How to Get a Job in Publishing

This is a guest post by Marian Schembari, who just got her first publishing job, working at Jane Wesman Public Relations as an associate publicist. She graduated from Davidson College this year with a degree in Sociology of Gender. She has started a blog for other recent grads who want to get into publishing–check it out here, and follow her on Twitter here.

I really wanted to get into publishing. Like, a lot. Never mind that the industry is slowly dying, the economy sucks, I had zero experience and the pay is (and always will be) crap. No, I’m a book lover, and in my naïve—but enthusiastic—mindset, I thought that was all I needed.

So I spent the three months after my May graduation carefully editing my resume, crafting the perfect cover letter, and applying for every single job at every single publisher in New York. I stalked mediabistro and bookjobs, made a ton of contacts and . . . well, that was pretty much it. I had one interview in 3 months.

I got bored of that real fast. Even though I was working all day every day, I just felt like I was waiting . . . So I took out a ton of books (of course) from the local library on finding a job, marketing yourself, and personal branding. I designed a website with my resume, references, and writing samples. Then, with Facebook‘s enormously helpful ad targeting options, I was able to post an ad on the profiles of people at companies like HarperCollins, Random House, Penguin, Rodale, Macmillan, etc.And I got responses! At least one person from every publisher I focused on e-mailed to say that he or she had passed on my resume, or wanted to meet, or just liked my idea. The encouragement was fantastic, and within a week I had four interviews and a freelance gig.

Of course, advertising yourself to get a job is a little weird, I have to admit. It’s one of those stories you hear about people wearing their resume on a T-shirt or taking cookies to an interview. No one wants to be that person.

Except I was that person. And Debbie Stier‘s post about my search on the HarperStudio blog resulted in a lot of lovely and encouraging comments (many of which said they weren’t hiring. Figures). Only two people were cynical, not much liking my use of wording, but the ad generated much more positive feedback than negative, so I’m over it.

After the novelty of the ads wore off, though, I knew I needed something different to get people’s attention. So I started a blog, chronicling my search and talking a little  about publishing and where it’s headed. Then I (reluctantly) signed up for Twitter, which landed me a sweet interview at Penguin within a week.

One month later and I’m employed. Long story short, a woman at Rodale saw my ad, e-mailed me and thought I should consider book publicity. She passed my resume on to an old employer who ran a book PR firm. One thing led to another and I’m now in my third week as an associate publicist at Jane Wesman Public Relations.

I couldn’t be happier now that I’m officially “in” publishing. I also know I’m enormously lucky. The thing is, I don’t actually know one person who’s gotten a job the old fashioned way. Sorry, HR, but it’s true. Plus, it makes for an interesting story. My campaign made me consider a career I had never thought about before, and now I’m loving it. All in all, a pretty successful endeavor.

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37 Comments

  1. Sep 30, 20099:26 pm
    Chrissy

    What a great success story. The nature of the effort reveals the character of the person. The job search you describe demonstrates creativity and tenaciousness, qualities a smart employer would be thrilled to have. Clearly, Jane Wesman understands that. Well done, Marian.

  2. Oct 1, 20099:45 am
    Jenn

    This made me depressed. Here’s why: I, too, have been trying to get “into” publishing… well, technically I’m already in publishing, but it’s a medical journal and not my glorified book publishing dream. The thing is, I’m not very savvy when it comes to new technology. I tried Facebook, hated it, and deactiviated my account. It’s a social network and just another way to get rejected by my peers. Twitter? I’ve heard of it (how can one not) but I’m resistant thanks to Ashton Kucher. While the idea of a blog or Web site is fantastic, I’d be afraid it would come off as gimmicky.
    Clearly I am wrong. The more I peruse MediaBistro, BookJobs, and Publishers Marketplace, the more I realize that I am behind the times. It’s very apparent why I am not getting the interviews I want: This is a young world and in my middle-aged, old-school mind I have become set in my ways. I tend to think, “Dylan Thomas didn’t need Twitter and neither did James Joyce.” (Although it would be funny to see some drunk postings from Thomas). But that was then and the world is a far more competitive place now.
    I thank you, Marian, for posting this because it’s opened my eyes to (more of) the values of the internet. I need to stop being such a traditionalist. It really is all about marketing yourself, being creative, and having the goods to back it up. Congratulations, and I wish you lots of success in your career! :-)

  3. Oct 1, 20099:58 am
    Laura Hazard Owen

    To Jenn: Don’t give up! It is never too late to learn, and it’s fun to learn once you start. We have lots of stuff on the PT site about getting started–it’s not all from a job-hunting point of view, but I hope it’ll be helpful as an intro. Check out:
    A Guide to Author Websites: http://www.publishingtrends.com/2008/12/if-you-build-it-they-wont-come-a-guide-to-author-websites/
    Twitter Isn’t Stupid: http://www.publishingtrends.com/2009/03/twitter-isnt-stupid-but-publishers-need-to-be-smart-about-using-it-heres-how/
    Good luck!
    Laura

  4. Oct 1, 20093:29 pm

    Hey, Jenn, even middle-aged people can find good things via the Internet. I’m a 50-year-old a successful freelance copyeditor of books and journals, and I maintain a business web site, a blog, a Facebook page, and a Twitter account. I use all of them regularly and get clients through them, though many more clients come my way by word of mouth. The great thing about social-media platforms is that you don’t have to be an extrovert to use them. I’m an introvert, yet Twitter and Facebook don’t intimidate me. If I ever were to decide to go back to being an employee, you bet I’d be using social media as tools in my job search.

  5. Oct 8, 20095:19 pm

    This is inspiring and helpful advice. I have absolutely no experience in publishing but I really want to break into the industry. I was laid off about a month ago from my sales assistant job and have been applying to a numerous amount of jobs in many different industries (especially publishing) and so far nothing. I will have to try the website and the blogging, hopefully it works for me!

  6. Nov 19, 200912:44 am
    Faith

    You know part of me is really excited for you and to know that there are such great avenues open for reaching out to employers. At the same time I hear the frustration Jenn expressed. I dropped everything and moved here, sunk my whole future in graduate school and have been working full time at non-paying internships ever since. Every internship loves me, and I love, love, love the work at any and all of them.

    The best thing I have going right now is the immense amount of research I’ve been putting into my thesis project. I feel like I know so much more about the industry than the typical entry-level applicant. **Now if I could just get a call back**

  7. Nov 19, 20099:43 pm

    This is a very inspiring post, and a real example of how a little ingenuity and willingness to think beyond the obvious can go a long way. Am delighted that Marian’s efforts paid off! Having said that, it’s also an example of the kind of thing that can only be done once; if rafts of Eng Lit grad students start posting ads on HarperCollins editors’ facebook pages, the impact is soon going to wear off. We all have to keep working hard to find new ways of exploiting all avenues available to us, both on- and offline. But huge congrats again to Marian!

  8. Dec 22, 200911:05 am

    It also works in other sectors to help get publicity through connecting with people through social network tools. For example, one aspect of Twitter that people need to understand is how to be a good listener. By using a tool like Tweetdeck, you can set it up to pick out tweets covering the subject you are interested in.

    For instance, I decided that I wanted to get to know who was tweeting in my county. I searched people’s profiles for those who live in Lincolnshire, UK and then I followed those that looked interesting to me. I happened see a tweet from a local radio show presenter who was after content for his show. I replied and, to cut a long story sort, I now contribute to his show once a month and he mentions my business. I record the show and put it into my blog so that people can listen when they want to.

    Simple, as long as you learn to listen!

  9. Jan 13, 20106:15 pm

    That’s great! I agree that no one finds jobs the traditional way any more. I don’t know anyone who has. As a recent grad, I totally get the whole struggle. i applied to over 300 jobs within 2 months of graduating. I had 3 interviews total…
    Have a job now, but it’s not in my originally chosen field. It happens.

  10. Feb 2, 20101:05 pm

    I know how difficult it is
    i had the chance to meet alot of great contact because of facebook.
    but i want to take it to the net level, as fashion photographer i want to meet inspiring people that can help me publish my work

    your story trully inspired me

    x

  11. Apr 13, 201012:59 pm
    ajc

    Hi there. I got a job publishing the “old fashioned way.” I applied for tons of jobs that I found on mediabistro, publishers’ websites, etc. Only a few contacted me, but I got several interviews. I landed a job at a really small independent publishing company, which provided me with both great experience and a foot in the door! Then, a couple of years later, I went through the same process and I eventually got a job at one of the big publishing houses, doing exactly what I wanted. I’m still there, and I love it.

    I know it’s easy to be discouraged, because the industry is so hard to break into. But it can be done,! My advice for anyone looking would be not to be too selective; there is always room to move around once you have a job, and any and all experience improves your chances of getting an interview. If you do have contacts at a company, have them submit your resume and cover letter in for you. Most importantly, constantly search the job boards for new positions that open up throughout the day, because getting your resume near the top of the pile is important. And don’t give up!

  12. Jan 17, 20121:48 pm
  13. Jun 5, 201211:20 am

    I’m just wondering, how exactly did twitter directly help you land a job in a week? I’m considering getting an account although only in hopes that it might be useful for something like a job search. I’m curious.

  14. Jun 5, 20121:17 pm
    Elisabeth Watson

    Thinking about a Twitter account as a job tool is smart no matter how you cut it. A caveat, though: remember that Marian wrote this in 2009–almost 3 years ago. What Twitter meant then, and what Twitter (or Facebook, or Tumblr, or…) mean now are two very different things. More people have Twitter now, and are picking up on Marian’s tricks (she was really aghead of the game, and has actually moved away from book business to be a social media guru. You can see what she’s up to here.)

    On Publishing Trendsetter, our book-career blog for young folk, we talk a lot about how Twitter and other social stuff are THE main ways for a young professional to get in the industry door. On the downside, there are so many more people doing Twitter now than there were in 2009. That makes it harder to stand out just because you showed up, and it also makes “showing up” less an option than a necessity, in this editor’s humble opinion. On the upside, there are more platforms now, but even if you just stick to Twitter, more freedom to find YOUR way of making Twitter a smart career tool. It can be about connecting directly, it can be about publicizing the blog you run, it can be about being preternaturally up-to-date on all the industry news. It’s also about being able to offer a skill that so many entry-level jobs now assume is a given.

    Trendsetter’s first intern got our attention because of the way she does digital and social media, and she did some great writing on this for us last summer–a bit more up-to-date on the specifics than this piece: http://publishingtrendsetter.com/professionalpaths/blog-blog-bookjob-boot-camp-week-3-day-3/. But there’s lots of other stuff about the way Twitter can shape a job search on Trendsetter and around the interwebz that are sure to expand your own brain-storm.

    We hope to see you around Trendsetter, and wish you a bushel of luck!
    -Elisabeth, Editor-in-Chief of http://www.PublishingTrendsetter.com

  15. Oct 31, 20129:26 pm
    Laura Shine

    I loved your inspiration. I am looking to change careers from being a very successful HR Director into something I am more passionate about and enjoy (like reading). Any help or advice you could provide would be very much appreciated.
    Thank you.

  16. Jan 4, 201310:29 am
    ellen barker

    I am middle-aged. I have an associate degree in nursing and just garnered my Ba in English. After 25 years nursing, I would love to edit a medical journal or book. Thanks for all the positive and creative comments I read in here

  17. Jan 19, 20135:04 am
    Sara

    I studied comparative literature in university and always dreamed of working in publishing. Now I do! I takes some untraditional methods, yes, that is (unfortunately) correct, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be social media. My approach took lots of patience, but in the end it has paid of, as I can now proudly call myself an editor at a Danish publishing house (I’m Danish, obviously).
    I sent out a ton of applications, but made sure to stress that I would take ANY kind of assignment. Turns out many publishers (at least here) are always looking for proofreaders. I kept dropping hints that I’d love to try other tasks, and finally got my first freelance task as an editor. I kept doing all those various little things for more than a year, every evening while I had another full time job, the money was crap, but the connections and the experience were good, and it helped to have a bit of experience. I went to a big book fair in Copenhagen two years in a row and worked the few connections I had, and I tried to discreetly discover if they needed any help so that I could apply for exactly the position they needed to fill and finally a few months ago one of them called me in for an interview. I now work there as an editor in a kind of trial period, so only in 6 months will I know if I have the job for good. I ask all the editors every single day if thy have any extra tasks for me, I ask if I can sit in when they have meetings so that I’ll learn more, I work in the evening so that I can get through more manuscripts etc.
    It’s been a bit of a struggle, but it’s been WELL worth it. I absolutely love the job, I don’t want to go home when the day is finished.

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12 Trackbacks

  1. By TimeTides on September 30, 2009 at 11:54 am

    Social Networking to Land a Paying Gig: It’s Not Just for Writers Selling Manuscripts…

    Marian Schembari at Publishing Trends details how she landed a job in publishing, but not by sending out resumes and cover letters.
    Of course, advertising yourself to get a job is a little weird, I have to admit. It’s one of those stories you hea…

  2. By Good Article « My write side on October 7, 2009 at 4:07 pm

    […] http://www.publishingtrends.com/2009/09/how-to-get-a-job-in-publishing/ […]

  3. By Fears of a College Senior on October 18, 2009 at 9:47 pm

    […] by my frantic google search of “how to get a job in publishing” to an article titled, well, “How to Get a Job in Publishing.” The approach taken by the writer of the article to find a job is anything but traditional, and she […]

  4. […] enthusiastic) view, a job as an editorial assistant was the Be All and End All of publishing jobs. I hadn’t even considered book publicity until my Rodale buddy suggested it. Was I dissapointed I didn’t land a “sweet” […]

  5. […] in Brooklyn with a woman who edited children’s books. Katie explained that if you want to make it in publishing, you have to be willing to live in New York on $30,000 to 35,000/year for three years. If you can […]

  6. […] How to Get a Job in Publishing […]

  7. […] of the month building on an article that helped lay the foundation for Trendsetter itself: “How to Get a Job in Publishing” by Marian Schembari. Marian wrote the article for Publishing Trends back in September 2009, and it […]

  8. […] may have heard about people whose blogs helped them land jobs, like Marian Schmebari, whose “How to Get a Job in Publishing” post for Publishing Trends sparked this entire series (or yours truly, whose creative […]

  9. By How to Get a Publishing Job « Call Me A Writer on January 24, 2012 at 6:54 pm

    […] I just read this article about a woman who landed a job in publishing by advertising herself on Facebook! Not sure I’m going to go that route, but holy smokes. Read about her experience here. […]

  10. […] almost four years, Publishing Trends’ most popular article has been a piece called “How to Get a Job in Publishing,” by Marian Schembari, a recent college grad who used her social media skills to land a job in […]

  11. […] “How to Get a Job in Publishing” has been Publishing Trends‘ most popular article for years–and for good reason. But getting that first job is just the beginning, so we set out to discover what keeps people in publishing after that first job. […]

  12. […] http://www.publishingtrends.com/2009/09/how-to-get-a-job-in-publishing/ […]

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