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Book Jobs Not by the Book: Amanda Bullock, Director of Public Programming at Housing Works Bookstore and Cafe

Amanda BullockAmanda Bullock is the Director of Public Programming at Housing Works Bookstore Cafe in downtown New York City, where she organizes over 200 literary events a year and manages all of the bookstore’s social media. She is the co-creator and co-organizer of the Moby-Dick Marathon NYC (returning in November 2014) and the co-organizer of the Downtown Literary Festival.

 

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

I moved to New York City in 2006 with a dream of working in book publishing and landed a job as a publishing assistant at Random House, working in the “information and value publishing” group. I started in September, and in December the group was being shut down and I was told my “position is being eliminated.” Yay publishing! But I was lucky: my boss at the time was looking out for me and I had (confusedly, at the time, as I had just started in my position) interviewed with another group at Random House, in audiobook publishing, where I was hired as a production associate. I worked in production for about five years, mostly at Fodor’s travel, before making the decision to leave corporate publishing.

I loved working at Random House. I came in at a very strange time, as the recession hit NYC shortly after I entered the business and a lot of things changed very quickly. It was a harrowing, fraught time when everyone was sort of in constant fear of being laid off. But maybe publishing is always like that. Anyway, I met some amazing people at Random House, many of whom I am still friends and collaborators with, including some other assistants from that first job taking calls from people who wanted to change words in the dictionary (seriously).

The major thing I learned in the corporate trenches was that even if you are bored day-to-day in your cubicle, spending way too much time googling random grad school panic-dreams, that just being in the book business can create wonderful connections—both social and professional—that you’ll find popping up throughout the rest of your career. Through some folks I met on the Random House softball team (Go Papercutz!), I got involved with the literary magazine Slice and their CoverSpy project, which ended up leading to my current job at Housing Works. So, after babbling for two paragraphs, what I learned was: the people involved and their passion are what make the book business great.

How do you explain your current job to people?
I plan parties for book nerds and babble about them on the Internet.

I’ve been with Housing Works Bookstore Cafe since August 2011. I book, organize, and run all of the public events at the bookstore (about 200 a year, from book clubs to a literary festival). I also manage the bookstore’s robust social media presence, with the help of an intern through an internship program I implemented. I wear a lot of smaller hats as part of those roles: I act as the public face of the bookstore, handle all of our marketing and publicity, and during events serve as the sound engineer, photographer, and more. It’s a lot of work, but it’s often really, really fun and sometimes I still can’t believe I get to do this job.

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

Part of working in book production was managing schedules, and managing a lot of moving parts that had to eventually sync up and turn into a book that would be beautiful, and be done on time. That organizational ability and juggling ability, really, directly translate to the events part of my position at Housing Works.

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

Again, it comes back to the people. I realized when I was leaving the publishing side of the business that one of the things I love most about books is readers. One of my favorite things about working in bookstores is connecting to the readers; including fellow booksellers, who are amazing readers. And readers like to celebrate the books they love, they are open to discovering new writers and genres and books, they are supportive and enthusiastic and generally amazing.

What advice or perspective do you wish you could give yourself when you were starting out in publishing?
I would tell myself two things. First, which I did learn pretty quickly, that editorial is not the only interesting track to take in traditional publishing. This is, of course, increasingly true as new types of independent publishing open up, but I suspect a lot of fresh-out-of-college dreamers like me only think of their future in terms of Being an Editor. Second, which I learned eventually, is that side projects are great; create your own and/or seek one/some out. When I was working in production as a day job, I also freelance copy edited and proofread, which I enjoyed because (it supplemented my dismal salary and) it allowed me to be involved with the process of making a book from another angle. And, as mentioned, my involvement with Slice magazine has led to professional opportunities and to some great personal friendships. There are so many literary magazines, small presses, and more that are always looking for readers and people to help them do what they do, I would encourage anyone starting out—in traditional publishing especially—to try to get involved in the world of literary magazines and small presses, or with organizations like VIDA and Girls Write Now! and, of course, Housing Works.

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