Monday, July 25, 2011
What to expect your first few years in editorial
It's summer intern season at work. Hachette Book Group has a great summer internship program (and yes, it's paid. If you're interested for next year, I would suggest checking the job listing website next February) for current college students and recent grads. As part of our interns' education, each week a different department gives a presentation about what they're all about. The presentation is open to the whole company, but we do focus on the type of things we think interns in particular will be interested in knowing. A few weeks ago, I gave the presentation for the Young Readers division, along with our Senior Art Director, Marketing Manager, and Publicist. One of the things we each talked about is what to expect in the first couple of years working in our respective departments.
I basically compared being an editorial assistant with the movie The Devil Wears Prada. Okay, it's not really like that. At least, I hope not.
As I've mentioned before on this blog, publishing, and editorial specifically is an apprenticeship. 99% of editors started as an editorial assistant, learned from their managers, and worked their way up.
The first couple of years are heavily administrative. You'll be answering phones, scheduling meetings, filling out forms, doing paperwork, photocopying, filing (although the latter two happen less and less as the job becomes more digital), mailing packages, doing expense reports, taking meeting minutes, ordering books, and basically doing any task your manager asks you to do. This can range from researching the perfect gift in the theme of an author's book, to tracking down a contract, to hand-delivering art to an agent's office, and more. Personally, I don't ask my assistant to do things like get me coffee or pick up lunch, etc, but other managers do.
In addition to all the administrative work, there's also a lot of editorial work to be done. You'll be writing jacket copy, catalog copy, researching competitive titles, and reading a ton of submissions and giving your recommendation as to whether your manager should acquire or decline something. You'll be drafting letters and other correspondences. You'll be attending our editorial meeting and reading books that other editors want to acquire and giving your thoughts. And yes, you'll be editing--first alongside your manager, and then (perhaps after a year or so of mastering all the admin stuff) more independently. After a year, you may be handling projects on your own--perhaps a paperback edition to start, or a buy in from the UK or Australia. Or maybe you'll take over editing a series once the first book has been edited. How much editorial work you take on, and how quickly, will depend mostly on how quickly you're able to master the other duties. There will be some editorial work right away, but much of it will wait until you've become more efficient with the other aspects of the job.
I think it's pretty safe to say that it will take you about six months before you feel comfortable in the job, and a year before you really master everything, mainly because it takes a minimum of year to follow the path of one book from start to finish.
Some administrative duties will get tiresome quickly, others you may never tire of. In general, though, the hope is that because you're working in an industry that you're passionate about, and working on books and project you love, you'll appreciate the value in the work you do, whether it's photocopying or editing. I know that I loved many of the administrative duties I had. For example, I loved answering the phone for my boss, getting to know the authors, illustrators, and agents she worked with. I still generally answer my own phone. I also loved making photocopies of original art, because I loved the opportunity to see it up close.
On average, expect to spend at least two years as an editorial assistant. The next step up is assistant editor, and for many people, this still means assisting your manager, while at the same time taking on some projects independently. At Little, Brown, our editorial assistants are allowed to acquire under the sponsorship of their managers, but it's not a focus of the job at all, and in fact is not really encouraged until you've been promoted to an assistant editor.
So, that's the first couple of years in children's editorial in a nutshell. Any questions?