I was on a publishing panel this afternoon, speaking to Duke graduate and postdoctoral students in the humanities and social sciences who are considering alt-academic career paths. The panel consisted of me, Mark Simpson-Vos (editorial director for University of North Carolina Press), Jocelyn Dawson (journals marketing manager for Duke University Press), and Heather Mallory (freelance writer with a doctorate). I think it went well.
Before the panel, I reached out on social media to crowdsource some responses to two "prep" questions, so I wasn't just answering from my own narrow experience:
What was your career path to your current position?
How can recent master’s and PhD graduates “break in” to publishing work? Are there networking groups, internships, or other resources you recommend to help with the transition to publishing?
I got some great responses, excerpted (anonymously) below:
"I went into an undergraduate program specifically geared for writers to be published or work in publishing. It wasn't necessary. Publishing is more rewarding if you're passionate about storytelling but it's still (as I know you know!) a very process-driven industry. Don't be afraid to emphasize what distinguishes you from other candidates--hiring managers actually *enjoy* seeing unique resumes. Ask for informational interviews when you can. And as always: work hard and be nice to people."
"One thing that helped me, I think, was getting some publishing experience in 'side' projects while in grad school. I co-edited a grad-student journal and did some picture research for an edited volume my dissertation advisor had contributed to. That kind of freelance publishing work is a viable way in, and lots of these types of grad students will have really highly developed copyediting and proofreading skills through their research projects and such."
"I came out of a PhD program. I had zero publishing experience when I started, but I had a lot of entrepreneurial experience and experience working with not-for-profit boards, both of which have served me well. I think learning to recognize what skills you get out of doing a PhD program is also important. If you can get outside editorial experience, as Kandi suggests, that's ideal. But even if that is not an option for you, the process of getting through a dissertation (project management skills, organization, getting your committee to read things on time, etc) gives you a lot of what you need. Edit the work of your colleagues and let them edit yours. Get used to giving feedback but also get used to what it's like to accept it. Take on side projects that interest you. I had a work study job writing and editing press releases and program notes. Writing and publishing your own articles will also give you a good sense of the editorial process from the other side. I learned a lot on the job and from the people around me. I think I would have been bored in a publishing program, but then the thing that drives me is my interest in the subjects I work on, not in publishing itself. I think asking for informational interviews is a great thing to do. Go to conferences, talk to the editors who work the tables in the exhibit hall. They are busy people, so if you can set up meetings before the conference, do it."
"Internships are definitely key, both to getting in the door and for getting an idea of what you want to do in publishing and what the realities of office work are like. Of course connecting to people in publishing is always helpful!"
Thanks to all my publishing friends for their feedback!