Is Networking Essential?

During my senior year of college, I read Marshall Lee’s Bookmaking: Editing, Design, and Production, a truly comprehensive guide to the way books are made, who should edit them, and the way that they are sold – advertising, overall interest, book reviews, and the like. The professor who assigned it took the whopping 494 page third edition in his two hands and said, “Keep this. This will always be important.” As a senior in college, I still have the attitude that I want to be something when I “grow up,” so I’m keeping it.

I want to be an editor, but more specifically, I want to be a production editor. I want to be that person who sees a piece of work from its manuscript to its stylized e-book self. I have passion and, as I like to think, motivation to do this. However, unlike the writers I would edit and the writers I sit next to in my daily undergraduate courses, I do not necessarily have a direct route to do this. No specific graduate school program. The job market sits at the end of the undergraduate path like a reeling storm cloud.

If I want a job in the industry Lee writes that “[there] are eight routes: (a) take a good course in publishing and/or editing…; (b) sign up with a personnel agency specializing in publishing jobs; (c) get a letter of recommendation from an editor or publisher from a mutual friend or associate; (d) send a very well-written, interesting, exceptionally well-typed letter with a résumé to many editors and publishers; (e) reply to want ads in Publishers Weekly and the major newspapers; (f) leave you résumé… with the personnel departments of many publishers; (g) go to bars, restaurants, resorts, and publishing events – particularly writers’ conferences – where editors go, and (h) try to meet them, and check the job boards on the Internet…” (48-49). That is terribly, horrifyingly general and daunting. Lee, in a later section with a sub-header entitled “How to Get a Job,” writes, “Book publishing being what it is, a large number of its positions are filled in accidental ways…. People drift into jobs by knowing someone or being in the right place at the right time” (59). I don’t want to drift. Lee proposes many different routes, but in essence, it is all about who you know. Is this a fair, equal-opportunity industry?

Despite what I want to feel about the entrance into the industry that spins this literary sphere we find often find ourselves in, I can’t help but feel that Lee is correct. This makes me want to stomp my foot, shout that my narrowed undergraduate career hasn’t set me up enough to network this much. However, that just isn’t true. In every undergraduate career, I think, you can find yourself at a house party, in a swanky apartment on the nicer side of town, playing Flip Cup side-by-side with a graduate or doctoral candidate who is currently working toward a degree that sparks your special interests. These are the people to rub elbows with, even if it is while sipping Natty Boh out of a plastic cup.

This scenario, of course, has happened to me, explicitly in a really nice apartment on St. Paul Street in Baltimore that housed four poets, all currently studying for their MFA’s at John Hopkins University alongside my partner. While there I met an older woman with pink hair named Gwen. She was now a poetry professor, but when she asked me what I wanted to do, she said, “That’s awesome, girl. I worked in publishing for quite a while before… this. I started off as an inspector in a paper plant, made my way up in the industry. I was a copy-editor for this little journal for a bit. It’s totally possible. I can give you some names, publishers to talk to…”

I think, in the grand scheme of job searching, networking is essential… even if daunting in the publishing, bookmaking, book editing, book designing, book reviewing world. Learning from other people’s experience and using that experience to propel, encourage, and mold your own knowledge is essential. Being in the right place, at the right time, with the right people is the greatest résumé builder one can have.

–Sarah Reynolds


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