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Book Jobs Not by the Book: Chelsea Langford, Editorial Assistant at Kirkus

Chelsea_LangfordChelsea Langford grew up in Danbury, Conn., before moving to New York to attend NYU. She graduated Magna Cum Laude with a degree in English and creative writing. She’s interned at a literary agency, a literary magazine, and at HarperCollins Publishers. Currently, she’s the editorial assistant at Kirkus Reviews, where she also writes feature articles.

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

My first exposure to the book business was through an internship with Brick House Literary Agents the summer after my freshman year at NYU. I wanted a book-related internship so badly that I emailed pretty much every agency in the city asking if they were in need of an intern. Luckily, the persistence paid off! I had heard the publishing industry is hard to break in to, and this experience confirmed it for me. I learned how difficult it is for writers to get represented—the pile of submissions each day was daunting, and so few stuck out from the masses. The greatest feeling, though, was finding a manuscript that did have that special something. Working at the agency was invaluable, as I learned quickly the importance of presentation, thoroughness, and, most of all, a well-executed story. These things are just as important to understand for those in the book business as they are for writers.

How do you explain your current job to people?

I usually start off with, “I work for a book review company.” I’m not sure this is the best way of explaining things, as it usually prompts multiple questions. Is my job related to publishing? What exactly is a book review? How are reviews used? Do I write the reviews myself? What does an editorial assistant do for a book review magazine? The questions are usually confirmation that my job is interesting, which is what drew me to working for Kirkus in the first place. Sometimes I’m super vague and just say that I work with books—which is true, as I’m surrounded by new books every day. And I like saying it, since working with books has always been my goal. I never defined what that would mean for me exactly, and I think it’s important to keep an open mind. Wanting to work with books can lead to so many things.

What is the biggest challenge in your current job? In what ways did your previous jobs or internships prepare you for what you do here?

Kirkus is a fairly small operation, so the biggest challenge is balancing everything. A big part of the job is getting all materials ready for the print magazine, but Kirkus’ website and digital presence require just as much attention. There are Tweets to post, web-only columns to be edited, photos to be found and resized, and the list goes on! What’s great about working for a smaller company is that I get to wear many hats. I’m the editorial assistant for the magazine, but I also edit the blogs section of the Kirkus website. I feel very lucky that I’m able to do all of this, but it does require keeping organized and to be mentally in five places at once. I’ve never had such a variety of responsibilities before, but my previous internships prepared me well. When you’re an intern, you never know what you’re going to be asked to do! You might be proofreading a manuscript one minute and rushing to deliver a very important package the next. Learning how to prioritize has been immensely helpful. I learned the importance of keeping myself calm and level-headed. While interning, I used to have days where I’d be thinking “Oh, crap. I’m going to mess this up. I’m going to get fired. Can you even be fired as an intern? Agh!” That level of freak-out is never really necessary. Just be confident that you’ll figure it all out.

What value has this job brought to the way you think about book business as a whole and your own relationship to books?

This job has taught me how multifaceted the book business is. Although my job mainly revolves around editorial work, I’m in constant contact with book publicists. I’ve also gotten to learn a lot about marketing and the importance of social media. Kirkus does contests and giveaways on our website, and we promote blog posts, feature articles and weekly book lists on Facebook and Twitter. I’ve learned how much goes in to generating book buzz and how many platforms are used to reach readers. It’s not enough just to be a book review publication anymore, nor is it just enough for publishers to publish a book, or for writers to simply write their novels. You have to be interacting with potential readers and book lovers via multiple mediums, essentially 24 hours a day. There’s a wide range of books being published monthly and a wide range of people that read these books. You have to cater to a specific subset of reader, depending on what book you’re talking about. I manage bloggers who write about picture books specifically, or graphic novels, or romance, and each blogger has his/her own unique audience. We don’t have a Kirkus audience in general; people come to us looking for something in particular. Hopefully, we get readers to pick up something outside of their norm, too!

This leads me to my own relationship with books: I’ve always loved them, but my appreciation for them has grown. The array of stories and genres and the incredible depth of imagination out there can make you dizzy; but it’s the best feeling ever! I’ve picked up books by authors I never would have come across in the past. I now get excited over fantastic illustrations in children’s books and—thanks to the Kirkus community—I’m now completely cool with the fact that I read YA as an adult. Overall, I’ve learned that the book world is much bigger and connected than I originally imagined.

How are publications dedicated to book reviews integral to the book business as it is now and as it will continue to develop?

Kirkus is turning 80 this year, which is a great example of how long book reviews have been a part of publishing. Publishers rely on reviews for marketing and promotional materials, and the point of it all is to get good books into readers’ hands. Reviews are especially important for newer authors. A positive blurb from a book review publication might be read by someone who then decides to take a chance on the book—which is why we try to review as many books from small and independent publishers as we do books from the Big Six. It’s important to have well-cultivated opinions of books out there, so curious readers can feel like they have a trusted guide in their search for new titles. Reviews are only a jumping-off point; readers will make their own choices on what they’d like to read. With a mind-boggling number of books to choose from, though, it’s good to have a place to start. There will probably be hundreds of dystopian YA novels published in the next year, for instance, so how do you find the diamond in the rough?

Kirkus has its print magazine, but we’re always trying to think of new ways to grow our presence on the Internet. That’s where readers are talking. That’s where the majority of readers go to search for new books. The Kirkus review hasn’t changed, but how we get those reviews to readers is evolving. The most important thing is to remember how many different types of readers there are. Diversifying content and expanding the amount and genres of books we review keeps us in closer contact with readers. Before I started this job, I wasn’t nearly as aware of how many online book communities there are. The biggest downside of devouring all of this book news, though, is that I’ll never be able to conquer my ever-growing reading list.

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