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.
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