Monday, June 13, 2011

How to Lose a Job in Publishing

Sorry for the radio silence of the past two weeks, Writer Friends! And double apologies to my lovely new followers; it was wrong of me to entice you with prizes and then fail to provide new and delicious publishing-related content!

But I've been doing a lot of exciting things that I can report about here, like collecting exciting ARCs at Book Expo America (they may or may not show up on this blog in giveaways; are you intrigued yet?). And interviewing authors for some new blog posts I'm cooking up. And brainstorming marketing ideas in the midst of a conference that pulls out all its stops. And collecting even more tips on how to get a job in publishing. Oh yeah, and meeting...

Tahereh Mafi, author of Shatter Me (also a completely delightful blogger/human being)...

and Little, Brown Editorial Director Alvina Ling, over whom I totally fan-girled like the editorial junkie I am...

and Laini Taylor, whose book, Lips Touch, has been an all-time favorite since my internship at Arthur A. Levine Books (No, really; it's possible that I rooted for it to win the National Book Award in 2009, despite the fact that it was competing with a book published by the company at which I was interning at the time.)

So you can forgive me, right?

There's another really exciting person I met at BEA whose face you might not recognize: my editor for Publishing Trendsetter, Elisabeth Watson.

That's us. Can you tell we're totally ecstatic about our first BEA experiences?

Aside from being one of the most delightful editors in the world (seriously, she used the word "swashbuckling" to describe a good idea), Elisabeth is one of the most put-together and professional people I've ever met. She's a fantastic reporter, a master of detail and organization, and an incredible ally to have in brainstorming, researching, and writing. I can't imagine a better person in her role at Publishing Trends, or at the helm of Publishing Trendsetter.

So perhaps it would surprise you—as it surprised me—to learn that, four months into her first full-time job in publishing, she was fired for "shortcomings too grievous to overcome." Believe me, the Elisabeth I know does not have many shortcomings. But imagine how she felt after losing her job—ashamed, overwhelmed, completely unsure of herself—in short, certain her career in publishing was over before it even started!

And yet her career wasn't over; Elisabeth is absolutely thriving in her current position. And what's more, she loves her job. She's an inspiration to me, and I wanted to share her story with you because I think it's one that's more common than many of us realize.

I’ve spoken to so many assistants in publishing who feel an enormous pressure never to make a mistake. We're all idealists in this field, and for that reason I think it hits us twice as hard when our careers are rocky. And somehow me manage to tell our authors that their setbacks are no big deal (everyone faces rejection, really, even insert famous author's name here) and yet be so, so hard on ourselves for our own setbacks. Heaven forbid we take the time to learn—you know, as entry-level employees do. Instead we put a tremendous amount of pressure on ourselves to never miss a comma, never send an email to the wrong address by mistake, never learn that some roles just aren't a good fit for us, never find our weaknesses. It's a competitive industry, we tell ourselves, and we're lucky to have jobs; better not screw them up! We take any small mistake like a bullet, and a larger setback can absolutely shatter us.

But if I've learned anything from graduating college, beginning a career, and watching my friends begin their own careers in other industries, it's this: beginnings are messy. Some starts just don't work out. And you build the path to your perfect job on the foundation of those broken dreams. You patch up your wounds and heal twice as strong, and if you really want it then you learn everything you can from your setbacks and you go after it again. And again. And again.

In publishing, I often feel that we don't talk about our failures, because we don't want anyone to know we can be less than perfect. Or maybe we're just so ashamed, because no one else seems to fail or even falter. Occasionally I look around at the entry-level employees I know and feel terrified. Surely they'd never make a single one of the silly mistakes I made in my first few weeks at my job. Surely they never struggle just to keep abreast of their workload. Surely they have something I lack.

But when I talk to fabulous people like Elisabeth about their paths, invariably I learn that they've sometimes stumbled too. We all do. Because publishing can be absolutely heartbreaking. Just like any career can be heartbreaking. At some point, no matter what we do or who we are, we all face failure.

When you face it, I hope Elisabeth's post helps you.

And remember: Once you heal, you'll love what you do more than ever.

P.S. Today's my birthday! Hooray for what my fellow sci-fi-loving friend calls my "successful completion of another journey around the daystar"!

P.P.S. Name this quote: "'Day' is a vestigial mode of time measurement based on solar cycles. It's not applicable... I didn't get you anything."


  1. Rachel: I rarely love the internet more than when I get to stumble across flattering things others have said about me! I am made so, so happy and am that encouraged in my OWN career by the knowledge you yourself have been encouraged by me; no editor could ever ask for higher praise.

  2. Happiest birthday from another SF geek who stresses out completely and totally if she makes the slightest mistake!

    I found a quote from a book published in 1944, WHY DON'T WE LEARN FROM HISTORY? and a man named B. H. Liddell Hart. "The most dangereous error is failure to recognize our own tendency to error."

    Here's hoping for continued success and thanks for the good blog!

  3. Happy birthday! My dad, brother and son all have birthdays this fortnight. I had an ugly non-publishing stumble a few weeks ago. I'm healing, and I continue to love what I do. Cool post :)

  4. Happy Birthday! And thanks for this post! I lost my publishing job last year, and it was devastating. Unfortunately, I've yet to find another, but I'm remaining hopeful!