Tips for a Successful Career in Publishing | Middle Grade Ninja: Literary Agent Molly O'Neill

Tips for a Successful Career in Publishing | Middle Grade Ninja: Literary Agent Molly O'Neill



and so back when you're getting going you're seven years before you're in editing and you knew you wanted to be an editor and so for anybody that's that's in publishing that's listening to this which I assume is a pretty large portion of the audience and they're thinking I want to be Molly O'Neil how do I get there how for those seven years where you're you're in the book industry you're not you know you're not waiting tables and hoping the one day get there but you're not doing what you want to do how did you keep from getting bitter how did you keep going especially with 2008 happens and it seems like the whole world is gonna fall apart we're all gonna be in bread lines and so there's no point in worrying maybe about anything business-wise how did you keep going and persevere through them um that's a good question you know I think and and so I teach her at a course for the last couple summers I've done this I teach at Columbia's publishing course so that's a six weeks intensive course for mostly fairly recent college grads I would say primarily folks in their 20s or maybe early 30s at the most who decided they want to work in the book publishing industry or in magazine publishing or web publishing it kind of covers a couple different areas and so I go and am on faculty for the book portion of it and one of the things that I regularly tell the students there or you know give is advice to people in informational interviews things like that is that there's stuff to learn at every role you know you can learn a ton about being an editor even if you're not an editor you can learn a ton about business communication UK and in a way you can learn it with a little bit less emotion involved a little bit more remove publishing is mostly a written industry so if you want to follow along and you're already working like under a boss you can you can see their emails you can see records of the editorial letters you can kind of trace of how this happens and in fact one of one of the better pieces of wisdom I've collected along the way was I had myself an interview more of just an informational conversation it wasn't really an interview okay she didn't have a position open with an editor who I regard really highly Wendy Lam when I was trying to move into the editorial side of things and I was asking her you know at that point I had a good few years and as a marketing person and so I was asking mean like some stats don't have to go all the way back to like the beginning you know really don't don't click go go don't collect $200 you know and what she said is to be an editor you have to walk in the pencil marks of another editor for a very long time which i think is just so beautifully articulated but editing and and really all of publishing in a very different way than a lot of other industries is an apprenticeship based industry and you can go to one of the publishing courses like the one that I helped at Columbia or there's one in Denver there's a couple others and it's a jump start but in terms of learning how to do the actual work every day of the publishing industry the only way you learn that is on the job and by just being interested and curious about everything by taking on extra tasks so you can figure out what they're all about or because they allow you to get face time with someone you know higher up who you might not otherwise have an opportunity to have a conversation with and and really that same sort of curiosity and openness is the same thing you need to become an editor who's looking for talent everywhere or an agent who's looking for talent everywhere it's just kind of like your antennas always I once heard my former boss Brenda Bowen described by someone very actually and she said you know like she acquires books but she also acquires and I thought that was a really a good summation part of what actually we're doing is we're we're collecting and giving voice to interesting people who have interesting ideas or stories to tell particularly the ones that haven't been heard enough or prominently before and and we're amplifying them and giving giving them an opportunity makes sense to me so it's just kind of at any stage and the career try and be the best possible version of that person you can't be because it's a small industry and people are watching am i hearing that right yeah and you can be learning or learn everything there is to learn in publishing you know you never ascend totally to the to the top every book is its own you've ascended you're there you know I mean I don't think it's that simple but I also wouldn't want it to be that simple you know there would be something sad if I only focused on this thing that I did you know early in my career like I intend to have a career that lasts for decades everything to focus on that I did six seven years in I won't say by accident it was it was very intentional but you know I look at that and I think it was amazing but it was also hope just me getting started and you know and I sometimes joke to people I mean I I have a lot of affection and admiration for that series and what it was and and who the author has become but I in a way as an editor said and what I really was trying to do was like find the next Newberry winner Caldecott winner you know so it's like there's always in fact I just had an editor lunch with someone who showed me I thought she was just casually using this term but then she pull lit up on her phone and showed me that she has a personal editor bingo of like things that she really wants to accomplish or have happen for her books and you know basically it's like if all of these things happen for books of mine then like I too will have gotten to experience a lot of different things so a whole variety of things you know it's from like bestsellers and awards to you know wanting a book turned into a movie or wanting a book that you know there's a special edition made for you know there's a whole list of things but it was kind of delightful and I think most people in publishing have high ambition like that to to keep learning and to keep growing I think one of the other really good pieces of advice I got along the way in my career was from Maria Medina who's a brilliant editor mostly of picture books at Random House and but she worked at Harper when I worked at Harper and sometimes I would go to her I didn't work directly under her but we had built up a rapport and so sometimes I would go to her and ask for her wisdom her advice and it was when I was thinking about moving to the editorial position in fact and I asked her you know I'm seven years in if I put in a couple more years like I'd have a pretty swanky title what are people gonna think of me if I back up and like you know have an assistive title all over again like what are what are people gonna perceive from that it doesn't matter and she said you know in this business it's small it's joke it's incestuous everyone moves around all the time and you're doing good if you can remember like wait where is that person now and what you remember about them is the kind of books they make and the authors that are associated with them along Germany no one it remembers anyone's actual title on their business card and so her advice to me was make your name your title which is advice that I have both carried with me and give it away to a lot of other people because when you recalibrate things as you know what are the projects that I and and the and the ideas that I want to have associated with me that's a different question than just will this book sell and so it's not the only thing certainly that I think about but it is one thing that I think about is if you look at you know the books that are associated with me what what picture does that paint and it's something that I think about as I'm taking on clients as I'm signing up things as I'm deciding what projects to focus on you

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