Getting your foot in the door is important, but it’s also only the first step in building a career in the publishing industry. Though there have been many articles and stories about how to navigate a first job, very few delve into what happens next. How do you evaluate when you’re ready for a change? What is the best way to pursue a promotion? What do you do when unexpected opportunities to move up the ladder come knocking? In order to find out, we recently took a survey of a variety of publishing industry professionals who shared their second job experiences with us.
After finally getting that first real job, how does one identify when it’s time to move on? For Todd Berman, VP, Client Development at Random House, moving on to his next job has always been a matter of needing a new challenge, whether it was in publicity, marketing, sales, or even (his current position) client development. “Each job I approached I was somewhat unqualified for,” Todd admits. “Every few years, I want to learn something new or different, so when I see something of interest, I pursue it.” The drawback to this approach, of course, is that there is a sometimes a steep learning curve, especially since it might not just be the job title changing, but the department and house as well. The trick to finding new opportunities, Todd says, is to approach different departments and “get to know audiences and become a sponge for information.”
Others realized that it was time to move on when they saw that the job they had wouldn’t position them for the long-term career they really wanted. Claire Taylor, National Accounts Manager at Macmillan, and Bruce Nichols, SVP, Publisher at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, both got their starts at academic publishers but quickly realized that they needed to break out to fulfill their career aspirations. Though Bruce started in a coveted role as an Editorial Assistant at Little, Brown’s college division, he learned within six months of starting his first job (and in fact was told by many people in the Editorial department) “that the best way to move anywhere in College publishing was to get into Sales.” While Bruce’s eventual career in Sales provided him with the mobility he was looking for, he admits the importance of a first job, even (or especially) if it’s not perfect: “You know, I think if I’d applied for the sales position right out of college—even though it was the better position for me and for my career—I wouldn’t have gotten it. It was better to just get my foot in the door.”
Claire Taylor had a similar experience when she took her first job to be closer to the company she most aspired to work for: Candlewick. “I was at [Wiley] Blackwell about a year, but I knew it wasn’t what I wanted to do about 8 months in. First I applied to an opening there in Editorial, but then I withdrew my name from the running, since I realized that what I wanted was to get out of was educational,” she explains. Eventually, her efforts paid off. She scored a position at Candlewick, albeit at the bottom of the totem pole in the Sales department. But sometimes even getting what you want doesn’t signify the end of the story. A few years later, having become an Accounts Manager at Candlewick, Claire found herself at another impasse. “Because Candlewick is small, there isn’t a lot of room to move beyond account manager… I had to decide whether I was OK with where I was at Candlewick, whether I wanted to leave publishing, or whether I wanted to move to New York.” She ended up taking the leap that landed her in her current position at Macmillan.
Indeed when it comes to searching for the “next thing,” not all careers follow the same narrative, especially in a tough job market. For those following a more traditional path and hoping to stay within the same department and house, learning how to communicate a desire to ascend can be a tricky task. Having a good boss, for one, definitely helps. “I’m actually very serious when I say that the most important thing for getting your start in publishing is finding the right boss,” insists Carolyn Reidy, President and CEO at Simon & Schuster. Her own boss at her first job in Sub Rights “knew that knowledge was power, and she knew how to share it—two very important things.”
In other cases, however, discussions about job opportunities need to be pursued more aggressively, a task that is sometimes fraught with office politics. “I think our generation is struggling to articulate the nature of [being able to speak up to superiors when they need something], and just trusting business best practices,” says Claire Taylor. Some argue that actions simply speak louder than words. “Enthusiasm and can-do are crucial, but it’s never about ‘communicating my skills’ or ‘what I want’ so much as it is about getting things done,” says Carolyn Reidy. “There are always skills and tasks waiting to be learned and that will further your ability to contribute.” One Production Associate we interviewed agreed: “I think it’s important to learn how to get what you want, and to learn the proper way to present yourself, even if you’re doing great work on the job. Verbalizing your requests in a way that doesn’t make it about you, but about the process, the whole.”
Some new job opportunities, though, aren’t sought after-or even expected. For many, especially more senior publishing professionals, the publishing industry was not even where they intended to end up. “I came to New York thinking I was going to be an actor…publishing is lousy, you will find, with ex-thesps,” says Bruce Tracy, Senior Editor at Workman, who got his start working two temp jobs for FSG and Doubleday. It was an Editorial Assistant gig at Doubleday that got the ball rolling: “So I temped for 22 months until a new publisher was brought in and they promoted [my boss], and hired me as Assistant Editor.” Charles Kim, Associate Publisher at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), also got his start temping—in his case at the French Publisher’s Agency, which later turned into a full time job, and he has been recruited for his subsequent jobs ever since. “I’ve had great luck, as every single opportunity I’ve had in publishing has presented itself to me,” says Kim, a position that, while fortuitous, presents its own problems: when he was offered the opportunity for his current position, he was not necessarily ready to leave his job as Publisher and Editor in Chief of the Smithsonian‘s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum (where his wife also worked). “But when I found out [the job was for] MoMA,” he admits, “I thought I’d throw my hat into the ring.”
Unexpected opportunities, however, are not always positive at least not at first. Oriana Leckert, Director of Operations at Gotham Ghostwriters, was made Assistant Editor of Value Books at Random House within less than a year of being hired, when both her bosses were laid off. “It was a weird time in the department,” says Oriana. “I worked for the Info group, which included Collectibles and Games. The promotion came as a part of reorganization.” While the idea of moving up the corporate ladder is often an exciting one, playing catch-up was not necessarily ideal. Still, as she was learning about “being careful what you wish for,” she also learned she was capable of more than she had thought.
Similarly, Kevin Bauer had a bit of a rocky road on his way to his current position as Corporate Services Assistant at HarperCollins. Starting his career in bookselling, he eventually took his first publishing job in the contracts department at Bookspan, DirectBrands. Though he enjoyed his time there, he was laid off within the year due to the shrinking of the book club market. A temp job led him to his current—and rather unusual—position at HarperCollins. “I think working ‘between departments’ the way I am right now in Corporate Services, I’m learning a lot about processes, cutting back on waste, streamlining—and the fluidity of lines between departments,” he explains.
When unexpected opportunity presents itself, however, the important thing to do is to see how to leverage the skills you already have to get ahead. Rebecca Saletan, Editorial Director at Riverhead Books, for example, was promoted from an assistant position to Managing Editor at Vintage—a role that took her off her intended track toward becoming an Acquiring Editor. While not the path she intended, she did see the silver lining: “What I did learned is that you can leverage something you have of value – some way you’re contributing to the larger enterprise (in this case, my managing editor-related skills) into going in the direction you want (acquiring editor), even if it’s not a straight line,” she recalls. Leveraging her skills while making her acquiring ambitions known eventually paid off, as she was later promoted to Senior Editor at Random House and eventually moved to Simon & Schuster.
While there is no set road map to help navigate a career in publishing, the knowledge that there is no natural progression can be a comforting one. Especially as technology continues to disrupt traditional business models, the opportunities to work in the industry in different capacities only grow. Movement from job to job can be nonlinear, while still providing new skills and knowledge that will play a constructive role in one’s overall career. What does become clear, however, is that opportunities abound: from opportunities in moving amongst houses and departments, to even moving from one industry to another. What is important is to always look ahead. As Oriana Leckert comments, “In terms of my greater career, [my first and second job] taught me how to craft my ‘narrative.’ I can see what it means more now, but didn’t feel it at the time.”
Also, for related reading:
Your Next Job in Publishing: Sage Advice from Across the Industry from Publishing Trendsetter