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6 Lessons Learned After My First Year in Publishing

Laura Laffoon


This post launches Laura Laffoon‘s tenure as a regular columnist for Trendsetter. It’s great to have a Big Six editorial perspective on board, especially since we spend so much time on less iconic career paths ’round here. This piece is a charming long-form spin on one of Trendsetter’s first pieces, the “Eight-Word Memoir of My First Year in Publishing,” and it’s full of very practical wisdom that’s applicable even if you’re not in Editorial.



In less than two weeks, I’ll be celebrating my first anniversary at my publishing job. On my very first day, I was given a huge binder and told “this is everything you need to know about being an Editorial Assistant.”

Um. I know I got into this business because I love reading, but reading that sucker showed me that it was possible I was in way over my head. All it did was overwhelm me. (Page one: “Expect there to be about an eight month learning curve…” Yikes. But true!)

So here are six major things you should know that you won’t find in any new employee packages. But they’re important nonetheless. (Disclaimer: Obviously, these are going to vary imprint to imprint, house to house, genre to genre. Take it with a grain of salt, kiddos.)

The Super Unofficial Guide to the Publishing World through the Eyes of a Newbie EA:

1. Not all authors are created equally. 

The dream author is someone who is ecstatic about seeing their darling manuscript being published. They respond to emails and phone calls quickly. They love all the covers comps you show them. They not only meet their deadlines, they beat them. But unfortunately, this is not the norm. Appreciate them if you DO get this type of author. They are wonderful. Send them cookies.

2. Platform is everything.

Granted this is more the case for nonfiction than for fiction, but even if it’s a wonderful, beautifully-written, heartbreaking story, yet no one knows who the author is: they have five followers on Twitter and no plans to set up a speaking schedule, it’s going to be a hard sell to the Acquisitions Committee… Good luck with that.

3. There’s a difference between galley, cover, flap, catalog, and fact sheet copy.

I had no idea. Each book being published gets a ton written about it/for it, sometimes even before a manuscript even touches a real-live person’s hands. So while the copy is similar, each has a different audience (readers, various company departments, book sellers, etc.) and thus all must be adjusted for such eyes.

4. Don’t take it personally when others don’t like your second reads.

When you have other people read a proposal you’ve fallen in love with, don’t hold it against them and get really defensive if they don’t like it as much as you do. That makes for some really uncomfortable meetings. Everyone has different tastes. And people might avoid second reading for you again, which helps no one.

5. Everyone has a story.

When strangers find out you’re in the book publishing world, nine times out of ten they’ll be writing a book or they know someone who is writing a book. And they’ll suddenly think you’re the answer to everything. Even if you’re a lowly Editorial Assistant, who has little to no power in acquisitions matters.

6. Make friends with at least one person in each department.

Believe me. When you have a crash project or a fire to suddenly put out, you’ll want someone on your side in the appropriate department. It will save you many frustrating phone calls trying to track down the right person to contact who can help you without resenting you. Plus it’s just never a bad thing to be nice to other people. Golden rule and all that jazz. People are more willing to go out on a limb for you.

That’s it. Those are the six biggest things that I’ve learned on my own in the last year. What did you learn in your first year of publishing?


  1. Seeley James says:

    Interesting, these are the exact insights I gave to new program managers in the technology business for decades. 1) be grateful; 2) know your stuff; 3) watch the details; 4) make no enemies; 5) keep your ears open; 6) Your life will be better if most of your co-workers love you.

    Peace, Seeley

  2. Hi, Laura — I appreciate your description of the dream author in Lesson #1. May I duplicate it in a post for my blog? I like to share good information like this with my readers. Also, I visited your website and noted the “I pledge to read the printed word” badge in your side bar. That’s the first time I’ve seen it, and I’ll be posting it on my blogs, too.

  3. Thanks, Laura. I’m posting it this weekend.

  4. […] can read the full article here at Though the article and the website are targeted at young publishing […]

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