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ECC 2022: What I Wish I Had Known

Career hindsight from the Early Career Committee

Name: Katie Gould
Position: Associate Editor
House: Andrews McMeel

This isn’t “life and death”

Obviously, I never believed that publishing was life and death in the literal sense, but the pressure of entering such an exciting field as an editorial intern was nearly overwhelming. Bringing a book to life and making an author’s dreams come true is an incredible blessing, and publishing is really a world where the creative and technical aspects of business collide. No one wants to ruin the author’s experience with their “baby,” but in the world of business, mistakes are made. Typos slip through rounds of proofreading, a marketing opportunity is missed, or an email miscommunication causes problems later on in the process. 

Each mistake can feel like the “end of the world,” but everyone has been there. No one is perfect, and mistakes can happen at any time. I have been lucky to find peers and mentors that have given me support and reassurance when things go wrong, sometimes at no fault of my own! With issues such as shipping delays and two years of a worldwide pandemic, I’ve learned that we all need to give ourselves (and each other) a little grace. The past few years have reminded me that I needn’t strive for perfection, but that I should learn from my mistakes, ask questions, and give myself a break when needed. I have seen the same excitement and apprehension in the eyes of my newer coworkers, and I hope to remind them that we have all been in their shoes, and we’re happy to help them along the way, mistakes and all.

Name: Matt Phipps
Position: Assistant Editor
House: Penguin Young Readers

No one feels 100% on top of things, and that’s normal

The truth is, it always feels like there’s too much work to go around in publishing, maybe especially in editorial departments, so I think every assistant or aspiring publishing professional has to develop the ability of knowing the difference between the things that absolutely HAVE to get done today, and the things that can wait until tomorrow without the world ending. Knowing how to communicate well with my managers about prioritizing tasks, and giving them a heads up when something is taking longer than I thought it would, is one of the skills I’ve worked hardest at in the last few years. Because guess what? It’s usually fine!

Of course, working on time management and staying organized are important, especially for those of us at the junior level. That’s why my Outlook calendar is full of literally dozens of tiny reminders each week to make sure THIS person responded to my question on time, or I sent THIS material to THAT person before the deadline when it’s needed. Good organization is key, and it’s definitely a skill that cannot be underestimated. However, I wish I had known, coming into publishing a few years ago, that nobody feels 100% on top of things all the time, and that it’s normal, sometimes, to feel like you’re falling behind, because we’re all human, living through unprecedented times. Learning how to set boundaries around work and my time is something I’m still working on, but the truth is that nothing we do in publishing is life-or-death, and developing ways to protect your mental health, get as much rest as possible, and take breaks and practice self-care, are all incredibly important—maybe now more than ever.

Name: Chelsea Abdullah
Position: Marketing Assistant
House: Astra Books for Young Readers

Most of the work is invisible, but it pays off in the end. 

As with any job, there’s a lot of work in publishing that goes on behind-the-scenes that’s invisible to authors and to the public. In fact, I’d argue most of what we do in marketing is invisible work. When I first started in this department and began dipping my toes into both marketing and publicity efforts, I was surprised by the sheer number of moving pieces the authors never saw. Event pitches, award submissions, metadata, ad copy, mailings—there are so many things we do that aren’t as forward-facing as people who hear the word “marketing” would think. 

One of the things they first tell you when you enter this industry is that you’re going to be doing a lot of backend stuff as you climb the corporate ladder. But the thing is: the backend stuff isn’t just administrative; it lies at the heart of what we do. I used to think industry professionals were exaggerating when they said most of their day was spent answering emails. And now I look at my inbox and laugh because, sure enough, every pitch, submission, and idea starts with an email. 

But the wonderful thing about most of this work is that it pays off in the end. Sure, not every pitch or submission will pan out, but when it does result in something—when you witness one of your authors winning that award or signing books at a conference you helped set up—it makes the invisible work feel worth it. 

Still, it can be a difficult reality to wrestle with when you first enter the industry and are trying to gauge the worth of your work. So, a reminder: Even when other people can’t yet see the fruits of your labor, be sure to pat yourself on the back for every success, even—especially—the invisible ones along the way.

Name: Ashley Fields
Position: Editorial Assistant
House: Disney Publishing Worldwide

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.

Name: Cassandra Martinez
Position: Commercial Operations Coordinator
House: Candlewick

Imposter Syndrome Can Linger Longer Than You Ever Expected

Although the argument could be made that my publishing journey began in college with my first internship, or with my involvement in various undergraduate lit mags, or even earlier with a childhood love of books, I got my first job in the industry straight out of college. Being a temporary position that was extended, the unstable nature of this job pushed me to send out other applications after six months. A college acquaintance told me that she knew of a position that had opened up at Candlewick Press—her friend had applied to it, but she thought that I should try my hand as well. I had applied for an internship at Candlewick twice when I was in college, so my expectations were not high, but I was desperate to move forward. I really did not expect to hear back within a week of applying.

I’m now rounding the corner towards my fourth year at Candlewick, a fact that I refuse to believe. This is in part due to the utterly discombobulating nature of time itself during the first two-ish years of the pandemic, but it is also due to my own quarter-life crisis. I have been at Candlewick for nearly four years, been promoted, been given positive reviews by my manager, and no longer constantly consult the notes I made in my first year during my day-to-day . . . and yet, I feel like I am still waiting for the other shoe to drop. Over the years, I’ve noted my own growth, my own improvement, my own version of confidence—and yet the feeling that I am not “really” a publishing professional still sits on my shoulder like a little devil—but without the benefit of an angel on the other side. Pairing this with the fact that I am not certain what I want my future to look like (I was never one for plotting out my entire life’s path with 5 year goals, 10 year goals), it sometimes can feel like I am floundering, or that I am wearing a costume that will be ripped off at some point.

But what I am learning—from talking to my coworkers who have been in the industry longer than I have and from venting to friends who are a few years older than me—is that my feelings are not usual. I am not behind, I am not secretly bad at my job, I am not a child playing pretend—I am just someone in their mid-twenties. Many of my friends and peers have also been making significant career changes, many due to unhappiness, so my static position feels incorrect in some ways. But it is not static. As long as you keep ensuring that you learn, that you grow, that you keep an ear to the ground, your time is not being wasted and you are not bad at your job, even if you feel lost. Imposter syndrome likes to rear its ugly head more frequently than I expected—and I do wonder if it ever goes away—but being aware of the roots of those feelings, and knowing that so many of my friends and coworkers who seem to “have it together” have felt the same way, are essential weapons for battling your self-doubt.

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