A Publishing Perspective

So…hello there. I’m Caety. This is my first blog entry for the Escapism Project, and I have to admit…I’m pretty awful at blogging. I had a blog two years ago, but no one ever read it and I didn’t really make any friends through it, so I deleted it. Part of the problem is probably the fact that I always seem too busy to blog. That’s why, when Mariella was kind enough to ask me if I wanted to be part of this project, I asked if I could be an odd job blogger instead of one that posts on a regular basis.

I haven’t really decided what I want my blog to be about. I’ll probably just write about whatever happens to be on my mind, though I’ll make sure it relates to writing or art. For this entry, I though I’d talk a little about my experience working at a publishing house.

At my school, there is the option to do this thing called WISE senior year. WISE is an alternative to English class. First semester you have a normal English class, and second semester you do some kind of huge project. You’re allowed to leave campus for the period that would normally be English in order to work on your project. You must have a third space, meaning a place you go to that’s not campus or your home where you do WISE things. Some people take classes, others shadow professionals, and others intern. For my project, I decided to intern at a publishing house. I chose to do this partly because I wanted to learn more about the publishing world and about how exactly a manuscript gets turned into a book, and partly, I’ll admit, because I wanted to make connections. My dream is to one day be a published novelist, and I’m willing to get there any way I can.

I live near San Francisco and Berkeley, so I just searched the Internet for publishing houses in the area. I figured the big name ones (Harper Collins, Scholastic, Random House, etc.) would be a lot less willing to hire high school kids than a smaller, independent house. I eventually found Ulysses Press, a small niche publisher in Berkeley, and when I contacted them asking if I could intern, they said they would love to have me.

When I started this project, I thought that maybe publishing could some day be a possible career for me, one that would give me a steady income while I wrote. Now I don’t really think I want to do publishing permanently, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have fun working there. I’ve learned a ton, and it’s just a really fun atmosphere to work in. It’s very casual, people constantly banter and say sarcastic comments, and people have fun even while getting real work done. One day, only four of us (including me) were in the office, so someone drove us to a nearby ice cream shop, Cream, and bought us all ice cream sandwiches. You know. Just because.

What do I do there? Uh…what don’t I do there? When I worked for Ulysses during the school year, I was the intern, so I got all the jobs that no one else wanted to do/ didn’t have enough time to do. This may sound bad, but it was actually really fun. In a single week, I could work on sending rejection letters to manuscripts in the slush pile, writing catalog copies (descriptions of books you see on Amazon), reorganizing the company’s shared hard drive, printing and stapling a TON of royalty reports, and sending out a publicity shipment. The variety of jobs meant that I rarely got bored and that I learned a lot about many different areas of publishing.

During my second to last week at Ulysses (I was supposed to end when school ended), Bryce, one of the people that works there, was talking to me in his car as he gave me a ride to BART. He asked me what I was doing this summer, so I told him, and he asked me if I wanted to get a job.

“Oh definitely,” I said. “I mean, a job would be nice. But it’s a little late to go looking for one at this point.”

Bryce raised his eyebrows in disbelief. “Caety, I’m offering you a job.”

“Oh,” I responded surprised. “Ohhhh.”

And like that, I had a real, paying job at Ulysses. They said they don’t normally hire unpaid interns, but I guess I was an exception. I think it’s just because I never really paid attention to the fact that I wasn’t getting paid; I gave it my all anyway.

I’ve learned so much about the business while working there that it’s hard for me to tell you guys everything. However, if anyone who reads this has any questions, feel free to post them in the comments. I will try my best to answer them.

For now, I’ll just post some information that I think will really help writers, like myself, in particular.

Yes, the slush pile is big, but don’t let that totally discourage you. Many of the manuscripts just aren’t what the company publishes, and some are simply from crazy people. Seriously, CRAZY people.. The point is that when you get rid of those manuscripts, there are then a lot less to consider. So you do have a chance, even if it’s a really teeny tiny one.

I don’t care how fantastic your book is; if the publishing house doesn’t think it can make money off of it, it won’t publish it. This means two things. One, research houses and agencies before you send to them to figure out what kind of book they represent. If a company publishes only cookbooks, there is a reason for that. It has managed to break into the cookbook market, and so it has connections and a reputation is that area. If you send that company a fantasy novel, it won’t publish it because it wouldn’t know how to go about selling it. It doesn’t know who to contact in the fantasy book world to get the book advertised. Two, when you’re pitching your book in the form of a query letter, don’t just talk about its plot. Talk about why it will be popular. Compare it to similar titles that have sold well, say what your intended audience would be, and mention any significant ways you could help to advertise it (such as: you own a REALLY popular website).

Not all agents are the same. I went through my own form of agent hell a few years ago, and I basically ended up going from being represented by a flake to not being represented at all. Publishing houses will tell you that you have to be represented for them to take a look at your work, but what they don’t tell you is that you have to represented by the right people. Just because someone is an agent doesn’t mean a house will actually look at the work they submit. I would generally suggest researching what other books or authors an agency has published (if there are any) before you decide to send to it.

That’s it for now. Like I said, questions are encouraged!


6 thoughts on “A Publishing Perspective

  1. Caety, thank you so much! This was so informative! Working at Ulysses sounds like so much fun. If I lived closer to a big city I would look for an internship as well. What a lovely job to have, where y'all can be so laid back like that. My first job, at a coffee shop/cafe, was that way. I am about to start my second job at a drug store and even though it is all older women, they are so laid back and I am looking forward to it.Imagine the contrast if you one day work for a high-stress publisher! Hopefully not! Maybe they are all laid back in some ways, since writers/literary geeks tend to be a bit crazy…I would LOVE to hear some stories about the MSs from the "crazies"!- s

  2. Caety, for someone who didn't know what to write about at the start, you sure fooled everyone, including yourself! I enjoyed reading your blog very much. I'll be back.

  3. Syd — Haha I have plenty of stories about the crazy submissions. These include hand-written query letters and manuscripts, submissions from prison inmates, someone who wrote a NONFICTION book about how aliens blended themselves with monkeys to create humans, etc.Tegan and Carol — Thank you! That's so nice of you both.

  4. Working at Ulysses just sounds like an AMAZING experience! How fun!! What an education, to see how publishing works from the inside. Goodness, those crazy stories ARE crazy! You should elaborate on them in another post. (I want to hear more about the aliens and monkeys!) This was a fabulous post. If this is you not knowing what you're going to post about, then by all means, keep doing it! ;)

  5. Came across your blog by accident, and am so glad for the accident. Enjoyed reading it very much – you sound so natural – just like you were talking to me only. It sounds like your stint at Ulysses was a valuable experience for you, and so glad you had it and learned much about the publishing industry. :-)

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