As we keep thinking about “How to Get a Job in Book Business,” it would be a true travesty (and tragedy), if we didn’t talk about how diverse the business is, and how the perfect job for you might be a job you never knew even was a job. This new series, dear Trendsetters, is about those jobs.
Part I: The Industry Journalist
Kimberly Lew is a not-by-the-book book worker who’s quite close to home. Or to desk: she sits about 10 feet from me and Livia here in the Publishing Trends office. She joined the Publishing Trends team as Managing Editor in June 2011, and has been shaming us with her InDesign black belt ever since. We’re still getting to know her ourselves and she’s really easy to get in touch with, so she was an obvious choice for first interview victim.
Kim has a background in traditional book professions—think bookselling and publishing—but she credits her paripatetic undergrad years with a lot of her flexibility: “In the 4 years I spent as an undergrad, I attended 3 different universities in 4 different places: Georgia, California, London, and New York. I think my non-traditional college experience really prepared me for the work force and shaped my views on what it means to be successful and have a career. That time I spent traveling taught me flexibility to look outside of traditional modes for opportunities and life experiences.”
Trendsetter: What was your first job in book business and what were the most important things you gained from it?
Kimberly: I suppose my first job in book business was working for Barnes & Noble, though that’s been a job that I’ve maintained on the side even as I’ve had other career-building jobs in publishing. Retail is a tough gig in itself and teaches you all sorts of things that are practical in the working world: endurance, how to deal with people, humility, problem solving, amongst other things. But booksellers synthesize so much information from just interacting with customers and being around books – every day is a lesson in the latest/hottest titles, and you see what helps sell a book from the ground level.
PTer: When you worked in a publishing house, what were your main responsibilities? What did you enjoy the most about working in publishing?
KL: Prior to my current job with Publishing Trends and Market Partners International, I worked at a theatre publisher – which is also a bit of a non-traditional publishing job. In theatre publishing, there are two sides of the business: actually producing the books of plays and then licensing the rights for those plays to be performed by production groups. I was on the book production side, so as Publications Associate at Playscripts, I would correspond with authors throughout the editing/proofing process, format the scripts in InDesign, do some light editorial work, and help write the copy for the plays’ online profiles. Working in a small company, I also had the opportunity to participate in acquisitions (particularly with musicals, which is a passion of mine) and social media campaigns.
I loved almost everything about my job there – it informed so much who I am now and how I approach my career. Probably my favorite thing about my work was getting to champion other writers, whether it was trying to acquire their work, give them a book they could be proud of, or helping them promote their play after it had been published. It can be a struggle, but when you’re able to successfully do all three of those things, it’s a triumph every time. I also could not have asked for better coworkers – most who were also playwrights. It really fostered an environment where everyone felt passionate about the things we were producing. It wasn’t uncommon for us to run to one another’s office to pitch play ideas we had or to rehash plays we’d recently seen in morning meetings.
PTer: What has been the biggest change in moving to your job at Publishing Trends? In what ways did your job(s) in publishing prepare you for what you do here?
KL: Theatre publishing, while very much like any other type of publishing, is a bit behind technology-wise. Playscripts sets itself apart because it focuses so much on its website and providing things like online script samples, but because of the physical components of the stage, things like e-readers or ebooks aren’t as pressing issues as they are in trade publishing now. One of the biggest challenges for me is just trying to catch up on all the goings on in the publishing world and to be able to understand it, at least at a basic level, from the perspective of multiple departments. Sometimes I remark that I feel like I’m constantly falling down a rabbit hole, moving from one article to the next as I try to understand some of the bigger issues in publishing now. It’s fascinating work and I am so glad to be in a position where I can actually research these things, but it can be a lot to take in, too.
That’s why I’m so thankful that my experience at Barnes & Noble has kept me up-to-date with authors, book titles, important industry news, and e-reader development. On the more practical side, Playscripts provided me with the experience of putting together books so that I know how to assemble the newsletter and work in InDesign most effectively. Also, blogging steadily and managing a blog has helped me become more disciplined in my writing and helped me find the most effective way for me to interview/research.
PTer: How do you explain your new job to people?
KL: Probably not very well (though not for lack of trying)! I think this job is so flexible in the things I help out with that it’s really hard to summarize in a blurb. So I don’t always try to given an overview and instead focus on individual projects or articles I’m working on. Once people see specifically what I’m researching or writing about, they are always interested for me to share my findings!
PTer: What value has this job brought to the way you think about book business and your own relationship to books?
KL: I am definitely more aware of the challenges that technology is presenting for the book industry – though issues that seem daunting from an outsiders perspective are actually kind of exciting when you get to see all the creative things people are doing with it. More than anything, I value the wisdom of the partners; some of the crash courses in the industry, including “school” with Amy Rhodes, have provided me with invaluable overviews of the way big publishers operate. I think I appreciate books more now for the nuances of their creation, and I am also all the more aware of the countless people who are responsible for that.