Candidly Careering #4: The View From 6 Weeks In Publishing

Candidly Careering #4: The View From 6 Weeks In Publishing

In the glamorous view of my job as a literary agency assistant, my hours are consumed by thinking about words. Reading them, judging them, and then composing my own sentences of them to convey these judgments on what I read to the two agents to whom I provide support.

In reality, I spent two hours on a Friday calling florists to see what particularly beautiful or unusual potted flowers to send to one of our authors only to call back the following Monday to demand a refund when the blue hydrangeas were delivered wilted.

I was that florist’s nightmare.

But having blue hydrangeas show up in unacceptable condition to a 50+ time New York Times Bestselling author is — by all accounts — an agency’s nightmare.

Most days I fall in between these two extremes. I provide administrative support, absolutely: sorting mail, filing copyright confirmations, typing memos for project files based upon various e-mails received by the office from publishers, answering phones, the list goes on. But I also get the chances to learn about agent work through researching editorial contacts for submission, reading second round manuscripts after an unsolicited query makes it past the interns (who, quite frankly, save my sanity by handling the queries). I’m particularly grateful for the one agent in my office who has taken me under her wing as a mentee and does more than within her power to introduce me to each step of whatever task she is working on.

Whenever it gets tough, and it does because it’s still a job, I stop myself and pep talk myself to the phrase, “Yes, but you finally work in publishing.” And that still somehow holds the magic.

This is how I know that I’m still enamored with my job.

Today I was lucky enough to meet one of our authors. My big boss, the Head-Honcho, called and told me to mark this meeting two weeks in advance. I quickly did, jotting down the various other tasks for the day. “KH in office. 2:30.” And as the day drew nearer, I started to plan. I booked a hair appointment for 7:00 a.m. that day so I could look polished and primped — a master feat considering the way I had been spiraling into work of late. I laid out my clothes the night before. I asked the Head-Honcho whether she needed me to pick up refreshments for the appointment (a point she quickly dismissed, but I hope was noted). And when KH entered the office, I stood up and walked around my desk to shake her hand like the absolute clown that I am.

Yes, I fangirled at my own office for an author whose work I admire. But now I can say that I not only admire her, but I represent her — or, at the very most, support the people who represent her. That’s touching greatness, if not yet there myself.

So when the days hit where I feel very Devil Wears Prada, switching out my shoes under my desk and drafting e-mails for review rather than sitting and diving into query submissions, or the days when I’m scolding a florist for wilted blooms, there are the days when the extraordinary happens that 9-year-old Rose with her nose in a book would gape at.

And that’s pretty damn cool.

Candidly Careering #2: Returning To My Passion

Candidly Careering #2: Returning To My Passion

I began to realize how important it was to be an enthusiast in life. If you are interested in something, no matter what it is, go at it full speed. Embrace it with both arms, hug it, love it, and above all become passionate about it. Lukewarm is no good.

Roald Dahl

In recent weeks, I have been incredibly vocal to those in my life about my distaste for my current career. And while I could list the various aspects that drive me to pull the magnifying mirror to the center of my desk and stress pluck errant hairs from my face with my thumb and forefinger, that ultimately serves no purpose. The end result is the same: I feel the lack of upward mobility and what is available in the longer term is lackluster to me.

Before accepting my job, I sobbed. I bent over my knees on my small available floorspace and actively grieved the fact that I was putting my dreams and aspirations of the greater part of a decade on hold. All that work, all that fantasy, evaporated before my very eyes. And yet I still accepted to role, mostly at the pure want of my bank account.

I truly do enjoy aspects of recruitment — but what I enjoy is precisely what I would have done within the literary agency arena: screen resumes (review manuscripts), contact candidates (interact with authors), negotiate terms of contracts (negotiate terms of contracts). I find myself incredibly lucky to have the overlap of skills so vibrantly apparent.

But it isn’t enough.

Interacting with the literary community was an essential part of my identity construction; it lent an opportunity for belonging, something psychologists widely agree is a human social need. And with barely the energy to read after work, I was stripped of even the opportunity to attend book clubs.

So when the opportunity appeared to apply to a well-established literary agency for an assistant/support role, I jumped. I took a leap of faith and I sprung from that cliff into the foggy below without the faintest clue of whether I would find myself at the bottom or not.

Reader: I landed not only alive but on two feet.

In the weeks of interviewing, I delved back into the contemporary literary marketplace to have recent reads to discuss, lighting my mind once more with words and phrases and thoughts that had once run quiet. I performed a sample manuscript review and reader report, typing up two comprehensive pages on marketability and textual strengths and weaknesses to consider before making a decision on whether to sign the author. And finally, I was able to accept a role that promises to not only take me back into the community that I withdrew from in the interim since London but to launch me on an upward trajectory that is anything but lackluster.

The change in anticipation of the career switch is palpable. I carry a novel with me wherever I go again, and I’m attending a book club next Wednesday. I took a pleasure trip to the Strand bookstore — my first of what will be many. I bought two — two! — bookshelves for my apartment. Roald Dahl was absolutely, unequivocally correct: it is far better to be an enthusiast. It lights a fire under you and within you, and that fire will sustain you as long as you feed it. The good news is, pages burn.

All my love x

Candidly Reading #1: Recommitting Myself to My Inner Bookworm

Candidly Reading #1: Recommitting Myself to My Inner Bookworm

One must always be careful of books and what is inside them, for words have the power to change us.

Cassandra Clare

To acquire the habit of reading is the construct for yourself a refuge from almost all the miseries of life.

W. Somerset Maugham

I am the daughter of two generous and inspiring bibliophiles.

My father frequently recounts opening the door to my bedroom an hour after my mother would usher my four year old self into the coverlet only to discover she was still sitting on the seams of the mattress, picture book in hand, a pile of previous reads at her feet, an enraptured child perched at her side. There was certainly no sleep, and no foreseeable end.

But my father got his own turn at bestowing the magic when it came to chapter books, which we would alternate reading pages out of when it came to my grade school years. And, when it came time for me to read on my own, we would “parallel” read, choosing the same texts and conversing about our progresses.

My mother, meanwhile, continued to stoke the fire of my voraciousness. From an early age, I would go to the library with a small rolling suitcase and be encouraged to take all I could fit. By middle school, my mother was facilitating the Scholastic catalog distribution to not only my grade but my brother’s and occasionally those of our teachers she felt a certain bond with even after our matriculation from their classrooms. This filled my home once a month with the inventory of a small bookstore. Speaking of, to this day, if I even remotely suggest a Barnes & Noble road trip, I can rely on little reluctance when I show up at the cashier counter with not one but two (or three) novels.

I started academically pursuing literature fervently in high school. My electives were commonly literary — notably, my seven-person class of Shakespeare in Senior year which earned me the Distinction in English award at graduation — and I even willingly and enthusiastically attended an academic camp where, yes, again I studied Shakespeare.

This all considered, I was reluctant to pursue my Bachelor’s in English. I know — contradictory! But I felt it was the easy choice, the given, the expected. I realized, however, that as soon as I took my first English elective — “Medieval Romances: Knights, Ladies, Etc” — there was no course of action other than to give into where my heart belonged. And in my heart, I have always been a true and chronic reader.  

And while professionally I do plan on returning to the Publishing world, this time in a recruitment capacity to best shape the futures of those hopefuls that I was once a member, until an hour ago I was jaded. I could hardly pick up a book without thinking of the ones I would binge in preparation for publisher interviews so I would be informed about a certain genre or house catalog.

But in the meantime, I need to pick up a damn book.

I’m thrilled to say I made the first commitment to myself today by subscribing to Book of the Month club and ordering not one but two of their offerings. I’ll be checking back in with reviews when I complete the reads, a book club of one, just to say hello and give thoughts, and undoubtedly a quote.

I am ready to be the bookworm daughter again who was read countless picture books, who read alternate pages, who sat and shared progress over breakfast, who packaged classmates’ books with care. I am ready to be me.  

How to Gain Friends and Drink Lots: Also Known As How I Rigged The System For My Dissertation

Writing exists (for me) at the intersection of three precarious, uncertain elements: language, the world, the self.

– Feel Free, Zadie Smith

Human knowledge is never contained in one person. It grows from the relationships we create between each other and the world, and still it is never complete.

– When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanithi

Over the eight weeks shared between August and September, I went to the pub a quantifiable twenty-three times as “research.” These are just the times I logged. This excludes the time I left with Liam early because we wanted to get a drink together somewhere ~quieter~. This excludes the last session Mags, Ben, Taj, Rhys and Dylan, and the last session with Richard, Nadine, David and Quentin where I decided I was going to enjoy their company as opposed to analyze what was happening around me — not realizing I would be returning of my own volition in no time at all.

But let me back up.

As many of you know, I’m currently attaining my Master of Arts degree from London College of Communication in Publishing. Why? Well, if we’re being honest, I was tipsy and found out my ex was moving to Turkey to get his Masters degree and fuck it if he was going to do something cooler than me post-undergraduate. I quickly searched Publishing Masters programs and here we are two years later. I know. Poetic. (He didn’t end up going, and honestly he still checks my LinkedIn on a monthly basis so I win.)

I’ve been pretty lucky with my career goals in my young adulthood. I ambitiously cajoled my way into an internship with Simon & Schuster UK with absolutely no experience except a letter of recommendation from my freshman literature seminar professor, and from there it was a speedway to inspiration. I decided that while I liked book publishing, I was more interested in working with authors than sitting behind a desk all day in an office. The obvious route became agency work and representation. But I still needed more education in order to become an enticing applicant to potential employers.

I skated through most of the coursework pretty easily and like herpes a divine plague I was told I needed to construct a proposal for either a research dissertation, an artifact and explanatory paper, or a business plan. Can you say F-U-C-K?

I started grasping for straws, and pulled on some academia I had really enjoyed learning about: Ray Oldenburg’s The Great Good Place, Richard Florida’s The Rise of the Creative Class, and Jonah Lehrer’s Imagine (which I soon replaced with Allan Gannett’s The Creative Curve). I realized that my interests lay in the more theoretical realm of publishing than in the practical application that many most of my classmates were taking and that my course leaders expected. Still, I put together an argument that I wanted to research the creative potential of writers communities in London based upon the intersection of the three academic works previously mentioned and a series of smaller articles.

I got the green light.

I got paired with an amazing supervisor who essentially let me do whatever the hell I wanted to do in terms of designing my research. I decided to ingrain myself in four of London’s weekly writers groups. That meant the goal was to attend thirty-two sessions by the end of September.

Obviously this didn’t happen. What did happen was the following:

  • I attended 23 writers group sessions, which typically meant attending a chain coffee shop for two hours of silent writing in communal solidarity before migrating to a local dive pub in order to knock a few back.
  • I recorded 79 pages of field notes, written hastily on the tube on my way back from each of the sessions as I couldn’t be that bitch who was like, “Hold that thought” *scribbles furiously* in the middle of the pub.
  • I had approximately 54 vodka sodas. My wallet cries.
  • I met a guy, went out with that guy four times, never heard from him again, but laugh about that guy because he was 5’7″ and that kind of sums it up, if you catch my drift (not bitter).
  • I made friends with an anesthesiologist (but I promise not to pull an MJ), a government lobbyist, a business analyst, a historian, an actual publisher, a Russian professor, and overall some genuinely incredible people.

Today, I have stopped researching because the paper is due in three weeks. It’s time to write. But I still attend these groups — well, two of them — because they’ve become the standards in my week. I count on them. I know they’ll brighten my time. I feel rooted in them. I see some of them outside of the weekly meet-ups. We get dinner or have gatherings at different houses and pubs.

So when people ask me what I did for my dissertation, I can’t help but laugh because I honestly think I rigged the system. I went in for a serious academic purpose and I emerged with eight new friends and some fantastic memories in pubs.

Tl;dr: How to Gain Friends & Drink Lots: Dissertation Edition