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View Full Version : Writing, jobs in publishing, and conflicts of interest



Fulk
03-24-2010, 09:29 AM
I'm rapidly approaching my final year of college (an English major), and so it's becoming apparent to me that I need to have some idea of the career I want to go into. It just happens that what I've really been interested in lately are jobs in publishing, at some already established publishing house. The issue is that I also want to become a published author, and it seems to me the two career goals are at odds, with all the possible complications that could arise from handling other authors' manuscripts.

So here's my question: Are there jobs in publishing for an aspiring author that don't present a potential conflict of interest? I realize that simply having an English degree does not necessitate that I do something related to books, but it is a career track I'm smitten with. Fill me with your sagely advice, AWers. :D

gothicangel
03-24-2010, 11:34 AM
I'm not aware of any conflict of interest, but what you do need to do is build up experience.

Publishing is HIGHLY competitive. One graduate traineeship in the UK [Macmillian] attracts 10,000 applications for 6 places. The 'ideal candidate' is changing also, publishing houses are wanting applicants who are very savvy with new technologies.

A good starting point might be considering an MA in Publishing.

shaldna
03-24-2010, 01:20 PM
I don't get what your asking. It's like saying a horse trainer shouldn't ride horses themselves. Or a mechanic shouldn't drive a car.

Gothicangel raised a good point, that an MA in publishing might be a good idea as it will prepare you for work in the industry, and also help build up contacts and a CV.

I would also subscibe to some trade journals, I get the Bookseller, and there are always publishing jobs advertised in them.

I guess it depends where in publishing you want to work. There are editing jobs, reading jobs, sales, aquisitions, art, printing, promotions and marketing, agenting etc etc.

Namatu
03-24-2010, 04:51 PM
So here's my question: Are there jobs in publishing for an aspiring author that don't present a potential conflict of interest? If you write fiction and worry about conflict of interest, I suggest nonfiction/reference publishing. You can still handle manuscript (if that's what you're interested in) but it's unlikely to bleed over into your fiction writing. You don't necessarily need subject area expertise to be in editorial at a nf/reference publisher, but they do sometimes look for subject area knowledge. For instance, a company that publishes a lot of medical textbooks might want an editor with familiarity in the topic. Capability with the written word, however, goes a long way all by itself.

Are you interested in editorial work or some other aspect?

jana13k
03-24-2010, 04:52 PM
Conflict of interest is only present if you put it there. I know editors who also publish and I remember one that essentially abandoned her job (while still being paid) to pursue her own books. The authors were NOT happy, but hey, she got her deal, quit her job, left everyone hanging and ran off into the sunset. See the difference?

Maybe it would be a good idea to not work in a genre you prefer to write. I can see it being difficult for the subconscious not to lift ideas and passages from other work if it's similar to your own. That's why I never read in genre while I'm working on a rough draft.

gideonna
03-24-2010, 05:03 PM
You don't necessarily need to do the full MA in Publishing. It's possible to get a foot in the door with a certificate or diploma, but as with all courses - the theory is very different from the reality and not always as valuable as it seems. Other entry routes include doing an internship, unpaid work experience or finding a temping agency that supplies the publishing industry. There are also a number of dedicated recruitment agencies in the UK (not sure about the US) that deal specifically with publishing vacancies.

It's completely possible to work in publishing and be a published writer - I know of a couple of editors who do both (f and n/f), but working in publishing isn't necessarily a fast-track route to publication. Your book will still need to be the best on the slushpile and your co-workers are likely to feel uncomfortable if you approach them with your masterpiece!

I know - I worked in the industry for 10 years (not editorial) and kept my writing projects separate from my day job. I still don't inflict my novels on friends who work in publishing and these connections definitely haven't made the job of finding an agent any easier.

Saying (writing!) that, what I did gain was a fantastic insight into how decisions are made and loved every minute of the publishing process.

Please feel free to pm me if you would like any info or links re. UK publishing career routes.

Fulk
03-24-2010, 11:32 PM
I don't get what your asking. It's like saying a horse trainer shouldn't ride horses themselves. Or a mechanic shouldn't drive a car.

Gothicangel raised a good point, that an MA in publishing might be a good idea as it will prepare you for work in the industry, and also help build up contacts and a CV.

I would also subscibe to some trade journals, I get the Bookseller, and there are always publishing jobs advertised in them.

Jana touched on what I guess I was asking, my apologies for not being clear. What I meant was, say I'm working as an editor for a fiction publishing company and writing on the side, if I subconsciously lifted something too eerily similar to someone's manuscript that I had handled (something I hope never happens), it would be problematic and I might shortly find my pants sued off. But I think that issue can be cleared up by working in another genre, like Jana suggested.



I guess it depends where in publishing you want to work. There are editing jobs, reading jobs, sales, aquisitions, art, printing, promotions and marketing, agenting etc etc.


Are you interested in editorial work or some other aspect?

I'm mostly interested in editorial work or acquisitions, though I'm not averse to looking into other positions. I think the only thing I'm really not cut out for is marketing/sales. I'm a lousy salesperson.




If you write fiction and worry about conflict of interest, I suggest nonfiction/reference publishing. You can still handle manuscript (if that's what you're interested in) but it's unlikely to bleed over into your fiction writing. You don't necessarily need subject area expertise to be in editorial at a nf/reference publisher, but they do sometimes look for subject area knowledge. For instance, a company that publishes a lot of medical textbooks might want an editor with familiarity in the topic. Capability with the written word, however, goes a long way all by itself.

Good stuff to know, thanks!


You don't necessarily need to do the full MA in Publishing. It's possible to get a foot in the door with a certificate or diploma, but as with all courses - the theory is very different from the reality and not always as valuable as it seems. Other entry routes include doing an internship, unpaid work experience or finding a temping agency that supplies the publishing industry. There are also a number of dedicated recruitment agencies in the UK (not sure about the US) that deal specifically with publishing vacancies.

Internship is the route I've been exploring the most recently, as it seems like the most likely approach for a student. I've considered the MA route (I would like to get an MA anyway, one of these days), but I'll have four years of undergrad debt on the table as it is. I'm not sure if there are any recruitment agencies here in the US (for publishing, at least), but it is something I can look into. It seems like the UK has some pretty good gigs--I was browsing one company's page (Hachette Books Group, I think), and they had 2-week unpaid work opportunities, open to anyone if I understood it right, for the sake of gaining job experience and a passing familiarity with publishing. That's a nice deal, but I don't live in England and haven't found any similar opportunity for any US companies yet.



It's completely possible to work in publishing and be a published writer - I know of a couple of editors who do both (f and n/f), but working in publishing isn't necessarily a fast-track route to publication. Your book will still need to be the best on the slushpile and your co-workers are likely to feel uncomfortable if you approach them with your masterpiece!

I know - I worked in the industry for 10 years (not editorial) and kept my writing projects separate from my day job. I still don't inflict my novels on friends who work in publishing and these connections definitely haven't made the job of finding an agent any easier.

I'm aware that publishing isn't a fast-track to actually getting published, which is okay, since my interest in publishing is more of a fascination with the industry than a get-published-quick scheme (Mind you, I'm not saying you're accusing me of doing this :P ). I don't even force my novels on my friends (okay, a few), let alone poor, unfortunate coworkers.




Please feel free to pm me if you would like any info or links re. UK publishing career routes.

I will certainly do so if I ever find myself in the UK and choose to settle down there. Which isn't entirely unlikely--my college has a summer program to study abroad at Oriel College in Oxford, and I really, really want to go. :P

EDIT: Forgot to thank you all for your wonderful advice/input.

Namatu
03-24-2010, 11:51 PM
Internship is the route I've been exploring the most recently, as it seems like the most likely approach for a student.Internships are a great way to get your foot in the door. We like interns. :D Recruiting agencies - for the entry level you'd need - are unlikely to do you any good. Your profile says you're in Illinois. Chicago's got several publishing companies, and if you're not in that area, look to see if any universities near you have their own press.

Medievalist
03-25-2010, 12:06 AM
Definitely do an Internship; mostly they're in N.Y. San Francisco/Northern CA have a few, though mostly non-fiction. UC Presses often have them as well.

I know a lot of authors who used to be editors. An awful lot. And almost as many authors who used to edit.

Crinklish
03-25-2010, 12:20 AM
While it is certainly not necessary, you might look into one of the non-degree publishing programs in the U.S., like the Columbia (nee Radcliffe) Publishing Course, the Rice Publishing Program, or the U. of Denver Publishing Institute. The advantage of a course like one of these is that they give you a terrific overview of the business, introduce you to a lot of players (as well as your fellow students who'll also be rattling around NYC with you), and often help with post-course placement. The primary disadvantage is that they can be expensive.

Again, know that such a course (or a publishing degree from a school like Pace, etc.) is not required to get your foot in the door of a major house--but it might help give you a better sense of what you really want to do. [Full disclosure--I did the Radcliffe course...am now a senior editor in NY.]

Medievalist
03-25-2010, 12:50 AM
The Columbia program used to have some scholarship funds; I don't see that listed on the site currently, but it is worth asking about. I know a lot of the guest faculty -- it is very highly regarded.

Namatu
03-25-2010, 01:08 AM
There's also a Stanford program.

Gillhoughly
03-25-2010, 01:26 AM
I write and edit.

One of my editors at Penguin writes (infrequently).

My agent writes and sells. She has an agent.

No conflict for any of us.

If you're worried about subconsciously lifting ideas, don't be. For one thing, writers steal from each other all the time. S. Meyer pretty much lifted everything from L.J. Smith and now we're awash with decaff teen-angst vampires. (The sparkles are all her own, no other writer wants to take credit for them.)

You can check into the publishing job world, but as stated it is highly competitive.

Writing or publishing work?

Both are demanding. Having a steady job will pay the rent, while getting one's craft up to a level where it can make you money is much more iffy. You have to have a fire in the belly for it and grow a tough hide to deal with the rejection that's part of the job. If you go into publishing and get a turn reading the slush pile and STILL want to write, then you might have a future as an author. :D

Day jobs for writers?

One of my pals has her own little bookstore in the Big Thicket area in Texas and does 20 pages a day. She's sold more than 100 books in her career.

Another works in a bookstore, another runs his own publishing house. He's got less time to write.

Many writers have a non-glamorous bookstore job to keep a steady check and medical insurance coming in and to be around books. Another friend has books on the NYTimes list--it only took her 20 years to get there--still holds her corporate America job for the benefits.

The best advice I got was from Bob Asprin, who used to be a bean counter for IBM. "When you think you're ready to quit the day job and go full time as a writer make sure you have all your debts paid off, including all credit cards and your mortgage if you have one, and have at least a year's income in your savings account for emergencies."

As for handling other authors' MS, I've never had a problem. NYT bestsellers' words cross my desk, and I'm never tempted to channel them. Mostly because I'd take the same idea and do something totally different with it.

Go to this site, copy the essay and tape it over your desk (http://www.joebobbriggs.com/jbamerica/1991/jba910510.html), and read it every day. It changed how I view writing.

Fulk
03-25-2010, 04:36 AM
Internships are a great way to get your foot in the door. We like interns. :D Recruiting agencies - for the entry level you'd need - are unlikely to do you any good. Your profile says you're in Illinois. Chicago's got several publishing companies, and if you're not in that area, look to see if any universities near you have their own press.

I'm not in Chicago proper, but close enough to not make a whole lot of difference. I will definitely be looking into some companies in that area. I'm pretty sure my campus has a press--I set up an appointment with their Career Services center to find out whether or not there are internships available or any other sorts of opportunities.


Again, know that such a course (or a publishing degree from a school like Pace, etc.) is not required to get your foot in the door of a major house--but it might help give you a better sense of what you really want to do. [Full disclosure--I did the Radcliffe course...am now a senior editor in NY.]


The Columbia program used to have some scholarship funds; I don't see that listed on the site currently, but it is worth asking about. I know a lot of the guest faculty -- it is very highly regarded.

I wasn't familiar with these programs before, but I'll be sure to check them out. It does sound like a good way for me to get a better grasp on what exactly I would like to do.



Go to this site, copy the essay and tape it over your desk (http://www.joebobbriggs.com/jbamerica/1991/jba910510.html), and read it every day. It changed how I view writing.

Done and done. From what I hear of the slush pile, it sounds like a bigger motivator than a de-motivator--if only to say I wrote crap, but better crap than it. The size of the slush piles are another case entirely.

gothicangel
03-25-2010, 12:51 PM
I critique a lot and I've yet to 'steal' other people's work.

Libbie
03-25-2010, 06:34 PM
My friend Lisa Graff worked as a children's editor for several years while she was also getting her writing career off the ground. Her fourth MG novel will be out soon, and she's finally gone full-time with writing. She didn't seem to feel that there was any conflict of interest -- neither did her employer, nor her agent and editor! :)

Crinklish
03-26-2010, 07:55 AM
There's also a Stanford program.
The Stanford program wasn't really for entry-level people--it was for current publishing professionals looking to add to their knowledge; but it has closed down, at any rate.

shaldna
03-26-2010, 12:30 PM
I guess it depends on how you conduct yourself.

I mean, if you write childrens books, and you rep or edit childrens books then you had better be squeaky clean. If you are going to work and write in the same genre/age range then that perhaps could open you up to a conflict of interests.

On the other hand, it could also put you in a great position to really advance your writing career. Help you meet the right people, see what is selling and what is not etc.

Jamesaritchie
03-26-2010, 06:23 PM
The only conflict of interest is if you buy your own books by using a pseudonym, which has happened.

But you don't have to worry about lifting ideas from manuscripts anymore than you have to worry about lifting ideas from published books you read.

My opinion is that the best editors and the best agents are also very good writers.

Rhoda Nightingale
03-26-2010, 09:47 PM
Thanks for starting this thread, because I'm very interested in pursuing this career path, too.

EDIT: Also I'm very curious about the reading jobs related to publishing. I'd love to sit down and sift through a slush pile. I dunno why, but it just sounds like fun.