Publishing jobs

Miss Snark -

I've been looking for an assistantship at a literary agency or publishing house for a while. Now, when I get good advice I take it - when you said make sure to have read at least one book on the list of the agent/editor you're interviewing with, go to more readings, etc., I made sure I did.

But there are a few things I keep hearing from people when I tell them I'm looking for work in publishing. Two discouraging things.

1. Publishing is more nepotistic/connection-based than other industries; you've got no hope unless you have a friend/parent of a friend/etc. who can refer you to a job. Even if your credentials are otherwise great.

2. Everybody in publishing is miserable. Go be a lawyer instead.

Any chance you'd weigh in on these two downers?

I have no idea if publishing is more nepotistic (is that even a word?) than other industries. I mean, you can try to be the Queen of England on your own but I think you need connections. Publishing is a SMALL industry so there are fewer actual jobs thus the presence of friends/family may be a larger percentage but it's entirely possible to get a job in this town without knowing any one.

2. Yea, like lawyers are all happy. First year associates work 80 hour weeks and get fired after two years and partners are under enormous pressure to rack up billable hours. There's a reason all those lawyers and doctors are writing crime fiction.

Publishing is low paid and frustrating. It's also glorious. As an agent, I work with people who are smart, funny, creative and extraordinarily happy with their lives on the whole. My job is to help them be successful. The details of day to day life can be frustrating and filled with angst. Show me a job that isn't. I have the best job in the world, and I thank God every single day for it.

D0 what you love. Tell those naysayers to fuck off and die.


Anonymous said...

This is the Miss Snark we love.

Anonymous said...

I love it.

And it's true. Don't go into publishing or any "glamor" field for the money. It's quality of life rather than lifestyle.

Katie said...

I'm in an industry where it's all who you know, too. So you work some miserable entry-level jobs and do your best for a while, and then one day you wake up and realize you're one of the people who knows people.

clarice snarkling said...

I know plenty of people who got their first job in publishing -- yes, at one of the big NYC houses -- just by submitting resumes in response to ads they found in Publishers Marketplace and Mediabistro, or through a lucky placement from a temp agency.

If you're a lawyer you have all of those icky loan payments from law school to discourage you from getting out of the law field even if you hate it. For publishing, you need nothing more than a BA or BS, and if you find you dislike working in the field it's pretty easy to find another job that'll likely pay you more than that lovely $19,000 take-home salary you'll get from the editorial assistant position.

bebe said...

Yes, it's good to know someone but very few people know anyone when they first start out. They meet people through doing it. You're even meeting people during these interviews. It's not just everyone's kids and moms and little sisters. It's someone who interned for you, that girl who almost got that other job, my friend has a friend who has some experience at a small press, etc.

Referrals are key, but they're not that hard to find, because unless we're in HR, we get a bonus if you get the job.

Oh, and yes it sucks unless you're totally passionate about it. And sometimes it even sucks then, but not as much as not doing it. It's not for the "oh, what should I do? Well....I like books" folks.

Ryan Field said...

I know an agency right now in the process of hiring a new associate and, trust me, there's no nepotism involved. The applicants are total strangers applying for a job just like any other profession.

Bryan D. Catherman said...

When I was studying to become a lawyer, every lawyer I knew (especially the military lawyers in Iraq) told me to find something else, anything else. One suggested becoming a forest ranger. I thought about a gig with the forest service, but I hear it's too nepotistic.

Anonymous said...

The Johnsonian truth about life and work is, there is much to be endured, and little to be enjoyed. You want consolation, ask your cleric. Or listen to late Beethoven quartets.

Kate Thornton said...

Miss Snark's job seems glamorous to me because she so obviously loves it and finds the excitement in it.

She is right - do what you love. It makes all the difference.

Anonymous said...

Do not EVEN think about being a lawyer, working for one, etc. Everyone in a law firm works night and day (an 80-hour work week would be freakin' vacation), and it's not inspiring work (or at least I didn't think so - intellectually challenging, yes - inspiring, no). All the lawyers get dinged for billable hours that fall below a ridiculous minimum - and the internal politics are nauseating (yes, more so than other corporate politics). I'm speaking from experience. It is SO not worth the money you get paid - unless you WANT to die without ever having a life. And no, I do not do this work anymore.

Like Miss Snark said, do something you LOVE. Ditto on Miss Snark's last sentence, too. :)

Mig said...

I am one lawyer who very happy and satisfied with his career. However, most of my frinds are lawyers, and I have a few in my family, and it's clear that I am in the minority. With few, very few, exceptions they'd all rather be doing something else.

Mark said...

I've worked for the Forest Service seasonally for many years and I can assure you there's nothing nepotistic about it. Competition is fierce for all jobs. "Ranger" is a political appointment also based on career qualifications. For permanant positions though, I find age discrimination though is quite common and difficult to prove.

Anonymous said...

I'm a lawyer and I'm miserable. Go and do something you love and that makes you want to get out of bed in the morning.

archer said...

When I took the LSATs, I had to walk under a bridge. The bridge was full of law students going to early classes, and they started shouting at us.

Turrnnnn baaaaaaaaack!

Before it's tooo laaaaaaaaate...

Rashenbo said...


It seems like just about everything is about who you know. That's just the way the cookie crumbles. Social networking is the new "in thing". :)

I definitely think the publishing industry is one someone follows out of passion... rather than to have an easy road to money.

--E said...

Entry-level positions in the NY publishing scene are not hard to come by. Clarice Snarkling has the right suggestion: mediabistro.com and the Publishers Lunch job board. All the publishers post their job openings on at least one of those two boards.

Be forewarned: about half of all people who enter publishing ditch it within two years (about a quarter of them ditch it within a year. This industry does not make one rich). If you stick around longer than two years, you are extremely likely to be a lifer. (We don't really infect you with nanobots to assimilate you into the publishing Borg; it just feels that way. Here, hold still...this won't hurt a bit. ;-)

Which is my way of saying, if you have to relocate to NY to get the job you think you want, have an exit strategy, just in case the psychic rewards aren't enough.

Anonymous said...

Well, I can't speak for all publishers necessarily, but I have been happily employed at a mid-sized Seattle publisher for about a year, and I couldn't be happier.

Yes, the pay is low (we are talking about books here; they aren't exactly cash cows), and I have to make sacrifices because of it. I do it because it is my passion and I couldn't imagine not doing it in favor of something else that pays a little better but provides no satisfaction. Who can put a price on seeing your name on the acknowledgments page of a very generous and thankful author?

No, I don't have relatives in the company (or in publishing period). No, I didn't sleep with the boss. Want to know how I got this job? I worked my ass off and made it happen. I worked in a bookstore for six years, I had three internships, I took editing/publishing courses, and I made sure I met the people I had to meet to get my foot in the door.

In the end, all it came down to was my excitement and my drive. You talk to me for one second about books or publishing, and you will see me glow.

Don't be a lawyer--follow your heart.

Anonymous said...

Oh Miss Snark you are glorious.

ChumleyK said...

I think you need to keep in mind that getting a job in publishing does not mean you are committed to publishing for life. If you hate it, you can always find a different career path.

I got a degree in engineering, because it seemed like a good, stable, practical job path. I was miserable. But I never would have figured that out if I hadn't tried it. On the surface, it looked like the perfect career choice for me. Now I'm a teacher, and I LOVE it.

Anonymous said...

I know nothing about the nepotism angle, but I've been meeting a LOT of people in publishing over the past few months, and the one thing I keep noticing is that they all seem happy. They all seem to love what they do and have fun doing it. None of them get that worn-down look when they talk about their jobs. They light up.

I have known people, in the past, who worked in publishing and were unhappy with it...but they worked for a mess of a press run by the kind of guy who makes you want to bang your head off the wall repeatedly. It wasn't the career that was a problem, it was the specific job.

Janet Black said...

Lawyers are not all happy. Nor successful. I work part-time at a small hardware store. The assistant manager used to be a lawyer. I'm not so sure he's happy now either.

Manda86 said...

From a lawyer's perspective - DON'T BECOME A LAWYER!! *cough cough* Okay, there is nothing wrong with being a lawyer, but if you really want to get into publishing, keep your day job and keep trying. Unfortunately law is about who you know more than what you know (mostly because after hours tends to be drinking hours :) )

Writer on Board said...

Dear Miss Snark,

I took your advice. I called my mom and told her what you said about naysayers. Go F yourself, mom! To my surprise, instead of embracing my newly found courage, she hung up on me. I'm calling her and calling her back. No answer. I think she's really angry this time. I've lost my mother's love but...


Thank you?

Anonymous said...

The one thing I learned when I quit "doing what I loved" (I was a teacher) and became a lawyer is "Don't let other people tell you what you will like." People told me all of the horror stories about law (and many of them are true), and criticized my decision to leave teaching, but they weren't right. I don't love being a lawyer the way I loved teaching, but I do enjoy it, and the money is good, and it gives me enough free time to write (which teaching never did).

Go for the job in publishing, because you think you might like it. If you don't, you can always do something later.


Anonymous said...

For me the ideal career is something I'm passionate about and somewhat successful at. I could not imagine staying in a job, no matter how paying or how much I liked it, if I really sucked at it. In writing success equals money and peer/industry recognition. I'd be extatic to be a midlist author, as long as I was dependable enough to keep the contracts coming, which would mean both some money (yanno, cause we gotta live and every little bit helps) and that someone out thought I was worth the effort.
Hell yeah to Miss Snark, do what you love.
BUT if I wasn't in it for at least a bit of money it wouldn't be a carerr, it would be a hobby and lulu.com would be a lot less stressful than what I'm trying to do now, go the hard and high way. If I was writing just to write I'd never both submit anywhere. I'm writing TO BE READ. And editors and agents so totally count as readers :) As long as the editor/agent I send to has enjoyed my story, even if they don't buy it, then it's still not a failure in my mind.

Snout's Ghost said...

Go be a lawyer instead????!!! So you're a masochist? Maybe I shouldn't pop that bubble, but being a lawyer is a lot about who you know too. Networking is a basic fact of business life. Those who have networks already established for them (think Drew Barrymore, Tory Spelling and, now, John Ritter's kid) have it easier than those of us with unheralded parentage. But there's room for that unknown too. The difference is, if you're an unknown, you probably have to have something going for you other than your name.

You might be surprised at how many of us are leaving the law to write, sculpt, beachcomb, rebuild motorcycles or otherwise engage in endeavors less likely to prompt us to leap from a roof forty floors up.

Anonymous said...

If I did what I love...

I'd wander the planet singin' "tweedle lee dee, tweedle lee dumb!"

or hunt and fish all the time

or look for my real parents... I'm convinced I got switched at birth, and my heritage is real money. Like DuPont, Vanderbilt, Kennedy type money!

or maybe have a worm farm

Haste yee back ;-)

Anonymous said...

I see mine and wife's headstones, side by side.

Here lies Mr. Haste yee Back:
author, artist, philosopher, vagabond, animal talker, fisherman, naturalist, do-gooder, lover of great wine and conversation, friend to all creation, inveterate dreamer.

Here lies Mrs. Haste yee back:
Long suffering wife of Mr. Haste yee back!

Haste yee back ;-)

tomdg said...

Absolutely. Life's too short to spend most of it doing a job you hate.