How To Get Your Foot In The Door Of The Publishing Industry As A Student

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Most students have to compete for internships. Mark Stanski made his own.

As a student in Centennial College’s Book and Magazine Publishing program, Stanski’s decision to major in book editing bolstered a deep passion for the industry.

And while most of his classmates concentrated on class work, Stanski chose to find real, resumé-worthy opportunities that would give him the work experience he craved.

“Getting myself into the work scrum, listening carefully, and talking tactically about my interests and skills led editors and managers to come up with more projects for me. Soon, they were giving me paid freelance assignments.”
Mark Stanski, manager, Centennial College Press

The best part? He found the work all on his own – by personally asking for it.

The current publisher of Centennial College Press, Stanski now deals with business strategies more often than he does romance or fantasy novels, but is quick to credit his past volunteer experience for paving the way to his first freelance editing assignments and ultimately, his job at Centennial Press.

Taking those first unpaid steps helped him create a viable network of contacts and build a positive reputation as an eager and competent worker, all of which helped him achieve his goal of crafting a successful publishing career.

Read on for Stanski’s unorthodox journey into the publishing world, his advice on initiating contact with potential employers, and the reasons why he believes young blood and fresh vision are exactly what firms out there are looking for – written in his own words.

The road to the publishing world

Take the initiative

I started my search by going online and checking the contact pages of the publishing houses handling the kinds of books I wanted to work on. Then, I’d email the person or people I thought likely to welcome some help from a trainee with any overflow work or special projects. I created a list of my 10 favourite publishing houses and started working down from the top.

I stopped halfway through because managers contacted me almost immediately to accept my offer of an afternoon or two spent helping out.

By researching to find out about when the company and hiring manager are busy, and on what projects they are occupied, you can make specific proposals of interest to the manager right then and there. And with judicious follow-up emails, you prompt a person already intrigued by your previous emails to respond and accept your proposal.

Be “tactical”

Once I was working for an afternoon per week in two houses, I listened for any discussion I could overhear about the work the editors and managers were doing: how stressed they were, how many manuscripts they were juggling, how many books needed jacket copy written, etc. I talked with these people as often as I could and took opportunities to tell them what I was working on already, had worked on in school or in other volunteer work or internships, and what I couldn’t wait to do next.

Getting myself into the work scrum, listening carefully, and talking tactically about my interests and skills led editors and managers to come up with more projects for me. Soon, they were giving me paid freelance assignments proofreading books, and I also had a chance to apply for some internal jobs that were never advertised.

Let everyone know what you can and want to do

At my formal full-time internship at a major trade publishing house, I often stopped to talk to people in all different areas of the company about what they did and was sure to mention what I was learning and hoped to do next.

I often stopped to talk to people in all different areas of the company about what they did and was sure to mention what I was learning and hoped to do next. This led to my getting a call from the house’s New York editor, who recruited me to assess manuscripts.

This led to my getting a call from the house’s New York editor, who recruited me to assess manuscripts for a genre of books her New York staff had no experience with.

At the time I’d been working on romance fiction, but I had always mentioned I was into fantasy fiction. The company just happened to be launching a new fantasy fiction series, and word got to New York that the Toronto office had a keen intern with a fantasy background, and that he might be interested.

Aim for face time

For opening opportunities, I found that starting with email was best, but that I had to get person-to-person, face-to-face, for really good things to happen.

Once face-to-face, I could plant ideas in people’s heads of a keen, capable trainee with a wish list of work assignments that could be filled from the overflow work of many of the editors. If I’d also managed to convey that I had decent skills required for a sample task, editors found it easy to break off work for me to do.

Crafting “The Email” to jump start your career

Who, why and what’s in it for them?

Write streamlined emails of three to six sentences in length, and only two or three very brief paragraphs. Answer the important questions:

  • Who and what are you? (Sara Turnbull, a trainee at Ryerson.)
  • What’s in it for the manager? (I’m a crack copy editor and write brilliant marketing copy, which I think may qualify me to take some junior marketing tasks off your hands). In writing the last answer, it’s best to leave out any suggestion of how you might be put to work.

Coming up with answers to the first two questions are easy. To answer the third, offer details to sell the manager on the possibility that you can quickly learn to help her or others in her department. Your interests, training, or your relevant past or current work constitute the kinds of details you need here.

Know thy (potential) employer

Before you draft your email, you need to do enough homework on the company, the department, and the target person’s actual work. Only by doing so will you know which details suggest that you can quickly learn to do a task that can be taken off someone else’s hands.

A good way to learn about a department besides online searching is to request an informational interview with a different person in the company, preferably in the department you want to enter. Ask him or her what tasks regularly spill over, for whom, and when they are most likely to do so in the next six months.

Or you can take the direct approach: interview the actual target person, and then follow up the interview with a work proposal a few days later. Just do your best to learn enough to make a proposal that has specific value to him/her.

Re: Email subject lines

When writing an email proposal, remember to craft subject lines that use only key words that clarify that the email is specifically prepared for your target person, or your email will likely not be read.

It’s also important to get to your point with every word. “Accepting an editorial intern” is a good example. “Student volunteer from Ryerson for editing work in-house once a week” is not. Notice how it incorporates information that should appear in the email itself. Also, the words “student” and “volunteer” emphasize the wrong things – inexperience and free labour, respectively.

The allure of Gen Y

It’s helpful to understand that you’ll never have more choice and more power over whom you work for than while you are training and shortly thereafter.

Because you are a trainee or newly-minted practitioner, you are offering talent, fresh vision, hard work, energy, innocence and optimism, and out-of-the-box thinking – most of which diminish in workers as they gain experience. Therefore, many organizations that you want to work for will also want you, precisely because you are capable and already trained.

By using carefully researched email proposals, doing hard work once in-house, by always talking and listening tactically, you will be able to open great part-time, half-time, and full-time jobs in the firm you are happiest with.

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About the author

Jeleen Yu is a long-time TalentEgg contributor and former assistant editor. She graduated from Ateneo de Manila University (Philippines) in 2007 with a degree in business management. She was all set to start a career in the corporate world, but a sabbatical made her realize that her real passion lay in writing and the publishing industry. After serving as a writer and editor for the newsletter of a non-profit organization in the Philippines, she now resides in Vancouver and is currently working towards an editing certificate at Simon Fraser University.