Breaking Into The Publishing Industry: Tips From The Professionals

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Entering the publishing industry during this time of rapid technological change and economic upheaval may seem a little bit scary and risky.

A new blog and eBook series by freelance editors Britanie Wilson and Jeremy Lucyk is set to be the resource for anyone interested in breaking into this industry currently in flux.

I talked to them both about the industry’s increasingly digital landscape, their educational background, internships, and freelancing.

You’re both graduates from the post-grad certificate program in Book and Magazine Publishing at Centennial College. What can someone expect from this program?

Jeremy: A fairly intense and condensed degree in professional training. The program deals with both book and magazine, which is similar, but also very different in many ways. You get an interesting cross-training and there are a number of major advantages. You spend the entire program with the same 33 people, which is helpful because building up professional relationships is as important as the job training. There’s a good combination of practical skill sets and the soft skills like selling yourself as a professional, finding connections, and building on them.

Britanie: Rather than specializing in one field, you’re taught the basics of every field in publishing. We learned design, publicity, marketing, sales, editing. At the end of the program, you can say you have enough experience to go into any of these fields.

Is completing a degree like this necessary to breaking into publishing?

Britanie: I don’t know if it’s necessary, but it’s definitely recommended. If you go on publisher’s websites, they’ll actually recommend this program, the Ryerson program, and other programs in New York. If the employers are recommending it, it’s very much an advantage to have that on your resume. It means that they trust the brand of that program.

Did you have to do an internship to get to where you are now?

Jeremy: Both of us found work directly from our internships. It doesn’t always work that way though. There is a four-week internship attached as a requisite at the end of the Centennial program, which is a great hand-off to the working world.

Britanie: The downside is that some companies will get stuck in an endless cycle of interns. We’ve seen quite a few classmates get stuck in that cycle. It’s just a product of the economy, not the industry itself. Internships give you experience, but once you’ve done your second or third, you start questioning if you should stick around. It can be discouraging but we advise you to stick with it. The place I did my internship at couldn’t afford to keep me so I went into a different field for awhile. A year after, a position opened up and they called me back to work with them. So even if you don’t get work right away, these internships are beneficial because you make those connections. If you show that you’re a hard worker and that you’re easy to work with, they will remember you. It’s a very loyal industry.

Jeremy, you studied History and Near & Middle Eastern Civilizations in your undergrad. Do you find that having a different background is advantageous?

Jeremy: Absolutely! I have a bizarrely diverse background and a lot of people coming into this program do too. This is my fourth career now and that’s given me a slightly different perspective on things. I’m able to apply a lot of my past experience, in terms of work ethic, attitude, and knowledge of my own capabilities. It’s even occasionally directly applicable. I work with an educational publisher so every once in awhile I get to dust off my previous knowledge.

You both work freelance. Is that a norm in this industry?

Jeremy: Again, it’s partially the nature of the times. We don’t get the same benefits packages as employees, but the flip side is that you can command a higher rate. If you get into complications or overruns, you’re not just going to be making the same salary…you should be charging higher rates.

But there’s a certain personality that’s required to be a freelancer. You’ve got to be self-motivated; you’ve got to have a great deal of self-discipline. You’ve got to get yourself out there, sell yourself, and build, maintain and exploit relationships. That doesn’t come easily to most people and it’s almost impossible to teach something like that.

Britanie: You also have to be OK with not getting a pay cheque every two weeks. Sometimes you’ll do two or three jobs in a month and bring in the salary you would usually bring in six months, but there are times when you won’t get paid. But the best part about being a freelancer is that you make your own hours. You can work when you want, you can take work when you want. You can turn down work when you want. If you work independently really well, it’s the perfect atmosphere.

What are your thoughts on the whole  debate between digital vs. print books? How does this affect those interested in entering this field?

Britanie: You’ve probably heard that all print books are going to be replaced by eBooks. Not true. There’s a place for both, but it just hasn’t been discovered or embraced yet. There are certain books that should be digital and only digital. There are other books  that cannot convert into digital, like coffee table books. The technological changes are all happening so fast that the industry just hasn’t quite caught up.

Jeremy: The other thing is that publishing is, by nature, very conservative and that mostly comes down to the people that work in it. It’s partially a generational thing and partially an attitude. Those who get into publishing obviously love books so there’s a tendency to idolize and fetishize the book as an object. There’s also the generational aspect because we’re right on the cusp of the digital transformation. But we’re at the point now where the people who have the decision making powers either don’t have or don’t want to have any experience with the digital world. They just naturally resist it. So it’s very difficult to convince them of the switch-over. That’s going to ease up in the coming years but it’s a major bone of contention right now.

Britanie: We want to stress that coming into publishing right now is not a disadvantage. You’re very much in an advantage in that you see the market differently: how we can market these books, how we can reach different audiences with different platforms.

Any last tips for those who want to break into this industry?

Jeremy: It’s a time of crisis but also opportunity. The trick is to see the opportunities. Given the rapid degree of change going on, it’s just as, if not more important, to be as flexible, adaptable, and willing to learn the way a particular company does things. Every company’s way of doing things is a little bit different and it’s important to say “this is what I know, what else can you teach me?”.

Britanie: It’s important that you’re willing to ask questions when you’re not sure about something, that you’re an open-minded individual, and that you’re not too proud. You can have all the grammatical and spelling knowledge, but that doesn’t matter if you’re not asking questions or being flexible. That’s another thing about books: editors don’t really have a lot of control, it’s very much a give and take with the author. You need to know how to negotiate with an author. This is their baby. Work on your personal skills. This comes into play so much more than grammatical rules…those things you can look up in a book.

You’ve got to be very positive and open-minded. If this is where you want to be, don’t give up on it. There are very few people who are made out for editing and the industry needs you.

Read Part 2 of our interview with Jeremy and Britanie.

The first two titles in Britanie and Jeremy’s eBook mini-series, A Very Brief History of the Book Publishing Industry and The Editorial Department, are now available on Amazon.com. You can find more tips, tricks, and advice about book publishing from industry professionals at their blog, workinginpublishing.com.

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About the author

Justine Abigail Yu is a communications professional by day and a freelance writer by night. Graduating from the University of Toronto specializing in Political Science and Sociology, her heart lies in the development sector where she has worked with organizations operating in North America, Africa, and Southeast Asia. You can easily lure her in with talk of international development, human rights, emerging technologies, travel, and yes, Mad Men. Or a slice of cheesecake. Read her blog here or follow her on Twitter @justineabigail.