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ECC 2023: What I Wish I Had Known

Career hindsight from the Early Career Committee

Name: Maggie Salko
Position: Sales Coordinator
House: Little Bee Books

Publishing requires flexibility

Before I entered the world of publishing the #1 thing that I wish that I knew was the amount of flexibility it requires. This goes double if you work in a smaller house. Your initial job assignment will not always measure up to the work that you end up doing. For instance, you could be hired as a marketing assistant but end up also helping out sales from time to time or taking over ed/library efforts. In publishing, everything is connected, so you should not expect to remain confined to the definition of your role/department. While not in design, I’ll often comment on covers and join in on office-wide discussions to determine the best-looking ones. 

This is by no means a bad thing. I love having the ability to be flexible and work across different departments. It gives me a chance to learn new skills and experience different aspects of publishing. Thanks to my time helping with publicity, sales, design, and more as the list goes on, I’ve had a chance to participate in different elements of the industry. This has not only given me a chance to expand my horizons, but also garners respect for the work that the rest of my office-mates do. 

Name: Josie Dallam
Position: School & Library Marketing Coordinator
House: HarperCollins Children’s Books

Work is a financial transaction

In the paraphrased words of Sam Sanders, work is a financial transaction. Even in the arts. Even when you’re working for an industry, you love producing books that you know will change the world and make it a better place. (You hope the kids will be allowed to read them.) It’s a tough time to be in children’s publishing right now, especially working with schools and libraries. What we do has so much meaning and is sparking so much unnecessary outrage across the country. It can feel like a personal attack. But work is a transaction. Even when it’s making daily headlines and breaking your heart. Your value goes beyond your work. 

I need this reminder as I spend my non-working hours scrolling through the Instagram stories of my non-publishing friends sharing the headlines of books I worked on being taken out of classrooms, and it feels like everything I did and have done doesn’t matter. It does. We all matter. Because as much as we love our jobs and children’s books – and we are making a difference somewhere, to some child – our work is a financial transaction. 

Name: Savannah Kennelly
Position: Digital Marketing Manager
House: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Learn when to pivot

When I look back to when I first started in publishing at all the things I struggled to learn and grow from, the thing I wish I’d known most was when to pivot. Sometimes, a project or an idea isn’t working, and you have this urge to push through—as if you just shove your way through an issue it’ll resolve itself and the virtue of your hard work will turn lead into gold. No, sometimes your idea is just lead. Or sometimes your idea was gold a year ago and Instagram changed its algorithm, so what was a winning piece of content six months ago is just no longer worth the time investment (an example specific to my job, but you get the idea). Learning how to turn an idea sideways, to take a new look at the issue, or learning how to simply let go of something that isn’t working isn’t easy, but it was necessary for me.

That’s not to say that every project is doomed. Ugly ducklings can turn into swans, if you allow me to mix my metaphors. But you need to differentiate when you’re making real progress from when you’re just bashing your head against a concrete wall. Or at least I did. 

Name: Jon Simeon
Position: Associate Designer
House: Charlesbridge

Careers and Odysseys in Space-Time

Introduction: Our design intern recently asked the team for career advice now that she’s finishing up her run with us. It was so crazy to reflect back on when I was at that point in space-time, and there’s a lot I wish I had known to make the transition into work and the publishing industry a little more less anxious-making. And who knows, maybe this will have some slivers of mother-of-pearls (not fully formed pearls, but just as beautiful) that people will find useful.

Embracing the Unpredictable: Expecting a linear trajectory is an illusion—or at least for me it was. I knew in college that I wanted to get into publishing, but getting there was just rife with setbacks. Getting my dream job right out of the gate was an unrealistic expectation I had set for myself. The reality ended up being a hodgepodge of related and unrelated jobs: restaurants, marketing design for a museum, and working as a technician in a rare book collection. 

While not what I aspired to be doing, these setbacks did offer me a lot of insight into who I was as a worker! And every experience did end up creating an opportunity to adapt to a lot of different environments and workflows.

And ultimately, when I had gotten to where I wanted and landed a design job at Charlesbridge, I felt prepared for the hectic and almost unpredictable nature of working in a publishing house! Changing jobs so many times had prepped my mind to become like a piece of oil-based clay—plastic and formable and ready to be reworked and take on a new shape.

Anchoring to Your Values: Amidst all those shifting tides, I still held onto the idea of making books eventually. As hard as it was to get a job in publishing, I just didn’t want to let go of my dreams of that far-off shore.

The Odyssey, as ridiculous as that story is, now really resonates with me for this reason. Though the path to the endpoint seems so close and so simple to get to, just a bunch of shit can get in the way, and sometimes it’s just out of anyone’s control. The first few years out of college for me were a meditation on resilience—Ulyssey’s 20 years at sea seem so much more understandable now!

Name: Maggie Salko
Position: Sales Coordinator
House: Little Bee Books

The importance of work/life balance

Before starting in publishing, I wish that I had known the importance of a work/life balance. As much as there is pressure to prove yourself when you’re just starting out, working longer hours that nobody requested you to take on won’t help anyone. In the end, you’ll end up growing burnt out and wondering if taking on your new job in the first place was even worth it. It’s possible to make your place in a new house and show how capable you can be, while staying within your typical 9 to 5 hours and keeping your work-life balance stable.

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