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Book Jobs Not by the Book: Lena Valencia, Managing Editor at One Story

Lena Valencia is the managing editor of One Story. She has held positions at A Public Space and BOMB Magazine, and for three years hosted the HiFi Reading Series in Manhattan. Her writing has appeared in JoylandBOMBThe Masters Review, and elsewhere. She received her MFA in Fiction from The New School. You can find her on Twitter at @lenavee.

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

I worked at the independent bookstore Powerhouse Arena for four years, first as an events coordinator and then as a buyer. I was in my early 20s and my knowledge of publishing was basically this: writer writes book, writer publishes book, people buy book. It wasn’t until I was working at the bookstore and began working with sales reps and publicists and meeting editors and agents at book launches that I began to understand all the moving parts of the publishing process. Most importantly, I think, I learned that even if your book is buzzed-about and you have a rock star publicity team, people won’t necessarily buy it. Doing returns—sending books we didn’t sell back to the publisher’s warehouse—was one of the not-so-great parts of working in book retail. I’m a writer myself, so imagining how much work went into each of the titles I was boxing up because no one wanted them was upsetting.

That being said, I also was exposed to NYC’s wonderful, supportive literary community. There’s really nothing like the thrill of a packed bookstore for an author’s debut book.

How do you explain your current job to people?

I tell them I wear many hats, or, if I want to sound fancy, I say I work as a liaison between editorial and production, which makes it sound like we have dozens of people working on an issue of the magazine when it is really just a handful of dedicated, talented individuals. Basically, I’m responsible for the magazine’s layout and for sending the issues off to the printer. I also assign work from our slush pile to our volunteer readers, assist the publisher with grants, help out with our educational programming, manage the interns, and sometimes do social media.

In what ways did your previous jobs or internships prepare you for what you do here?

I’ve worked at two wonderful magazines—BOMB and A Public Space. I started working at BOMB as an intern when I was straight out of college. Part of my job as an intern was to read all the literary magazines that we had subscriptions to and flag the stories that I thought were interesting, so that the senior editor could solicit the authors. I think it was reading all those journals that really taught me what a literary magazine was. One story that I found—in A Public Space, actually—was called “Cattle Haul,” by a writer named Jesmyn Ward. It was her first publication. I flagged it and brought it to the attention of Mónica de la Torre, who was the senior editor at the time. BOMB ended up publishing a excerpt from her first book, Where the Line Bleeds. I was over the moon when she won her first National Book Award.

At A Public Space I learned some of the more practical aspects of working at a magazine: layout, typesetting, proofreading, etc. I also got to work closely with some amazing editors: Brigid Hughes and Jonathan Lee. That allowed me to see how a great editor can transform a story without leaving a trace.

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

I knew a fair amount about the book industry coming in, but working at One Story has taught me about the persistence that’s required of writers who want to publish a book. Many OS authors have submitted to One Story several times over as many years before getting an acceptance from us (we publish each author only once). We keep in touch with our authors and celebrate their first published books at our annual Literary Debutante Ball—this can happen years after they publish a story with us. I think there’s an illusion that “success” comes quickly and effortlessly when really it takes time, work, and a lot of rejection to get a book into the world.

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