Publishing Trendsetter is a production of Market Partners International and Publishing Trends.

Book Jobs Not by the Book: Wei-Ling Woo, Assistant Editor & Social Media Associate at PEN American

Wei-Ling Woo is the assistant editor and social media associate at PEN American Center. Prior to PEN, she worked as an editor at the independent publisher Epigram Books in her native Singapore, where she worked on projects as disparate as translations and cookbooks, and, along with the rest of the publishing team, championed the work of local writers and artists. She received her BA in creative writing and art history from Columbia University, and is an alum of the international writers’ residency Sangam House.WLW

What was your first exposure to book business and what were the most important things you gained from it?

My first exposure came when I got my first job as an editor at Epigram Books, an independent publisher in Singapore. The local publishing scene in Singapore was—and is—still developing, and it was an exciting time to be working there. I gained a tremendous amount of knowledge and experience, learning from the ground-up; in some cases having to help establish processes and best practices that I think people working in U.S. publishing probably take for granted. Because we had such a small team, as editors we were intimately involved in the entire book publication process—from solicitation to negotiating contracts, editing, design, launch, and marketing. That gave me an incredible appreciation for how much hard work and dedication goes into the production of a book, for both the author and publishing team.

That said, it’s difficult for me to think of publishing solely in terms of “book business.” While there’s an undeniable commercial aspect to it, in my experience, it’s been more about supporting writers and their craft, and of cultivating relationships with the writers I work with. In Singapore, where the vast majority of authors lack representation by an agent, the editor often has to walk a tightrope between balancing the interests of the publisher and the interests of the author whose work they care about and are championing. Perhaps because I’m also a writer, I found myself tending to fall on the side of the author…

How do you explain your current job to people?

Currently I’m the assistant editor and social media associate at PEN American Center, the largest branch of PEN International, the world’s oldest literary and human rights organization. PEN American Center is also a member-based organization of 4,200 U.S. writers working to defend free expression, both in the United States and worldwide. As part of the Communications department, I help to edit and manage PEN’s literary blog, as well as coordinate the PEN Ten interview series, and our new Passages chapbook series, which features translated literature from countries where PEN has a particular advocacy or programming focus. Our first issue featured writers and artists from Africa, and next year we’ll be focusing on literature from China and Brazil, among other countries. Read More »

Top 5 Publishing News Stories 11/16-11/20

number_5_orangeEvery week we recommend 5 publishing news stories that young book professionals should read to feel more connected to what’s going on in the industry. There are only 5, so even if you weren’t able to read a thing all week, these should help keep you in the know.

The winners of the National Book Awards were announced on Wednesday.

Taylor Swift teamed up with Scholastic to donate 25,000 books to NYC schools.

The Harry Potter audiobooks are now available on Audible.

The Pope announced that he will publish his first children’s book with Chicago religious publisher Loyola Press.

The Anderson family’s bid for shares in Books-A-Million received extra backing from an advisory firm.

The 10th Annual 5 Under 35 National Book Award Ceremony

Last night was a celebration on many counts. First, it was the National Book Foundation’s annual 5 Under 35 event, honoring 5 novelists under the age of 35 to “highlight the work of the next generation of fiction writers.” Second, it was the 5 Under 35 award’s tenth year.  Third, LeVar Burton was the host! It was a literary-studded affair, from the authors being awarded,  to the the previous 5 Under 35 winners who nominated this year’s honorees, the attendees, and even the bartender and emcee, Rosie Schaap and Ben Greenman, respectively. The drinks were gin martinis, the sandwiches were grilled cheeses, and the room was full of excited literary folks.

After Leslie Shipman and Benjamin Samuels introduced the event and gave all of the proper thank yous and hellos, Burton took the stage. He joked, “You would have to pay people to get this many book lovers in one room in LA.” The audience laughed, most likely thankful to think that in some small way, LeVar Burton was telling us that we were all cool for coming out to this event on our own. Burton gave an impassioned speech about his mother, Irma Jean, who he described as being short, and “a buck thirty” but that he was still afraid of her. He went on to say that every time he gets to speak to a room full of people he says his mother’s name because without her, he would not have grown to love stories, and that his love of stories shaped his whole life, landing him his famous roles as Kunta Kinte in Roots, Geordi LaForge in Star Trek, and of course, his beloved role of the host of Reading Rainbow. Before bringing the emcee onto the stage, he delighted the audience by saying, “You can go anywhere in the world in your imagination.”

Illustration of LeVar Burton by Last Night's Reading

Illustration of LeVar Burton by Last Night’s Reading

Next, emcee Ben Greenman, author of The Slippage, and co-writer of Questlove’s Mo’ Meta Blues, came up to introduce the “selectors” of this year’s nominees, as he called them.

This year’s winners were:

  • Colin Barrett, author of Young Skins (Black Cat/Grove Atlantic, 2015), selected by Paul Yoon
  • Angela Flournoy, author of The Turner House (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015), selected by ZZ Packer
  • Megan Kruse, author of Call Me Home (Hawthorne Books, 2015), selected by Phil Klay
  • Tracy O’Neill, author of Hopeful (Ig Publishing, 2015), selected by Fiona Maazel
  • Azareen Van Der Vliet Oloomi, author of Fra Keeler (Dorothy, a Publishing Project, 2012), selected by Dinaw Mengestu

After each author was introduced by their “selector,” Greenman asked this year’s winners a series of questions ranging from what the impulse for their books were to if they knew what the last work of their book was. One of the most heartening moments was when the authors were asked what they’d be doing if they weren’t writing. Kruse said, “Psychology? I don’t know, something with people,” while Barrett said “I was working as quality control at Vodaphone, I might be regional manager by now!”  Later an audience member asked what it felt like to be on that stage, considering how far they’ve come, and Van Der Vliet Oloomi confessed that sometimes she missed those little jobs she had before her book came out. Barrett admitted, “I wish it made it easier. It took me 9 months to write a short story after finishing [Young Skins]. It was terrible.”

More LeVar Burton!

More LeVar Burton!

Another audience question brought out interesting comments when he asked what the best or worst question they’d all received at a reading was. Flournoy said, “The worst questions are comments,” which got a knowing laugh from the room. Van Der Vliet Oloomi replied that the best question she ever got was from a 12 year old girl who asked her if “she was feeling inspired lately.” Read More »

Top 5 Publishing News Stories 11/9-11/13

number_5_orangeEvery week we recommend 5 publishing news stories that young book professionals should read to feel more connected to what’s going on in the industry. There are only 5, so even if you weren’t able to read a thing all week, these should help keep you in the know.

Barnes & Noble announced plans for a new Nook Audiobooks app and website.

Amazon will open an office in downtown Chicago.

PEN International named its first female president, Jennifer Clement.

A new museum dedicated to American writers will open in 2017 in Chicago.

Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle blog, Goop, will soon have its own imprint through Grand Central.

A Look Across the Pond: Breaking into Publishing in the UK

On Publishing Trendsetter, we try to tell you all kinds of stories about the many ways of getting into publishing, the many different ways one can get into publishing, and the different types of jobs one can get, and insight into publishing epicenters. It’s a fun way to spread our love of the industry! So you can imagine our delight when we discovered a publishing blog written by a young woman in the UK called Pathway to Publishing. We’ve had a great time reading her blog, and jumped at the chance to be able to chat with her about her blog and personal journey into publishing. So it’s our pleasure to introduce you to Gemma Leigh.

Gemma Leigh is an editorial assistant at Palgrave Macmillan and works on their economics list. She studied English literature at the University of Hertfordshire and recently graduated with first class honors. Whilst studying for her degree she developed an interest in academic publishing and went on to complete numerous internships in this area. Since graduating and finding her job at Palgrave, Gemma has set up a blog dedicated to the publishing industry which provides help and advice for publishing hopefuls at Pathway to Publishing.

Just for frame of reference, give us a quick rundown of the UK education system. Blog picture

Firstly I apologise for not being more clued-up on the US education system! In the UK, we complete our GCSEs when we’re around 16 and study for our A-levels between 16 and 18. From there we go onto university, with our A-level results determining what universities we can get into. I think GCSEs would be the equivalent of your High School Graduation Diploma, and A-levels the equivalent of your College Entrance Examination Board (CEEB) tests.

So you started out in a totally different career path before deciding you wanted to work in publishing. What made you decide that publishing was the direction for you? Was it difficult to make that jump?

Yes, that’s right. Despite loving English literature at school, enjoying reading and having an interest in language and grammar, a career in publishing never actually crossed my mind. I suppose I just thought it was another one of those extremely competitive industries that would be impossible to get into. So I left school unsure whether I wanted to go to university and I ended up working in an accountancy practice for two years. After a while I realised my heart really wasn’t in the job. I never looked forward to going to work in the morning, and after hitting a particularly low point in my life, I decided it was time to make a change and focus on something I actually enjoyed.

This led me to begin researching a career in publishing. After reading a couple of books on the industry* and carrying out some internet research, I realised that this might just be a career route I’d enjoy. I quickly became determined to realise my new goal and find an editorial position in publishing. As the majority of entry-level publishing jobs in the UK require a degree, I chose to leave my job and study English literature at university. I completed numerous internships in academic publishing whilst studying for my degree and on graduation I secured my first entry-level job as an editorial assistant at Palgrave. So being brave and taking a risk really paid off for me. I’m now pursuing a career I actually enjoy. And that’s a great feeling.

To answer your last question, yes, I was worried about making the jump into a completely different industry. I thought having ‘accounts assistant’ on my CV would make it difficult when I was applying for publishing jobs after university, but I found that the internships I’d completed really worked in my favour. It just shows that career changes are not impossible!

*By far the most useful book I’ve come across is How to Get a Job in Publishing by Alison Baverstock, Susannah Bowen and Steve Carey.

How does your previous professional experience inform your current job at Palgrave?

I think any experience in an office environment quickly prepares you for the real world of work. My two years in an accountancy practice taught me how to speak to clients, how to build good working relationships with colleagues, and how to organise my time and prioritise my workload. Every one of those lessons is relevant for me now in publishing. I’m confident enough to ask questions when unsure, to speak to my manager when the workload is getting on top of me, and to develop my own working practices which make me more organised and productive. If anything, I’m extremely grateful for those two years because they helped prepare me for my job at Palgrave – they were definitely not a waste!

What’s it like to find a publishing job in the UK? I feel like the general stereotype in the US, particularly New York, is that you intern like crazy during/after college and then just apply for every single entry level job you can and then pray for a miracle. Is it similar there?

It’s a very similar story here in the UK unfortunately. There’s a lot of emphasis on work experience and internships, the majority of which are unpaid. As I’m sure is the case with other industries, it’s difficult to find a job in publishing without some kind of previous experience.

I completed a few internships at small academic publishing houses whilst studying for my degree. Although they were unpaid, I personally found the experience invaluable; the internships made me more passionate about the industry, gave me some important contacts, and provided me with lots of great experience to list on my CV. I think it’s important to use internships to your advantage: don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions, be willing to help with anything that comes up and, more importantly, stay in touch with the publishing professionals you meet along the way – networking brings opportunities!

I actually write more about how I secured my first job in publishing in this blog post. Read More »

Top 5 Publishing News Stories 11/2-11/6

number_5_orangeEvery week we recommend 5 publishing news stories that young book professionals should read to feel more connected to what’s going on in the industry. There are only 5, so even if you weren’t able to read a thing all week, these should help keep you in the know.

The American Civil Liberties Union and two New Orleans bookstores have filed a lawsuit over a bill that requires bookstores to verify the ages of their customers.

Four former Amazon delivery drivers are suing the company for depriving them of wages, benefits, and legal protections.

In bookstore news, Greenlight Bookstore announced the opening of its second Brooklyn bookstore and Amazon opened its first brick-and-mortar store in Seattle.

Publishing Triangle launched a new literary prize called the Publishing Triangle award for Trans and Gender-Variant Literature.

The National Geographic Society had its biggest reduction in its history, laying off about 180 of its employees.

Where Are They Now? Checking in on Elisabeth Watson

Last week, we took a peek at what Kimberly Lew‘s life is like after Publishing Trendsetter. This week we check in on the woman who started it all, Elisabeth Watson. Publishing Trendsetter was Elisabeth’s idea that came to fruition in May 2011, and she has since then taken other, exciting paths in publishing. Read on to find out what’s new with Elisabeth and what she’s learned on her publishing journey thus far.
Elisabeth Watson

Describe your current job:

I’m currently a book scout, working for a mid-size literary scouting firm. I just started this new job about a month ago, after my previous two years of selling Subsidiary Rights for the Scribner and Touchstone imprints at Simon & Schuster. There are several places you can read more about scouting both on Trendsetter and Publishing Trends, but basically, my company works for about a dozen foreign publishers, “scouting out” books that are going to be published in the US that our clients might want to license. My primary responsibilities are to form and maintain strong relationships with US publishers and agents who can direct me toward what exciting titles are on the horizon, and to read a LOT, and to advise clients on what titles I do or do not think they should acquire, based both on my opinion as a reader, and my knowledge of their list and their particular market.

How have you applied what you learned from MPI/Publishing Trends/Publishing Trendsetter in your new position?

Let me count the ways! First of all, Publishing Trends was responsible for my in-depth introduction to the lesser-known book-biz jobs–like Subrights and Scouting–that I’ve gone on to hold since leaving PT/MPI. Furthermore, my work researching and writing about international book business for Publishing Trends was directly responsible for my being equipped with the knowledge of global publishing that helped me get both jobs I’ve had since leaving PT. Perhaps even more importantly than my international business knowledge, though, are the connections I made while working for PT, and what I learned about making and maintaining connections in the industry. All my work at PT, MPI, and Trendsetter taught me that networking doesn’t have to be a bitter medicine. The wonderful Market Partners themselves modeled for me what it looks like to have a voracious and omnivorous curiosity about book business, and that listening to new people with that genuine curiosity can be a real joy and also the foundation of a real and lasting connection that can be mutually beneficial for you and your new acquaintance.

What have you learned since leaving?

I’ve learned that the kind of global, wide-ranging knowledge I had a chance to cultivate while at MPI is a real luxury for most people in publishing, and I’ve learned how easy it is to get sucked into one’s own little corner of book business. It takes time and effort to cultivate a wider knowledge. I’ve also picked up on some of the different skills required for doing well in a corporate environment (as opposed to a small business environment). In a corporate environment, one’s ability to proactively connect with one’s smaller “tribe” is crucial to being able to thrive. And, a complete surprise to me, I learned that I LOVE selling and negotiating, and am good at it. I would never have guessed it, but it was key to helping me do well in my previous Subrights job, and turns out to be useful in plenty of other parts of life as well.

What advice would you give someone trying to break into the industry?

My advice now remains largely the same to what I would have given someone 2 years ago. Connect with as many different kinds of people in publishing as you can figure out how to. This can mean engaging thoughtfully and frequently with industry blog writers, or getting to know a local bookseller. Working in a bookstore is an excellent thing to have on your resume, if you’re lucky enough to have a local place that will hire you. Really immersing yourself in what’s happening in industry news by reading Publishing Trendsetter, Publishing Trends, Publisher’s Lunch, Publishers Weekly, and other news blogs will give you a really great foundation. Engaging with books as a writer, contributing to blogs as a reviewer or other kind of writer is also a great way to establish yourself as someone who’s paying attention to the world of books.

Also, if you’re working another job right now that’s NOT in book business, be creatively thinking about what job responsibilities are marketable for job openings in book business also. There are more commonalities than you might think: anything related to sales, publicity, marketing, even office management–these are all skills publishers and others in book business need, and, paired with a knowledge of and enthusiasm for books, these skills can help you move into book business, too. Read More »

Top 5 Publishing News Stories 10/26-10/30

number_5_orangeEvery week we recommend 5 publishing news stories that young book professionals should read to feel more connected to what’s going on in the industry. There are only 5, so even if you weren’t able to read a thing all week, these should help keep you in the know.

IndieBound is implementing a direct-to-consumer purchase option to their website.

HarperCollins has purchased an ebook deals newsletter, The MidList.

The company spun off from Barnes & Noble, Barnes & Noble Education, is “undervalued” according to Barron’s.

German ebook subscription service Blloon will reportedly announce today that they’re shutting down.

Romance writer Laura Harner has been outed as a plagarist.

Where Are They Now? Checking In On Kimberly Lew

Did you know this past May, Publishing Trendsetter turned 4? It’s an exciting milestone for us here at Trendsetter, and we thought it was time to take a look back to two of the editors who were there from the beginning. It’s been a little over a year now since Kimberly Lew has been a Trendsetter Editor, but she is very missed in this space. This week, we’ll be checking in on what’s new with Kim, and next week we’ll hear from Elisabeth Watson, the creator and former fearless leader of Publishing Trendsetter.

Kim Lew

Photo courtesy of

Describe your current job.

My current position is Marketing Coordinator for St. Martin’s Press. I assist the Marketing EVP, Jeff Dodes— funny story, I interviewed Jeff for a Publishing Trends story a couple of years ago when I had only been working with Market Partners for a few years and Jeff had only recently started working at St. Martin’s. I remembered that he gave me lots of good quotes and interesting things to think about from his experience previously working in the music business, so when I saw in the job listing that this position reported to him, I knew this would be a great opportunity. I’ve also recently started taking on my own titles to market (my first title came out this month– Cats on the Job by Lisa Rogak!) and also working on some other marketing-related projects.

How have you applied what you learned from MPI/Publishing Trends/Publishing Trendsetter in your new position?

At MPI/Publishing Trends/Publishing Trendsetter, there were a lot of professional situations where I had to tackle challenges knowing very little about the landscape going in– from writing articles to helping with consulting projects about aspects of the industry I was previously unfamiliar with. I learned how to ask the right questions and roll with the punches, and I think learning a journalistic approach to the workplace has served me really well navigating a new and big company. Also, in general, I have gotten a great overview of the publishing industry from the wealth of knowledge the partners provided, and that information is invaluable.

What have you learned since leaving?

Having worked for small companies my whole career before this job, it took a little adjusting to get used to corporate life. I was very used to being scrappy in situations and making do with very little, and it’s been very different having a lot of resources and fellow employees to get tasks done. I actually love it, but I’ve also seen that in big companies, your progress in your career is what you make of it.

What advice would you give someone trying to break into the industry?

Real talk: breaking in can be really, really hard. It took me 6 years to break into a major publishing house, after jobs where I did a significant amount of good, professional work. I’ve also interviewed with just about every publisher under the sun. The truth is that you just have to go where the opportunities are and learn as much as you can, then move on. Every step on your path will be a learning experience and you just have to take advantage of what you’re given. If you really want to work for a house, you can get in. You just have to see if it’s what you want, and it might be a little bit of a roundabout way to get there.

What has changed in the industry since you started working in it?

I think the industry is constantly changing, and as a marketer, there’s a lot of interesting free tools you can use now to help try to promote and better position your books. Whether or not it moves the needle is another question, but there are authors who build strong platforms with very little, and that’s always exciting to be a part of.

What has surprised you the most in your publishing journey?

I don’t know if anything has really surprised me. I think there are a lot of ups and downs, but it can be incredibly rewarding. Publishing people tend to be great people– smart, driven, passionate– and I feel lucky to be among them.

Top 5 Publishing News Stories 10/19-10/23

number_5_orangeEvery week we recommend 5 publishing news stories that young book professionals should read to feel more connected to what’s going on in the industry. There are only 5, so even if you weren’t able to read a thing all week, these should help keep you in the know.

The Publishers Weekly annual publishing survey revealed that employees are getting younger and houses still lack diversity, among other things.

An Amazon SVP posted a statement claiming that the New York Times didn’t fact check the article about the company’s work culture.

Publishers Weekly, Combined Book Exhibit, and PubMatch are partnering to organize the Havana International Book Fair, a conference for members of both the American and Cuban publishing industry.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt launched Curious World, a subscription-based website and app for children.

Amazon also filed a lawsuit against four websites for selling reviews to its marketplace sellers.