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Fifty Things I’d Tell My 22-year-old Self If I Went into Publishing Today…

There is a lot that I don’t know about my profession and roles I haven’t had. BUT never underestimate a good observer. If I had to do it over, I would likely do everything the same way–with a few revisions.

So you’ve chosen publishing. Applaud yourself for this excellent decision (It’s way less depressing than academia. Sorry, Mom).

Resign yourself to being financially destitute but in a profession where you can read, which enriches the soul.

Most people in publishing love books, so you will find kindred spirits on every floor.

You will find wretched humans, too. They are either wounded or giddy about being wretched. They are not worth tears (definitely alcohol).

Wear a suit (or close) during an interview. Even though publishing houses can be casual, save it for Friday. There’s always the chance you’ll be called in for an interview at the last minute and you’re wearing your favorite jeans (I was so embarrassed).

Watch the parade of engagements, marriages, pregnancies. Maybe it’ll be you someday or maybe not. Either way, never miss free cake and champagne.

Twitter! Instagram! Okay, I’m not sure what to say about it. The boundaries are not clear. Just be smart in your usage. Not every picture should be of you in a bar, holding mega-drinks.

Oh, and if you feel the urge to cryptically diss your boss/company/author on social media, don’t do it. Your followers will want more information, it might get back to the wrong person, and once the wine wears off, you will regret it.

No matter how comfortable you feel communicating, keep a degree of formality in your emails to people, especially those you don’t know well and especially those above you in the org chart. Use Dear So-and-So or even (ugh) Hi, So-and-So, etc… Sign off using your name.

The longer the email, the more likely people won’t read it. Be succinct, but not too succinct.

And if the person is in the office and it’s a quick question, go over and interact with them, unless that colleague is a total misanthrope (that exists).

Figure out early on if you like to house-hop or stay in one (or two) places. Ambition comes in various forms.

Within the publishing realm, consider what you love most: editing itself, marketing, writing, working with authors and agents, networking across all landscapes. Specialize or generalize. The world is yours.

You may have a passion that isn’t your exact job in publishing. That’s okay. If your job abuts your passion (now there’s a book title), it can work out pretty well. The key is not showing that your Big Dream is a real priority–unless you have an imminent exit strategy. In life, you can excel at more than one thing. You can dream big and still be happy in your job (and do well in it). Human beings are complex!

Everything changes. Your office won’t be the same in five years or five years after that — just like high school.

You have special talents, but you can be replaced before the body is cold.

That doesn’t mean you need to be paranoid. But if you’re like me, you worry. Work with the paranoia and do an honest assessment of your skills, what else is out there, and how you will land on your feet.

Communicate with those at your level. It is useful to know how work is divvied up, how other managers operate, and discuss your career trajectory. A support network will be a source of strength.

There is true joy to helping a writer through her story.

Say yes to everything your manager asks (obviously, not theft or murder). It’s very simple. Managers need a lot of stuff done. Do stuff. Better yet, develop psychic powers to know what your manager will need next.

“Be yourself” isn’t always helpful as a motto. If you work for someone whose personality doesn’t mesh with yourself, learn to co-exist (where you appease your boss, who may not be your boss after five years). It will help you get along with anyone.

A positive attitude–to me–is more valuable than intellect, especially if consistent.

Pulling an all-nighter to present your 100-page mostly opinion-based report is just silly. Having facts and doing careful research will ensure a good night’s sleep.

Work hard to get over any fear of public speaking, even if you pride yourself on being The Quiet One. Practice really helps. If you learn to excel at this, your company will rely on you more and this will result in exciting opportunities.

Gossip is a guilty pleasure but it can also be a label that you never shed in the office.

If you can take the occasional work-at-home day, do it! Burnout is real.

Know when to leave the your boss’s office. Lingering to tell that funny story may be annoying (or funny, it depends). It’s difficult to strike the balance between avoiding your boss and overstaying. Somewhere in the middle is good.

You can work very hard all the time, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you will go far. Sometimes, the opposite is true. Working on five books at once means that you’re the girl who works on five books at once (and tells everyone about working on five books at once). The person next to you might be working on six along with networking like a fiend. Finding a new project or getting involved in another way can be more impressive than volume. That said, busting your butt is essential for this job.

Not everyone will like you and that’s a statistical fact. Often, it’s not personal. If it is, don’t sweat it. You have work to do.

Read everything.

There are ways to read everything without reading everything. Discover your ideal reading speeds, such as: Speed 1–author’s book, you should pay attention Speed 2–synopsis because you can always read it later. Speed 3–slush–if good, will automatically slow to Speed 1. Speed 4–that book everyone is talking about and you have to discuss it in a meeting. First three chapters, middle and last chapter okay. Enough so that you have a couple of good points.

Resentment of someone else’s success is a waste of time. Even if physically painful, congratulate that person. You’ll have to contort yourself into many unnatural states to praise others or their concepts. You’ll have your own moments of triumph.

Only apologize once per screw-up. Try not to screw up, but trying too hard might make you screw up. Failure is inevitable. Just stay in your workspace and read as this is Ground Zero for earning your boss’s love.

Your notes to authors should have an even, professional tone (though with praise, writers often appreciate hearts, smiley faces, and exclamation points)

Avoid starting sentences with “I think,” especially with revision letters or reader reports to your manager. We already know that this whole game is subjective.

Don’t casually drop S or F bombs in meetings until you’ve been with the company at least ten years or your role is Queen of Publishing. There are exceptions, like when you spill coffee on yourself or if the subject matter involves profanity. Then curse to your heart’s content.

Authors can see through criticism sandwiched between compliments. Consider letting both stand alone. You can be critical and diplomatic at the same time.

This is terribly ageist but some writers may resent a younger editor (even if you’re very, very qualified and not much younger). Find a way to win her over.

If you feel depressed about the career you have chosen, hang in there. Joy comes and goes in phases–if you’re lucky. Something exciting will come along and recharge your batteries. But if you feel hopeless about your future, find creative ways to grow within your job. Or change jobs.

Observe but don’t get involved in Twitter wars unless you know all the facts for both sides and understand the risk of engagement.

Being the first one in and the last one out might be expected. Sometimes, you’ll have a boss who wants you to have normal working hours but still get all the work done. Either way, flexibility is awesome.

Plan ahead for technical difficulties with your PowerPoint presentation. Old school works just as well–or even better if you can be charming.

The printer and/or copy machine will break down. Learn to tear both machines apart.

Read submissions within a reasonable amount of time. Publishing houses are busy, but writers support them and they have lives, too. If someone asks you the status of a manuscript after a few months, get to it ASAP. Don’t be the black hole where submissions go to die.

During meetings, if you’re one to fidget, sit next to the most intimidating person in the room. You’ll stop fidgeting because you’re too scared to move.

We all have our sketchy attendance periods, but reliability is a gift from the gods. Just show up.

Don’t hesitate to ask about opportunities for promotion during your performance review. It shows you want a promotion. Not everyone does.

Knowing some basic number crunching is advised.

Stay in touch with the friends who leave the company. You will run into them again.

Keep an ongoing list of your accomplishments. You will be amazed by how much you do, and it’s a handy list to give your manager.

When everything is falling apart (landmarks, governments, personal life, the flu), working on a book is excellent therapy.

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8 thoughts on “Fifty Things I’d Tell My 22-year-old Self If I Went into Publishing Today…”

  1. I laughed about the ‘knowing how to fix the copier machine’ ! I worked for a Fortune 500 company – that no longer exists it was swallowed up in the ’90’s acquisitions – and although my job description and responsibilities had NOTHING to do with trouble shooting the copier machine (there was a whole in-house department with trained techs that handled that) I was not afraid of that copier machine! I was able to 9 times out of 10 get the ‘dang thang’ working again in a pinch. When I left, for a better opportunity, my cubicle-mates didn’t really lament the loss of my cheering personality, my propensity to bring in home baked cookies (Yes! I bake when under stress!) or my glib comments that usually got a laugh. No, they were sadden to think that now when the copier machine broke down they would have to call Repro- Graphics and put in a service call and wait for a tech! Still today, after all these years, I think sometimes the only reason why my husband married me is for my mechanical ability. He is the only guy I know who will stand quietly and wait while I put snow chains on the car 🙂

    1. It’s funny you say this, Janna, because I have similar skills, though I’m not known for them. No one knows that I can operate a shredder, copy machine, and printer. I’ll bet you have saved the day often. Today, I fixed our printer because the cat decided to push every paper back inside and into the fragile cartridge section. What would people do without us to keep things running!?

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