7 Things I’ve Learned in 7 Years in Publishing

Seven years ago this week, I walked into the office of Dystel & Goderich Literary Management as Jane’s new assistant. I started out here the usual combination of nervous, cocky, overwhelmed, over ambitious, and grateful someone was willing to take a chance on me. Seven years later, here I am, Literary Agent & Subsidiary Rights Director. Fun fact: on the day I started, DGLM was Jane, Miriam, Michael, Stacey, and Jim. On my seventh anniversary this Wednesday, all five of those people were right here in the office, along with a bunch who’ve come along since. Now that’s partially coincidental timing, but I think it’s a fitting testament to the kind of company this is.

DGLM is a company that’s given me much opportunity to learn and grow in many ways. Through the agency and publishing at large, I’ve learned many lessons in the last seven years. Without further ado, here are seven of the biggest:

  1.  Taste ≠ Quality ≠ Viability: It’s a hard lesson to learn for the very opinionated like me that one’s taste is not an objective indicator of quality. That quality is not necessarily the only factor in viability. It is annoying, yes, that the world does not yet bend to my will and some people persist in having opinions that are not the same as mine. But I’ve stopped taking it personally. (Most days.)
  2. Competition Does Not Preclude Helpfulness: Publishing is a highly competitive beast, but it’s also surprisingly collegial. Sure, some people are overly competitive and undermining, but I find most people are actually pretty helpful even to the people competing for the same resources they are. With few exceptions, the really successful people seem to be well liked by their competitor peers. Of course, being a lovely and wonderful person isn’t enough on its own. But isn’t it nice to know that it can also be a strategic advantage?
  3. There Are a Lot of People Behind Every Book: Before I was told about the job here at DGLM, I didn’t even realize literary agencies existed. I’d pretty much worked out author, editor, publicist, sales rep, buyer, store personnel, customer as the chain, but that’s missing so many people I can’t believe I hadn’t given the others any thought. It’s taken me a while to get a sense of all the other roles at play, because it’s not always easy to see what’s happening behind the scenes. Until you’re mired in the publishing process, you might not be aware of every aspect, but for every piece of the puzzle, there’s a person whose job it is to place it.
  4. The Delete Key Is Your Friend: I implore you to find the delete key on your keyboard and commit its location to memory. It has saved me so much heartache. Publishing is a business, and it behooves us all to be professional and constructive. Delete the bile and move on to something that will help the situation or at least not harm it. When in doubt (even the tiniest scrap of it) about whether your response to something is motivated by reasoned thought or reckless emotion, ask your agent what they advise. Authors need allies, and people who are hurt or pissed off don’t make good allies.
  5. Systems Are Magic: Jane is the master of systems. Seven years on, much of how I get my job done is based on what she taught me to do as her assistant. I’m hyper organized and efficient, mocked for my use of spreadsheets and general systematic nerdery. But without them, I wouldn’t get anything done. Don’t just adopt any old system (electronic/calendar reminders are a total waste on me), but don’t stop trying till you get one that works for you. Being on top of things is important, whatever your role.
  6. The Internet Is Both the Best and the Worst: It’s distracting. It’s glorious. It’s inspiring. It’s soul crushing. It’s connecting. It’s isolating. Find a way to make it work for you, and when it’s just not doing you any favors, walk away. Talk to a friend, go to a café, sit in a park, play with small children or adorable animals, or just take a nap. It’s amazing how much more incredible the internet seems when you’ve taken a break from it.
  7. Breakfast Is the Most Important Meal of the Day: When breakfast arrives in the DGLM kitchen, stand back till Miriam and Jim are done fighting over who gets to use the very sharp apple-cutting knife first. Words to live by if you find yourself in the DGLM offices some morning and value all your limbs.


7 Responses to 7 Things I’ve Learned in 7 Years in Publishing

  1. ryan field says:

    A very insightful post!

  2. Julia Pierce says:

    Wonderful post! It is nice to see “inside” sometimes. Also very cool to see that you all have such an enduring working relationship with so little turn-over. That says a lot about your company.

  3. Colin says:

    As an aspiring writer, one of the most awesome things I have witnessed is that sense of collegiality among writers, literary agents, and editors. The amount of praise and encouragement I’ve seen (and received) well exceeds what I expected, and is more than I’ve seen in many other businesses. For such a competitive industry, you are all some of the nicest people I’ve ever met!

    Keep up the good work. :)

  4. Pingback: Industry News-March 25 » RWA-WF

  5. I could use a system about now. Great post.

  6. Kim Smith says:

    Loved this… Thank you!

  7. Brian Taylor says:

    Jim does love horror, so look out for those knives! :)

    I am loving number four on the list. If you don’t have anything nice to say, say it in a non-venomous way or not at all. Trying to be active in the blog-o-shpere can be hazardous to your health and the delete key is your friend. I once saw a show where Dave Chappelle and Maya Angelou were talking about dealing with critism, and she said that she chooses not to pick up the negative things. She ignores them instead. I’ve always remembered what she said, it just struck a chord with me. I think that was Iconoclasts from 2006. Great show and a classy woman.

    Nice post, keep ’em coming!

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