Do you want to be part of the team that decides which books are published? Are you skilled at deconstructing stories, knowing what’s missing, and how to make them better? Do you dream of being part of the process that shapes promising manuscripts into stellar, sellable books? If you want to be the one who gets quality books into the hands of readers, a career as an editor or publisher might be for you. Scroll down to read what it’s like to be work at a well-known publishing house from an expert in the field, Eileen Robinson, publisher of Move Books, and one of the kindest, most inspirational people I’ve ever met.
How did you get started as an editor?
I fell into it. I was working as a temp at different companies and wanted desperately to get into magazine publishing. I had written written a query for Better Homes and Gardens on College Kids and Credit Card Debt. I was in college at the time (in a magazine writing 101 class) and used to see all these banks with their tables sitting outside the college. Our final assignment was to get something published. Of course the teacher didn’t expect anything grand. He was talking about publishing in the school newspaper – lol! But I didn’t know that. So I sent the query to the appropriate section of that magazine. I got a letter saying they would either pay me $50 for the idea or $500 to write a 500-word article. My teacher was stunned–he had prepared me for rejection. That word or feeling had no real meaning for me. So I thought, I’m going to be a magazine editor, but that was not to be.
I was temping in a doctor’s office one day, and called the temp agency begging them to get me out of there. I just couldn’t read the scrawl. It was my first day on that particular job, and it was giving me a headache. I had been temping for a long while and loved it, but now I was at my wits end and asked her to please just find me something in publishing, anything. I loved to read. What better place was there to be? So she did. The next day I was at Scholastic in the marketing department, working for a fantastic woman named Pamela Crowley. She gave me my start and encouraged me to apply within the company. She said, “You want to be an editor, go be an editor. Go get the position that’s for you.” I took her advice. Having written for Sony and other writing experiences, I guess I had an impressive portfolio for a young person (and I smiled a lot and bored them with all my passions and dreams I’m sure).
The Education Group later hired me as an Associate Editor working for Stacy Cinder, then Alice Dickstein, Gail Tuchman, and Margery Mayer. In the Education Group, I started out with Adriana Dominguez, now an agent at Full Literary Circle, Wiley Blevins who took me under his wing – he always says, “I knew her when she was a baby editor” LOL – and who I now have the pleasure of working with side-by-side on building a new trade imprint at Reycraft Books. Don Curry (who had the most infectious laugh) kept me from shriveling up under pressure, as well as friends like Elizabeth Zapata and Cynthia Walker. Scholastic threw me in the fire and I had an awesome time. I evolved into an editor and, eventually, into a publisher.
What is a typical day like?
At Scholastic, I worked on parts of the core reading program but did lots of supplemental projects, too. Later I moved into school and library publishing for Scholastic then Harcourt, and did work with book clubs, magazines, and trade. A typical day I guess was like at any other job. You come in, you work on the projects you need to work on, you go to lunch (sometimes), you go home and then start all over the next day. However, there were always books at different stages in the editorial process so that kept it interesting. There were always meetings. The ones I cringed in the most were the production meetings where the managing editor went down the list of where each project was on the schedule. No one wanted to be behind or you better have a good excuse LOL! As my positions became more complicated, I got more into writing marketing copy, doing P&Ls (Profit & Loss Statements), and learning about paper, printing and binding. Eventually I started going to trade shows and presenting new products in front of sales – the most fun group of people you’d ever want to meet, but that didn’t stop me from having sweaty hand syndrome every time I got in front of them.
What training, education or preparation would help prepare someone for your job?
Many editors I know have a Liberal Arts Degree, or have been teachers so they have a Master’s Degrees. Today they have publishing programs in a lot of colleges which they didn’t have when I was coming up. Back then, the best you could do was major in English and get experience on your school newspaper. In my English classes, I discovered what I liked and disliked, and formed my own opinions, which encouraged me to read more. I think I just had a passion for books and the authors who wrote them. I spent my time in libraries and bookstores (and less time on the computer, which at the time were more of a means to an end, not entertainment). Internships in publishing have also become an integral part of college education today. I don’t think you need a specific degree to be an editor but you definitely need hands-on experience. Classrooms might give you the basics, a foundation, but there are so many variables in the process that you can only learn by doing. The best preparation is read, read, read and read some more. But it’s probably your natural inclination to do that anyway. You were doing it before you even discovered you wanted to be an editor (or a writer).
What skills do you think help you do your job well?
Learn a little bit about a lot. It takes a village to make a book–editorial, art and design, marketing, production, manufacturing, finance, sales. Find out where you fit in the process and how you can help others do their job better. Find out how the other parts of the process effect what you do, whether it’s deadlines or marketing copy. Yes, an editor can and should fall in love with a manuscript, but can you see past that? How does it stand up in the market next to other books like it? Is there a hole in the market that needs to be filled? What’s the financial investment needed to make this book work? Because guess what? The people who look at the bottom line care not only about your passion and the fact that you think this book is the most brilliant ever, they also want a return on their investment down the road. Now no one can predict for sure, but knowing these things can help you fight for what you love.
What type of person would be a good fit to be an editor or publisher?
A person who loves to read, and dig in and talk about story. If you can look at a story and say, “This should go here or that should go there,” or, “What would happen if the author did this?” It’s a good start.
What are the down sides of your job?
I get overwhelmed because I take on too much. You have to be able to say when you can’t do something because the time is just not there. That’s hard for me. Even now, I sometimes underestimate the time it takes to complete a task and then sometimes something I think is going to take a few minutes, takes longer because I’ve run into other questions or issues. You can be passionate about your job but don’t let yourself get to the point of not eating or sleeping.
What are the up sides of your job?
I’m getting books into the hands of young people! That’s it. At the end of the day, I hope some child or teenager is enjoying what we – the author, the team, and me – helped create for them. And I get to help authors achieve their dream. As a publisher I can help on another level but it’s still all about getting books into the hands of young people.
What resources, professional journals, organizations or social media sites keep you informed about your industry?
The SCBWI (Society of Book Writers and Illustrators), Publisher’s Weekly, School Library Journal, The Horn Book, and social media such as Twitter. But nothing beats relationships in the real world. Get out there and talk to people who are doing what you want to do.
Any words of advice for people interested in this job?
Read, read, read. Do internships at both big and small publishers. If you are not sure what kind of publishing you want to go into, look at different divisions – trade publishing, school and library, education etc. Explore if you can. Talk to editors. If you can’t get an internship, ask an editor if you can shadow him or her for a day. Find a mentor–someone who is willing and has a little time to help you explore the industry, give you some homework to do, get you entrenched in the life of an editor. Get out there and make it happen!