Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Careers in Publishing, an Interview

Frequently I receive requests for interviews from writers, newsletters, and students working on papers for class, and I do make an effort to answer as many as I have time for. Luckily, many of the questions are the same from interview to interview, so I can reuse material. Recently, though, I did an interview and wondered why I wasn’t sharing this same information with my blog readers. So from time to time I’m going to post the interviews I’ve been doing here on the blog.

The first is a request I received from a student at Eastern Michigan University. The student was doing a class project on careers and was interested in literary agents and publishing, so here’s what I shared . . .

What's a typical day like for you? I don’t think there is a typical day for me, which is one of the things I love about my job. I don’t think I would do well in a job that was even the least bit predictable.

Each day takes shape depending on the emails and phone calls I need to make or receive. For example, if I get a call from a publisher offering a contract on a book, my entire day, and all my plans, will likely be placed on the back burner as I communicate with the author and editors about the book and begin contract negotiations.

If I receive a panicked email or phone call from a client I could spend the rest of the day working with that client to smooth out the wrinkles in her manuscript or work on revisions.

If I hear from an author who has an offer of representation or a contract offer from another agent or a publisher and I want to get in the game, I will likely have to drop everything to read that material and consider it for representation.

If things go smoothly and I am receiving few emails or phone calls, I could actually spend my day answering interviews like this, reading queries, or catching up on proposals.

Typically, though, I start the day by reading email, checking up on industry news through various different formats like Publishers Weekly, Publishers Marketplace, blogs and Twitter, and then base the rest of the day on what I find there.

What kind of writing do you do as part of your job? I honestly don’t think I do that much writing, but keep in mind I work with writers. It’s hard to say you write when you work with people who write thousands of words a day.

I do keep an almost daily blog, I send emails, I write revision letters to clients and, most important, I write pitch letters to editors to sell the books I represent. These pitch letters, or query letters, are really marketing pieces and can sometimes take hours to craft.

What kind of information do you typically look for on resumes and is there a specific format you prefer candidates to use? I look for experience first. I think one of the biggest mistakes candidates make is assuming their education is the most important thing they’ve done. If you’ve done internships of any kind I would put that at the top of the page; experience shows me that you’re different and more ambitious than anyone else I’m interviewing.

I also look for candidates with an interest in commercial fiction. I think that for many students there’s a prejudice against commercial fiction or genre fiction. You’ve been engrossed in reading literary books or classics for years, which are great, but as an agent who represents commercial fiction I need someone who loves romance and mystery, young adult and anything that’s new and different.

What is your favorite part of the job? Brainstorming with my clients. There’s nothing I love more than helping shape an idea and create a book.

How did you become interested in this field? The love of words. I studied journalism in college and worked on the college newspaper all four years. I really thought I wanted to be a reporter, but by the time I graduated I knew the newspaper business wasn’t for me, but I wasn’t sure where I belonged. I tried magazines briefly (for a few short months as a freelancer) after graduation, but didn’t like that either, and that’s when I realized that my true love was books. I didn’t really read newspapers or magazines, but I loved books and could never get enough. So it was really the idea of helping to create what I loved that got me into publishing.



Kate Douglas said...

Love the interview--and the same thing that got you into your career is what took me to mine: The love of words.

wry wryter said...

Not only the love of words but what they do, inflame, move, calm,assure. They can break your heart, change your life, even save your life.
Yeah, it's the love of them because they do all that and more.

Like piss off my boss because I'm late again because I'm doing this instead of driving to work. I'll tell them I got stuck behind a school bus that always seems to work.
ah...I think school started already.
Words lie too. Ha !

Rachel said...

Very interesting.

I particularly liked how you mentioned experience and
internships being important.

Could you possibly address in another post what types of experience and internships could be typical for a writer, or that you've seen? Maybe I am overlooking or overthinking it, or missing a whole area for these. I am a stay at home, homeschooling Mama who writes whenever I can, and I'm going to be racking my brain now for good areas of internships or additional experience to throw in the mix.

Anyway, you've given me lots to think about today! Have a great one! :-)

Creepy Query Girl said...

sounds a great job- in that every day is new and could be focused on something completely different. Thanks for sharing this with us!

Colette said...

Jessica, it's awesome that you would take the time to respond to a student. Way to give back!

BookEnds, LLC said...


This is an interview for a student looking for a career in publishing, not looking to become a writer.


Carol Crigger said...

I love this answer, Jessica. Someday I hope you will become my agent. Your enthusiasm for your job is very beguiling.

"What is your favorite part of the job? Brainstorming with my clients. There’s nothing I love more than helping shape an idea and create a book."

Michael K. Reynolds said...

Thank you for letting us come alongside you for a day. The life of an agent is intriguing to me not only as a writer, but as someone who could see himself in the future being an encourager of other writers.

Vickie Motter said...

Great interview. I know I got into the right business because it's the love of the words and helping shape a book to its final project that brought be to it. It's nice knowing that experienced agents never lose that love (more for me to look forward to).

Laurence Shatkin said...

Thanks for the interesting background on your career. However, you left me hanging. Your narrative takes you as far as when you entered publishing, but you don't say how you moved into the agent's role. I'm guessing that it wasn't the first job you had in the publishing industry.

I confess to a motive besides curiosity. I'm writing a book about career moves, one of which is moving into brokering or agency. I'm wondering how you acquired the skills and made the transition.

If you explain all this in another blog, please post the link.

Jessica Lei said...

SOMEONE LIKES BRAINSTORMING? Unheard of! BUT understandable. Here I was thinking I was the only one!