Tuesday, August 18, 2009

More looking back

I was going to post the second half of my work-in-progress post from last week, but I was inspired by Alvina's post yesterday to look back at the beginning of my career and my very first real job (the rest of the Desmond painting post will go up next week). Her journal entry reminds me of just how wide-eyed I was too!

I started out in publishing about 12 years ago. My first "real job" out of college was at Houghton Mifflin Company, working as the assistant to the art director in the children's book department. I was just as excited as Alvina when I got that call. But I think made WAY more mistakes and looking back I'm surprised I ever got it in the first place.

The job I had actually applied for was a designer position in the children's book department. I'd seen the listing in my school job newsletter and thought it would be a great way to get some professional experience in the kid's book world, which I was desperate to be a part of. So while I'd never taken a graphic design class and had no idea what was involved in designing a book, I decided to apply. I didn't have a computer, so I took out some stationary I had made in a college class and hand wrote a letter to the art director that was not even remotely professional. I cringe to think back about it. I think I explained my love for children's books in some kind of rambling fashion. I remember running out of room at the bottom of the page.

By some kind of random stroke of luck I got a message on my answering machine a week or so later asking me to come in for an interview. Then I made my big mistake #2: I forgot what job I had applied for. I was sending out so many resumes at that point, I had sort of sent out the letter with great hopes then moved on to the next plan to support myself as an artist and forgot all details about it. So when I called back about the interview I actually asked what job they were calling about. Ha. Thank goodness for polite, kind people.

Anyways, I interviewed for the job, and it was instantly clear I'm sure that I knew little if nothing about book design. Also, I knew nothing about how to dress or prepare for a real interview. I went to art school. So when I was picking out my outfit I thought "if there are no holes or paint on my clothes, I will look professional!" I am sure that I did not look professional.

But somehow, the art director was merciful. He happened to need an assistant so he offered me that job instead. Maybe it was my passion for books, or maybe he just thought it would be entertaining to have an employee who had no clue how to interact in a business setting. On casual Fridays I remember wearing giant farmer's overalls cut off at the hem, a flannel shirt, worn out lace-up boots, and my hair in pigtail braids. I got *lots* of funny looks from the suits who had dressed down in khaki's, and quickly realized "farmer-wear" was not the same as business casual. I remember when I was introduced at the company wide sales conference I stood up and curtsied. I don't know why. I guess I thought it was more formal than just nodding my head.

But thank goodness for that job. If I hadn't gotten that peek into the inside of the publishing world, I don't think I ever would have mustered the courage to start submitting my illustrations and book dummies to publishing houses. Everyone I worked with there was gracious and patient and gave me great advice all along the way. And I got a taste of the kind of passion and dedication editors, designers, marketers, and productions teams have for books- which assured me that I had found my place, even if I stumbled a lot along the way.


alvinaling said...

Oh, gosh, this was sweet and funny--I was imagining your Farmer outfit and curtsy! We've come a long way, Anna.

Libby Koponen said...

This really surprised me! I always think of you as so calm and together and professional....I wish I had known you in your pigtail, farmer-wear curtseying days too!


Kristi Valiant said...

Oh boy, I really did laugh out loud at the curtsy. I'm sure I would have done something just as outlandish! Thanks for being so open and honest. What a fun post.

Rita said...

SUPER entertaining. I loved every detail--and relate, of course! I couldn't understand for a long time what the difference was between my clothes and other people's, and why theirs looked nicer. (I could see there was a difference, just not what it was. That woman's "black t-shirt" looks fancy and work appropriate, and even goes with jewelry! Mine--even though it doesn't have any iron-ons or words or holes--never will.)