Friday, February 24, 2017

Book Review: I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life by Ed Yong

Rarely have a read a science book more accessible, more enthusiastic, and more interesting (although Mary Roach's books are the exception, as being even more in all categories.) This book about microbe and our microbiomes was so cool. It was interesting and filled with new facts and exceptionally well-written. I especially loved that it had a photo insert. As you can glean from the cover, some microbes are really pretty. Others are found on bizarre creatures. I don't know if I've ever read a science book with a photo insert but after this one, I'm left wondering why all of them don't include one. I went back to this one over and over.

Parts of this book are a little icky, like when talking about fecal transplants, but Mr. Yong keeps the ickiness to a minimum and treats those parts very factually. But basically, you have to get used to a new paradigm when reading this book as we ourselves are more than half microbes. We have more microbes in/on us than we have cells. We think of "germs" as intrinsically bad, but they are not (neither are all viruses or all bacteria.) Some are quite good, and some we can't live without, literally. I especially like the posited idea that one day we'll be able to treat conditions and illnesses by running a check of our microbes, see which essential ones are missing, and take a pill for that, instead of taking chemicals.

If you are at all science-minded or just science-interested, this book is a top-notch read. It was helpful that I read The Gene by Siddhartha Mukherjee first, but not essential. (If you are going to read them both, reading the Mukherjee first gives an excellent basis for understanding DNA and how genetic mutation work.) If you only read one science book this year, this one should be at the top of your list.

I checked this book out of the library.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Publishing Career Question #3: What kinds of jobs should I be looking for?

As my WNBA intern, Elaine Ruth Boe, prepares to begin her job hunt in publishing, I've been answering some of her questions about the industry and the job hunt process. Here is her third question in our mini-series:

What kinds of job titles should I look out for as a fresh-out-of-college graduate with no “real world" experience (aside from summer internships!)? Are there key words or phrases that indicate entry level positions?

Some publishers actually separate out entry-level positions on their career pages on their website, so those are easy. Basically, no matter what department you're looking for a job in—editorial, marketing, sales, production—you're going to be an assistant to start. And the first rung on the ladder is editorial (or sales or publicity) assistant. A minor detail but important is that an editorial assistant is a different position from, and a rung down from, an assistant editor. If you already have a little experience, you can apply for that second one. And you can also look at coordinator positions, although there are very few of those.

These positions might all say they want 1-2 years of experience, but keep in mind that is a "want." Don't worry about it—it's entry level so go for it. (Especially you women. Women are often scared off by a job listing they don't meet 100% but it's just a wish list and you should always go for it if you meet 70%.) One thing applicants often seem to misunderstand is that when you're applying for a job as an assistant, your resume and cover letter ought to emphasize the skills you'd be utilizing as an assistant—not any editorial experience. First of all, any editorial experience you claim to have, unless you actually were doing real work in an editorial department elsewhere, is discounted. That's not what you're being hired for. It's great to have, but it's not why you're here. You're here to answer phones. Open mail. Water plants. File. Run Excel reports. Put together mailings. Make appointments. If you have any clerical experience at all, lead with that. An assistant will make her boss's lunch reservations, send faxes, and do data entry. Will you also be talking with authors, reviewing copyedited manuscripts, and writing catalog copy? Yes, but that's a smaller part of the job than the assistanting part, so showing off those skills and experience will get you further in the hiring process.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Publishing Career Question #2: What should I read in my free time as I prepare for interviews?

My WNBA intern, Elaine Ruth Boe, wants to start hunting for a job in book publishing for after graduation in May, ASAP. It's a little early for that so she's asked me some questions about what she can do in the meantime, which I'm answering this week. Here's her second question:

What should I read in my free time as I prepare for interviews?

This might seem like a simplistic question but not for this industry. For another industry, the answer is usually to read What Color Is My Parachute and maybe a book about interviewing or the workplace. But if you want to work in book publishing, you should expect "What have you read lately?" to be an interview question and it's not a gimme question at all. It's a very important question.

The most important thing you can be doing before it's time for applying, is reading. Read a lot. Read widely. And read recently. I know, as a college student it can be hard to know what's recent and good to read. Go to your local bookstore and your local library. Look at the display tables up front, or the library usually has a whole section for recent books. Talk to someone. I know, you're an introvert. This industry is filled with them. But you've got to become comfortable talking about books with other book people. Explain the problem, and they'll be thrilled to help, trust me! Any librarian or bookseller can stock you up. Try to read 2017 books. I know, it's only February. But I've already read four 2017 books. (And I read four 2017 books last year but no one expects you to do that!) Join Goodreads and check out their lists of recommended new releases.

Read a few books you wouldn't normally. You've been reading 99% classics for the last 16 years. You will be asked, and it's helpful for you to know, what kinds of books you like. Classics isn't a genre you can work in (they've all already been published). It's hard for you to know if you like and can work with romances, sci-fi, business books, or political books, if you haven't read any. If you go into an interview saying you only like literary fiction, that doesn't indicate much contemporary reading, much stretching yourself, or much willingness to try new things. Everyone likes literary fiction. You're also setting yourself up for a bigger pool of applicants to compete with at the literary imprints. However, not as many of your competition will be applying for jobs at romance publishers or business book publishers.

While you're reading this book, do think critically about them. You might even want to write a review on a website like Goodreads or Amazon in order to get some practice. Even if you dislike a book, you ought to be thinking, who would like this? Who is the audience for this book? How could I sell it to them? Every job in publishing (except production) is selling. As an editor, you have to sell this book to your boss to persuade her to approve you the funds to buy it. Later in the process you will write the description in the catalog that the sales force will use to sell your book to retailers and libraries. If publicity you'll be figuring out how to pitch the book to reviewers. In marketing, you'll be figuring what will help get the attention of booksellers and readers. Obviously, in sales, and as a bookseller, the selling part is obvious. In publishing, you will at some point have to work on some books you don't like, but everyone has their individual taste, and it's important that you know how to sell a book you personally don't especially like.

If your focus is on editorial jobs, keep in mind that as part of the interviewing process, you might be given a manuscript to read and come back to the interviewer with a reader's report. It's important that you not focus on plot at all. It's good practice to try a few of these on books you're reading. Every book could use some tweaks or improvements (or simply editorial choices you'd do differently.) Think about the market and the end reader and what changes in the development and construction of the book could lead to a better reading experience (and think big-picture; don't worry about grammar). But a reader's report should have no more than one sentence of plot description.

Pay attention to the publishers of the books you're reading. Try to read a book from each of the Big Five publishers (Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Hachette, and MacMillan). Go to their websites and they will show you recent books that are popular, right on their home pages. Try an audiobook. Look at children's books from the last few years.

Obviously if you get an interview with the rare benefit of a few days' lead time, specifically try to read on or two of their books immediately before the interview. You won't always have time (I've had quite a few interviews be "tomorrow.") But I've also had three days' notice and managed to read three books in that time.

And lastly, read the blog Ask A Manager. Read the comments. Read the archives. And read the book Presence by Amy Cuddy. It seriously changed the way I prepare for interviews and how I gain confidence for them. Just read, read, read. If you are destined to work in book publishing, this should be a joy, not a chore.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Publishing Career Question #1: How do I job hunt before I graduate?

My WNBA intern, Elaine Ruth  Boe, had some questions about the job hunting process in the field of book publishing and she agreed to let me post her questions and my answers here, so everyone who might find them helpful can see them. First up:

I’m still an undergraduate student. I don’t live in NYC, and I can’t start a job until May. Does that mean I have to wait until I can move to NYC to look for jobs? Will publishing houses go through the application process with current undergrads?

Most everyone has this problem, regardless of field, unless they happened to go to college in the same town they want to start their careers in. 

First, while there are a lot of other things you can be doing to prepare for job hunting, there's not much purpose in starting to actually apply for jobs, until you're about 2.5 months out from graduation. So for Elaine Ruth, that means she can start in March (she graduates mid-May). In this industry, particularly for entry-level jobs, once you've been offered a job, they'd really like for you to start in about two weeks. They can be a little more flexible, up to a month, especially if you're moving, but if you need more than that, they're probably going to go with someone else. Entry-level publishing jobs are all being someone's assistant. When they get to the part of the hiring process where they're making someone an offer, the position has already been vacant for at least a month. And being someone's assistant, while important, isn't brain surgery, and there are a lot of other people who can do it so they're unlikely to hold it. It's a sad fact but it's also important if you don't want to find yourself with pulled offers and an unreasonable start date you can't comply with.

Not being in NYC is also, obviously, tricky. While it's possible to have a few phone interviews, the majority will want to meet the candidates in person. And companies don't pay for people to fly in for entry-level interviews. That means it's going to be on your own dime. I have found decent last-minute flights, and I recommend The Pod Hotel as reasonably priced and located in Manhattan. It's small, no-frills, with most rooms having a bathroom down the hall. Talk to the career center at your school. Are there any English majors from last year who are in NYC? Anyone you can crash with for a night or two? (Keep in mind, you might have to have more than one interview—and no, not back-to-back so you might need to make more than one trip for a single job opening.) Figure out what your budget is. Job hunting expenses are tax deductible so keep track of everything. (So are costs for moving for a job!) I was able to stay for a week with a friend who was attending grad school at Princeton University and commute in from New Jersey every day. Another friend in Manhattan let me crash on her couch when I was apartment-hunting. But on more recent trips, I did The Pod. 

You no longer need to put your address on your resume. Really, it isn't a necessary field. And everyone these days keeps their old cell phone number so it's very common in NYC, especially with twenty-somethings, for an out-of-state area code to mean nothing. Although you can also set up a Google Voice number with a NYC area code. You can even use a friend's address (if you clear it with her first) although be judicious with this as you don't later want to say you need four weeks since you also have to find an apartment and move, and have them giving you side-eye, thinking you lied on your resume about living here. Do note that your graduation date is "expected," as that ought to clue them in (but not highlight it). 

Talk to your parents. Talk to your career center. Talk to your friends in the city. See if there's an alumni Facebook group you can join for NYC. Get on LinkedIn and look up recent grads from your college that live in NYC. If you went to a small college, you can even hit up virtual strangers who went to your college to see if they know of anyone subletting a room/with a sofa to spare/have a spare room themselves. Be wary of Craigslist listings as NYC is ground zero for scams.

The way the time frame works is that you don't want to try to find a closing date for a job listing and wait until then to apply. You want to apply as soon as you see an opening that fits for you. Hiring managers and HR tend to look at applications as they come in, and when they have enough good candidates, pull the listing. They tend to bring candidates in for 2-3 interviews (some do just one but more companies do at least two). Depending on the time of year and schedules, it can take about a month for the hiring process. That's why you really don't want to start earlier. In fact, 2.5 months is even a bit far out, but some companies' processes do move more slowly. 

Another option is to not job hunt now. If you had a reliable summer job at home that will have you back, and if your parents will let you crash at home, it's not a bad idea to not job hunt on top of finishing up college. Go home and work your summer job. Save money. Apply for jobs in the fall. There are more openings then and less competition. And you don't have the worries of exams/honors theses/finishing school on top of job hunting, which is already a stressful experience by itself. Postponing for 3-4 months would not be a bad thing at all, and at least it's a good back-up plan in case things don't work out in the spring.

The timing won't work out perfectly. Resign yourself to that fact now. You might have more time at home after graduation than you'd thought. You might have a job fall into your lap that wants you to start before graduation! You might end up crashing on that friend's couch in the city for longer than planned. The only thing you can know for sure is that it won't go the way you'll ideally like it to. 

Friday, February 17, 2017

Book Review: Good Night, Mr. Wodehouse by Faith Sullivan

Oh, what a delight! I loved this book.

I just saw that a panel discussion with authors was being held where the main topic was why it's important to keep writing during a time of turmoil, and that is this book's thesis. Nell has some wonderful things happen in her life, like her darling son Hillyard (Hilly or short) and great friends and eventually, a lover interest. But she's had some bad things too, such as her first husband, and eventually the death of people close to her. The book spans about 50 years so some of the sad things are inevitable (although towards the end it did feel a bit like a piling on). And when bad things happen (the sinking of the Lusitania with friends on board, the outbreak of The Great War and Hilly's enlistment), time and again, she turns to the wonderful, witty, often hilarious novels of the inimitable P.G. Wodehouse. Nell is a teacher and a great lover of literature, and while the small town of Harvester, MN doesn't have a real library (at least not until the end of the book), Nell is able to borrow books, and a wealthy family does endow an honor library at the local power company early on. At one point Nell even writes Mr. Wodehouse a fan letter, which expresses something I've said many times myself (although she says it more eloquently), about how books can save a life. It might not feel that way, especially for novels that might even get dismissed as lightweight and silly, but there are times when our own trials are so difficult to bear, that we need to escape, and to find humor in life, most especially at times when we might otherwise fear we'll never know humor again.

Personally, I read Life With Jeeves, a Wodehouse collection of 4 novels during my wedding planning, which was one of the most stressful times in my life. I wholeheartedly agree with Nell that Wodehouse is one of the best distractions from life, when life is being a jerk. And sadly for Nell, who is a smart, kind, decent woman, life is often jerky. Sometimes we all feel that life has been unusually jerky. 2016 was like that. And why didn't I read any Wodehouse in 2016? Why didn't I read this lovely book? I meant to, but I kept getting sidetracked. I am overjoyed I finally got to it, and annoyed that I didn't read it sooner. This book was occasionally delightful, sometimes heartbreaking, but always thoughtful and touching. As a novel of small-town Midwest in the first half of the 20th century, it is a wonderful slice of Americana with a heart of gold.

I checked this book out of the library.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Book Review: Before the Fall by Noah Hawley, narrated by Robert Petkoff (audio)

Almost all of the audiobooks I listen to are nonfiction. But I decided to give this one a try. I listened to one audio novel last year, which was the first in a very time, and thought I should try one again. Also lately I'd changed up my audiobook listening tactic a bit in a way I thought would work better for fiction: trying to listen to it in a few giant chunks over just a few days. And this one was great. I had planned to listen to it over 3-4 days but I got so sucked in that it only took me 2 days to listen to the whole thing.

The narrator started out sounding like a news reporter which was exactly the right tone for this book, as news plays a big role in it. A small private plane goes down off the coast of Martha's Vineyard and Scott survives. He's about to start swimming away from the fiery wreckage when he hears a small voice and he finds a young boy who also survived. He swims 10 miles to the Massachusetts coast with the boy clinging to his back and with a dislocated shoulder. Naturally, the news media jumps on this story. But Scott, a not very successful painter, isn't interested in being famous, especially not due to an event that killed many other people. But the man who chartered the plane was the CEO of a Fox-News-like news channel, so it's big news nevertheless and he finds himself pursued relentlessly. Meanwhile, the NTSB and others are trying to piece together what  happened. And the "now" chapters about Scott and the investigation and the little boy are interspersed with chapters telling each of the other passengers' and crew members' stories leading up to the fatal flight.

It was a gripping story, with plenty of intrigue and suspense. Another passenger was a banker, essentially laundering money from countries illegal for Americans to do business with who was due to be arrested the following day. Scott painted pictures of disasters—including a plane crash. There are rumors of sabotage or even a bomb. If so, who was the target? If not, what went wrong and how and why? The anchor on the new channel keeps the stories going and keeps up the pressure on the government to find out answers. At the very end (this isn't a spoiler) I was unclear about what and when Scott knew what he suddenly knew, but that isn't very material to the story overall. The narration was terrific. One character was a British ex-pat, another was Israeli, and there was the boy, and several women, and the voices were all terrific. I just had to find out more. And more. And I kept listening and couldn't put it down. A perfect distraction for a wintry weekend.

I downloaded this eaudiobook from my library via Overdrive.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Reading by Publisher - Update 1

Mid-January I assigned myself a mini challenge of reading books by more diverse publishers. It's pretty obvious that I love Penguin Random House titles because last year I read a disproportionate number of their titles (and two of the first three books I read this year were published by PRH). This year, I want to get out more. (Also it should help me when interviewing with other publishing houses.) So I'm going to do an update in the middle of the month about how I'm coming on my mini-challenge. Here's the basics:

5 Hachette books
5 Simon & Schuster books
5 HarperCollins books
5 MacMillan books
5 "other" books

And here's how I've done so far (along with books I'm thinking I might read for the publishers in question). I've got two publishers more than done! And the other two started.

For Hachette I have read:
  1. The Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander 
  2. Class by Lucinda Rosenfeld 
  3. You'll Grow Out of It by Jessi Klein 
  4. Twenty-Six Seconds: A Personal History of the Zapruder Film by Alexandra Zapruder 
  5. Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
  6. Before the Fall by Noah Hawley (read but not reviewed yet)
For Simon & Schuster my current plan is:
  1. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
  2. The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness by Sy Montgomery 
  3. Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper 
  4. Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen 
  5. Madison's Gift: Five Partnerships That Built America by David O. Stewart (for my book club so not going to change) 
For HarperCollins my current plan is (interestingly, these are all nonfiction):
  1. I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life by Ed Yong (read but not reviewed yet)
  2. Marrow: A Story of Love, Loss, and What Matters Most by Elizabeth Lesser 
  3. There Is No Good Card for This: What To Say and Do When Life Is Scary, Awful, and Unfair to People You Love by Kelsey Crowe, Emily McDowell 
  4. Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly 
  5. Searching for John Hughes: Or Everything I Thought I Needed to Know about Life I Learned from Watching '80s Movies by Jason Diamond 
For MacMillan my current plan is:
  1. Finding Perfect by Elly Swartz 
  2. American Girls by Alison Umminger 
  3. Rise: How a House Built a Family by Cara Brookins 
  4. Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong
  5. Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton 
  6. Radical Candor by Kim Scott (currently reading)
  7. Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death, and Brain Surgery by Henry Marsh (currently reading)
For "Other" my current plan is:
  1. Pancakes in Paris: Living the American Dream in France by Craig Carlson (Sourcebooks) 
  2. The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis (WW Norton)
  3. Can't We Talk about Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast (Bloomsbury USA)
  4. Good Night, Mr. Wodehouse by Faith Sullivan (Milkweed) (currently reading)
  5. Garth Williams, American Illustrator: A Life by Elizabeth K. Wallace, James D. Wallace (Beaufort Books) 
  6. Strong Inside: Perry Wallace and the Collision of Race and Sports in the South by Andrew Maraniss (Vanderbilt University Press) 
  7. Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit (Haymarket Books) 
  8. The Monopolists: Obsession, Fury, and the Scandal Behind the World's Favorite Board Game by Mary Pilon (Bloomsbury USA) 
  9. Chain of Title: How Three Ordinary Americans Uncovered Wall Street's Great Foreclosure Fraud by David Dayen (The New Press)
  10. The Radium Girls by Kate Moore (Sourcebooks)
Initially I had thought I'd read these in order, or at least in chunks of all one publisher at a time but I quickly gave that up. Partly that's for a very good reason: I have gotten some more interview in my job search! I'm also expanding the "Other" category to 10 books. And while in my year-end wrap-up I did count the audiobook publishers that aren't the Big Five separately (Recorded Books, Brilliance Audio, Highbridge, etc.) However, for the purposes of this exercise, I'm going to count these books under their print publisher.