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

The Skinny on Temping in Publishing

Ever wondered what it’s like to work in a publishing house temporarily? One of our readers recently temped in the editorial department of one of the Big 5 publishers and answered all of our questions about her experience!

How long were you a temp?
I worked there for a little over three months. My role was to fill in for a SVP, Executive Editor’s assistant while her assistant filled in for a Publisher’s assistant who was on maternity leave.

What were your day-to-day responsibilities?
I was a temporary Editorial Assistant, so I did all the typical duties that an EA would do on the job. This includes answering the phone, responding to emails, and scheduling appointments for my supervisor. I also helped out with writing tip sheets, catalog and flap copy and passing manuscripts for press. I got pretty good at the pass for press process by the end of my three months there. My supervisor had a bunch of big books coming up with a lot of different special-bound editions that required all sorts of additional paperwork. My role also involved reading a few submissions and drafting rejection letters for different projects.

What was the most surprising part of this experience for you?
I think what was most surprising for me was the pace of the role. My last job in publishing had been at a small publishing house, and I had been pushed into being an editor quickly. I responded to an “Editorial Assistant” job posting but was told on my first day that I was actually their new Assistant Editor and had to start acquiring books. I started doing this without much prior knowledge and basically became an editor on day one. Coming to a large corporate company and working as an assistant was a shocking transition for me. Obviously, I didn’t expect them to ask me to acquire books as a temp, but I definitely got a little bored every now and then because the pace was so different. I also wasn’t really used to the extra support. I’m a pretty independent person, so this aspect of temping was really frustrating for me, but I also fully understand that it’s part of the job because as a temp they need to make sure you don’t skip a beat. I got used to it pretty quickly and eventually found my footing after a month or so in.

What skills did you learn while temping that you feel will translate well to your next job?
I think the most important thing I learned here was how a corporate entity works. My previous jobs (granted I’m relatively young so I haven’t had that many) have been with smaller organizations where the chain of command was different and there wasn’t a very big buffer between the powers-that-be and the junior staff. Working at a Big 5 house meant that I had to get accustomed to that chain of command. At smaller companies, it’s okay to simply email the VP or an executive office with questions, but here it’s more typical to go through a supervisor or other junior staff members for almost everything. Even something as simple as asking an editor for a copy of a book on his list meant asking his assistant instead. And trust me, finding out who assists who is a much harder research project than figuring out who edited what.

Another thing is the ability to be adaptable. Being a temp isn’t about finding your own footing in a position and making it your own; it’s about going in there and doing the job the way the person you’re filling in for did it. I have always been pretty good at finding direction, but I think that working as a temp and having to jump into the role immediately really honed this ability.

Would you recommend temping to others looking to get started in publishing? Why or why not?
I wouldn’t necessarily recommend temping as a way for people looking to get started. Any new job has a steep learning curve, but the learning curve as a temp is even steeper, so I don’t think it’s a good idea to be a temp during your first foray into publishing. I would say it’s more of a way for people who already have a background or already have experience in the industry to get a foot in the door at one of the Big 5.

It’s a good networking opportunity, because I met so many amazing and talented people and I’m pretty confident that I’ll end up back there in the near or distant future.

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