A lot of my advice about entering publishing mentions the word “networking”. For those of you with little to no experience networking, it is NOT a photo meme in which you dress in a trench coat and yell:
Rather, networking is a vital skill one must develop when entering, learning about, flourishing as a result of, and continually surviving within the publishing world. There are a lot of different approaches and resources available to you, so it’s important to have a plan. Here are a few helpful steps for you aspiring publishing folks!
Step 1: Gathering contacts.
This is the easy part. All you need to do is sit your ass at a computer and type. Corral a bunch of Twitter handles to follow and sort them into Twitter lists, as specific (“Macmillan Marketing Contacts”, “Cute Scruffy Agents”) or as general (“White Women”) as you want. Follow as many publishing blogs on various platforms as you can possibly stomach.
WHY DO THIS? Ostensibly to build your knowledge base and conception of opportunities/changes/business climate; definitely so you can better namedrop and mention something super industry-insider-y in conversation which will make you sound cool. (We all do this. Every single one of us.)
VARSITY LEVEL: Go to events, conferences, readings, whatever you can find on the “calendar of events” pages on bookstores/venues websites, and shake hands/introduce yourself and GET BUSINESS CARDS. Keep all this contact info in an excel grid and send inquiries about possible job openings when appropriate. Which leads me to:
Step 2: Talk directly to strangers.
"Hey @somepublishingperson, I really enjoyed #thatbookyouwereinvolvedinpublishing. It made my transatlantic flight without earbuds a total pleasure, somehow!"
"Hey (Some publishing person who you clearly didn’t just pick out of a hat), I’m looking for (relatively specific department) jobs in publishing; I would really appreciate it if you’d keep me in mind, and I’d love to send my resume your way if that’s all right."
"Hey (friend of a friend who works in publishing), I’m a friend of (mutual friend) and s/he was kind enough to send me your contact info. If you’re interested I’d love to buy you a coffee and pick your brain about publishing jobs!"
"Hey (person who doesn’t know you), you don’t know me but I’ve been checking your work out on (platform) and it’s pretty fucking awesome. Thanks for the good reading. Would you mind if I asked you a few questions on how you became (specific position this person has at their company)?"
Any humorless tweets in response to a stranger’s general observation.
Any attempt to communicate which implies too much familiarity with a stranger.
Anything that smacks of entitlement (note: this is different than confidence and if you have to ask, this is confidence:
And this is entitlement:
Anything that smacks of cut-and-paste-ism.
Anything that misstates their job title.
Publishing people understand awkwardness, insecurity, frustration, fear, and the overwhelming need to be liked the way astronauts understand fears of heights and flying. But they also had to overcome certain aspects of these qualities to get where they are, which doesn’t make them perfect, but it does make them finely attuned to people who aren’t trying to do the same, and they often have a hive mind that senses and rejects people based on their boring-to-snarky ratio.
Which is to say that if you’re constantly trying to directly ingratiate yourself to publishing people and all you’re getting is this:
Maybe, just maybe, it’s you.
VARSITY LEVEL: Form long-lasting friendships and/or romantic/sexual bonds with publishing people that are mutually beneficial and satisfying and based on respect and compassion. Offer to help them move. If you do this, we will totally pass on your resume and talk you up, qualifications be damned.
Step 3: Never stop, unless you decide publishing is awful and you want nothing to do with it.
Networking is a lot of not-fun sometimes. The obliviousness, constant self-selling, relentlessness, data-wrangling grind of it would already be a total slog even if you aren’t also apportioning your energies elsewhere (school, a job, significant other(s), creative pursuits). But it’s a numbers game; the more you reach out and connect, the more your chances of happening on that one weird connection which you’ll inevitably be telling your new coworkers about when you go out to happy hour together for the first time.
Refine your technique, try new avenues for contacts/info/advice, and keep emotionally limber. Networking is not a tunnel you dig to the surface; it’s a boat that you build in your garage. The hard part is the ocean, not the land.
VARSITY LEVEL: Give up networking, raise some seed capital, and gain a controlling stake in all the coffee shops and delis near the major publishing houses. Every knee shall bow to you.