Tag Archives: mentor

So You Want to Be In Publishing

2 Jul

Intern

One of my former interns made this for me on her last day of the internship at the publishing house. Isn’t it so cute? I was really touched. I don’t know that I taught her everything about a career in book publishing, but hopefully I gave her a good foundation.

I thought I’d share a few tips on careers in book publishing and being a businessperson in a creative field:

What’s your favorite piece of advice?

Advertisements

Light at the End of the Tunnel

17 May

For awhile it felt like the light at the end of the tunnel was a train speeding toward me.  All the books I’d been working on at the publishing house came in at once in a raw stage, needing to be edited as fast as my eyes could fly across the type.  Meanwhile, “finals” week approached for my MFA program, and I had twenty-page papers to write and a presentation.

As if my expected workload wasn’t enough, a writing opportunity for a magazine came along that I couldn’t pass up—and I’m very glad I didn’t.

And then there were the lunches.  Usually I try to reserve my lunches for catching up on emails and doing some writing or editing.  Yeah, yeah, I know, nerdy of me, but I try to make the most of my time.  Well, right as all the big projects were landing in my lap, so were working lunches.  I had a lunchtime phone chat with my mentee one day and lunch with my book-publishing mentor another day.  I had lunch with my former editor and a writer, with whom I’d had the privilege of working with.  There were also long-overdue lunches with book-publishing colleagues who’d had birthdays or started new positions.  Each of these lunches were important to me so I found a way to pack them into my schedule.  I love hearing about all the amazing projects everyone’s working on and I get so inspired by them.

Because it was the end of the semester, I also went out after class with my fellow writers to celebrate.  I get to read such personal moments of their lives in the essays they write each week, so it was nice to sit down with them over a glass of red wine and decompress after the end of the semester.  –The end of our first year!  We’re halfway done!  Man, it goes by fast.

I’m also working on a super exciting project for Burnside, which I can’t wait to tell you about.  Soon, I promise!

So, all this to say, I’ve been a bit crazed lately but life is really good.  I love the work that I do and the people with whom I work.  I’m so thankful to my family and friends for giving me the space, encouragement, and prayers to get what I needed to do done.  And I’m thankful to all of you for reading my blog and supporting my writing.

Now, as life returns to a more normal pace, I’m actually feeling a bit anxious about how to handle my newfound time.  Do any of you ever feel like that?  I’m still in the midst of some personal writing projects, but I also have plans for long walks in Central Park, deep conversations over sumptuous meals, choosing which books I want to read.  And, sleeping.

Blogging goes without saying.

Painting I made several years ago.

Biggest Advice for… English Majors

22 Mar

 

I’ve received a lot of emails lately from students at my alma mater, Scripps College, wanting to know how I got started in book publishing and what advice I have for them.  I’ve been responding to emails individually but I thought it might be helpful to do a series of career-advice posts in addition to my regular Writing Wednesday posts here on the blog.

As with all my posts, this is simply my opinion.  There are a lot of great books, articles, and career counselors who can set you on the path to choosing and establishing your career.  I’m offering my perspective because it’s been requested and because sometimes it’s helpful to hear personal experience, but it’s by no means the only advice and methods available.

First up in this series is my biggest advice for English majors.

 

Congratulations!  You’ve decided to become an English major.  An English degree is incredibly versatile.  It can be applied to such exciting fields such as book publishing, journalism, teaching, writing, law, and so much more.  You need to know how to write and comprehend the written word in practically every job, whether you’re writing your cover letter for an application or writing a compelling business proposal once you’ve gotten the job of your dreams.

Plus, English majors are just plain cool.  They’re always walking around with dog-eared paperbacks.  They scribble poetry in blue ink on hand-bound journals and think typewriters are still relevant.  They’re in touch with their emotions.  They’re in touch with the emotions of others around them.  They know big words.  They read the book before the movie comes out.  Okay, so maybe I’m stereotyping, but there’s just something so romantic about English majors as opposed to many of the other majors.  I should know.  I was one.

I knew going into college that I wanted to major in English.  I love working with words.  Reading them, writing them, painting them, savoring them.  Though I do wish I’d taken a few more “practical” courses, I don’t regret my decision to major in English.  It’s had a tremendous impact in my career choice as a writer and editor, and I just plain enjoy studying literature on a personal level.

Here are a few tips garnered from my personal experience as an English major that I hope will help those of you pursuing your degree.

  1. Select a wide variety of English courses.  Variety is the spice of life!  Instead of limiting yourself right away to a particular time period in English literature, load up on courses from different time periods and regions.  You’ll gain a more complete awareness of the full history of English literature and learn how they interact and respond to each other.  Remember that in order to fully understand postmodernism, you need to also study modernism.  Take a Southern Gothic class and an Elizabethan Shakespeare class.  Take a women writers course and an Asian American lit course.
  2. Be open-minded.  My undergrad program was heavy on British literature.  At the time I didn’t really appreciate reading books by Samuel Johnson and poetry by Edmund Spenser because I wanted to study the Beats.  Now, while my focus is still on Beat literature, I’m so thankful that I have a wider knowledge of English literature because it informs me of the history and progression of writing.  Plus, Laurence Sterne’s The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, published in 1759, could give postmodernists a run for their money any day!
  3. Research the authors you read.  A little trick I learned in grad school was to look up information on the author before I came to class.  Knowing the author’s biography and bibliography helps give context to their books.
  4. Take creative courses outside your major.  One of the courses that had the most impact on my writing was not an English literature class; it was Introduction to Film, taught at Pitzer College by Professor Alexandra Juhasz.  Through the jump cuts and camera angles, I learned about craft and point of view in a way I’d never thought about so clearly before then.
  5. Take digital art classes.  I studied digital art under Professor Nancy Macko at Scripps, and having that background opened up opportunities in web design, typesetting and page layout, branding and marketing, and production.  Even though I have a production manager now who deals with printer specifications of my books, it helps that I have an understanding of production issues.  Furthermore, I know how to create logos and manipulate images, which I can use on my personal blog to promote my own writing.
  6. Find a second subject that captivates you.  If you’re planning on becoming a writer of any sort or working at a publication, it will be useful to have specialized knowledge in a subject outside of literature.  Whether it’s classical music or psychology, the subject will inform your style and subject matter.  I took History of New York at CMC and continually find myself drawn back to what I learned in that class.  It gave me a broader scope of the New York lit scene I admire so much, and I’ve since gone on to study writing under one of the authors of the books we read in that class.
  7. Think outside the campus bubble.  While many college campuses lend themselves to picturesque academic landscapes, I have to brag that in 2010 Forbes ranked Scripps’ campus one of the most beautiful in the world.  The campus is so pretty and yet the academics so rigorous that I really didn’t think much beyond Elm Tree lawn while I was there.  Not only is there life after college, there’s life going on while you’re at college.  Try to picture where you want to be after college and look into what options are available.  Schoolwork is invaluable but so is eating, so try to remember that your schoolwork is only a means toward something greater: your career.  One lousy paper isn’t going to matter in the grand scheme of your career.  In fact, seeking help from your professor may foster a mentoring relationship that will help you in the long run.

All of this is what I learned from trial and error.  I’d love to hear from other English majors.  What advice would you give to undergrads?  What would you do differently?

I’d also love to hear why those of you who were or are English majors chose that major.  What career do you have or hope to have?

Writing Wednesday: Writing Mentors

16 Mar

I need a writing mentor, I more or less said in a post in January.  I have to admit, though, I felt a little awkward saying it.  Needing a mentor implies the need for help.  And who likes to admit they need help?

Well, it turns out, some of the best authors around have had writing mentors.  Flavorwire posted a great little montage called “A History of Famous Literary Mentorships.”

It featured literary mentoring between such notables as Henry James and Edith Wharton and Joyce Carol Oates and Jonathan Safran Foer.  I would’ve added Allen Ginsberg to the list.  He was constantly running around to different publishers, championing his friends’ works.

I currently have a publishing mentor.  It’s been great bouncing thoughts off her and hearing about her experience.  I also mentor someone, which has been really fun.

While I consider all my workshop instructors and classmates my writing mentors, I’m still seeking someone who can be a one-on-one mentor.  It would be so helpful to get an outside, experienced viewpoint on both my writing and my writing career.

I wonder if my writing would be different if I had a mentor.

Writing Wednesday: Making the Most Out of My Writing MFA, Spring 2011 Semester

19 Jan

Winter break’s coming to a close, and I’m getting ready to enter my second semester of the MFA program.  I really want to get the most I can out of this semester.  Unfortunately, it seems like knowing how to get the most out of anything doesn’t usually happen until after the fact, when it’s too late, so I’ve compiled a list of tips from other writers.

While a lot of articles seem to suggest MFA students go into debt for the sake of writing, I’ve chosen to work full time in addition to doing the MFA full time.  I’m the type of person that thrives under deadlines, and if I weren’t working that wouldn’t mean that I was spending eight hours a day writing.  For me, it’s better to carve out special moments for writing.  That could mean during my lunch hour or on a night I don’t have class.  Often, it means most of Sunday.  I think, though, the greater point here is to make a practice out of writing.  Don’t keep putting it off.  Schedule specific times to write and don’t let other events (or Burn Notice–btw, check out author Tod Golderg’s blog) get in the way.

The tip in these articles about submitting struck home for me.  While I’ve always been pretty good at finding places to publish my work online, I haven’t always been as selective as I should.  One of my goals for this upcoming semester is to submit to a literary magazine.

Finding a mentor is probably the most important goal of mine for this semester.  Last semester’s workshops gave me valuable feedback that I’ve been able to work into my rewrite, but I could use some one-on-one time to really talk through some of the issues in my work.  I need to talk with someone who understands the type of writing I do and has suggestions for ways to improve my writing and where I should be publishing.

Those are my top MFA-related goals for the semester.  What are your writing goals for winter 2011?