This is an archived conversation and not actively maintained.
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Hosted by Paula Foster
Edited by: Richard Melancon
The following Guest Speaker Discussion originally took place on WRK4US in June of the year 2002. Because WRK4US has a confidentiality policy, all names and email addresses have been altered or removed, except for the moderator's and the Guest Speakers'.
The discussion can be read in two ways- by simply scrolling down and reading the whole thing, or by clicking on the topical links below, which take you to specific places within the discussion. The discussion can also be printed out in its entirety for your reading convenience.
Special thanks to Richard Melancon who volunteered his time to edit this discussion and prepare it for posting on the web. If you are interested in editing a future discussion, your help will be much appreciated; email Paula Foster, WRK4US List Manager, at email@example.com
DEFINITIONS OF JOB TITLES IN PUBLISHING
BREAKING INTO ACADEMIC PUBLISHING
THE FREELANCING LIFE
MAKING CAREER ADJUSTMENTS IN A PUBLISHING JOB
ACQUISITION AND REVISION PROCESSES IN PUBLISHING
THE ROLE OF MARKETING
ENTRY INTO WEB PUBLISHING POSITIONS
THE IMPORTANCE OF TEAMWORK
THE FUTURE OF UNIVERSITY PRESSES
HELPFUL E-MAIL LISTS, BOOKS, ARTICLES, AND WEBSITES
Rutgers University Press
Before I even begin my introduction, I want to thank Paula and WRK4US for inviting me to participate in this guest discussion. I actually first learned about academic publishing from a guest speaker on WRK4US about two years ago, so I'm especially happy to be participating in this Q&A session.
My official title is "acquisitions editor for the sciences" at Rutgers University Press, but the short version of this is "science editor." I literally acquire book manuscripts for publication. My job responsibilities include signing about 15-25 books a year in several fields related to science and medicine; developing budgets and publishing plans for these titles; evaluating proposals and manuscripts and supervising the peer review process; presenting titles both to an in-house editorial committee and a faculty committee; helping authors revise their existing manuscripts; preparing manuscripts for copyediting, design, and production; and attending 4-5 conferences annually to solicit proposals, find out more about new scholarly trends, and extend my personal networks. Many editors have some sort of assistant to help them with these tasks; I "share" mine with one other editor. Compensation for publishing isn't as bad as everyone seems to think it is, but you won't get rich, either. Junior editors, such as myself, generally start out at about the rate of an assistant professor in the humanities at a public university.
I started at RUP in January of this year, following a brief stint as an acquisitions assistant at the University of Pennsylvania Press, where I had interned before I joined the staff. If you include the internship, I've been in academic publishing for about eighteen months. Meanwhile, I finished my Ph.D. in History and Sociology of Science at Penn. I'm tremendously lucky in that I acquire in history of science as well as the "hard sciences," so I get to apply knowledge from my own field in my daily work. While some acquisitions editors do not hold advance degrees in their fields, Ph.D.s, ABDs, and M.A.s are not unusual. An editor with an advanced degree can be useful to a university press because it suggests a certain scholarly bent, and this can be helpful in signing authors. At the same time, however, university presses are reluctant to hire anyone who doesn't have some previous experience in publishing. If you apply for an assistant's job, you'll be competing against recent college graduates who may have spent several years interning at a major trade publishing house or at another university press; if you apply for an editor's job, you'll be competing against assistants and junior editors with several years experience and a list of signed titles. At least a year as an assistant is typical; ABDs and Ph.D.s often move up the ladder more quickly.
On any given day, I respond to e-mails, letters, and phone calls from prospective authors, contracted authors, readers, and agents. I plead with authors to turn in their manuscripts, plead with readers to mail in their reports, and plead Rutgers' case with prospective authors in competitive situations. I negotiate contracts and occasionally deal with lawyers. I make cold calls to people whose work I've seen in journal articles or on internet discussion groups to inquire about their writing plans. I interact with other departments at RUP, including marketing, production, and business, to help smooth each project's transition from a manuscript to a book. Every once in awhile, I actually get a chance to read a manuscript. Because editors essentially deal simultaneously with projects in four separate stages ("courting," or pre-proposal; evaluation; revisions; and production), they have to be ready to shift gears at the drop of a dime. This is exciting--no day is ever boring--but it can also be exhausting and takes a certain kind of manic personality.
I like my job best when I'm meeting new people and sharing their excitement about new projects. To a certain extent, I'm a professional networker. I like it least when I'm either getting bogged down in details or have to deliver bad news. And there is unfortunately at lot of this, especially in dealing with authors. You have to be willing to take as well as deliver rejection. It's also nearly impossible to do the job well within a regular work week, and most editors find themselves carrying manuscripts home with them on a fairly regular basis. The flip side to this, though, is that it's the kind of job where you don't really need to be physically in your office every day to do it well, and many editors have flexible arrangements with their presses where they sometimes work at home.
In short, I find acquisitions editing intellectually rewarding, exciting, and a great application of the skills I learned in graduate school. It's also hard work and occasionally frustrating. I'm looking forward to answering your questions during the first half of the week--I leave for a conference early Thursday morning, so be sure to post early in the week if you want to know something specific. Fire away!
Freelance Editor, Writer, and Consultant
In 1977, when I received my Ph.D. in English from Ohio State, few academic jobs were available in the humanities. Over the next several years, I applied for teaching positions and juggled academic work with outside options. On the academic side, I taught as a lecturer at Ohio State and an adjunct at St. Peter's College, Englewood Cliffs; joined the Seminar in the Renaissance at Columbia; presented conference papers; and began to publish my dissertation research. At the same time, I attended job-hunting workshops, contacted other Ph.D.s working outside the academy, and accepted freelance jobs writing, revising, and proofreading reports for funded projects.
Early in 1979, I attended a regional Modern Language Association meeting and, thanks to my train's serendipitous delay at Yale Station, shared a cab with another woman heading to the conference. The next day, I recognized her in the book exhibits, struck up a conversation, and discovered that she was a textbook editor at a major publishing company. I learned from her what copy editors do, sent her a resume, and then decided as the weeks passed that I'd simply walked into another dead-end alley. Months later, when the textbook cycle was in full swing, she offered me a trial freelance job, editing the brief grammar handbook at the back of a business writing textbook. Thus began what has been my career as a freelance editor, writer, and consultant for over twenty years.
My work has changed as I've moved from copy editing (fine-tuning text and preparing it for production) to developmental editing (working with the publisher, the in-house editor, and the author to help a text evolve over many months and years) and most recently to textbook authorship. Over time, I've also tackled a wide variety of freelance tasks--writing, revising, adapting, updating, cutting, and compiling sections of textbooks, instructor's manuals, electronic and print ancillaries, marketing comparisons, and similar materials. Besides working for textbook publishers, I've written grant proposals for school districts and universities, designed and taught writing workshops for graduate students in education at two universities, co-authored a scholarly bibliography, and, as an outgrowth of my editorial work, co-authored composition textbooks.
As I've traveled this career path, some of the most important lessons I've learned are these: be patient, allow time for options to develop, be willing to take modest risks, and try out the opportunities that come along--expected or not. I'd also recommend examining your own talents, abilities, and needs as realistically as possible. Besides skills in reading, analyzing, writing, revising, and editing--all honed as I wrote my dissertation and taught many sections of first-year composition as a graduate student--life as a freelancer requires self-discipline, hard work, and the basic business skills necessary to schedule projects, keep accurate time and expense accounts, meet deadlines, and manage tax and other records.
Currently, I'm wearing multiple hats--completing two textbooks as an author (reading final proofs), preparing to co-author a scholarly book and author another textbook, beginning work as a developmental editor on a textbook, and running a summer writing workshop for doctoral students. Whatever the specifics, I spend most days writing at the computer or reading and annotating manuscript. Either way, my fundamental task is tinkering with text.
I retain some connections with the academic world, occasionally writing grant proposals or consulting as a writer or editor. In addition, my writing workshops (offered at my discretion through extended studies at a local university) allow me to enjoy the classroom while ducking the exasperations of full-time academic life. Although I am spared the endless committee meetings and conflicting values that pit teaching against publication, freelancing also has its drawbacks. It requires a high tolerance for independent work; it can be isolating when the scales tip toward too much work and too little personal life; and it may, especially at the beginning, seem to jump from feast to famine. In addition, colleagues can be just as cranky and difficult as those in any other work environment. Even so, my work has been satisfying and varied, with a new project always right around the corner.
Please let me know what you'd like to know. I'll don the appropriate hat--and try to sketch the joys and challenges of my slice of the workplace.
Freelance editor and consultant
I appreciate this opportunity to talk a bit about my work and experience as an English Ph.D. working in a non-academic setting. My story is for the most part a tale of timing, perseverance, and a willingness to try new things. The kind of work I do now actually blends many of the best parts of my two professional lives--the first as a college English teacher, and the second as an editor and publisher. While I don't work in the academy today, I do work very much with the academy, and I draw on my academic experience on a daily basis.
I went to grad school at Illinois in the 1980s and taught for five years full-time after that. My first two years were spent as an adjunct faculty member teaching a four-four load; in 1991 I was hired into a tenure-track position teaching modern literature and critical theory. For personal reasons (a long-distance relationship), I left that tenure-track job for a one-year visiting appointment that I hoped would become permanent. Neither the job nor the relationship turned out to be permanent, and I faced a "transitional year" in 1993.
After working for a few months in a bookstore, I came upon a job posting for a position as a production editor with the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), in Urbana. Because I had worked on a few books and journals (mostly proofreading and indexing) during grad school, and because I had the teaching background, I managed to get hired for that position. That was in 1994 and I've worked in publishing ever since.
My academic background in English, coupled with an obsession for detail and order, proved to be a viable package for success in publishing. After a year on the production side, I moved into acquisitions and development, and in 1996 I was named the Director of Publications at NCTE. In that job I needed to learn the entire publishing process, from management, acquisitions, and development, to production, manufacturing, marketing, sales, and distribution. I really enjoyed being a team leader and organizer, and I discovered that publishing was inherently a more collaborative activity than academic work.
When the work we were doing at NCTE began to be noticed by other publishers, I began to get calls from some of the larger commercial firms. In 1999, Addison Wesley Longman made me a great offer and I fulfilled a lifelong dream by moving to New York City. There, I worked as an acquisitions editor, managing the Longman list in communication and journalism. I'd been in that position for a year and a half when AWL merged with Allyn & Bacon, and my list was transferred to the A&B offices in Boston. I had the opportunity to move there with the job, but decided instead to accept a severance package and 'go freelance'. I've been a self-employed editor and consultant for about two years now, and I have always had more work than I can handle at any given time.
The work that I do today generally falls under the heading of "developmental editing." I am generally working on four to six book projects at any given time. Most of these are textbooks (in composition and literature), but I've also continued to work on scholarly projects for Teachers College Press and the like. Development editors work very closely with the authors: I read draft chapters, suggest new structures or approaches, and evaluate reviews from outside readers to gauge how well a manuscript is faring in the market. I have consulted on new proposals and often been involved in competitive signings when asked. Phone conferences with authors, email correspondence, and administrative details take a few hours each day, but I usually get in a good five to six hours a day of "quality time" editing manuscripts. When a manuscript I have developed goes into production, I usually review and consult on design issues, and I often review proofs (although I don't proofread them; that's someone else's worry).
Textbooks are a great challenge because they require, by definition, a writing style and approach that is pedagogically sound and accessible for students, while at the same time they need to be current and sound from a scholarly point of view to appeal to the instructors who adopt and use them for their classes. I love brainstorming new ideas with authors, and I often find myself very much in an unofficial co-author role as our relationship develops over time. Many projects require 18 months to 2 years for completion, so I get to know the authors very well indeed!
Schedules in commercial publishing are demanding, and the deadlines are real. I sometimes have to play the "heavy" and coerce authors into finishing work more or less on time. There's a certain amount of tedious detail involved in preparing final manuscripts before they are typeset and printed, and a good bit of administrative paperwork, in the nature of any large bureaucracy. Because I am self-employed, I have to troubleshoot my own computer problems, file estimated taxes every quarter, and keep good financial records. Freelancing requires a high degree of self-discipline and motivation: I don't think I would have been successful ten years ago.
My editorial work has recently morphed into some writing projects as an author: I completed a small book about research and documentation earlier this year, and I am now working on a longer book about Shakespeare on film. Development editors often "moonlight" as authors on web sites, supplemental texts, instructor's manuals, and the like. I hope to do about half authorial and half editorial work over the coming years.
As I am fond of saying, I miss teaching, but not the other 90% of being an English faculty member. I am not tied to any geographic location and could carry my work anywhere that had a phone line and Internet connection. The flexibility to live where I want is one of the biggest advantages I have today. Many friends are still in dual-career academic long-distance relationships, and I am no longer willing to sacrifice the quality of my daily life for an academic position. I find publishing, even corporate textbook publishing, to be at least as intellectually stimulating, and certainly more collaborative, than academic work. I keep current with research in composition and literary studies, and actually have more time to do my own research and writing than I did while on the faculty.
I can't say I planned any of this. I just responded and adapted to what was in front of me, and along the way I developed some connections and some experience in the publishing field that has helped me get established as an independent contractor and consultant. My academic prejudices against corporate culture turned out to have been misplaced, and I continue to be amazed by the talents and energies of the editors and publishers I work with. Many folks with M.A.s, ABDs, and Ph.D.s in English end up working happily in the publishing world.
I welcome any of your questions--I've managed to work in several different kinds of publishing, and in different phases of the process, so I could perhaps talk about other things besides the developmental work I do today. I look forward to continuing this conversation as an online dialogue.
Assistant Editor, Encyclopedia of New Jersey
Rutgers University Press
(Note from Paula Foster: Speaker Peter Mickulas has asked me to post his intro for him. Here it is, below.)
My name is Peter Mickulas and I am currently the Assistant Editor of The Encyclopedia of New Jersey, a general reference work slated for publication by Rutgers University Press in 2003. I am also ABD in history at Rutgers. With a nearly "complete" dissertation, I plan on defending at the start of the coming academic year.
I began the Rutgers Ph.D. program in history in the fall of 1995. At Rutgers I found myself attracted to environmental history through the mentoring skills of my soon-to-be dissertation advisor. I eventually settled upon a dissertation topic--a history of the first four decades of the New York Botanical Garden--and had a number of chapter drafts written last summer when I began seriously interviewing for jobs.
Over the course of my Rutgers grad student career, I had taught sections of the US history survey at Rutgers-Newark and found the experience partially rewarding (the days when I felt I had mastery of the lecture material and enjoyed a particularly fruitful exchange with students), and simultaneously frustrating (I was never comfortable with grading, for instance). I knew I did not love the experience enough to devote myself to the serious craft of teaching, a decision made easier, of course, by the state of the academic job market. I was also disinclined to seek the long-shot tenure-track route by the fact that during grad school I had married (a philosophy Ph.D. student turned Manhattan ad sales rep) and my wife and I had effectively tethered ourselves (happily) to our native NY metro region, near our respective families.
While making modest progress on the dissertation, I managed to publish a couple of articles and to present at a few conferences--positive experiences that confirmed my desire to remain somehow a part of academia if not a member of the traditional, shrinking ranks of the tenured professorate. I also enjoyed the clear advantage of my wife's financial support, and thus was able to weigh my career options (somewhat) calmly. I began exploring the Web (I became a WRK4US subscriber and volunteer editor), and talked and met with University career counseling professionals. The director of Rutgers's career services center, it turned out, was an English Ph.D. and encouraged RU grad students to consider non-academic career paths. I also shared my ambitions with my advisor, who was supportive. Knowing that my favorite part of the academic life had been research and writing, the year before I began this job I volunteered as a writer for a New York-based public policy website, contributing brief articles on city politics and policy issues and helping to create a research guide to the city maintained at that website.
By last summer, when two appealing jobs opened--both based at Rutgers--I eagerly applied. I did not get the first, but wound up by September happily ensconced in the second. (At RUP, let me point out, I have had the distinct pleasure of forming a two-person dissertation support group with my co-speaker Audra Wolfe. I'll note also that Audra recently defended, so I've done MY job.)
The first post, the one I was not offered, was as an editor with the Thomas Edison Papers project. The job's duties--helping to edit and annotate for publication a fraction of the famous inventor's voluminous business and personal records--seemed to me the very essence of the historian's task: sifting primary archival records and weaving that evidence into a cogent narrative. The work as I envisioned it appealed to me since I had especially enjoyed the research I had done in the Botanical Garden's library and archives. Given my general unfamiliarity with the history of electrical engineering and the history of technology, however, I was unsurprised when I did not get the job.
Almost immediately after this disappointing process ended, however, I learned through my advisor of an unexpected opening at Rutgers Press, which was seeking to publish a general reference work on New Jersey's history, culture, arts, and sciences. The project had begun several years earlier with highly successful fundraising efforts and the convening of advisory and editorial boards. The original assistant editor had decided to leave the Press, and my committee chair was close to one of the editors-in-chief of the volume. Given these Rutgers connections, it wasn't difficult to land an interview (the same dynamic clearly had helped me get in the door at the Edison Papers).
My work at the Encyclopedia is primarily administrative, since the job of reference publishing, I've learned, is filled with sometimes daunting logistical effort. I've supervised a small staff of both student and full-time workers and in turn serve as an assistant of sorts to the editors-in-chief of the project. I am, however, also able to research, write, and edit content in addition to these administrative duties. At the same time, I have also been fortunate to work for a director willing to encourage me to learn about as many aspects of the University Press publishing world as I can. As my primary duties with the ENJ have settled into something resembling a rhythm (attributable to the very able staff I inherited from my predecessor), the RU Press director and the editor-in-chief have invited me to sit in on meetings of the acquisitions editors and to read and report on several history-related manuscripts. In the near future I am also slated to pitch in and work with the Press's marketing department. All told, such extracurricular work has enabled me to learn a good deal about Audra's world in the office down the hall. Since my current job is grant-funded and due to be completed later next year, I am eager to continue this learning process in the hopes of remaining in the business.
(Incidentally, I've found the discipline required of a full-time, regular work schedule has only helped me as I try and finish the dissertation. Two of my chapters have been written since I began last September.)
To conclude this introduction, I must say that while I am happy to share my experiences with WRK4US's readership, I realize I have benefited from some strokes of good luck. Some of you may feel distanced from my story because of my good fortune in being married to a person with a good salary. That has been helpful. But it hasn't been the whole can of worms. My career, such as it is, has still progressed in much the same way as anyone else's: through building connections with others, researching possible careers,
applying for positions, saying "yes" when a position is offered, accepting the help of mentors, and being willing to take on expanded responsibilities in a each position.
I look forward to this week's conversations and will be happy to field questions regarding my little slice of the academic publishing world.
Francine Weiss (joined discussion on Thursday)
I am sending along a message describing my own career in publishing because Paula thought it might be helpful to those of you also interested in electronic or web publishing. The first part of this message is about my book publishing experience. The second half is about moving into electronic publishing:
I began a book-publishing career upon graduating from college, where I majored in English with course work in studio art and art history. Book publishing naturally piqued my interest because of my dual interests in art/design and writing/literature. As a college junior, I interned for a literary agency in Massachusetts. It was a great introduction to the publishing industry and familiarized me with various companies and types of publishing.
The way into my first interviews for entry-level editorial positions in publishing was college recruiting. But outside of that, I also contacted alums from my college who worked in NY publishing houses, used contacts from the literary agency where I worked, and referred to newspaper ads for jobs. I was offered a few jobs in NY at major publishing houses, both in trade and in textbook publishing; however, the pay was very low. I decided to remain in Boston, where I could live less expensively and where I was getting good temp work for publishing houses. I worked at Blackwell, the international publisher with a division in Cambridge, temped at Houghton Mifflin in the marketing department, and interned at Beacon Press. I got job offers with all three after temping for a few months. The key was January--most publishing companies have new approved budgets in January--not in June, when people graduate from school. And wherever I worked, even at the lowest levels, I handed out my resume. I received my first job at Blackwell as an Editorial Assistant, but my connection with them began when I temped as the receptionist for two weeks; I introduced myself to the editors and left them copies of my resume. They called me several months later for work.
As an EA in science/medical textbooks at Blackwell, I did development work. I did administrative tasks. And I did market research for book projects. I traveled to conferences where I solicited for manuscripts as I sold textbooks.
But I actually left book publishing to enter electronic publishing, and it was a good decision for me. Book publishing was great, but I realized to go further in textbook publishing (to become an Editor), I'd have to become a "sales rep." Sales reps travel around their region by car, interviewing professors or textbook users and selling books. It wasn't my cup of tea. But I also knew that I was impatient enough not to want to quietly edit or proofread alone in my office, which was my alternative to acquisitions work. Meanwhile, I was watching Boston publishing companies merge and lay people off. I decided to go into electronic/web publishing for these reasons and for the fact that I wanted to use my design and writing skills more.
When I entered internet publishing, for entry level work, I was entrusted with more responsibility and was immediately making more money (about $5,000 more). I started as an Associate Editor at Lawyers Weekly, a company that publishes several state legal newspapers and a national paper. There were a few of us editors, and we all managed our own web sites (there was one for each online newspaper, based on the hard copy paper). As the site expanded, so did my responsibilities. I became an Editor within 6 months. And when I left a year and a half after that, I was doing all the graphics and design for the site and even created a new jobs web site for the company. In this line of work, I liked the faster pace (of daily work and of promotions), the variety of projects, the expansion of my job (this comes naturally is a site does well), and the collaborative nature of the work. I tended to work closely with hard copy paper editors in other states and with our programmer. In fact, the jobs web site I created for the company was a collaboration between myself and the programmer; he did the backend work (the programming that managed and displayed the data, that made the search engine work), and I did front end design. When I left my job, I looked into consulting/contract work. The area was rife with opportunities for that kind of work, and I found I'd make about 3 times my normal salary doing freelance web design/coding. I was also learning some programming at the time.
For those of you who are wondering what skills are needed for this work, it really depends on the kind of work in web publishing that you want to do. At the time, knowing html was vital. Now, however, many people use html editors to do this work; some knowledge of code is helpful to correct things you may not like that these html editors do. I also learned Photoshop. Now, a knowledge of Flash is helpful. And programmers learn web programming, such as "Cold Fusion" (by Allaire) and "Active Server Pages" (by Microsoft).
Beyond the technical jobs, there are opportunities for people who are good at management and at writing. When I was working in web publishing, my company and others were looking for good writers. Many of my friends as they moved up, entered project management. This can be a nice area of work for people who like to manage projects and people but who may not want to learn and re-learn specific computer programs and languages. My project managers understood the Internet but did not have each skill I, or programmers, had. One thing that is extremely important in any kind of computer work or Internet publishing is collaboration. I emphasize this aspect of the work because many people in graduate school learn to develop their own ideas for a dissertation, for syllabi, etc. Graduate students and professors are trying to build their reputations and make names for themselves; the emphasis is more in individual accomplishment. In my web publishing job, the ability to work with others was important, and while we were evaluated individually, this was largely done in terms of how well we worked within the team or group. And much to my surprise, when the site was doing well, we were rewarded as a group within the company. We were building a group reputation.
I left Internet publishing to return to graduate school and am a Ph.D. candidate at Boston University in American studies. Most of my work now is in museums. But I find that my publishing experience is very helpful with research tasks and organizing publication projects at museums. Certainly, my computer skills have come in handy. I see a lot of opportunities for academics/grad students in web publishing.
Feel free to ask me any questions about web/electronic publishing (or even trade and textbook publishing, literary agencies, or museum work). I'm glad to help.
Request from Paula:
In his introduction, Michael mentioned that in one position he held, he had to learn
the entire publishing process, from management, acquisitions, and development, to production, manufacturing, marketing, sales, and distribution.
Speakers, would you please define some of those terms as you see them in the world of academic publishing? Lots of people on this list (including myself) would appreciate an overview of what each of those things really is and how they all work together.
Thanks, and BTW it's okay if your viewpoints differ.
Answer from Michael:
I can make an attempt to define some of these terms. They're arranged roughly in sequential order, from the beginning to the end of the publishing process or cycle:
- MANAGEMENT: Managers are often called Editor-in-Chief or Publisher, or often Director in the case of University Presses and most non-profit association publishers. Management involves the setting of editorial direction and goals (what kinds of books to publish, and for which markets). Management also involves financial oversight and administration. This might include deciding to develop an online publication, to move into a new field or discipline, or assigning roles and responsibilities among staff members.
- ACQUISITIONS: Acquisitions is essentially the research and development division in a publishing house. Acquiring editors search out new authors and new projects, recruit folks to write and revise books, and negotiate contracts for the development and publication of manuscripts once the decision has been made to publish them. Ideally, acquisitions editors work closely with marketing and sales, to make collaborative decisions about what kinds of books to seek and sign. Acquisitions editors often serve as "list managers," meaning they are responsible for administrative oversight of the books in their discipline or field. (Acquisition editors always talk about their "lists"--shorthand for the pool of authors and books they have published or are developing.)
- DEVELOPMENT: Development is what happens to a manuscript between acquisitions and production. Once the acquisition editor signs a project, it has to be developed (i.e., written and revised, perhaps several times) before it's ready to be made into a book. Many authors are left to develop manuscripts more or less on their own. Sometimes a draft manuscript may get a round of review from outside readers. Big textbooks are intensively developed, with multiple rounds of reviews (often as many as ten or twelve reviewers at each stage) and intensive editorial input from people like me.
- PRODUCTION: This is the stage during which a manuscript is transformed into a book. Production includes copy editing, design, and typesetting (an industry and an art unto itself), proofreading, and final preparation of cover art, photos, and interior art for the printer.
- MANUFACTURING: Printing and binding, usually done by outside firms, rather than by the publishers themselves (RR Donnelly is the world's largest; there are other printers large and small, concentrated in the Northeast and Michigan, where the paper mills are, I believe.)
- MARKETING: Promotion of books before and after publication. This can involve direct mail flyers and catalogs, online promotion, and convention exhibits. Marketing should also be involved in market research, and in my opinion, should be actively involved in making publishing decisions. Too often, marketing is expected to work miracles and sell books that are too esoteric for wide appeal. Many authors believe their book would sell more "if only it had been properly marketed." I believe many publishers do not effectively integrate marketing and editorial (acquisitions) functions, with the result that those respective divisions or departments work at cross purposes.
- SALES: Many large publishers have sales reps who work directly with customers (bookstores, college professors) to hand-sell books directly. Many folks start their careers in college textbook publishing as sales reps. It involves travel and hard work (leg work, like any sales job), but it is interesting and the pay is good. Many acquisitions editors and in-house marketing staff members started out as sales reps.
- DISTRIBUTION: The process of getting books from the warehouse to the customers. Retail distribution involves working with the chains (Borders, Barnes &Noble), trade distribution works with other sales and media outlets, and textbook distribution is focused on college bookstores. Recently, retail distribution has been heavily conglomerated, with Ingram dominating the market. Distributors negotiate with the publishers for discounts, and in turn with the bookstores, to secure shelf space and in-store promotion.
In the best companies, this process is actually circular. Sales results and market data are fed back in to the acquisitions process, and new books are acquired and developed based on what has been learned by last year's successes and failures. Each of these stages is often a division or department in larger companies, and folks tend to be attracted to one or two areas more than the others. I like the creativity and content-rich work in development; I have friends who love computers and really enjoy design and typography. Publishing is a huge and growing field. For a while in 1998-99, we were losing people to the dot-coms, but that cycle has reversed and many folks are once again "coming home" to print publishing in one form or another.
Internships as Springboards into Publishing Careers
Question from C. J.:
I'm really excited about this week's discussion topic: I'm ABD in Linguistics, and have been seriously thinking about jumping into publishing (for multiple reasons - and after reading the guest speakers' introductions, I'm even more sure that this might be a good move for me).
As I've been exploring this possible career track, I've been asking the publishing representatives at various conferences how they got into publishing, and if they have any tips and such. Several of them have said that a good way to get experience and to make sure that I'm really interested in publishing is to do an internship with an academic company. What do the guest speakers think of this? I notice that Audra had an internship; did anyone else? How does one go about finding one of these? Would it be unusual for someone with a Ph.D. or who is ABD to be an intern (are interns typically undergrads?)?
Answer from Audra:
Those publishing reps C. J. has been talking to have given good advice--you should DEFINITELY look for an internship for several reasons. First, as she mentioned, it's an excellent way to find out if you really like the work, and of course you get good experience. But as a practical matter, internships are of course a terrific way to get your foot in the door. I was ready and available at Penn Press when both of their assistants quit (ironically, both left to go to grad school!). Similarly, my new assistant at Rutgers had worked here previously as a work-study, and we know and trust her. As many of the guest speakers on earlier topics have pointed out, good employees are hard to find, and if you can convince staff members that you are responsible, personable, and bright, you've got a leg up on candidates with twice as much experience.
How do you get an internship? Many presses have formal summer internship programs, and it is true that these jobs (if you can call them that--most are unpaid) typically go to undergraduates. If you're willing to work for free, though, the best suggestion I can offer is to simply offer your services to a local press, typically at the beginning or end of a semester. If you know a supportive faculty member who has worked with the press before and can call or write a letter of introduction, even better. It's hard to turn down free help! Since I had a non-service graduate fellowship that paid the bills (sort of), I felt comfortable "volunteering" about 10 hours a week.
It's not entirely weird to be an ABD or Ph.D. intern, and will do a lot to soothe potential employers' fears that you've just jumped on the publishing bandwagon. After they'd hired me, my current supervisor told me just this--they were worried about hiring someone just out of/finishing up grad school and without much experience, but took me seriously because I showed "seriousness of purpose."
Finding Entry-level Positions at Presses
Question from Paula:
Peter, your position seems more entry-level than the others. Is that true? If so, how would a WRK4US subscriber begin a search for similar positions at other presses?
I would also be very interested to hear the speakers' comments on the role of Peter's type of position in the academic publishing industry. How many such positions are there, and what role do they play in the big picture?
Answer from Audra:
Within university presses, Peter's job is fairly rare: resources are tight, and very few projects are large enough to justify their own separate, in-house staff. I gather from Michael and Marcia's comments that the situation is somewhat different in the
This is not to say, however, that there aren't a world of entry-level positions out there waiting for eager would-be publishers! Besides the internships and acquisitions assistants,
which we discussed earlier, there are marketing assistants, publicity assistants, exhibits assistants, production assistants, and assistants to the director, etc. In each of these jobs,
you're basically combining the skills of an administrative assistant with those of your supervisor. So, if you're an acquisitions assistant, not only do you take care of "your" editor's filing, photocopying, and mailing, but you probably help him/her find readers for manuscripts, prepare manuscripts for production, and when the editor's willing, evaluate manuscripts.
The university press world is very much one where you learn by doing and work your way up. Our director actually started out as a secretary, years ago, then became an acquisitions assistant, then an acquisitions editor, then an associate director, then a director. Just last weekend I met a freshly hired science editor at another university press who had started as a production assistant. So it's definitely a field where there are possibilities for upward mobility if you start at the bottom.
There is one catch here. It's often more difficult to move up within your own house than in another. I certainly would not have been given the level of responsibility I currently enjoy had I been promoted to an "assistant editor" (as opposed to an editor's assistant) at my previous employer, but in my current job, I walked in the door as "an editor," and that was that (more or less). Peter mentioned earlier that he and I enjoy an environment where initiative is rewarded, and it is true that Rutgers often hires from within. But this isn't always typical, and it has posed challenges for at least one member of our staff. In the same way that it's hard for adjunct professor and lecturers to be treated as authority figures and not simply as "more advanced graduate students" when they stay with their degree-granting institution, it's difficult for someone who used to be an assistant to make the transition to increased authority.
Answer from Michael:
I think Audra's right: from what I can see, these encyclopedia projects are still relatively few in number, and those that do currently exist (our counterparts at New York State, for example) enjoy different relationships with their University Press publishing houses, their academic departments, or universities. Some might be run in conjunction with a state's humanities council, historical society, or similar organization. The NJ Encyclopedia is entirely contained, organizationally speaking, within Rutgers University Press--with, of course, MUCH financial, intellectual, logistical, and institutional support from the State of NJ, various foundations and individual donors, and the University itself (and its constituent deparments.) Each of these other projects has been organized in a different way--with varying staff sizes and divisions of labor. (NY State, for example, has 5 or 6 Ph.D.s in positions similar to mine, I believe.)
So in some ways my position is a hybrid of sorts--it involves entry-level work but also the responsibilities (meetings with University foundation staff, grant-writing, reporting directly to the Press director and coordination of the work of a cartographer, illustrations editor, and seeing to the organizational needs of the editors-in-chief, writing, editing) of a somewhat different position. As I noted at the outset of the discussion, I believe my story to be both anomalous as well as serendipitous in that I got into a position with a good degree of responsibility and potential for in-depth experience without having held a prior publishing house job. This job, however, may in fact wind up making me a good candidate for a more "typical" entry-level job--as an assistant to an acquiring editor or marketing director, etc. We'll see.
Question from M. B.:
I have a question that applies both to academic publishing and trade publishing entry-level positions, especially as regards internships. I have been furiously applying to both sectors to no avail. I suspect that if one does not have previous experience as an intern during undergrad/grad school, then one is seriously jeopardized.
I just got my Ph.D. in English. I'm sure others on this list can sympathize--I have battleships of loans to pay and no partner to prop up my expenses. I just can't afford to take on a non-paid intern position but I REALLY am interested in the business. Honestly, what are the options?
Answer from Michael:
I imagine M. B. is not the only one in that position. I was there myself not that long ago. I did have to work a $6/hr retail job at Barnes & Noble for a few months, but it got better!
First, it might be worth sharing your resume with someone who's worked in publishing, to look for ways to re-frame it for a non-academic audience and a publishing job. Maybe you've already done that, but I've noticed a big difference between academic "CVs" and professional resumes. Resumes are very important--it's true that you have only a moment or two to catch a reader's attention as they flip through a stack of them!
I'd think the most likely job possibilities for someone like you would be jobs identified as "editorial assistant." I interviewed for and hired an assistant (after my assistant got promoted) a couple times in New York. Most of the applicants I interviewed were fresh out of college (undergrad); some had limited publishing experience or internships, some didn't. (They may have worked on a school paper or a journal, or perhaps had done a course in publishing, although that was pretty rare) I was interested in organizational ability, project management (as we were discussing yesterday), energy, and interpersonal communication skills (editorial assistants talk on the phone and email a lot!). EA positions are the front lines of acquisitions offices: most EAs work for one, sometimes two, acquiring editors. The job is a real "training ground" for other editorial jobs, including assistant editor, supplements editor (in the textbook world) and the like.
The other route might be sales rep. The major textbook publishers hire reps to cover specific geographical territories all over the U.S. Some may be in major metro areas; other might be three states in the West or something. Sales reps can and do become editors (I knew several such at Longman); some also go on to marketing manager positions; many like the freedom and travel of the sales work (and the money) and stay "in the field" as reps for years. It's not for everyone--long days on campus selling books to harried professors; lots of reports and emails to your regional supervisor; national sales meetings twice a year--but many folks really like it. You get a company car and a laptop. The pay is pretty good. If you have an outgoing personality and lots of energy, that can be an alternate route into editorial jobs, especially in the world of commercial textbooks. You could look at the web pages for Pearson Education, Thomson Learning, McGraw-Hill, and Houghton Mifflin, for starters, to see if any of them have informational postings about how to apply for positions in their sales force. (Those are the four mega-companies that now publish most of the textbooks in the US. Bedford/St. Martins and Norton are also major players in the discipline of English.)
A third option might be proofreading. NCTE had a "pool" of freelance proofers who would come in and work 4-hr shifts (paid by the hour) proofing journals, books, and direct mail flyers. Several of those proofreaders later became editors. Most university presses employ proofers--usually they will ask you to take a test (proofread and mark a sample piece of text); if you score well, and have a good eye for typos and other errors, they'll offer you sample projects and if you're good and thorough, you'll catch the editors' attention quickly.
The biggest challenge may be in convincing an interviewer that publishing is not a "last resort" in lieu of an academic job. But if you can convince someone that you're serious and want to work in publishing, you're on your way. Most of the people I have met in publishing are very passionate about books and writing and "the business," and they love to see eager new talent appear on their doorsteps.
I don't know where you are located, geographically, but I know in NYC there are always entry-level positions open somewhere, and so many different types of publishing firms to try out.
Answer from E. W.:
A quick word for M. B. from my own experience: it is very difficult to get people to take you seriously when you have a doctorate and yet you're applying for entry-level positions. I wish I could tell you a magic way to survive past the initial decision to discard your resume both because you're overqualified and because you have no experience. About the only things you can do are make it clear in your cover letter that you're looking for a new start and, as someone already said, that you are really serious about publishing, not just looking for a paycheck while you apply for teaching jobs.
Answer from Marcia:
I have some suggestions about hunting for that first publishing job. Certainly I'd apply for any available positions and pursue all the standard job-hunting strategies. However, I'd also look for networking opportunities, chances to meet people in the publishing business (or any other industry) who can give you advice. Many people will generously spend time talking with you about what they do and how their business works.
I'd approach such contacts as educational opportunities, and prepare for them as carefully as you'd prepare for a seminar presentation. Instead of asking for a job, ask what people do, how people generally get jobs in the field, what skills they need, how they advance, how they spend a typical workday, and how you can find out more. Instead of trying to promote yourself, concentrate on listening carefully so that you figure out what they value and need. (I learned that last lesson the hard way several months before I made my first publishing contact.) Look for a fit--not just a job--even though it's hard to do that when the wolf and all her pups are at the door. Personal contacts are powerful, and a positive exchange will override questions about the sincerity of your interest or possible biases about Ph.D.s.
Here are some possibilities:
- Textbook representatives and editors routinely visit campuses to sell books to faculty. Talk to your faculty committee members, the department chair, the director for undergraduate courses, or even the bookstore manager. Find out which companies visit your campus and your department, and see if you can contact or meet the sales representatives. Their primary interest, of course, will be selling books, but they also recommend reviewers and pass along comments to editors. And if you're interested in sales, you'd have a first-hand source, or perhaps discover some leads about editors to contact directly.
- Attend conferences and spend time at the book exhibit. Talk to editors about what they do and what freelance or in-house help they need. Large companies may have a Director of Development--the person who recommends freelancers to editors or commissions many freelance tasks. Follow up with a resume, agree to prepare an editing sample, or do whatever else is appropriate. Be patient if you're hoping for freelance work because publishers are likely to commission work several months ahead. (I got my first freelance assignment about six months after the conference where I met the editor who hired me.)
- Look for editing or writing opportunities on campus. Funded projects need writers and editors, as do many campus offices and publications. (Proofreading a college catalog may not be the highpoint of your week--but it's experience.) If you can't get an internship with a major publisher, volunteer somewhere on campus or in your community. Look for other educational institutions, nonprofit agencies, civic organizations, industry councils, or other groups that probably publish newsletters or magazines, need text for web sites, submit grant proposals, or prepare written materials for their members or supporters. (I've worked for three universities, numerous school districts, and assorted organizations besides my staple textbook publishers.)
- Check your campus alumni office. Many offices can supply alumni contacts in various fields. (For example, I've volunteered to advise English--or other--majors from my undergraduate school about freelance editing.)
- Besides investigating opportunities at any academic press related to your campus, look for other small publishers in your community. References such as Writer's Market are designed for fiction and nonfiction writers looking for publishers. Their listings include the big companies but also small trade publishers, academic presses, and magazine publishers. The editor who first hired me is an excellent textbook editor, but her first job in publishing was in children's books. Once you have entered the industry, you can watch for opportunities to move into other areas or jobs.
Once you've gained some relevant experience, remain open to unexpected opportunities. I've been offered freelance work by many individuals and groups simply because my friends and acquaintances know what I do. (For example, within recent months, I've been called by a company that needed writing training through a referral from a professional contact, I've been contacted about editing tasks by two faculty members from the campus where I offer writing workshops, and I've helped a friend who's an engineer rework the template for his company's standard reports. At the same time, I've freelanced for three textbook divisions.)
Networking and generating opportunities will take time and focus--but you'll be using the same intelligence, research skills, and perseverance that got you through graduate school. And who knows what will turn up?
Question from S. F.:
Another question, this time especially for the guest speakers who are freelancers: How have you gone about building up contacts and a pool of clients? You mentioned enjoying the flexibility of your work, because you can do it from anywhere with an Internet connection--but was it an advantage to have begun in a larger metropolitan area?
Answer from Michael:
I'll try to answer S. F.'s questions from my perspective.
I'll start with the freelance issue. I found it very helpful to have worked for some time "in house" before striking out on my own. In my case, I worked full time for about 7 years before trying freelancing. It's pretty important to know the publishing process so you understand how your work fits into the work rest of the team is doing. During that time, I built up a number of friends and colleagues who knew me and my work, so I did not have to "campaign" to get work once I left the company. It helped very much as well to have experience in commercial textbook publishing. It's a different environment and a different culture from scholarly press work, and it seems there is more money to be made by freelancing in the textbook industry than in scholarly books (I do both). A typical contract for manuscript development work on a textbook may run anywhere between $5,000 and $15,000; that amount is spread over one to two years, but it does make for a decent living if you do six to ten books a year, which seems to be about average among the DEs I know. University presses tend to pay more like $600 to $750 for development work on a manuscript, but those projects tend to be short term, maybe one to two months, so I squeeze those in between the longer, ongoing projects. Many folks also do copy editing and proofreading from home, but I like to work more on the acquisitions and development end of the process myself.
I still think it's a good idea to live and work in New York at some point, at least for a year or two. Despite the ongoing decentralization of the publishing industry, there's no substitute for being there at the center of the universe, where you learn so much so fast. I could not do what I am doing today without having had that experience. Plus now I know all the good restaurants when I visit the city!
Most of the freelance development editors I know have been in-house acquisitions editors for some time before freelancing, but I know it is possible to take other routes. I feel more informed and comfortable doing this work in the context of knowing how the rest of the business functions. My academic background and classroom teaching experience play into what I do today, especially on the textbooks, where I read with an eye toward "How would this play in the classroom?" It's a challenge to write for undergrads, especially in a field like composition, when most students are there to fulfill a requirement. I like to try to make the books fun and accessible, in the naive hope that a few students may actually read them!
The questions about the how to decide which projects to acquire, and how to develop them once you've signed them, get to the very heart of the whole business of publishing. For an acquisitions editor, making sound decisions about which proposals to pursue and sign (to a contract to publish) is the heart and soul of the work. Good editors combine instincts with hard research. Out of the alchemy of instinct and market data, you forge a sense for yourself about whether or not a proposed book will 1) ever be finished by the author, and 2) find an audience willing to pay for the right to own and read it once it is printed. You can't really "unpublish" a book once it is signed, but you can't wait until everything is a 100% sure bet either. Good editors build a rolodex full of names of reviewers, and they always ask for outside opinion (peer review, as it is known in the scholarly world).
My current work as a development editor revolves around working with outside reviewers and readers, as well as an ongoing sense of trends in the market, to decide how to develop and shape an ongoing manuscript. Again, it's a mixture of creative intuition and analytical research. I tend to play more on intuition myself, and a good "ear" for what an author is working to say. I read similar books, competing titles, and research journals in the field,
to develop a sense of what folks are looking for. Each project is unique, and authors have personae and voices that editors need to take into account. It's often a compromise (because time and resources are limited) but generally I feel like the books I work on are better as a result of having been conscientiously developed.
Answer from Marcia:
I'd also like to respond to S. F.'s question about the freelance life--contacts, clients, and locations.
Like Michael, I'm a free-lancer, but I've never worked in-house at a publishing company. Michael's route to free-lancing--moving from an in-house position to free-lance work--is far more common than my route. Because I had taught quite a few sections of first-year composition and had edited proposals and reports for funded projects, I had significant experience working with others' text before I was offered my first freelance job by a textbook editor.
When I was offered this first job many years ago (after meeting an editor at a conference as I mentioned in my introduction), I was given a relatively small section of text to copy edit. Copy editors need to be observant and consistent; their role is to prepare the manuscript for production by making the text internally consistent and clear in all points possible and by marking comparable elements for comparable treatment in print. My initial task was designed to find out how attentively and accurately I'd edit. It also allowed the in-house editor to discover whether I'd try to make the text as effective as possible on its own terms--respecting what its authors intended--or try to shape it to match my own biases about how and what to teach. (Because academics often bring strong biases into their textbooks, editors generally need to be vitally interested in the success of each book--helping authors accomplish the vision for each book as creatively and clearly as possible--but relatively disinterested, once a book is signed and accepted for publication, in changing an author's vision for that particular book.)
Of course, I'd asked my editor what I needed to do, and I acquired two reliable guides--the Chicago Manual of Style which is, as its subtitle claims, "The Essential Guide for Writers, Editors, and Publishers" and the most current edition of Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, also a standard resource for definitions, spelling, and hyphenation. Even though my work has shifted considerably over the years, I still follow these principles, keeping my reference works up-to-date and requesting clear descriptions of the work expected. In-house editors routinely commission and define tasks for freelancers; they often supply samples, models, or templates as well.
After my first freelance job, the same publisher asked me to do several other kinds of work--copy editing a full book, rewriting several chapters for another textbook, and editing an instructor's manual. I moved rapidly from "routine" copy editing to "heavy" copy editing of major books that needed intensive attention to consistency of terms, to the blend of various authorial voices, to appropriate level and tone, and so forth--all tasks that drew on my teaching background. I also moved further back in the process--from copy editing after a book was turned over for production to developmental editing, preparing a book for production.
I developed additional contacts with other companies primarily as editors changed houses (as frequently happens). Often an editor I knew contacted me from a new location, or an editor would recommend me to someone who'd moved. Over twenty-some years, I've probably worked for eight major textbook companies (though several are now imprints or divisions of the same company). And I've sometimes had other opportunities that I've been too busy to cultivate. Working for several companies is advantageous in that their cycles, even within a publishing category such as textbooks, may differ slightly. In addition, each is likely have its own ideas about the types of projects to offer, ensuring varied opportunities.
Had I begun as an in-house editor, I'd have understood the textbook publishing cycle more quickly, but it took me several seasons to figure it out from the outside. Developmental editors work year-round but are especially busy from summer through the winter, moving books into production. Copy editors, however, are busiest from fall to late winteror early spring. Both work around two sales meeting--typically late July or early August and early January, preceding the two academic terms when faculty consider adopting textbooks. Both also may move from textbooks to their accompanying ancillaries (instructor's manuals, supplementary exercises, Web sites, and so on) which follow the textbooks themselves.
Because freelance textbook work may ebb and flow with this cycle, I have always continued to work for other organizations as well--funded projects, universities, school districts, non-profit agencies, corporations, individuals faced with challenging writing projects, and so forth. These opportunities are more location-bound than assignments from textbook (or other) publishers. Although New York remains a publishing hub and I began freelancing when I lived in New Jersey, it's not necessary for a freelancer to live near a publisher or even within a major metropolitan area. Most communication is handled by email or telephone calls. Much material can be transmitted electronically, and manuscripts are generally shipped overnight or second-day. It's useful, however, to have a good computer, two phone lines, a reliable email system, a fax, and a friendly copy center and overnight shipper nearby.
Question from K. A.:
I have three questions. The first is about a specific position in academic publishing: the advertising and exhibits manager. I've been told about an opening available immediately at our university press. With no previous experience in publishing, how can I present myself as an attractive candidate for this kind of job? Can I move from this to an editorial position or would I be stuck in marketing?
My second question is about freelancing. While completing my Ph.D., I received a freelance assignment to write several chapters for a series of books by a reference publisher. They like my work, they pay well, and they have now offered me additional chapters. The problem is that I'd like to know whether they want to establish a more "permanent" relationship with me; is it appropriate to directly ask my editor whether she will want me after this particular project is over? How can I go about negotiating a better contract if she does want me?
Finally, I think I would prefer to go the freelance route rather than work in an office, but I don't have any reserves, so I need to know that somebody out there has a job for me. My ultimate goal is to support myself as a writer of fiction and magazine journalism, so do you think the freelance route would be better than a marketing position in publishing?
Answer from Michael:
While I'm hesitant to offer anything like advice, I can help a bit with K. A.'s questions as I understand them.
[Michael's quotation of K. A.s description of and questions about the university press advertising and managers job deleted. See above.]
A job with this description sounds like it would involve managing advertising traffic (space ads in journals) and exhibits at conventions. It would be a lot of organizational skills and detailed process management. You'd have to track the ads that were placed, and negotiate payment for them with the various journals. Exhibit managers usually ship booth materials and books out to the conventions, as requested by the editor and/or the marketing managers. I don't know if you would attend the conventions yourself, or manage the process, or both. That would be something to ask. This job sounds fairly removed from editorial work, so it may not be the best fit. But once you're in the door you can move around. Organizational skills, project management, and detail-orientation are always key skills in these areas, in addition to interpersonal communication (speaking and writing). Anything you can do to demonstrate skills in those areas (portfolios of you work; letters from people you have worked with) would help.
[Quotation of K. A.'s questions about freelancing deleted. See above.]
Well, by definition, there really are no guarantees in freelancing. By the same token, it is fair to ask if the publisher likes to build long-term relationships with its freelancers (most do) and to ask about the types of work you might be likely to be offered in the future. Marcia's advice is well taken here: focus on asking them what they need and then figure out how you can provide that. Be a good listener and try to discover what they are looking for in a long-term relationship with a freelancer, so to speak, and then do your best to meet their needs! I've been advised that one can ask for a raise in rates about every year or so, pending the successful completion of your previous projects.
[Quotation of K. A.'s questions about the choice between freelancing and full-time staff positions deleted. See above.]
Again, there is no safety net in freelancing, and it may be hard to guarantee any specific income, or cash flow, when you're starting out (not to mention taxes and health insurance). The safe route would be to work full time in house for a while first. I found that to be helpful--Marcia did not work in-house--so it really depends on your life and circumstances. Freelancing requires a lot of focus and self-discipline, so ask yourself honestly if you can really stay focused on work, on a daily basis, for 8 to 10 to 12 hours a day without somebody checking up on you! If you can, then I say go for it! Good luck!
Answer from Marcia:
Michael's response to K. A.'s question about freelance prospects is quite realistic. I'd add that you are generally quite likely to get more work from an editor who is happy with one project. Unless you were hired at a low "trial" rate, however, the budget is probably set for all the chapters in your immediate project. As a result, there may not be much negotiating space until you begin a new project--or, as Michael suggested, time passes.
I'd probably wait until I finished the second batch of chapters to ask about future prospects. By then, you will have further demonstrated your competence and reliability. And you will have a more substantial basis for saying that you have found the work engaging and would very much enjoy doing more. If your editor is concentrating on this project, however, he or she may not have more work to assign at the moment. You might also ask if other editors have work available or if there's a director of development who routinely gathers names of freelancers for general use. Editors often share names of freelancers within a company, but they also share names with their friends (often former colleagues) at other companies.
The advantage of freelance work is its flexibility; the disadvantage is its unpredictability. Publishers also have different cycles depending on category (textbooks, trade, etc.) and also may have different expectations of in-house editors (intensive focus and direct work on one or two major projects vs. management of many books with lots of freelance help). The consequence of all the variables is that a freelancer can't be certain of work, especially as a newcomer.
If you like freelancing, however, there are some ways to buffer yourself from the feast-or-famine cycle. Instead of depending on work from a single editor at a single company, try to expand your base. Stay in touch with any editors who move to new positions, ask current editors if they have suggestions for contacts if they like your work but have none to offer at a particular moment, and look for similar work outside of publishing houses so that you have other options. In my case, I try to accept grant-writing jobs--also wildly unpredictable--and other writing and editing tasks whenever they turn up so that I have varied work, different calendars, and some protection if an editor moves or a company's work pattern is disrupted (by a move, an acquisition, or a terrorist attack--just to mention a few events that have affected the companies I routinely work for).
If you have other writing interests--fiction, nonfiction, magazine articles, and so forth--you can readily advance these while freelancing as long as you manage your time very carefully. Magazine articles are probably more likely than books to generate regular cash infusions, however. Many guides to magazine writing exist, and they also explain how to do research on one topic but generate several salable articles by appealing to different markets and different readers.
The Logistics of Pay for Freelancers
Request from Paula:
Michael helpfully offered:
A typical contract for manuscript development work on a textbook may run anywhere between $5,000 and $15,000; that amount is spread over one to two years, but it does make for a decent living if you do six to ten books a year, which seems to be about average among the DEs I know.
Fascinating. Would the four speakers please elaborate on how those amounts are negotiated and paid out? In other words, how are rates determined, and are people generally paid by the hour, the chapter, the week, the project, or what?
Answer from Michael:
The pay question is an interesting and useful one. Most of the projects I work on are long-term contracts, with a total budget amount agreed to at the beginning of the project. That number ranges anywhere from $5,000 to $15,000 (on major textbook projects) and is the limit for the total development budget on the project. During these projects, I bill the publishers monthly, based on the hours I've worked ($35 to $40/hr is about average for development work, I believe). I work fast, so I (so far) manage to stay under budget for the finished project in most cases. The work I do is considered "work-for-hire," meaning the publisher "owns" anything I write or create, and they are free to use my ideas and concepts in future editions, whether or not I am editing the next one. (Those contracts are different from authors' publishing contracts, which are based on royalties as a percentage of net sales, in most cases).
During the months, I track my hours carefully (I use an Excel spreadsheet), by project, so I remember how many hours I've spent on each project. Keeping good records is important. Because I'm self-employed, I pay quarterly estimated taxes, and self-employment tax adds an additional 15% to federal income tax. I usually end up paying about one-third of my gross income in federal taxes, after deductions. So the forty bucks an hour is not as great as it sounds at first! (But it's still more than I ever made teaching English.)
Some of the short-term projects I do for scholarly presses tend to be flat-rate fees, around $600 to $750 for a complete manuscript. These rates generally seem to be an industry standard. The publisher will usually call and describe a project first, then tell me what the budget is. That budget is usually determined by the acquiring editor, who is working from a total budget for the book as a whole, which is in turn based on projected sales. Very successful books (in a revised edition) may have huge budgets and not always need them; smaller, newer books, which may require more work, may be limited by smaller budgets. So it's not always editorial need that determines the amount of money the publisher can invest in the book; it comes down to how much the editor can convince her boss the book will sell. I don't negotiate budgets, really (since the publisher generally knows my hourly rate up front), but I determine how much time I can invest on a project based on that budget. Sometimes I'd like to do more with a book, but the budget won't support long hours on the manuscript, so I have to let it go, and that's often the hard part. The leverage I have, insofar as I have any, is simply to say "no thanks" when a project is offered, and that's almost always a matter of time, for me, rather than money. I could keep a second Michael quite busy full-time as it is, and I have to watch myself so I don't take on too much work.
Additional commentary from Marcia:
Michael has clearly mapped out the logistics of pay for freelance developmental work, so I'll just add a few comments here and there.
A textbook publisher would be unlikely to hire a newcomer as a freelance developmental editor (DE) for a major book. (Content knowledge is useful for a DE, but it needs to accompany knowledge about textbook preparation.) Some of the ways to enter this field have already been mentioned--volunteering as an intern, taking a job as an assistant to an editor, gaining experience as a freelancer doing small jobs, moving from one area of publishing to another, and so forth. Academics also routinely work with textbook publishers in several capacities: reviewing books under consideration or development and writing ancillaries. If you are interested in reviewing, you might chat with editors at conferences and indicate your interest in reviewing textbooks for courses you teach as a TA or adjunct. (In textbook publishing, reviewers are nearly always expected to be potential adopters and thus to know how a book might work for the intended level or course.) This experience could supply a basis for further discussion with an editor.
As freelancers gain experience, they generally raise their rates. However, I'd advise any newcomer to accept small trial tasks willingly, even if the payment is at the low end of the scale. Demonstrating your skills and interest--and forthrightly asking questions to find out what you don't know--go a long way in the publishing business. After a successful trial, you can negotiate a higher rate. I'd also advise generally working for an hourly rate rather than a set fee, although sometimes this option isn't offered. Even if you are experienced enough to know whether a publisher's offer is based on a realistic time estimate, every job is fraught with its own perils and complications. You are far more likely to have to absorb the costs of these complications if you're paid by the task. (I keep records not just about the time a job requires but also about how long its components take, including page or other quantity counts. Over time, such records allow you to estimate work more accurately, thus improving both your negotiation and your time management skills.)
Working as a freelancer or a consultant of any kind requires that you learn to negotiate reasonable rates and to manage your own small business. (To the IRS, you're usually a "sole proprietor.") Try the following sites for useful advice:
JobStar Central, a site for job hunters sponsored by California libraries, collects salary surveys: http://www.jobstar.org/tools/salary/sal-prof.cfm
Nolo.com posts several articles on working as an "independent contractor"; click on this topic after you reach this webpage.
Besides hiring freelance DEs, copy editors, proofreaders, and indexers, textbook publishers commission all sorts of other tasks including analyses (especially of reviews and competing books) and writing (of ancillaries, supplementary materials, instructor's guides, exercises and answer keys, updated book sections, and so forth). Especially for the latter, your academic background and past teaching experience can equip you well for preparing "for-hire" material. Such tasks are often commissioned with flat fees but might also be paid on an hourly rate.
I'd add one final note. My estimate of my actual return is even more conservative than Michael's. I figure that I get to spend only one dollar of every two I earn. (My calculation adds the contribution to my retirement fund to the taxes Michael outlined.) Although publishers generally reimburse direct project costs such as duplication and shipping, I also have made major investments in equipment, supplies, and so forth over time. However, I began with the basics--and then added as I could see the business benefits of new equipment or specific materials.
Question from E. W.:
I'm a history Ph.D. who has unexpectedly found myself managing a large set of databases for a non-profit legal publishing firm. Though my official title is "editor," I'm really a project manager. While I enjoy my current job, I'd like eventually to work in publishing that's more closely related to my fields of interest, and I'm especially interested in developmental editing. What is the likelihood of a scholarly publishing firm looking positively on my managerial experience? Any suggestions on how to demonstrate my ability to do developmental editing when it isn't a part of my paid job?
A related question: my work is entirely electronic. What kind of opportunities are there to work in scholarly electronic publishing?
How do publishers regard non-credit course work in publishing? I've taken a few such courses and am considering taking more, but I'm not sure how beneficial they are for my career prospects.
A final note: for those of us who can't or don't want to move to New York City, Washington, D.C., hosts a good number of presses supported by academic and other non-profit scholarly organizations. These presses publish journals more than books.
Answer from Peter Micklaus:
I think that we're in similar situations: my work here at the Encyclopedia project is essentially that of project manager--managing a database and a small staff while holding the comforting title of "editor," which is something of a misnomer. I too am interested in using this experience to move into work more closely associated with my academic interests--what Michael I believe has distinguished as "developmental" editing as well as Audra's work in acquisitions.
I think that the most pertinent response here would be for me to recount my experience when I interviewed here at the Press. During the interview I was asked about my postdoc plans and why I would be interested in an academic publishing career. The interviewer noted that Ph.D.s and ABDs often interview for jobs with the Press, and that these interviewees make the assumption that because they have the skills required in grad school that they would automatically thrive as Press editors. The interviewer expressed frustration with this attitude, noting that although the skills of a grad student are in fact employed in acquisitions and developmental editing, there are numerous other aspects to the job. Among these other skills she cited were the ability to administer contracts, deal with authors, and manage staff. In short, it is clear that the managerial experience E. W. possesses as a project manager would thus be looked on as a major asset, I believe, in her quest to enter the university press business.
One pointed question put to me during the interview, in fact, concerned my own lack of management experience. I did note that as an experienced college teacher, I did possess some of the requisite skills of a manager--at least of undergraduates. (This was a particularly useful response at the time, given that the staff I would manage consisted primarily of undergrad workers.)
As I noted in my introduction, I have been extremely fortunate since landing this job in that I work for a Press in which "in-house" talent and initiative is readily recognized and rewarded with increasing responsibility. With these other responsibilities--from helping to evaluate manuscripts to working on press releases and catalog copy to attending meetings with members of other depts.--I have gained experience that can only help me in my eventual quest for a job similar to that E. W. seeks or in any of the other departments in the publishing process described so effectively by Michael.
Answer from Marcia:
I agree with Peter's response to E. W. about the value of managerial experience. I'd like to expand a bit (well, really, wax philosophical) along the same lines in response to her question about the value of publishing courses.
In graduate school, we all assume that there's a relatively straight line between Point A and Point B. If we work hard in our classes, pass the required milestones (comps, etc.), and write at least a modestly insightful dissertation, we expect to arrive at Point B--getting the Ph.D. and the type of employment for which the academic world generally prepares us, namely becoming one of them. This path works very well for some people--many of whom enter the academy with powerful faith in life's straight lines.
Then there are the rest of us--those who finish our degrees at the wrong moment, who don't live where the jobs are, who detour down a byway for personal reasons and then can't regain entry to the highway, who tire of the ethics or the realities of adjunct work, or who simply discover that we don't wish to teach and publish in perpetuity. We may discover that the world operates on curved lines and zigzags more often than on straight lines. We also may come to believe that randomness, broad societal circumstances, individual values, unanticipated life events, and other factors--not necessarily merit--may determine which path we walk.
To respond more specifically to E. W.'s question: if you enjoy publishing courses and feel that you learn from them, by all means take them. (And the corollary: if you don't, don't.) They might usefully demonstrate your knowledge base and interest in the field, as they did for at least one very successful editor I know. They might expand your skills and self-confidence, too. But they, like the Ph.D., don't come with guarantees. (I've taken one such course, learned a great deal from it, but didn't enjoy the specific opportunity the course opened for me.)
In my own experience, there has been no straight line, simply many opportunities and many possibilities. In nearly every case when I've faced a transition, I've had to make a leap of faith. And in nearly every case, especially the painful ones in which reality didn't match my expectations, I've learned a great deal about myself and about how to constitute a rewarding and fulfilling work life. That's the approach I'd recommend as you consider each opportunity that arises. And that's the task I'm still working on!
Answer from Michael:
I'd enthusiastically second what Peter has said in response to E. W.'s question. Since NCTE was in a university town (Champaign-Urbana, IL), we had a steady stream of applicants for editorial positions who had lots of teaching and academic experience and little publishing work. I asked some of the same types of questions posed to Peter during his interview. It was clear these folks could write and evaluate others' writing; so it was the project management and interpersonal skills that I wanted to try to assess. I think project management is a large part of just about any publishing work. So you'd have an advantage over other folks. Meanwhile, it may be a good idea to do some "traditional" print editing, copy- or developmental, to build a portfolio of work in that medium. Maybe there are other projects at the legal publisher you work for now that you could get involved with?
You're right about Washington DC as well. While New York is the hub of commercial publishing, Washington certainly holds that title in the world of nonprofit association publishing (I believe there are about 9,000--as in thousand!--nonprofit association publishers, the vast majority of them with HQs in DC.) Nonprofits from civil engineering to Certified Angus Beef (I had a friend who was their marketing director for a while: I am not making this up!) hire editors and publishers to do newsletters, web sites, journals, and often books. It's a very good world to work in--I loved working for NCTE, I just got tired of central Illinois after 15 years or so. There is even an association of associations (no kidding!) called ASAE (the American Society for Association Executives, I think) and they hold two annual conventions, one with many sessions on nonprofit publishing and communications.
Question from S. F.:
I'm curious about how you go about (1) deciding which book manuscripts to acquire and (2) helping authors to revise their manuscripts. Can you describe those processes in more detail? And how does your academic background in history of science help you or otherwise play into those aspects of your job?
Answer from Marcia:
S. F. inquired about how editors help authors to revise their manuscripts. The amount of help an author receives varies with the publishing area and the publisher. As Michael has already noted, a textbook publisher may work intensively with authors, often far more intensively than, for example, a scholarly publisher.
In college textbook publishing, generally the acquiring editor (AE) and the developmental editor (DE) collaborate in shaping a development plan for (and with) a textbook author. The AE is the book's representative and partisan throughout the various phases of the publishing process. As a result, the AE's perspective may be shaped by input from marketing or sales, by conversations about other books and the company's overall list, by reviews of a wide range of books over time, and by his or her own instincts and insight into trends in the academic field served by the textbook. (In a "schools" textbook division--preparing books for K-12--the AE probably would also monitor state adoption requirements, recommendations about coverage and sequence from professional groups, and any hot issues that have threatened state approval of other books.)
On the other hand, the DE is likely to work more closely with the author and the text on a day-to-day basis, orchestrating communication between the publishing house and the author, monitoring the author's chapter-by-chapter production schedule, annotating chapters for revision, organizing review questions for potential adopters, analyzing competing books, and so forth. Depending on the publisher and the project, the DE may do a great deal of hands-on work with a text or may function essentially as a manager for a large project, making sure that all contributors and all components stay on schedule and achieve the quality expected.
As an author moves from drafting chapters to revising them, the AE and DE try to guide the revision based on the original focus proposed for the book, suggestions and criticisms from reviewers, coverage norms in competing books, common expectations for the course and student level, and whatever other issues might arise. The AE and DE also may guide an author in expanding a certain feature or method of presentation so that it appears consistently throughout the book. An author may come up with an idea of this kind while working on a particular chapter; if the idea seems sound (and, ideally, readily marketable as well), the editors and the author would agree on a revision plan to incorporate it more widely and make any other necessary changes. The DE then would work with the author in implementing the plans.
Because I'm an author as well as an editor, I'd also like to observe that authors guide editors as a book is developed just as editors guide authors. The author is the person most immediately engaged with the book's overall purpose and intent as well as its nuances. The author also is the person most likely to lose sight of the forest for the trees or to misjudge the amount of time required to achieve the desired polish that a book needs. An editor can inspire an author to work harder or to return cheerfully to weak spots in the manuscript. On the other hand, an author can educate his or her editors to appreciate a book's particular vantage point and its classroom benefits just as an editor can educate an author about where and how to cultivate the strengths of the book. This balancing act (often a juggling act) is the mysterious, creative process of book development. And it's what keeps a lot of us engaged in the book biz.
Comment from Audra just prior to her leaving the discussion:
We haven't said much about marketing, and we probably should. I haven't really been doing my own job long enough to speak with authority about someone else's (!), but I have noticed that a lot of marketing directors have advanced degrees. The idea seems to be that a marketing director with a Ph.D. knows how academics think. Remember, university presses market their lists through academic conferences and academic journals, so it certainly helps to know something about the lay of the land. Maybe someone else can explain more about this?}
Request from Paula:
Thanks Audra for being with us. Would somebody else please say more about the marketing aspect of academic publishing? It sounds intriguing.
Answer from Michael:
I'd like to respond to Paula's request for more information about the marketing aspect and what jobs in marketing are like in different kinds of publishing. I've never worked in marketing myself directly, but at NCTE I directed the marketing department as a function of my role as director of publications, and at Longman I worked in tandem with a marketing manager, so I can at least describe the general functions and responsibilities of marketing people in a publishing company.
What do marketing staff do? Generally, their role is to help connect readers (customers) with books. Editors can publish wonderful and brilliant books, but if the intended readers don't know those books exist, the books will sit unread in a warehouse somewhere. Marketing is not sales (an important distinction): marketing works at a broader, national level; sales is a more direct, local relationship with buyers, be they faculty or bookstores or distribution firms. Many scholarly and university presses don't have sales people at all, but they almost always have a marketing department, even if that department is one or two people.
While a book is in development, marketing may provide advice and input on the title, the cover design, and the copy that appears on the back cover ("cover 4 copy," as it is often known, or simply "BCC" for back cover copy). Marketing staff usually write (or edit) that cover copy, help make the title of the book interesting and accessible, and work with the author to secure "endorsements" from famous names for the back cover as well. Marketing will usually write a descriptive annotation for the book that will be used in catalogs and flyers (a 75- to 200-word description of the book and its contents). Sometimes editors do these things too; the division of labor varies from company to company.
After a book is published, marketing works to promote it to its audience, through several different channels. Most scholarly and association publishers rely heavily on direct mail (in the absence of an army of sales reps), mailing out catalogs and topical flyers to various "lists" compiled from mailing list houses, previous flyers, sales records, membership databases, etc. Marketing people design and produce those flyers and mailings, analyze lists and make decisions about how many mailings to send to which lists of people, negotiate with printers and mailing houses for the work of actually physically printing and mailing the pieces, etc.
A second key channel is conventions and exhibitions. Marketing staff tend to travel a lot (which can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on how much you like hotels and airplanes). Marketing people are usually responsible for setting up and staffing display booths at relevant academic and professional conventions, and for being a representative for the company at those meetings. Editors often attend these meetings too, but the editor's job is to meet with prospective and existing authors, while marketing people are more commonly tied to the booth in the exhibit hall. There, they talk to browsers and show off the new books, take names for potential authors and reviewers, hand out catalogs, and generally talk up the press and its new titles.
A third channel that has seen explosive growth lately is web marketing and email. Many smaller university and association presses rely heavily on web sites and email promotions (cheaper, faster, and often more precise than direct mail). In a smaller firm, you may be responsible for writing web copy and tracking online sales, in addition to doing the above tasks. Larger organizations may have a dedicated web marketing person/web master.
Marketing people spend a lot of time as well tracking the results of their efforts. They need to know what worked and what didn't, which books sold (or didn't) to which audiences. So they set up processes for tracking sales and response rates to flyers and marketing campaigns of various sorts. Hence, many good marketing folks tend to be very analytical, data-tracking types. But they also need to be good and creative writers as well, with an eye for design and layout (they often interact directly with designers and typesetters for their mailings).
At many smaller presses, as a marketing person, you may be responsible for marketing all the books the company publishes. You could be working in seven or ten different disciplines, balancing the demands of 7 to 10 editors, all of whom want you to promote their books. So it's a juggling act.
Larger companies and textbook publishers may have larger marketing teams. At Longman, there was a one-to-one ratio: each list (discipline) had an editor and a marketing manager. So the marketing managers there had a much deeper investment in a smaller number of titles. As the acquisitions editor, I could not even sign a new book contract without my marketing manager signing off on it first. If she felt we didn't need another high-level text on communication theory, for example, she could and sometimes did "veto" a project or redirect my energy and the author's to broaden or change the focus of a book before we got too far into writing it.
Ideally, marketing and editorial/acquisitions work together collaboratively. Sometimes the relationship becomes antagonistic: "If you'd market my books better, they'd sell more copies!"; "If you published better books, I could market them more effectively: quit publishing so many high-level esoteric titles!" Some of you will no doubt have participated in just such a shouting match. Publishing companies, especially scholarly presses, often have an "editorial bias" (the managers come from editorial rather than from marketing), and marketing has to do its best to promote whatever the editor sends down the pipe. But in a healthy organization, the give and take is generative, and good editors know that they need to solicit input and advice from the marketing team if they want to be successful.
Marketing folks also do database management; often there will be a central database of marketing copy and other info about the books (titles, ISBNs, prices, short and long annotation copy, etc.). You can spend a lot of time developing a structure and process for managing all the data and text surrounding all the books. So a technical-analytical bent is a good thing for folks interested in marketing.
Most of the marketing folks I've known have majored in English and the liberal arts, interestingly, rather than in marketing. Some marketing people become editors (and vice versa) although more commonly they are two separate tracks. But if you're outgoing, like to travel, write well, and know how to juggle seven million details, you may well find you like marketing better than editorial. It's worth looking into if you seem to fit the profile!
Question from H. N.:
Thanks, Michael, for the very in-depth descriptions of marketing and editing. People I've talked to recently in nonacademic publishing have indicated that the marketing budget for a book often needs to exceed the editorial budget in order for book sales to really take off (although the recent success of Michael Moore's book seems to be an exception to that rule).
Can you discuss whether the budgets for academic presses are similarly set up? Specifically, does your press set aside a pool of money for individual titles or ranges which you and your marketing counterparts then must mutually draw from (and perhaps compete over)? Or do get your own personal budget line, and then divide the money among your projects as you see fit?
Answer from Michael:
That's a good question, H. N. It seems to vary greatly from company to company, but most commonly in academic publishing, a marketing department would have a total budget and they'd have to make decisions within that budget about how to divide those resources. Obviously a marketing manager's projections of sales would have the biggest role in determining that allocation: books with larger projected sales would presumably get a larger piece of the pie, with more visible activity in flyers and catalogs and the like.
I know trade publishing (novels and mass-market nonfiction) is different, and individual books and authors may have a certain amount of budget dollars agreed to up front (even as part of the contract with the author). It's a very different world from academic publishing, one I have not experienced myself.
In the textbook world, certain "A-level" titles, with large projected sales revenues, may have additional budget money to draw upon, perhaps resulting in a special flyer or promotional campaign exclusive to that title.
A publisher may also decide to make special funds available for publicity and promotion on select titles. Let's say, for example, that you had two or three books about the events of 9-11-01, all scheduled to be published this year on the anniversary--you might devote additional resources to doing some kind of mailing or event to highlight those books.
Generally in University presses and nonprofit associations, the marketing team would be given a total budget amount for the year, that amount probably determined as some percentage of the projected sales revenue for the entire list for that year. Marketing budgets are often the first to be cut if sales tank, as they did for most companies last year.
Marketing is expensive. As a percentage of overall costs on a book, the marketing costs may indeed be higher than the editorial costs. Again, that varies a lot from book to book and publisher to publisher. The marketing team's goal is obviously to maximize sales revenue per dollar spent in marketing costs.
Question from R. Y.:
Francine's comments are extremely helpful. I have been trying to get into web publishing but maybe have not been trying in the right places. Here is my situation: I completed my Ph.D. in Education two years ago (I also have a Masters in English) and wanted to get into web/internet related work so have been taking courses in programming. My résumé reflects a lot of education but not enough experience. My only work experience was 12 years ago when I taught college and was a consultant for my local board of education. Since then, I have been raising my children and trying to complete my Ph.D. I have applied for entry-level jobs, internships (in the hope of starting somewhere) but have been labeled "over-qualified." I live in the NY metro area. Do you have any suggestions for me?
I have found the discussion on this topic very helpful. But I wonder if there are other part-time students like me who couldn't do office jobs because they were raising children. (Raising children is time intensive and has been very educative for me but cannot be mentioned on the resume). As a result, my resume reflects a lot of education but not enough education. Any suggestions on where/how I can get into web publishing? What sorts of positions could I apply for?
Answer from Francine:
R. Y., I understand your dilemma of much education and not enough experience. First, I would ask what makes you overqualified for the entry-level positions for which you're applying? I'd put this question to potential employers who say you're overqualified because it may give you some idea as to which positions they envision you as being qualified for. Second, I think you happen to be in a great location, geographically, for web work.
The way to prove you have experience (to future employers) is to have some sites they can go to see samples of your work. One very independent way to do this is to design your own web site. This requires some html or html editor skills and some graphics knowledge. Another way, which I saw often in my work experience, was temping. Temp agencies have people come to them for a variety of reasons: lay offs, career changes, the need for periodic work. They would tend not to reject you as "overqualified" but to place you where you are best suited. My web team had about 6 members initially; half of them came to us as temps and were kept on for permanent positions. Temping gives you references, experience, contacts, the potential for permanent work. Some of the temps who came to my web publishing department had a little experience but not much, and they told their temp agencies that they wanted to be placed in web companies in order to change careers or start new careers.
Once you get a little bit of experience with one place, it leads to more work and more projects. All you need to break into web publishing is that first experience or a page/site to point interviewers to.
Another avenue you may want to try is education companies or non-profits. Anyone with an educational purpose--and you can interpret this loosely--would value someone with teaching/education experience. You might make a good content editor (writer/editor) for an education-related web site. Once you're working or volunteering somewhere, you can express interest in learning more web skills. Marketing is also another good web-area if you know less about code (html) or programming (although you mentioned taking courses). Marketing folks often know what looks right, attracts people to a site, and are interested in tracking people's visit to a site.
If you taught or co-taught courses, then you are able to explain things to people and/or manage others. This might make you good at project management (managing projects and each person's role in it) or good at customer service (many web sites need someone to answer phones to talk people through using the web site and in fact, my company gave web site use classes; so they were looking for good teachers).
So some areas you might want to investigate--outside of the programming you are now learning--are:
- Education-related companies with web sites
- Education-related web companies/web sites
- Volunteering at a non-profit (they might be less apt to disqualify you as over-educated because they need the help and value your education)
- Web content editing
- Project management (use your teaching and work management skills as a reason why you'd be good at managing the work of others and making sure the individual tasks for each project are completed)
- Temp Agencies (to get any experience or connections)
Your first step could be contacting temp agencies and temp agencies that specialize in web professionals (there's one big one, Aquent, with offices around the country--there may be something like it in NY or an office in NY) and setting up informational interviews with education companies with a web presence, education publications with a web presence, or non-profits with a web service or site. Use these interviews as a way to introduce yourself, find out which skills they need, and get them thinking of you for future jobs. Also, your programming is valuable. But unless you're a pro at it, you may want to use your other qualifications and skills to get that first job. When people call you "overqualified," that could mean you can find yourself in a middle tier as far as web work goes (that's where I started with publishing experience). But all you need is a little web work experience to get around any criticism that you lack experience.
Question from H. N.:
Thanks to our speakers for a great discussion so far. My question is about working on teams at your academic presses: basically, how do people at your presses normally make the shift from more independent scholarly/research work as grad students to what seems like a more team-oriented situation?
Also, is there an easy way to break down the percentage of teamwork time vs. independent time?
Answer from Michael:
The issue of teams vs. individual work is a good one. Some presses are more team-oriented than others. But in any publishing role, there is inherent collaboration: editors, for example, must interact with marketing and production, at the very least. In some companies, editors work fairly autonomously a majority of the time, often leaving their assistants to do the paperwork and meetings required to coordinate with marketing and production departments. Other places work more in teams as a matter of the workplace culture, assigning working groups and teams to major projects. At Longman, my bonus was tied to the overall list revenue, and my marketing manager was tied into the same bonus structure, so we were financially rewarded for working well together.
It can be a big transition from writing a dissertation, for example, to working on a book as an editor, where you may have "ownership" of very little of the project and collaborative responsibility for all of it! I had to learn, for example, that people were going to rewrite my prose many times over (from reports to marketing copy--everything!) and that nothing I wrote was ever going to be loved by everyone. Most grad students are used to getting kudos for their writing all the time, and it freaked me out for a long time to see copy come back all marked up (I felt like I was getting a bad grade). So there is a big ego adjustment from academic culture to the workplace. That's probably not unique to publishing; in fact the academy is the odd bird in this scenario, as one of the few places left where the cult of individual genius still carries any weight.
When I was the director at NCTE, I would say that fully 100% of my work was collaborative. I was in meetings and conference calls all day every day. It was exhausting--I'm an introvert. As an acquiring editor, the breakdown was more like 50/50. But even today, as a freelancer working at home, I'd say 25% of my work is directly collaborative.
Having to adjust to and work with a team of people is perhaps the single biggest adjustment one must make from academic to publishing work. It's a shift in the rhythm of the day, a shift in perception and attitude, and a real learning experience. But when a group really clicks, it becomes more than the sum of the individual parts, and you feel almost a rush from doing something together none of you could have done alone. That was one of the best and biggest surprises to me, and probably the main reason I never have gone back to the academy. I like being challenged, prodded, questioned, inspired, even frustrated, by my colleagues--at the end of the day, it really does take a village to make a book, and I like that.
URL posted by Audra:
One of my authors forwarded this URL from the June 28, 2002, issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education , and I thought it might be of interest given the current conversation:
"University Presses Aren't Endangered" by Niko Pfund, academic publisher of Oxford University Press
[Visitors to the web page receive a message that access to this article is restricted to registered Chronicle subscribers.]
Comments from Michael:
I've enjoyed the virtual conversation this week, and I hope it's been informative and encouraging to some of you. I wanted to let the list know about an email newsletter available for free, that offers a good way to eavesdrop on some of the industry news and gossip. It's called "Publisher's Lunch" and it's published daily. (You want Publisher's Lunch, the free one, not Publisher's Marketplace, which is a subscription service, by the way.)
You can subscribe here.
Best of all, it includes job postings from all over the nation. Many are in NYC, but others are sprinkled around the country. I happened to notice an acquisitions editor position listed today, for example, at the University of Georgia Press in Athens, Georgia. You never know what kind of jobs might turn up, but you can read the job descriptions and learn more about the many different kinds of positions available in the business. Plus there is always good dirt about authors' feuds with their editors, and legal battles, and
all that fun stuff. Enjoy!
Question from G. Z.:
Marcia, you mentioned "guides to magazine writing." Can you give names for some of the ones you consider good?
Answer from Marcia:
G. Z., I'd advise checking some of the periodicals for aspiring writers, such as The Writer or Writer's Digest (which advertises its own book club and also publishes Writer's Market every year). Both magazines (and Writer's Market) include articles about various topics of interest to aspiring writers, intended for lay persons, not academic readers or professionals in the publishing business. For this reason, they tend to boil advice down to the essentials and not assume readers' prior knowledge. If you begin reading materials like these, you'll rapidly figure out the basics about how to proceed.
If you live in a community with a good public library, it's likely to have references and resources for writers. Most of these sources will lead you to organizations for specialized kinds of writing, everything from children's stories to travel articles. Most magazines supply their own guidelines for writers and recommend that you study current issues to determine the desired tone, style, level, voice, and so forth. (This sound advice not only helps you measure your ideas against a specific publication but also sends you directly to models.) Breaking in may take tenacity--but there are publications for all sorts of fields and interests.
Answer to G. Z. and recommendations to the WRK4US community from M. B.:
Don't take my word for it--I've yet to be hired in any publishing capacity but I've found the following books helpful:
from the Allyn and Bacon Mass Communication series: The Magazine Publishing Industry, Charles P. Daly, and The Book Publishing Industry, Albert N. Greco; Technology and Scholarly Communication, eds. Richard Ekamn and Richard E. Quandt; American Authors and the Literary Marketplace since 1900, James L. W. West III; and for a wonderful, wonderful memoir of twentieth-century publishing, Book Business by Jason Epstein.
Suggested reading from O. L.:
Here is an article that appears in today's (July 2, 2002) Chronicle of Higher Education. Given our past discussion, I thought you might be interested in reading it.
A Wake-Up Call for Junior Professors by Jennifer K. Ruark and Gabriela Montell
Here is the URL for a main page on the Pearson Education site. The nav bar on the left side provides links to many of the textbook imprints, including Longman, Allyn & Bacon, Prentice-Hall, and others. The other major company is Thomson Learning. I don't have their web site address handy, but I'm sure they have a similar "bridge page" with contacts to folks at each of their hubs (Wadsworth, Heinle, etc.). There's an even better link, with a direct connection to the "online job centre" and job postings at all Pearson locations.
Recommended web site from K. A.:
Michael, thanks a lot for this information. I also found this link for Thomson Learning, in case others are interested:
Comment from V. U.:
And, it appears they could use the help: