Ink-Stained Wretch-to-be
April 14, 2006 8:07 AM   Subscribe

Career change advice sought! Help me make the switch to editing/publishing.

The background: I'm presently employed as Director of Ed. in a mid-size history museum, and have spent the bulk of my career in museum program administration. After recent soul-searching, I've decided that I'd rather manage content more and people less. I'd like to work more with words, I enjoy finite projects with deadlines, and I also would prefer to work more independently - perhaps with a small team, but with greater direct control over project outcomes than I presently have.

My inclinations seem to lead me in the direction of publishing, media, editing, etc.

My skill set: I have some background in the world of print media, but it's mostly from some time ago. Through college, I worked for a large daily paper in various roles --reporter, feature writer, proofer. I come from a family of journalists, and edited my college paper as well. It's been more than ten years, though, since I was employed in that field. I have done some freelance writing since them, and will be doing more this year, so I should be building a fresher clip file. However, I know almost nothing about book/textbook publishing and other related fields. I'd be interested in learning about the types of jobs that exist.

Through my career, I've built up strong knowledge of American history and literature, cultural history, arts, music, foodways, and traditions. I've done quite a bit of writing within the museum field -- promotional literature, research summaries, grant narratives, and curricula.

So at this point, my questions are extremely general. What varieties of jobs are available in editing and publishing? Should I be looking at educational publishers (given my background)? At what level might I be employable? What are the important web sites and job boards for people in publishing? Should I be considering web content developers? How can I show transferable skills? If you do work in publishing, what do you like/not like about it? What cautionary words do you have for me? All feedback encouraged. I'm at sqaure one with this idea, so assume I have not yet done any major research.

Also, I live 1 hour from Boston. I'm willing to commute up to an hour or so, but would rather not relocate. It seems as though there should be a fair number of opportunities in this region, but I'm aware. It might mean thinking outside the obvious sources of employment.
posted by Miko to Work & Money (5 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Publishers Lunch job board
Publishers Weekly job board
Mediabistro job board (a long list, but once there you can look through more targeted categories)

Good luck!
posted by BT at 8:41 AM on April 14, 2006

So do you want to write or be some kind of editor? If the latter, building a clip portfolio will mean next to nothing. Good writer does not always equal good editor.

Your writing might make you a good marketer though. And publishers are always in need of marketers.

You'll generally have to work your way up though. They won't hire someone who's never been in publishing to be an AE (at least, it's very unlikely).

I assume you're at least in your 30s, and probably don't want to start at the bottom of the barrel as an assistant (and trust me, it sucks).

So what you should probably do is narrow it down to a field of publishing you want to work in (medical, academic, trade, etc) and then research that. From there, find out how your skills relate to that field/job and make a good argument in your cover letter when you apply for jobs.

You could also look at book compositors instead of just publishers. They're the ones that put the books together.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 8:45 AM on April 14, 2006

Response by poster: Yes (and thanks misanthropicsarah), I am in my mid-30s and have been used to working in positions of leadership for a while. I am willing to pay some dues in learning a new trade, but don't want to start at the bottom.

I suppose I don't have enough information yet to know whether I prefer to write or edit. I can do both. I'll need to learn more.
posted by Miko at 9:08 AM on April 14, 2006

If you are looking into book publishing, more than likely you would still start at the bottom. In trade publishing, a person in their the mid-30s with no experience would have to start at the bottom as EA or associate. I know offices that are filled with people with higher degrees in the mid to late 30s working in entry-level jobs who decided to go into publishing after they worked in their field of expertise only to find they wanted something else. My advice is to really figure out what you want to do in the media. Editors in trade book publishing are not comparable to academic and professional book publishing are not comparable to magazine publishing are not comparable to . . .

Boston also has the Book Builder's Boston job board that can give you an idea of jobs available around you.

If you're really interested in trade publishing send me an e-mail (john @ and we can talk. I work in Cambridge in subsidiary rights but also occasionally acquire books so I can give you a better idea of what's in the Boston area.
posted by rodz at 9:31 AM on April 14, 2006

Boston is not great for magazines--i'd build up clips from a variety of places---newspapers, newsletters, university publications departments, and definitely hi-tech firms and their pr and communications depts, etc.

You should really decide whether you want to stick to the range of topics you know or use them to branch out to make yourself more directly applicable---lifestyle stuff like food trends connected to local restaurant openings, or art things or society/culture fads and trends and things, etc?

I'd take a look at everything (use poynter and mediabistro) and see whether you could see yourself using your skills in specific areas, and tailor your book accordingly--for instance, would a Gourmet or Cooks magazine or Boston Globe want anoverview of the latest hot vegetable or Parisian cooking methods, for instance, using your more extensive knowledge of the history of them?

Most higher-level magazine editors i know were writers and made contacts that way before moving inside magazines--or they worked their way up from Assistant and Associate positions (working your way up is the harder route, i think). Some tho, wrote books (or are writing them) that made them known in their fields, were quoted by editors a lot, and used that as a ticket to move into magazines at relatively high positions.

It's a very closed industry in many ways--it's entirely about contacts and who you know and who likes you. I'd definitely start going to the Mediabistro parties in Boston (if they have them there), and start networking and asking questions.
posted by amberglow at 9:39 AM on April 14, 2006

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