Over at the LinkedIn Publishing and Editing Professionals group, members are sharing how they broke into publishing. I told my story there, so why not here as well?
I worked as a writing tutor during college. (I also did layout for the student newspaper, but that wasn’t working with words.) It was then that I decided I really wanted to be an editor. I’d always been an avid reader, a stickler for grammar, and often helped friends proofread their essays. Overall: I loved to write, and I loved assisting others with their writing. As a tutor, I learned so much from the variety of subjects brought before me—honestly, what typical English major is versed in physical chemistry? Meanwhile, I built up a myriad of methods for tutoring various learning styles. Editing in the publishing world isn’t the same as tutoring, but there’s a strong collaborative process that permeates both.
Once I graduated college, I attended the Columbia Publishing Course. I was lucky to get in! It’s an extremely competitive summer program hosted by Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism; they only allow 100 students in the class each year. During my six weeks there, I learned an absolute ton about all aspects of the publishing industry—and I mean all—spending evenings schmoozing with numerous publishing professionals. That summer led to my decision to pursue educational publishing.
After several frustrating months of applying, I got in, hired as a temporary Editorial Assistant for Pearson Education’s Social Studies K-12 group. My manager hired me not just because of my English major background, but because I had majored in History as well. It’s always good when one’s liberal arts degree applies directly to one’s job! (What also might have helped me land the position was an internship at The History Press, a publisher of local history books.)
I worked with the Social Studies group for five months, proofreading final pages before they went to print, writing pieces, and creating bookmaps—but with the uncertainty that comes with a temp job, continued to look elsewhere. I found out that my godmother’s half-brother worked in the same building, at Pearson Learning Solutions, a higher education textbook customization group. (It’s not as boring as it sounds, I promise!) We chatted, and soon I was interviewing for an editorial position there. I stayed for about ten months, working on contract as an Assistant Development Editor. I learned how to project manage, and project manage fast. PLS has a busy season best described as insane. You receive some training beforehand, but then you have to dive in and swim fast. Post-busy season, when the office was fairly quiet, I ran into my old manager at Social Studies. Literally, in an elevator. (Okay, we didn’t actually bump into each other.) She told me she was looking for an Associate Editor. So I rejoined the Social Studies team! One big lesson to take away here: network, network, network. If you know someone at the company, your chances of getting a foot in the door shoot sky high.
I loved working for the Social Studies team. I managed and edited programs for elementary, middle, and high school. Switching between reading levels was refreshing. My knowledge of United States history, world geography, and economics got a nice refresher, plus a bonus dose of Alabama’s history. Yes, an entire book about the history of Alabama, written for fourth graders. Fascinating from a Massachusetts perspective.
Unfortunately, my Associate Editor role was also a contract one. After two and a half years at Pearson, I had to leave for a year before reapplying. It’s Pearson HR policy; contract employees can stay for a maximum of two years, then have to wait six months to a year before they are eligible reapply. My situation had a particular twist: my manager and her manager wanted to hire me as staff. They fought to keep me. But in the end, Social Studies lacked the budget and had to say goodbye. Considering how quickly I moved up at Pearson, I was really disappointed. I began applying to other publishing houses. Since I wasn’t having much luck, I resolved to take matters into my own hands. I started JGilstein Editing, and that’s where I am today!
How did you start your journey into publishing? Writing? Editing?