July 29, 2015

My Publishing Journey

Anthem Press
Cogitate Studios
Ellechor Publishing House

By far my most viewed post is How to Find a Publishing Internship, and in the past few years I’ve received dozens of emails asking me about my journey, so I thought I’d write more about that here. If you’re looking to get into publishing, I hope it’s helpful! And if you still have questions, please feel free to email me at ariel@arielcurry.com.

In college, I knew that I wanted to do something with literature. Everyone told me I was going to be a teacher, but for some reason that didn’t quite feel right. I decided to try it out anyway and took some education classes over the summer. Even then (without knowing all I know now about education), I could see that teachers are not valued as they should be and that the politics of education make the daily lives of educators incredibly difficult. I didn’t want to deal with that. I need more autonomy in my life. In addition, I was student teaching a second grade summer school class and consistently felt overwhelmed by all of the demands on my attention. It could just be that second grade wasn’t a good fit, but either way the experience was not positive and I decided teaching was not for me.

That left…??? I had no idea, so I thought I’d postpone having to make a decision by going to grad school. I enjoyed school and was good at it, so why not continue? Perhaps I could be an academic, do research, and teach at a university. The only problem I had with doing so much research was that I couldn’t see it having much of an impact on people’s lives (not that it doesn’t, because I highly respect and value the hard work of my friends who’ve chosen this path). I’m very goal-oriented. I like seeing tangible results of my work, and all the better if I can see my work going forth into the world and being useful to others. But, again, I wasn’t sure that I could actually find a job that somehow fit that. I applied to three universities to pursue a MA in English Literature, and that was the plan.

But I’m a chronic worrier, and as my last semester of undergrad dawned, I still wondered if I should be looking for a job. I was venting to one of my best friends, and she suggested I look into working in publishing, editing books. I immediately shut that down. “No way. Editing books? How many people have jobs editing books? Like two. Publishing is too competitive. And it’s all in New York. And I haven’t even graduated college.”

My friend is very patient and supportive, and somehow she convinced me to look anyway. A Google search led me to BookJobs.com, where I applied to a dozen different internships—most of them in New York for major publishers like Random House, Penguin (two separate companies at that time), etc. I saw the posting for an internship at Anthem Press in London, and decided on a whim to throw my name in that hat, too. What could it hurt? I was already sending out tons of cover letters anyway.

Miraculously, they were the only company to contact me. They asked me to do a copyediting test, and sent me their house style guide to learn. I remember going to the beach and taking the stack of papers with me to study before I took the timed test. Apparently I did well on that, because the Publisher asked to interview me via phone. A few days later, I found out I got the internship.

FAQ: What did I have on my resume at that time?

  • I studied abroad at Oxford University. I don’t know if it was the fact that I studied abroad, or that the university was Oxford, or that I obviously had some familiarity with England, but I imagine this had something to do with getting the internship.
  • I was a research assistant for one of my professors. Especially considering the fact that Anthem is an academic press, this may have helped.
  • I was an officer in Sigma Tau Delta. Again, the fact that this is a scholarly society may have helped me.

My best friend, Amanda, who encouraged me to try publishing.

I graduated in December 2010, and in February 2011 I flew to London.

At Anthem Press, I completely fell in love with publishing. My primary responsibility was copyediting—meaning sitting at a desk with the Chicago Manual of Style next to me (still my favorite style guide), painstakingly correcting spelling (British spelling) and punctuation mistakes, debating stylistic choices, and fixing bibliographies. As with any job, there were moments of tedium, but I loved it. I also took over some peer reviews, helped with designing the site map for a new website, and started the company blog.

FAQs about my Anthem internship:

  • Was it paid? No. I paid for my airfare, housing, groceries, and transportation. Anthem did give each intern a 25-pound per week stipend to help with transportation. This would’ve gotten me around just fine if I lived in Zone 1, but I lived in Zone 5, so I was still paying considerably each week just for the transportation to and from work.
  • What was transportation like? London is very easy to navigate, and the primary method is the Underground, or as it’s commonly known, the Tube.
  • How long was I there? About two and a half months, from early February to mid-April. Unfortunately, I left five days before Will and Kate’s wedding in 2011.
  • Did I enjoy it? Yes. Without a doubt. Anthem is a very small company and they rely heavily on their interns. While now I feel that relying so much on intern power isn’t the best or most ethical business practice, as an intern it allowed me to take on quite a bit of “real” work. I never once got coffee for anyone but myself. Also, because there were so many interns, we had quite a nice, fun office atmosphere. We had interns from Poland, Italy, Germany, France. Every Friday we walked to a nearby pub for drinks. I cherish those memories.
  • What did I get out of it? A very nice letter of recommendation, amazing memories, and the start of my career. PRICELESS.

While at Anthem, I found out that I was accepted to all three of the grad schools that I’d applied to. I decided that I wanted to pursue publishing as a career, so I chose Portland State University, since they have a Masters in Book Publishing program and I could transfer once I was there.

In Portland, I took an Intro to Book Publishing class at PSU and did an internship for Ellechor Publishing House. That internship was entirely virtual, so I worked from home and had a flexible schedule. My primary responsibility there was substantive editing. I was there for about five months, and decided at the end of it not to continue my MA in Book Publishing. From what I was learning in my class and my internships, I realized that I really didn’t need to go into debt to pursue a career in publishing. While higher education is incredibly valuable, experience, creativity, work ethic, and common sense will take you very far in publishing.

In the spring I took an internship with Cogitate Studios, an independent editing firm. I got experience writing development critiques for authors, blogging, and doing some more substantive editing. Working with the fantastic editors at Cogitate gave me the confidence to start my own freelance editing business. I did that for a while and thoroughly enjoyed many of the projects I worked on. Working from home was fun, but I still dreamed of being in-house.

The Portland publishing industry consists of mostly independent presses. They thrive there and they’re proud of it—but the job competition is brutal, especially since they have a local MA in Book Publishing program that graduates highly qualified and experienced candidates every year.

Eventually, I moved back to California to be closer to home. In my obsessive Google searches for publishing-related opportunities in California, I kept seeing SAGE Publications and Corwin. I applied for Editorial Assistant positions four times before I finally was contacted to interview. On the day of my interview, I woke up at 4am, got ready, and drove the two hours from my parents’ house to the office. I was fiercely determined. This was the only company within several hours of where I lived, and I HAD to get this job. I did, and I never looked back. In this job I’ve discovered new talents and passions, and I’ve been able to accomplish more than I ever thought I would. I’m now an Acquisitions Editor. I can hold the books that I work on in my hands, and I’m so very proud of them. I hear all the time about how they are making a difference in educators’ and students’ lives. I love serving my authors, and wouldn’t trade this for anything.

A few things to keep in mind if you want to get into publishing:

  • It may take time, so don’t give up. From the time I graduated to when I was hired at Corwin, it was two and a half years. I did three internships in that time, but I was still consistently discouraged about finding a job. I’m so glad I didn’t give up on my dream! I almost did a few times.
  • Know your skills. One of the skills that has taken me far is blogging, which I never would have expected. I was able to start our company’s blog, Corwin Connect, which has become an integral part of the content marketing strategy.
  • Yes, freshly published books really do smell that good. Guys, if publishing is your dream, do it. It’s so worth it.

Want to read more? Check out all of my posts on publishing.