Help me become employed in NYC - Preferably in Publishing
April 19, 2007 5:49 AM   Subscribe

I'm in an unusual situation and it's proving extremely difficult to change things. Short version: I've been out of work for five years mostly due to severe depression, anxiety, and an abusive relationship, and have been trying to establish myself since recovering with no luck. I'm a bookworm with a degree who seeks an entry-level publishing position, but will take other (hopefully related, but not an absolute requirement right now) positions in the interest of establishing a recent job history for myself. (Extra long version inside...)

I graduated magna cum laude several years ago, but initially, my attempts at finding a job in my industry of interest at the time (advertising) didn't work out. Part of the problem was my lack of formal experience, and the other was that I was trying to enter into a creative position, when few of those are advertised. Those that are advertised are difficult to get without a portfolio, and I didn't have one at the time. I've since learned how to use Photoshop, ImageReady, do webdesign, and other sorts of transferable skills. I did not spend the last few years idly.

I'd suffered from some form of depression and anxiety for some time by then, but it hadn't affected my success up until that point. After graduation though, I slipped further and further into it, became isolated, and to the point of being suicidal multiple times. I had intense social anxiety for some time then too. To the point that I was afraid to go out places or even to do simple, everyday things such as ordering from a food menu or making phone calls to just about anyone. What didn't help matters was entering into an ultimately abusive situation with someone I'd dated. He physically, verbally, and sexually assaulted me. That sort of thing wrecks the old self-esteem, and mine was already wrecked from the start.

I got out of that abusive situation about a year and a half ago, and have not only recovered since then, but totally changed. As of last fall or so, something clicked into place and I felt like a new person. I'm in a much better place now. I'm supported and loved, but more importantly, I've gained this love for myself, and real confidence for the first time in my life.

As for employment, most people won't give me the time of day, especially given the almost total gap in my resume between college and now. The only thing I've done since then has been minor freelance writing in the form of letters for a friend of the mother of my abuser.

I've called temp agencies, only to be given the run-around, being told "we'll call you", and of course, never being called and never even being asked to come interview.

I don't have any references. I've had a total of one formal paying job - just over a year of office work in college. Part of the reason for this was having to put in long hours commuting to school, not being able to take jobs without possibly affecting some government payments one of my parents was receiving, which would have led to being cut off and possibly not letting us afford to eat if it came to pass, and graduating early.

The depression, isolation, and social anxiety, plus lack of money made volunteering not really an option (I couldn't even make phone calls. I was so deathly afraid of phone calls that I'd leave mine occupied or off the hook for significant chunks of the day), so no references from that either.

I've got a degree in literature, a solid minor, a great work ethic, and lots and lots of desire to work in publishing. I did a whole lot of research and soul searching and I've decided that I want to be an editor of trade books. I've been applying to editorial assistant positions and rotational type gigs, but only one has responded. I interviewed for that position last year and did not get it.

At this point, I'm extremely poor, in debt, in need of a new wardrobe after losing a whole lot of weight (came off with the emotional baggage), and simply need a good job to get me started, even if it's not an editorial assistant position right away.

Most editorial hiring managers won't even look at me. I've attempted to get into some of the companies and present myself as a candidate, figuring if they met me and I could answer some questions, it might make things a bit easier and make me memorable enough for follow-up. I tried calling HarperCollins and they "don't do" informational interviews. How do I get to know anyone there? Or at other companies, many of which are similar?

I know that most editorial assistant ads are considered to be entry-level, and also that it's nigh impossible to land one without tons of internships. But it's not totally impossible. I've read of editors that took chances and of people whose first jobs in publishing were steps up from entry-level. I know that I can shine if someone would just not write me off into the black hole of HR immediately due to a gap in my resume.

I'm no longer a student, so many internships are off limits, and anything I do get has to be paid, or at least offer a stipend that I can combine with part time work.

As far as part time, retail work goes, I've tried going that route as well. The local video store, supermarket, Macy's, and other retail outlets have decided not to call me. Some people have told me that perhaps they saw my degree listed and felt I was overqualified, or that I'd leave soon if hired. I apply to office positions often as well.

I also never quite learned the art of networking. I was so cripplingly socially anxious and depressed during college that it probably wouldn't have made much of a difference if I had, and so I don't really have any professional contacts, and not many personal ones left either. My family doesn't know anyone in publishing either.

So mefites: Please offer me your best advice on becoming employed in NYC with such a history. I'll be commuting, but that's not really an issue. Extra tons of bonus points if anyone has advice for breaking into publishing as a non-student with only a clip or two (one from a journalism-related program ten years ago), a literature degree, lots of desire, drive, passion for books, a good (albeit outsider's) grasp of the industry, a lifetime spent as a grammar nazi, and acceptance that I'll have to work my way up.

Please understand that this is an extremely frustrating situation, especially now that I've recovered and am filled with such energy and drive to just get out there and establish myself already. I've had one too many virtual doors slammed in my face and I'm sort of at wit's end.

Apologies for my inability to be more succinct, but I thought it best to try and include as many details as possible due to this being an anon post.

Private responses at

Thank you for any advice that you guys might have.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (36 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not in publishing or in NYC, so take this for what it is worth. But in many fields a traditional way to deal with either a gap like yours, or simply just a change in direction, is to go back to school and pick up some sort of degree or credential applicable to the field you are trying to break into. Ideally, this will give you both practical skills and professional contacts, as well as providing a recent thing to place prominently in your resume and job letters. Financially, it can be hard, but in-state tuition is often low, financial aid is available, etc. Others will probably have more specific suggestions, but do consider this if going directly from where you are now to the jobs you want does not look feasible.
posted by Forktine at 6:17 AM on April 19, 2007

I always say "go back to school!" when people can afford it. In your case, you might consider volunteering for a reputable organization. If you pay your dues, they might let you do some stuff you could use in a portfolio.
posted by ewkpates at 6:39 AM on April 19, 2007

Don't try going to the biggies like HarperCollins etc. first. They will not give you a second glance. Much smaller publishers may give you a second glance, but it will be for a secretary-type job. But, that is how you get your foot in the door.

But, I have to say, it sounds like you just need A job right now instead of THE job. Keep trying at the temp agencies--lots of people with less usefulness (for lack of a better word) are temps. It won't be the best paying job, but it WILL get you experience, which is what you really need right now.

And, figure out, if possible, what you want to do in publishing. I 100% suggest taking a couple publishing classes as a nonmatriculated student. That will get you some 'experience' and it will make you some good contacts in the industry.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 6:44 AM on April 19, 2007

I've called temp agencies, only to be given the run-around, being told "we'll call you", and of course, never being called and never even being asked to come interview.

It's not clear from what you wrote here, but you cannot be remotely passive with temp agencies. You call them, tell them that you'd like to schedule an intake interview. You go in, take their tests, and make sure you have the name of at least one recruiter there (preferably two, since turnover is high in that industry). Then you call like clockwork, always asking for that person, politely, inquiring about assignments. Monday, Wednesday, Friday. You cannot wait for them to call you - because they won't. The jobs go to people who make themselves (politely of course) pests, showing that they really want the jobs.

Why not get a reference from that job in college? It's a while ago, but it's the last job you had, right?

It looks like you really need to build your portfolio, so while you're looking for paid work, you may want to volunteer for organizations that need the skills you offer. That'll build work for you -- and more current references.
posted by canine epigram at 6:45 AM on April 19, 2007

Check Craigslist. The Rejecter says that's the best place to get a foothold job in publishing, and since it's so direct, you'll have an opportunity to mitigate your thin resume with your demeanor.
posted by headspace at 6:47 AM on April 19, 2007

Without job experience, in NYC you are most likely to have to complete an internship (unpaid). After that, you will have your degree, job experience, and contacts within the place you interned at your disposal for job-finding-- if you are not actually promoted within the company itself.
posted by hermitosis at 6:49 AM on April 19, 2007

If you are still interested in getting into advertising, it's a lot easer to break in by working through a small interactive shop than to get into a biggie. I'd start by contracting and freelancing for them, and push to get hired when they saw the quality of my work.

craigslist is a great source of ad agency freelance gigs as well.
posted by jenkinsEar at 6:52 AM on April 19, 2007

What about starting out in a bookshop? I used to work in one, and loads of the staff had degrees. It's likely to be seen as a plus. It may also help to get the foot in the door with publishers.

For example, one of the staff in the shop I worked in also edited at a small publishers. Many other of the staff had good links with various publishers.

If nothing else, it will pay the bills while you work the alternate routes.
posted by Jakey at 6:59 AM on April 19, 2007

Oh, I seem to have missed that line about unpaid work. Well, most internships are only a couple of days a week, allowing plenty of time for another job. Sure it's tiring to do both, but it's not forever.

Besides, you need to get used to the idea that the industry you want to enter has very specific standards for its newcomers; rather than wrack your brains trying to find ways to get around them, you need to prepare yourself to accept them realistically and directly.
posted by hermitosis at 6:59 AM on April 19, 2007

I am in publishing. It was not easy, it took a few years, and I had to start at the bottom in a job for which I was overqualified.

It's tough, right? My parents are engineers -- they went to school, majored in engineering, and that's what they became. My sister is a dietitian -- she majored in dietetics, and became a dietitian. I majored in English -- so, what? I became English? As far as I know, there aren't any undergraduate degrees in editing/publishing.

However, I didn't know it at the time, but there are, in fact, schooling opportunities in publishing/manuscript editing. Emerson College in Boston has an MA program in Publishing. The University of Chicago has an editing certificate program, as well as a program in medical writing and editing. Many of the U of C courses are intensive (3-day) in nature -- definitely doable for an out-of-towner over a long weekend.

Likely there are others. These are two that came to mind. Had I known that these opportunities existed when I was slogging through horrible jobs while applying to anything remotely related to publishing, maybe I would have realized my goal sooner. It's tough when you can't get a job (read: experience) because you don't have experience (read: an old job like this new one). As I've heard from higher-ups at my institution (i.e., those who make hiring decisions about this sort of thing), experience can be demonstrated by sporting some reputable editing coursework on your resume.

Finally, in my experience/opinion, the ability to be an editor is nature-based -- not nurtured. One's skills can/must be honed, of course, but if you're not cut out to do it, I don't see how one could be forced to develop into an editor. I've seen quite a few people proclaim "editor" to be their dream job, then crumble at an editing test during a job interview. This sounds discouraging, maybe, but it's worth it to get your feet a little wet before you put all the money/effort into pursuing this. A basic editing course should serve this purpose, I think.
posted by penchant at 7:02 AM on April 19, 2007

In the spirit of Jakey's advice, a warning: The Strand (most people's idea of a fantasy bookstore job) pays low ($7 an hour to start), and requires 40 hour weeks. So not only will you not make enough to live on, but you won't have a free enough schedule to work a second job. You'll do better than that even at Barnes and Noble.
posted by hermitosis at 7:05 AM on April 19, 2007

With regards to temp agencies, I heartily agree with canine epigram about not being passive with temp agencies. I obtained a number of positions through a couple of NY/NJ based temp agencies by calling them on a daily basis to find out what new openings might have come in. If you call in the late afternoon, like 4pm, they may be in the process of trying to rush around filling a last-minute position and you might solve all their problems. This worked well for me.

Also, I highly recommend trying to get any job at a company you would be interested in working for, even if it's data entry or something else entry level and not that fun. Once you get your foot in the door at a company (even if it's as a temp!) and make a good impression and show you're a smart, enthusiastic person, you will have a MUCH better chance of moving up and getting positions that interest you more. Many companies love hiring in house, and promoting from within.

Case in point - I have a degree in technical writing, but I could not get a job in tech writing. Instead I found a company that interested me, and applied for an entry level customer service position there. Once I had that job, I did the best job I could, and let my boss know I was interested in focusing on written communication aspects of the job, and took on more & more responsibilities that could be related to tech writing. 2 years later the tech writing position opened, and they were more than happy to have me fill that position, because they knew I was a capable & driven person.

Also in my company I have seen customer service people who had CS degrees move into our technology dept, etc. It really pays to get your foot in the door at a company you like and make a great impression and let people know through your actions how smart & capable you are.
posted by tastybrains at 7:11 AM on April 19, 2007

I second going back to school, if even for a certificate in publishing or journalism or a related field, to show that you have an active interest in the industry that you are pursuing. It seems like one of the biggest hurdles you'll face is convincing a potential employer that you are actually committed to the career/job/industry that you're applying for. I think once you can show your committment, your academic credentials will be a great asset. New York is a tough city though. I worked there for about 4 years after undergrad in magazine and website publishing (ad sales) and can attest to the fact that nine times out of ten, what people are looking for is someone with charisma and drive, even at the most entry level administrative positions. That, or you have connections that are an asset to the business. On the editorial side, from the anecdotal information I have from friends, it may be easier to look for a position outside Manhattan, at a local newspaper, etc., just to get your foot in the door and a reference on your resume. I wouldn't limit your job search to just Manhattan. Also, GO FOR IT. I know this will sound trite, but you have to believe in yourself and go out there and make it happen. Especially in a city like NY, but anywhere really. If you think you'll be a great editor, and want to get in the door by being an editorial assistant, create a pitch as to why. Write it down. Recite it in your head. Get comfortable with it. And go out and tell just about anyone you think may help you why you're so perfect for the job. Most folks can answer phones, make copies and fetch coffee. Why are you going to do it better than the other 50 people they saw that day? Also, your connections from undergrad (most schools have great online alumni databases) may be an asset. Start emailing people who work in related fields for informational interviews, either on the phone or in person. It's very low pressure (on both sides) and can be great for networking. It can be hit or miss who's open to it, but I think it's a pretty accepted practice these days. Just imagine how great you'll feel when you get the job you want! It will happen. Good luck!
posted by smallstatic at 7:20 AM on April 19, 2007

First of all, everyone wants to be an editor. It's the glamorous (hah!) publishing job, and every recent college grad with literary pretensions is vying for those editorial assistant jobs. I think you should consider whether there are other publishing jobs that might suit you. You were originally interested in advertising: have you considered marketing?

I got a job as a marketing assistant at a small publisher without any internships or direct publishing experience. I went to work at an independent bookstore right out of college, and I wrote a whole lot of reviews for their newsletter, which was a very highly-regarded newsletter as bookstore newsletters go. I used those reviews as clips to show that I was capable of writing things like flap copy and advertisements. (I worked in a small enough publisher that the same person wrote both of those things.) I also put a huge amount of effort into learning about the publishers to which I was applying, so I could write good cover letters and interview effectively.

I don't know if that would work anymore, because there are a lot fewer indie bookstores around than there were when I graduated from college. But I still think that you might be able to weasel your way into a marketing job. Maybe you could get a job at a big box bookstore and then start a book review blog to get some clips? Or get an evening job at Starbucks and look for an unpaid marketing internship during the day?
posted by craichead at 7:22 AM on April 19, 2007

There are organizations that pffer scholarships for "interrupted education." This one is at the University of Michigan, but I have to assume there are many others out there.

A friend of mine has a scholarship/work-study position in NYU's school of journalism, their masters program has an excellent reputation, (but U of Chicago does seem to be *the* place for editing degrees). She didn't get the tution coverage because of academics, but because of persistence - the dept. chair said this directly. She got her start editing for a do-it-yourself book publisher, where the authors finance everything themselves. She edited many books there.

Websites need editors as well, and this might be a good place for you to start. You could even find some ones out there that need editing and approach them as a freelancer.

I also really encourage you to double, triple, quadruple, quintuple check that there are no edits necessary in your resume or any communication with potential employers. If you know someone in editing already, they would be a good person to run things by.
posted by Eringatang at 7:28 AM on April 19, 2007

As obvious in my post, IANAE
posted by Eringatang at 7:28 AM on April 19, 2007

Also, I highly recommend trying to get any job at a company you would be interested in working for, even if it's data entry or something else entry level and not that fun. Once you get your foot in the door at a company (even if it's as a temp!) and make a good impression and show you're a smart, enthusiastic person, you will have a MUCH better chance of moving up and getting positions that interest you more.
As a general rule, that's good advice, but I don't think it works in publishing. My sense is that you have to be hired as an editorial assistant to get into editorial. It's extremely difficult to move from some other area into editing.
posted by craichead at 7:29 AM on April 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

Good for you on turning your life around! Since you obviously love books and promoting them what about looking at libraries, specifically their marketing divisions - or any job in a (special/academic/public) library as a foot in the door. As to explaining the gap in your resume, if you don't feel comfortable discussing your personal health history, acknowledge it as "being a caregiver for a family member" - not unusual for a woman. Or you can say you were writing a novel; and start writing it now it has percolated in you for five years. Look at the books you have enjoyed lately, are any of them from a smaller press? Research that press and contact them see about an internship/volunteer/paid work. Several of my friends have worked as freelance editors for smaller presses, not steady work but excellent on a resume. And finally, school is an worthy suggestion, a few years back I took a night course on publishing at a local university I really enjoyed and it was taught by the head editor of Penguin (I wish I had been savvy enough to stay in contact with her). I know everyone says you get jobs through networking but honestly, except for my my first job I have always gotten my (excellent) job offers by replying to advertised jobs. So please keep trying and keep sending out your resume (with a kickass personalised cover letter of course). I have faith in you that the perfect job is waiting out there for you to excel in.
posted by saucysault at 7:30 AM on April 19, 2007

mediabistro is a great publishing resource. The bbs might have some threads on the topic. Also, freelance networks often have a lot of people with publishing experience such as the lunch club. (haven't attend, but know of it). also look at this group.

Editing tests: crucial. If you don't ace it, it'll be a longshot. Also follow up (e.g., write thank-you notes to each and every person you talk to at the company, clarifying any points if need be). I had an internship one summer at a nonprofit (unpaid, but free housing) before getting an entry-level publishing job. coworker had previous teaching & freelance proofreading experience.

Be prepared for low-pay and a start at the bottom culture. Many ppl switch to teaching, web design, freelancing, etc. Also, moving up in editing often means management. Mad people skills, being able to lead meetings, manage freelancers, follow up with SMEs who are behind.

Jobs at related niche industries may be less competitive than traditional book publishing (haven't been in the job market since '02 tho). Some web production/glorified data entry jobs have editorial/proofreading as part of the job.
posted by ejaned8 at 7:31 AM on April 19, 2007

This is a tough situation, for sure. I worked in publishing for a while: first as an editorial assistant at a huge publisher and then as a marketing assistant for a technical publisher, then a web person for a magazine, and then left that world altogether.

I would, if i were you, seriously think about why you want to work in publishing - if it is because of your love of books, you may want to consider another job. I would also ask yourself if you're mentally prepared for the stress of working for a large trade publisher. It's not for everybody (it wasn't for me!)

It sounds to me (like you said) that you need A job (not THE job) anyway, but publishing kind of sucks at the assistant level - at least for me, it was very stressful, nobody was particularly helpful (I felt like everybody at the assistant level was competing for the next promotion) and it just felt weird. My boss was also lame. And not a great place if you loved books. If you like the BUSINESS of books, then it might be a different story.

My next job was as a marketing assistant for a science/technical/medical publisher and this was MUCH better. I got to write and edit (marketing copy) and worked with calm people. I also got to go to trade shows, which was cool.

I know that's not your question, though - how do you land these jobs? This was ten years ago. I carpet-bombed every publisher I could find with a resume. I had no internships and shitty grades. I do interview well (or so I'm told) so personality was probably part of it, and I had an interestitng resume full of volunteer stuff, interesting odd jobs, etc. So that might have helped. I'm not sure what to recommend to you except to keep putting your resume out there, and cast your net wide - look for exec assistant, marketing assistant, editorial assistant, anything where you can assist that is even remotely connected to the job you're after. Work there for a year, then start sending your resume out again. Heck, I wouldn't stop after landing that first job, because you never know what will come of it.

I would not give up on the temp angle either - I can't believe you can't get a temp job. Have you had somebody look at your resume? I worked for a magazine publisher and we had tons of temps, many of whom we hired. Many of them were actors and musicians and seemed to me to not have very solid resumes either.

Confidence is a HUGE part of landing a job. Confidence in your resume, confidence in your cover letter, confidence in an interview, etc. I can't pretend to know you from this brief post, but I would take a look at all the things you've got going for you and make sure you're presenting yourself in the right light - a positive one - when sending out your resumes. In the meantime, I would scour craiglist for anything you can find that will give you something to put on your resume, even if its doing free freelance writing or editing for a webiste, whatever.

I would also consider going back to school - the program at Emerson mentioned above is okay, but I didn't know very many people in publishing who had done these. I think it would be more useful for you to close that resume gap and build some confidence and make some contacts.

Have you considered an MLS degree?
posted by drobot at 7:32 AM on April 19, 2007

I have to agree with drobot and everybody else who have suggested an MLS degree. I'm almost halfway through my MLS program, and many of the students have jobs on the side (at libraries, bookstores, anywhere). I would say 80% of my classmates got degrees in English/Literature and cite "books" or "reading" as their hobbies. There's also the opportunity of paid internships once you complete a couple of terms.
posted by kendrak at 7:55 AM on April 19, 2007

Have you considered an MLS degree?

Eek. I hope it's not being recommended in relation to a love of books. Even librarians will tell you to go work in a bookstore instead of a library if that's the case.

MLS degrees are expensive, especially at private schools or if paying out-of-state tuition. There is almost no financial aid other than loans. A lot of new MLS-recipients have a hard time finding jobs, and the jobs that are out of there don't pay the way that, say, MBA or law degrees do. Those who find jobs must be willing to relocate to where the job is.

I have an MLS degree, though not currently working as a librarian. I have observed many classmates go through the job search process. The ones who quickly found permanent employment already had relevant work experience prior to the MLS or had a degree in a specialized subject matter (foreign languages or one of the sciences) that made them stand out in a crowded applicant pool. Given the OP's current financial status, the MLS is not a recommendation to be made lightly.
posted by needled at 7:56 AM on April 19, 2007

Sorry, I didn't mean that as a light recommendation, but something to look into. See also kendrak's post.

I also didn't imply that an MLS would get you a job that paid as well as an MBA or JD - that seems absurd to me that anybody would think that a librarian would make as much as a lawyer, or an entry level job in publishing for that matter. Just thinking of alternate careers for a book lover who might be having trouble landing a job in publishing.
posted by drobot at 8:10 AM on April 19, 2007

Sorry, the grammar of that sentence is confusing -- I meant to say that it seems obvious to me that librarians and entry level jobs in publishing do not generally pay as well as lawyering or whatever you might do with an MBA.
posted by drobot at 8:12 AM on April 19, 2007

After college, I had a string of go-nowhere jobs, and in the course of a desultory job search, found out about the Radcliffe Publishing Course (now the Columbia Publishing Course). I'd never heard of it, but now I know that it's the most well-regarded training course by the industry. When I went (June-July 2000), I believe they had a >70% placement rate. I got a job (albeit a low-paying one) as an Editorial Assistant at HarperCollins by October. If you have $7000 to spare for what amounts to contacts in the industry, references, and a bit of background knowledge, I'd say check the recent placement rates and give it a go. Good luck!
posted by TG_Plackenfatz at 8:15 AM on April 19, 2007

I'm sorry, but you're just not going to get a job at a major publisher with no work experience at all. Some may give you informational interviews, and if they do, definitely go. But don't spend too much energy trying to get a job at any of the big ones until you have more experience under your belt.

Yes, everyone I know made it here by different means, starting out as interns, editorial assistants, assistants in other departments, booksellers, temps, associates, even having a totally different career and switching over mid-life. But no one I know started out getting a job at a major publisher after a long bout of unemployment. You must get work! Any work.

Get a job now. I recommend either waiting tables, getting aggressive with the temp agencies like others have suggested, or a retail job at a book store. I'm sure B&N isn't the most fun place to work, but it is somewhat applicable and don't forget B&N does have a trade publishing division. (I've never worked there, but maybe people who work in the stores do have access to internal job listings?) It'd be a good way to meet book people.

Once you have something to pay the bills, start looking for that first publishing job. To be honest, The Rejecter usually strikes me as fairly clueless. She says that "all the listings" are on craigslist and NYT. That is really, really not true. (mediabistro, publishersmarketplace, bookjobs, monster, yahoo, and individual publishers and agencies' websites all have countless listings you won't see on craigslist or NYT). But for you, I'd recommend reading her, because it sounds like her experience might help you. Sounds like she started as a part-time literary assistant getting paid by the hour. Something like that might be perfect for you--hands on, applicable, paid experience, that you don't really need to have much solid experience other than a love for books to do. Entry-level work at literary agencies is competetive, but not as competetive as publishers. You're much more likely to get your first break there. Open your mind beyond trade editorial--those are by far the hardest jobs to land, even by people who are way overqualified. You are not even qualified--not yet. Try for stuff at agencies and small publishers, and try entry-level positions in departments other than editorial. At big publishers, you might have more luck with associates programs (especially if you're in any minority group--most big publishers are actively trying to make their staff a bit more diverse by having diverse groups of interns and associates in-house) or floating temp stuff.

Outside of paid work--classes are a great idea, but I don't recommend going toward your MA in publishing, not yet anyway. You could do a summer "publishing course," though. I don't usually recommend that, but it might be worth it for you to get a somewhat solid start. Unpaid internships? You can wait tables at night. You have to be in this business for the love of it. You don't have to work for free forever, but again, anything that shows you're serious about this will help you get your first paying gig. You have to show that this is your passion, not just that you need a job and publishing seems cool. Volunteer to copyedit for non-profits. You could even volunteer to read play submissions for a small playhouse. Being in New York gives you lots of options for ways to gather up varied but applicable experience.

Networking? Just talk to people. If you ask enough people what they do, eventually some of them will have worked in publishing--that's just New York. Don't necessarily ask about jobs when you meet, but if you can nonchalantly get a card, then you can email that person asking for a referral when you see a listing at that publisher. Beats the hell out of HR, and most people don't mind referring because they could get a bonus if you're hired.

One little nit-picky warning: being a stickler for grammar is not a prerequisite for editorial (as you can see by this answer which is probably just busting with grammar and spelling mistakes). Obviously, mistake-free cover letters and resumes are a must, but editors generally do not concern themselves much with grammar, or even know much more than the average professional about it--that's what we have copyeditors for.
posted by lampoil at 8:16 AM on April 19, 2007 [2 favorites]

Yes, I also saw kendrak's post. My perspective comes from observing what happens after library school. And the reason why I brought up MBA or law degrees is that the expense of an MLS is less justifiable than the expense of other sorts of professional degrees. As I feel I am derailing, I will not expound further on the MLS.
posted by needled at 8:18 AM on April 19, 2007

ps: I don't mean to say you shouldn't try for associates programs if you're not in a minority. You definitely should. They're a great way to get a gander at the different types of career paths that exist within publishing. Also they pay OK.
posted by lampoil at 8:22 AM on April 19, 2007

You'll do better than that even at Barnes and Noble. If you work at Barnes and Noble, the pay will be better but you'll never meet as meet anyone involved in publishing. Your odds increase working at a independent (but as pointed out they pay far less).

This might be different in NYC though.
posted by drezdn at 8:44 AM on April 19, 2007

You may be able to get free job training and job referral services from your state vocational rehabilitation agency.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 9:05 AM on April 19, 2007

The internship angle is interesting, but aren't they mostly for students only?
posted by dr_dank at 9:35 AM on April 19, 2007

OP, you haven't mentioned contacting your university's career services office. Many schools allow alumni to use their services, not just current students. Just speaking to somebody there could give you additional ideas or leads regarding your job search.
posted by needled at 10:09 AM on April 19, 2007

I started in publishing as an in-house copy editor. It was the lowest-paying, least respected job I've ever had. I kept at it for several years and then shifted to book production and graphic design, which was the second-lowest paid, un-respected job.

Publishers take advantage of English major college grads who flood into NYC looking for "something related to my major." You'll be paid next to nothing and be expected to leave inside a year, so you bounce around, never getting vested in any benefit plan or getting a vacation increment.

A literature major plus copy editing experience taught me to read slowly and carefully. This was the ideal qualification for law school, where I went next, with never a look back.

If you feel you have to try publishing, grab any job you can find. To get ahead, you'll have to learn everything, so it doesn't matter where you start.
posted by KRS at 11:42 AM on April 19, 2007

If you work at Barnes and Noble, the pay will be better but you'll never meet as meet anyone involved in publishing. Your odds increase working at a independent (but as pointed out they pay far less).

This might be different in NYC though.

Hmm...there are definitely some really important indie bookstores in New York, and those are the ones that would give you the most credibility toward breaking into publishing. But in New York, there are so many author events around the city every single night at all different bookstores. Some of the bigger B&Ns must have several per week. Each author event has at least one author, one editor, and one publicist, plus some of their friends and colleagues. Now, I've never worked in a bookstore, so I have no idea what that means as far as a worker's likelihood of meeting them--probably depends on how high-profile the author is. But that's a lot of book people roaming around. Also--any bookstore, chain or otherwise, that's near the offices of a publisher, is crawling with book people.
posted by lampoil at 11:46 AM on April 19, 2007

I know this completely non-answers the question, but unless there's a reason you absolutely must live in NYC I would leave it. It's quite expensive to live there and because it's a large city there are loads of fresh young faces, many of them with lovely internships and networking skills, competing for the jobs.

I would see if there are smaller towns known for publishing and get in touch with those companies directly. They may be smaller and may be more open to hearing your story, which is better than just sending in a 1 page resume without any context.

So long as you want to work for a large publisher in New York I think the odds will be against you, but you definitely have a chance to get your dream job so long as you're willing to comprise on the where and who.
posted by Deathalicious at 1:19 PM on April 19, 2007

Firstly, congratulations on getting out of a very nasty situation, stronger and more confident than you were before.

Sounds like it's unlikely that you'll be able to land THE job straight off. It's a process that may take a couple of years. Don't be disheartened. In order to get a job you really want, you need experience. And in order to get experience in the workforce, you need references.

So you need to look first at getting references. I know you say that volunteering isn't really an option financially, but it's a better option than not doing anything, so I'd get out there and look for some volunteering opportunities, particularly ones that will give you skills and experience in your chosen field. Preferably something that doesn't involve too much time during business hours so that you can continue with it even once you're working.

Also look at where you can get personal references - friends, family, friends you went to college with. As things progress you can replace them with volunteer / temp references. And get back in touch with the place you did office work in college, I'm sure they'll still be happy to provide a reference.

I've moved cities a lot and when looking for jobs, I've always used 2 CVs - one for "proper" jobs, and a dumbed-down one for temp jobs, to stop them thinking I'm overqualified (it works to get the money coming in while I'm looking for a permanent role I want). And as other posters have said, you need to be proactive with temp agencies - keep calling, make friends with the recruiters - and you'll be their first call not their last when a job comes in. Also worth looking at organisations you want to work for and finding out which agencies they use to recruit temps, and work on them.

On the CV thing, I think you do need to explain the 5 year gap. Saucysalt's suggestion is a very good one - a caregiver role explains the gap, shows committment and loyalty, and isn't something anyone's likely to ask questions about. When recruiting (not in your field at all), cover letters are a big thing for me - if it's good, I find myself reading the CV looking for things to warrant shortlisting; if it's not good, I find myself reading the CV looking for reasons to not shortlist. (Unprofessional, maybe, but that's how it works for me)

In terms of getting into publishing, sorry, I don't know. But generally, smaller companies mean that you're likely to have greater exposure to a variety of tasks and better opportunities to progress.

Good luck!

P.S. on the work wardrobe issue, right now you just need one outfit for interviews - simple is best. Black is always good. You want to stand out for your interview not for your outfit, so simple, professional and nondescript is the way to go.
posted by finding.perdita at 1:54 PM on April 19, 2007

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