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The reality of publishing

Yesterday we had yet another successful Q&A lunch with our interns. At least from my point of view it was a success, but I was curious to hear what the interns thought. Here’s their reaction, courtesy of Brianna:

Today all of the interns at Dystel and Goderich had lunch with the agents and we learned some very eye opening things. All of us came to the table with a romanticized idea of what working in publishing would entail. This idea included, but wasn’t limited to, having a wooden desk with piles of manuscripts to read at one’s own leisure, talking on the phone with authors, and dreaming up brilliant ideas that will lead to surefire future bestsellers. Today, however, the agents taught us that there is much more to the process, and it involves a lot of work one wouldn’t necessarily expect.

First, we learned that there is a big difference between being an editor and being an agent. An agent’s number one job is to represent the author, first and foremost. They read query letters and sift through manuscripts to find projects worth pitching to editors at publishing houses. In everyday life, they communicate with their authors, and essentially have no higher-level “boss.” For the most part, agents work independently and have the freedom to reject manuscripts if the story just isn’t for them, or they can choose to help authors edit their work if he or she thinks it will make the project better and more saleable.

On the other hand, an editor’s primary loyalty is to the publishing house. Sure, editors edit, but they also act as a liaison to the agent, who represents the author, and the publisher, who ultimately rolls the book out to the public. And that sounded frustrating. I never thought that one of an editor’s jobs would be to convince the right people in house that they should spend X amount of money on a book proposal.

In both positions, though, most of the day is spent on the phone, conversing via email, or completing paperwork. It is key to be organized in all fields. Regarding the actual reading of manuscripts, reading projects usually happens outside of the workday—nights and weekends. That came as possibly the biggest shock of all.

In the end though, whether you think you might be interested in agenting, editing, or another job altogether in publishing, gaining invaluable work experience via internships, publishing programs, and informational interviews is key. I learned a lot today, and for me personally, it has only solidified my desire to learn more and fully immerse myself in the industry.

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