How can you get a virtual foot in the publishing door from a thousand miles away? According to Jeremy Soldevilla: Make like an author and build a platform.
Publishing has always been a difficult industry to land that first job in—almost as hard as it has been for a new writer to get published. But in the past few years, thanks to technology, that’s changing. A young person with skills, energy, and passion has many more opportunities than ever before to jump into the industry.
Traditional publishers have historically been the gatekeepers of what gets published. Generally they got it right, but a number of well-written books got rejected—there are hundreds of stories of famous writers whose early work got rejected. However, with the emergence and “ease” of self-publishing anybody can “publish” a book, regardless of the quality. But, is that true publishing? I have to say “No.” Publishing requires a wide set of skills learned over several years, and usually, concentrated in one area or another—editing, design, production, marketing or sales. In a “technologically eased” publishing environment—for both authors and industry hopefuls—the trick is to open one of the many new doors available, but just make sure that excellent publishing still stands behind it.
I began in publishing in 1970 after graduating as an English Literature major —a major I chose because I loved books. So, when I graduated, it seemed natural for me to gravitate towards publishing. I was hired as a copywriter trainee in an academic publishing company in Boston. I fell in love with the industry and moved on to become a sales rep, an acquisition editor, and eventually Chief Operating Officer of a British publishing house. A few years ago, I semi-retired and moved to Montana, where I started writing novels and founded a publishing company designed to help undiscovered writers get published. It only took me forty years!
In those early days, publishing was centered in a handful of houses located mostly in a few big cities like New York, Boston and, Chicago. The end-goal for anyone seeking a career in publishing was an East Coast job. The traditional route was–and still is–to start out as an intern or in an entry level position. Once your foot was in the door you had to show an interest in learning as much as you could from those around you, do good work and develop relationships with those above you, so when an opportunity arose, you were someone that popped into their mind—principles that are true of any business, really.
Each year, hundreds of eager young college students graduate searching for the golden answer to that question “how do I get a job in publishing?” For decades, my only suggestion was, just knock on as many doors as you can, take whatever is offered, no matter how “lowly” you may consider it, and learn. If you can hang in there for two years, you’ll start to move upward. There was no fast track easy answer.
Things are different today. Digital technology has changing the whole landscape of traditional publishing. The old models are becoming as obsolete as the green-keyed Royal typewriters that sat on every publisher’s desk back in the day.
Who’s creating those technologies and/or applying them to exciting new ideas like interactive textbooks, e-readers, self-publishing software? Mostly young people who grew up playing computer games and original Facebook accounts. Who is supplying design, manuscript formatting, editing, marketing and e-book conversions? Young people from all over the world—India, China, Tennessee, Bozeman, Montana. You no longer need to have an apartment you can’t afford in New York or Boston. Increasingly, individuals and companies, even the Big Six are reducing their in-house staffs and turning to off-site suppliers for editorial and design work.
Even among “industry veterans”, new companies are being started by former traditional publishers who have decades of experience, but have been “outsourced” from their jobs. Proficient in one skill or another, these independent publishers need to draw on the talent of bloggers, website designers, people with editing or design skills, people who understand social media marketing and can write and design for the web.
They need you. And the big companies need you as well. They don’t care where you live, if you work in your PJs, when you knock off from work, or if you have orange spiked hair and body-piercings. They are happy they don’t have the overhead of having to provide you with an office, big-city salaries, equipment and health benefits. If you have talent, be it writing, design, or marketing skills, you have a virtual foot in their door.
So how do you knock on their doors? The same way an author does today. Build a platform for yourself.
- If you can, start before you graduate school. Are you a writer? Start a blog showcasing your writing. Post things regularly, no less than once a week. Include reviews of books. Join as many discussion groups on LinkedIn, Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter and anywhere else that relate to writing and publishing.
- Join Guru.com as an editor.
- Create a website dedicated to book reviews – yours and/or other’s reviews
- Got web design skills? Create a great website and focus the marketing of your design skills to self-publishers.
- Got art design skills? Create a website showcasing your portfolio and create some mock book covers
- There is plenty of low-cost and freesoftware available to format books and convert books to e-books. Get some, learn it and offer your services online and through online author discussion groups.
The experience and visibility you get by doing some of these things, will contribute to building a strong platform for yourself that will demonstrate your skills, your creativity, your work ethic better than the most extensive resume you could send to a human resource department.
In the meantime, keep sending out those resumes. But while you’re waiting for that elusive job interview, start working for yourself by learning and honing your skills, and maybe even making some good money at it. It may take some time for you to develop your platform, but you’ll be way ahead of someone with no practical experience to show.
Who knows? A publisher may knock on your door!
Jeremy Soldevilla began his publishing career in textbook and professional reference publishing in Boston in 1970. His roles over the next decades include acquisitions editor, textbook sales rep, vice-president of marketing, STM Marketing Director with the American Mathematical Society, and Chief Operating Officer of the US office of Blackwell Publishing. In 2004 Jeremy moved to Bozeman, Montana, and turned his attention to writing novels. His first novel, Thief Creek, was published in 2011. After the ego-numbing process of being a new writer, he created an author-friendly company, Christopher Matthews Publishing, in January 2011. He spun off a second imprint, Soul Fire Press, focusing on young and new adult books.
Jeremy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.