Monday, June 15, 2009

How I got into publishing

Last year, when I decided to study abroad, I signed up for the London Internship Program. Through a placement agency, BU matches students up with UK companies, and we get two months of almost-full-time work experience. I signed up for the Journalism track (my major) but didn't realize that the category was actually very broad. I decided to go the way of book publishing, instead of magazine publishing (which I already had experience in) and voila... I found a career path I loved!

I was placed at Simon & Schuster UK Ltd, the British branch of a large US publisher. I assisted the junior editing staff - the junior editor for fiction, nonfiction editorial assistant, and youngest of the commissioning editors - and did everything from editing book jacket copy to distributing copies of books that had just been printed to replying to unsolicited manuscripts (Dear Mr. Smith. We don't accept these. Sorry. Regards, S&S). Even when I was just making copies, I loooved being around books and people who also loved books. Plus, it was incredibly exciting to send things to some of my favorite authors who happen to fall under the S&S UK label. One of my favorite parts of the internship was attending meetings - editorial, sales, jacket, and production - and learning how everyone else contributed to the publishing operation.

The next semester, I wanted to try something a little different, so I interned at Barefoot Books, a children's publisher in Cambridge, Mass. I've always loved kids, and I really liked the idea of encouraging them to read by creating high-quality content. Barefoot publishes beautifully illustrated books (works of art, in many cases) about different cultures, anthologies, and fairy tales. I spent much of my time reading submissions (you'd be amazed how many people wrongly believe they can write a children's book... or submit content completely inappropriate for children) and editing marketing and production materials. I was very interested in how children's publishers work to pair authors and illustrators, and ended up writing a research article for class about illustration as a teaching tool and an art form.

Publishing internship number three, this past semester, was at Kneerim & Williams, a literary agency. I learned about a whole new side of the operation - these are people who represent authors and try to sell their books to publishers like S&S. I got to read a variety of manuscripts, principally in general fiction and women's fiction. I also had the opportunity to read some young adult (YA) submissions for one of the K&W agents in NYC, who was starting the firm's children's line. I fell back in love with YA, a genre I haven't read since I was much younger (if I can say "much" at 22), and started reading tons of YA books in my free time. I was incredibly impressed with the original plots and amazing characters I found, and began considering looking for a job at a YA imprint.

Fun fact: The "Simon" of Simon & Schuster is Carly Simon's dad.

Pub fact: S&S UK does not publish exactly the same books as S&S US. Each has a different market, and therefore a different collection, to some degree.

Pub fact: Most children's book authors do not come in with an illustrator for their stories. Editors choose artists that best fit the feel of the content, and the look they think would work best.

Pub fact: Almost all large publishers have stopped accepting unsolicited manuscripts - there were simply too many to go through, and too many of low quality. This is why authors need agents.

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