who helped me get me my current position. In this industry, it’s not just about what you know, it’s all about who you know; SPI really allows you to make connections with people who help get your foot in the door.

CFP: What advice would you give to students who are thinking about applying for the Summer Publishing Institute?

SD: I would definitely say to do your research before coming to New York City. You have to know that you want to live here before you come, because it will take everything you have to stay. It can be really hard starting over in a new city, especially to begin a career in a field as competitive as publishing. Be ready to put up a good fight; the dream job you envision for yourself might not be available when you’re looking for a job. My job search took four months after SPI ended, and I had to take a temp job to be able to stay in NYC. Looking back, I’m proud I didn’t give up, because living in New York City and working in an industry I love was entirely worth the struggle it took to stay. If you give it you 100%, everything will end up working out in the end.

Do our fabulous alumni have you convinced that the Summer Publishing Institute is right for you? We’re currently accepting applications for SPI 2017. Visit our website to find out more and apply today: sps.nyu.edu/spi


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