ECC What I Wish I Had Known Roundup 2021
Some career hindsight from the ECC
February: Josie Dallam – Sales Assistant, Little Bee Books
I wish I had known how to advocate for myself more. I did a lot of self-promoting when looking for a job, and after I started working, I just wanted to relax into it. But having a job during this tumultuous past year when we’ve been working from home has meant having to frequently stand up for myself. When my boss isn’t seeing me in person it’s hard for him to know when I have too much or too little work to do. And it’s harder for me to work on new or different projects when I’m not in an office to overhear different things going on. In such a competitive field like publishing, it’s so important to be able to advocate for yourself and your work.
April: Jon Simeon – Assistant Designer, Charlesbridge
It took me a long time to learn this: don’t be afraid to take agency over your own workflows—the way you had been taught to do your job is not a dogma.
To unpack what I’ve stated, once you’ve been shown the ropes don’t be afraid to explore alternative ways of doing things and maybe experiment with your own procedures. Don’t feel like you’re expected to do things in a certain way to a tee! You were hired for your skills, so don’t be afraid to shape your tasks around them, rather than shaping your skills around your tasks. Yes, you’ve got to learn new skills, but if something isn’t working for you, and it’s becoming inefficient to do it the way you were taught, it’s time to innovate. In a way, taking agency over your own workflow can be empowering!
Example time—back when I was starting out, one of my key tasks was to begin drafting the designer’s revision letters to illustrators. I had been taught to do it in a prose-oriented manner. For example, sandwiching feedback in between compliments, proposing changes as questions, etc. It was not my forte, but I thought it was the only way to do it because that was the way everyone else was doing it.
Fast forward to the present, where I’m writing revision letters for books that I am in charge of. Several tight deadlines, and lots of revision letters needing to be written quickly forced me to find a new path to getting everything done. I knew words were holding me back—I have a complicated relationship with words, I love books, but I have a hard time reading and writing—so I made the decision to draw my feedback on PDF mock-up spreads and call that my revision letter. I still keep to the core principles of what I was taught; there are still written compliments strewn about and I still pose some written feedback as questions to the illustrator, but I don’t worry about word-smithing. There are fewer paragraphs, thoughts are organized more like doodles and lists, and everything is just a little more matter-of-fact.
While my revision letters might not be as eloquent as my colleagues’, some illustrators have come back to me and complimented the clarity of my letters!
June: Savannah Kennelly – Digital Marketing Associate, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
DON’T WAIT. If you’ve got a good idea, jump on that ship and sail it!
Let me explain.
I have been extremely lucky. My first full-time job in publishing was the perfect fit. I don’t just love the work I do – I also work with an absolutely brilliant team and my manager is incredibly open to new ideas and allows us to experiment. It’s our secret sauce to success, in my opinion. And yet, despite the freedom I have been allowed, I constantly find myself sitting on ideas or changes I want to make.
For example, when I first started, I desperately wanted to change our LBYR blog post thumbnails. But I waited months before updating the design, languishing in a design template I despised. After I did make the change, not only was I more excited to work on the blog thumbnails, they were more successful! I now regret not making the change sooner.
I find myself constantly falling into this same habit, just following route policies or designs because it’s how we’ve always done things. And it is only through force of will and practice that I have gotten better at implementing ideas rather than sitting and ruminating on them. Granted, there are times when there is simply too much to do to be reinventing the way we do it, but once a window of time opens up, I try to jump in face first so to speak. Sure, belly flops are bound to occur. But luckily they only sting for a little while, and at least I get a story out of them.
I encourage you, should you have the freedom, to pursue your new ideas! Jump in head first! Sure, it might not work out or work the way you thought it would, but at least you tried it. And if it doesn’t stick, you will know what doesn’t work and you’ve got an excuse to grab drinks with your coworkers. Nothing like having a professional flop to bond over! Silver linings, my friends.
August: Victoria Velez – Marketing and Publicity Assistant, Scholastic
It’s okay for success to look different for you from day to day or week to week.
Having started my first full-time career just as the world was entering very uncertain times, it’s been hard to determine what normal feels like in my role. It’s also been hard to maintain the same level of what I would define as success from day-to-day.
Some days I feel like I’m crushing it! Crossing off everything on my to-do list and taking on tasks from others to lend a helping hand. Other days I struggle to even keep track of what I have going on and where to start first. Those days I can trick myself into feeling like I’m failing myself and my team. That’s usually not the case and is just the self-doubt talking.
Everyone is struggling, especially during this work-from-home era, and with the idea that defining a successful workday can be flexible. For me it’s all about learning how to take advantage of the days I feel like I’m on top of everything and leave myself some breathing room on days where I feel stuck and overwhelmed.
As someone who is early in my career, I want to maintain the feeling of having everything under control at all times and have the capacity to help my advisors as much as possible, but that isn’t always possible and that isn’t all that defines success. I take pride in being able to get the important things done in a timely manner even if that might be just a few tasks some days. Reminding myself that I’m succeeding even if it’s by taking small steps is the best way I have found to balance my work and make it through days when I feel less than capable. Learning how to create space for yourself and manage your workload no matter how you’re feeling is what I think success really looks like.
October: Lois Evans – Assistant Editor, Random House Children’s Books
“[Publishing] may be dreamy, but [it’s] not the sun. You are.” –Christina Yang (sort of)
Yes, that’s an appropriated Grey’s Anatomy quote and, in fact, one of the series’s best. I tweaked it for our purposes because over the course of my two and a half years in this business, I’ve had to learn that publishing isn’t actually the point–the people in publishing are.
Weird, I know, but stay with me.
In the midst of a global pandemic, an industry-shaking shipment/supply catastrophe, and publishing’s two-steps-forward-five-steps-back DEI tango, there are so many valid distractions that take away from the heart of what we do: producing the books that kids need. Today’s kids, and the little ones in all of us who still haven’t been served by our business.
It’s easy to lose sight of publishing’s true superpower–the ever-changing authors and pub professionals (from managing editors to marketing and publicity), especially as those of us in more junior positions attempt to navigate burnout and individual struggles on top of a literal planet on fire.
Spaces like the ECC have always helped remind me of the inherent value of the publishing people in my orbit. I wish that I had known about this group, among others, when I was an intern, learning about launch and P&Ls (still haven’t quite figured those out…) and the tiny things that feel so high stakes even though they aren’t. There were times throughout my first year of work, which was really a “first seven months before the pandemic,” that I was concerned about speaking up at the right time in meetings, understanding systems, and trying my best not to ruffle too many feathers.
Publishing may be dreamy, but it’s not the sun. You are. Though, I should probably write “we are.” The authors, the networking, the friendships, the assistant group chats, all of the people whose hands touch books (or approve of the Audio/Ebook files)–they are the center, and they are where you’ll find all that you need.