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

Where Are They Now? Checking in on Elisabeth Watson

Last week, we took a peek at what Kimberly Lew‘s life is like after Publishing Trendsetter. This week we check in on the woman who started it all, Elisabeth Watson. Publishing Trendsetter was Elisabeth’s idea that came to fruition in May 2011, and she has since then taken other, exciting paths in publishing. Read on to find out what’s new with Elisabeth and what she’s learned on her publishing journey thus far.
Elisabeth Watson

Describe your current job:

I’m currently a book scout, working for a mid-size literary scouting firm. I just started this new job about a month ago, after my previous two years of selling Subsidiary Rights for the Scribner and Touchstone imprints at Simon & Schuster. There are several places you can read more about scouting both on Trendsetter and Publishing Trends, but basically, my company works for about a dozen foreign publishers, “scouting out” books that are going to be published in the US that our clients might want to license. My primary responsibilities are to form and maintain strong relationships with US publishers and agents who can direct me toward what exciting titles are on the horizon, and to read a LOT, and to advise clients on what titles I do or do not think they should acquire, based both on my opinion as a reader, and my knowledge of their list and their particular market.

How have you applied what you learned from MPI/Publishing Trends/Publishing Trendsetter in your new position?

Let me count the ways! First of all, Publishing Trends was responsible for my in-depth introduction to the lesser-known book-biz jobs–like Subrights and Scouting–that I’ve gone on to hold since leaving PT/MPI. Furthermore, my work researching and writing about international book business for Publishing Trends was directly responsible for my being equipped with the knowledge of global publishing that helped me get both jobs I’ve had since leaving PT. Perhaps even more importantly than my international business knowledge, though, are the connections I made while working for PT, and what I learned about making and maintaining connections in the industry. All my work at PT, MPI, and Trendsetter taught me that networking doesn’t have to be a bitter medicine. The wonderful Market Partners themselves modeled for me what it looks like to have a voracious and omnivorous curiosity about book business, and that listening to new people with that genuine curiosity can be a real joy and also the foundation of a real and lasting connection that can be mutually beneficial for you and your new acquaintance.

What have you learned since leaving?

I’ve learned that the kind of global, wide-ranging knowledge I had a chance to cultivate while at MPI is a real luxury for most people in publishing, and I’ve learned how easy it is to get sucked into one’s own little corner of book business. It takes time and effort to cultivate a wider knowledge. I’ve also picked up on some of the different skills required for doing well in a corporate environment (as opposed to a small business environment). In a corporate environment, one’s ability to proactively connect with one’s smaller “tribe” is crucial to being able to thrive. And, a complete surprise to me, I learned that I LOVE selling and negotiating, and am good at it. I would never have guessed it, but it was key to helping me do well in my previous Subrights job, and turns out to be useful in plenty of other parts of life as well.

What advice would you give someone trying to break into the industry?

My advice now remains largely the same to what I would have given someone 2 years ago. Connect with as many different kinds of people in publishing as you can figure out how to. This can mean engaging thoughtfully and frequently with industry blog writers, or getting to know a local bookseller. Working in a bookstore is an excellent thing to have on your resume, if you’re lucky enough to have a local place that will hire you. Really immersing yourself in what’s happening in industry news by reading Publishing Trendsetter, Publishing Trends, Publisher’s Lunch, Publishers Weekly, and other news blogs will give you a really great foundation. Engaging with books as a writer, contributing to blogs as a reviewer or other kind of writer is also a great way to establish yourself as someone who’s paying attention to the world of books.

Also, if you’re working another job right now that’s NOT in book business, be creatively thinking about what job responsibilities are marketable for job openings in book business also. There are more commonalities than you might think: anything related to sales, publicity, marketing, even office management–these are all skills publishers and others in book business need, and, paired with a knowledge of and enthusiasm for books, these skills can help you move into book business, too.

What has changed in the industry since you started working in it?

Even in my short career, a lot has changed so I’ll just focus on things specifically related to young professionals: I think the overall mania for Digital anything and everything has become a little more focused and sensible. There are exceptions, but I think it’s less likely for book publishers–at least the larger ones–to automatically snap up any person under the age of 25, thinking this person can help them whip their social media into shape just because of their age. Yes, on the one hand, this means you have to do more to prove yourself when going after a Digital marketing or Social Media Manager position, but I also know how frustrating it could be for young people who felt they were getting pigeon-holed into something they weren’t necessarily gifted at, and, even worse, set up as magicians of sorts by employers who don’t have clear expectations for these newly created positions. Of course this still happens, but it’s less the norm, I think.

I also am relieved that wider cultural pressure has induced many publishers to start paying their interns. I care passionately about book business not just existing as an option for those whose families can afford to sponsor them for up to two years of unpaid full-time work in New York City, and that means paying and subsidizing interns however possible, especially when just one summer internship is often no longer enough to land someone a job.

What has surprised you the most in your publishing journey?

My time working at Publishing Trends and Market Partners made me hyper-aware of all the non-traditional publishing jobs out there (that was the birth of the Book Jobs Not By the Book column on Trendsetter!). But it nevertheless continues to delight me how many places people manage to find a role in book business outside of the jobs I knew existed when I graduated from college and got my first job as an Editorial Assistant. The ways of reinventing oneself and one’s career in book business seem to be as diverse as people themselves, which gives me a great sense of openness and creativity about where my own career might go in the years ahead.

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