Thursday, May 6, 2010

So You Still Want to Be An Editor? Tips for Job Hunting

If my previous posts about the true life of an Editorial Assistant haven't dissuaded your enthusiasm for Editorial, here are actual job-hunting tips finally for how to go about looking for and getting an editorial job. I know I haven't discussed agenting yet but I will very shortly, and nearly all of this information applies to wannabe literary agents as well.

First, research. All the large publishers and agencies have websites, most of the mid-sized ones, and a handful of the small ones. To find out about mid-sized and small publishers, check out the reference book LMP, The Literary Market Place, which most libraries carry. Also, they’re on the web, but you need a password. They list every legitimate publisher and agency. There are fraudulent agencies you’d want to avoid. You’ll want to work at a publisher or agency whose books you generally like, so browse in a bookstore, check out your shelves at home, surf on Amazon, and keep notes. Then look up those publishing houses or agencies. Check out their websites, see who else they publish or represent. You should find which editors' and agents' books you’d most enjoy working on. You can often find the name of the editor and agent on the acknowledgements page, or through google. In the current economy, it's so hard to find a job that picking who exactly you want to work for may be a luxury that sadly has gone by the wayside though. Sign up for publishersmarketplace.com’s daily enewsletter, Publisher’s Lunch which has updates on publishing industry news. For instance, if you hear about a new imprint starting up at a house, then you’ll know to apply there right away. Also they send out a weekly round-up of the deals made which is another way to see what agents and editors like which sorts of books. If you are a college student, many colleges participate in programs like BARC or SLAC that organize trips to New York over spring break trip for interviews in the media, including publishing.

When you find a particular editor (or agent) with whom you share a lot of interests, do contact them directly. You never know if the editor who’s worked on five of your favorite authors may have just had an assistant quit. Even if there’s not an opening, do ask that editor for an informational interview. Their assistant may quit a week from now. That’s how I got my editorial assistant job!

Next, if you do get an interview with them, they’ll probably give you a manuscript and ask you to write a Reader’s Report. They want a half page of description and analysis and then they want an opinion whether or not this book should be bought. Really, a half page. No more. Try it on the next few books you read. All books can, in fact, be boiled down to a one or two sentence plot description. The whole Reader's Report should be just a single page. After the plot description, then you need to discuss what’s good about the book and what’s bad. Don’t dwell on the minute, but instead focus on larger issues such as:
  • are the characters consistent and three-dimensional
  • do any important characters not appear until mid-book
  • is the plot predictable
  • is the ending adequately satisfying or annoyingly pat
  • do any important events occur off-stage
  • does the action keep moving or are there any slow parts
They’re certainly not looking for spelling and grammar issues, nor problems with minor details.
And here’s a secret that you need to remember: this manuscript they’re giving you has already been bought. I promise. It doesn’t make sense for an editor to assign you to read a manuscript the editor’s not already read, and if she’s read it and rejected it, why would she want to keep it hanging around and read again about why it is bad. She’s got a book with problems she’s trying to edit, and she’s intrigued to see if you’ve noticed the same editorial issues she has, or different ones, and what exactly they are. This isn’t an editorial letter, so it doesn’t need to beat around the bush. Be straightforward and honest.

Be sure to read job descriptions to help tailor your resume to point out you do have specifically those skills requested. Think carefully about what skills and personality traits are right for the job you want and therefore ought to be emphasized in interviews and on resumes. You may be surprised how you can spin your experiences to work for you. For instance, through my bartending job, I became extremely diplomatic, not easily insulted, and learned that I work just fine in pressure situations. Do not tell them you’re an aspiring author, as that doesn’t impress them, and makes them think you’re not serious about wanting to be an editor or agent, but instead are simply marking time until you can impose on your colleagues.

Super important: READ. The classics, though they provide you with a good foundation, won’t help you here. You ought to be familiar with what’s been published in the last couple of years. You need to have read at least a couple of current bestsellers. You can find something you like. If you truly can't, I suggest you rethink your impending career move, as if you want to be successful, your aim as an editor should be to find the next John Grisham, not the next Ernest Hemingway, unless time-traveling back 100 years is a part of your career plan.

Sadly, one of the most important things you can do in the job search process is write thank you’s. I know they suck, I hate them, I don’t write them for Christmas and birthdays like I should, but you absolutely must for a job interview. It must be handwritten legibly. I suggest Crane’s notepaper (nothing too funky or overly cutesy) and they must be sent out the same day. If you have a follow-up or second interview, often just a couple of days after the first, you want them to have already received your thank you. When you’re going for an informational interview and are hoping to come back to this person in a few months to ask them if they know of a job opportunity, absolutely you need for them to have gotten a prompt thank you from you. It's very easy for paperwork (resumes, cover letters) to go astray on a crowded desk - if there is a third piece of paperwork with your name and contact information floating around, it's all the more likely that one of them will surface at some point.

You'll notice I've not yet mentioned contacting Human Resources. Unfortunately in my experience that route has been less than helpful the majority of the time. Applying through them certainly can't hurt, and I'm sure some companies HR departments are excellent, but I have only found that to be the case once in my career. Going the direct route is usually the most efficient and best option - straight to the person who will be doing the hiring and will be your boss.


thevanishinglake said...

This is so interesting - not that I'm looking to become an editor - but I found this post really fascinating. In particular: thank you letters. I would never think of writing a thank you letter after a job interview. I really don't think it's the done thing here in the UK. But now I feel really rude for not doing so!

Carin Siegfried said...

That's funny - I wouldn't think of interview Thank Yous as being overly American. Usually you Brits are much more proper and polite about things than we are, but there are always exceptions, right? I have always done it and have gotten a few (very positive) comments, and I've also been in an office when we've ben interviewing people, and seen the few thank yous that come in afterwards, and I know they are noticed and ommented on.