Think YA Book Publishing Jobs Are Hard to Get? Alexa Pastor Will Change Your Mind

Winter storm Juno was a bust, but Alexa Pastor was working from home when I called her last Tuesday, the day that the storm was predicted to pummel the Northeast and New England. Alexa didn’t let the weather deficiency ruin her mood. She was happy to speak about landing her dream job at Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, where she is the assistant to Justin Chanda, the Vice President and Publisher of S&S Books for Young Readers, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, Margaret K. McElderry Books, and Saga Press.

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Alexa has always loved YA novels and been an avid reader, and her passions have inspired her professional goals. “When I was growing up, I had a group of friends that passed books around at lunch. That experience helped me build a community, plus it shaped many strong associations that I have as an adult. That is unique to the YA genre. That’s why I want to be part of a publishing house that puts out books that teens love.”

After graduating from Villanova University with a B.A. in English, Alexa was accepted into Rosemont’s Masters of Publishing program, where she focused on children’s and young adult books. She also had internships at YA publishing houses Running Press Kids and Bloomsbury U.S.A.

“Human resources said that I was one among a thousand applicants applying for the editorial assistant position at Simon & Schuster. My Masters in Publishing set me apart from the pack. It introduced me to the basics of the business and the terminology utilized in the field so that I could hit the ground running. Because of my degree, I have a unique perspective shaped by seasoned professionals in the industry and a wide range of experience that helped me land the job.”

On a day-to-day basis, Alexa attends meetings, manages Justin’s schedule, assists him with acquiring books, handles administrative tasks, and assists in editing manuscripts. She hopes to advance in the editorial track of book publishing. “I love being part of the creative process,” she said.

When asked if she had advice for other students that hope to break into the YA book publishing industry, Alexa said, “Read as much as possible—that includes classics but also contemporary authors. You will have to understand what is current, so you must become part of the audience in order to be able to acquire and edit books. Be persistent and focused on your dreams and goals. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and form connections so that you can get your foot in the door.”

Alexa is currently finishing her Masters in Publishing at Rosemont remotely. Her favorite YA authors include Morgan Matson and Rainbow Rowell.

Student Post: Maintaining and Operating a Small Press

by Sally Beeson

Each Wednesday, I, along with eight other publishing students, meet in Mayfield Hall for class. This building, recently reopened, now houses the Publishing and MFA programs here at Rosemont and, with this new home, comes a new project. Each week when we congregate in Mayfield Hall, we embark on a journey to start Rosemont College’s very own small press.

If you were to enter the classroom where the Operating and Maintaining and Small Press class meets, you will be met with pictures of ravens, lions, and rising suns taped to the wall, a seemingly random list of adjectives on the board, as well as themes and possible titles for our first book. Our first publication will be an anthology of poetry, short stories, personal essays, excerpts, and flash fiction written by Rosemont faculty and MFA alumni. The book, titled “Another Breath” so as to symbolize the republication of these pieces, will launch at the MFA holiday party on December 11, 2014, meaning we’re on a strict time frame to get everything ready to send to the printer. It can get frustrating and overwhelming (especially since all of us are taking multiple courses), but one thing the Small Press class is teaching us is the whole messy process that occurs before we can print and sell our book, the frayed ends that will eventually tie together as a neat package. I hope to take you all through the process of what we’re learning and offer some insight into what goes on behind the scenes at a small press.

The first order of business is department roles. Who is going to edit? Who is going to design the layout? Each student leads one of the four teams-Editorial, Business, Production, and Marketing, but we all take part in multiple aspects of the process. In just the first few weeks of the semester, as a class we have already:

  • Read submissions and either accepted/rejected each piece
  • Drawn up a contract for the authors
  • Estimated words per page for the layout of the book
  • Come up with a mission statement for RC Press
  • Developed a logo for RC Press
  • Created a title for our first book
  • Created and posted to social media sites about the press

The cover for Another Breath has also been a topic of great discussion in class. It was decided pretty early on in the process that publishing alum Sarah Eldridge would take on this task. It has been a packed few weeks that already has us balanced on the brink of insanity and with the final push upon us, the weeks to come will be even busier. Errors are bound to happen in any new venture, and in this course, mistakes are not only inevitable, they are encouraged. Though we are frazzled, we’re all quickly learning that even though it is stressful and tiring work, it is also incredibly rewarding to one day look at this anthology with the knowledge that it is very much our own creation.

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A Career in Publishing: Is Grad School the Right Option?

Students from across the country, some seniors in college, others recent grads, are wondering if they can turn their love of books into a career with an undergraduate degree or is graduate school necessary to move forward?

While virtually all entry-level positions in the publishing industry do not require an advanced degree, it is nearly impossible for students with only an undergraduate degree to get publishing jobs. Last year, I sat on a Publisher’s Weekly panel at Random House on the job market. There were a number of undergrad students in the audience who asked the same question. These were not English majors who were nearing graduation and hadn’t thought about jobs; many of them had several publishing internships on their resumes.

So what do I tell students? I tell them that a graduate degree will be beneficial in two ways: it opens doors (practical knowledge learned & networking) and, from my experience, students get promoted sooner.

If you’re still reading, you are likely wondering about choosing a school. The simple response – there aren’t but a handful, so you won’t have to whittle down a list of 50. So how to choose the right school for you? Grad school isn’t quite like undergrad. I think there are different criteria that come into play when choosing the right program. Let’s start with the word “program” – the program is more important than the school, .so focus on the program and what it offers versus what the college or university as a whole offers. While the general focus of each program is similar, there are differences. There are some clear and rather obvious criteria perspective students should explore: location, size, availability to internships, professors, course offerings, cost, etc., but I think the not-so-obvious criteria are equally as important.

I tell perspective students that grad school is a gift to themselves and it is the opportunity to forge life-long friendships and connections that will one day be beneficial in their career. These types of relationships are forged out of the community built around the program. Thus, it is important to ask about the community: is it an active community, who is involved, is it welcoming, how do people know about it, get involved, etc. Students excel when they are part of a greater community.

Community is just one of the not-so-common criteria. There are a host of others such as where do the other graduate students come from, are there related graduate programs on campus, how involved is the program in the greater community, what type of support is available to graduate students (this could include the counseling center, academic support, etc.), how accessible is the director, are there opportunities to mentor undergraduates, are their volunteer opportunities, and how active is the program in regional and national conferences.

I wish any of you who choose to pursue grad school the very best as you embark upon your journey. I challenge you to think about the standard questions, but also think about how the program will shape you as an editor, designer, content developer, marketer, etc. Who will help you achieve your goals – certainly your professors, but what about your peers? Think about the not-so-common questions as you progress in your search and no doubt – you will make the right decision for you!

Good luck!

Anne Converse Willkomm MFA ’10
Director of the Graduate Publishing Programs
Rosemont College

Thoughts on Banning Books

I’ve tweeted a fair amount this week about Banned Book Week. Every year it bothers me. What are people thinking? I was naïve about the practice of banning books until my daughter’s school (which she didn’t attend for very long) banned the Harry Potter series. I didn’t know much about Harry Potter at the time, but decided I had better read the book to see why the parents and the school were in such a panic.

At the time, it wasn’t the act of banning the book that I found so shocking, but rather the multitude of reasons parents and administrators wanted the book banned. I sat there speechless as Biblical quotes about devil worshipping were slung across the room. Don’t let me mislead you, however, into thinking this was simply a religious objection. Concerns about living in a fantasy world, practicing magic to defeat evil was unrealistic, Harry and his pals are rule breakers, they don’t listen to the adults, teachers are portrayed as strange and/or unsympathetic or too sympathetic, Hagrid is a bad influence, what happens is too unrealistic, and the list went on and on and on. I was left then to quote a colleague, “Are you joking me?”

I would not presume to tell parents they must allow their child to read a certain book – that is no better than banning; but I would ask these same parents to make sure they are accurately informed about the content of a book and converse with their child appropriately. By all means make your own choices for your children, but please do not prevent books from getting into the hands of other children – it simply is not your right.

For some kids, a book may be their only companion. The story may be their story, and a character may help give them insight into to the world. Books with difficult topics could lead to great conversations about beliefs, morals, and all of the gray area we navigate every single day.

My hope is that there won’t be a need to celebrate Banned Book Week going forward, and books will no longer be banned for their themes, content, characters, or situations. The needs and wants of the few cannot be forced upon the many. But unless those of us who are shocked by book banning do more than sit in shock, unless we all say “NO,” books will continue to be banned.

I say “NO.”

Anne Converse Willkomm
Director, Graduate Publishing Programs
Rosemont College

Fall = Thesis

What is a thesis or capstone project? How long does it have to be? How long do I have to complete it? How and what will I turn in? How will I be graded? Do I need to defend? And there are a dozen more questions students raise when it comes time for their culminating academic event. I refer to it as an event because it is eventful – there are successes and failures, panic attacks and feelings of relief, growth and setbacks, all of these combined together create this wonderful learning experience.

Students may begin their thesis or capstone work once they have completed 18 credits (half of their coursework). Students come to my office and we have “the talk.” Many of them are nervous or overwhelmed with few ideas solid ideas. I ask them one simple question: “What is your dream job?” Most look at me as if I am skipping a few steps, but it is the important question. Ultimately, students should work for a year on a project that interests them, challenges them, and one that will catapult them on a trajectory that will ultimately land them their dream job in the world of publishing.

After the student describes his/her dream job, we work backwards to develop a thesis or capstone topic that will best allow him/her to showcase their skills or knowledge base. The ideas that rise to the surface are nothing but exciting. I have to concede – I have to fight off a few jealous pangs. The thought of diving full-force into a single topic for a year is exciting!

The students work over the course of a calendar year on their chosen topic with a thesis advisor. Their topics range widely in scope, focus, and platform. To give you a flavor, here are just a few of the topics students will be grappling with over the course of the next 10 months: Role of the strong female archetype in children’s literature and the role of editors; How technology and communication raise issues such as libel, privacy, truthfulness, and obscenity in publishing memoir; Societal and cultural impact that banned books have on the individual, the classroom, and the public; Digital technology’s effect on news, magazines, and the children’s segments of the industry; In-depth study of the current state of print books, brick-and-mortar bookstores; and Study of the history, current state, and trajectory of the Christian publishing sector.

I look forward to hearing from the thesis students about their progress as the semester unfolds. There will be excitement as they reveal nuggets of information, disappointment as a source fails to provide the needed support, yet the fortitude to press forward.

So what would you study for an entire year given the opportunity?
Anne Converse Willkomm
Director, Graduate Publishing Programs

Student Post: Embracing the Golden Age of Publishing

by Rosalba Ugliuzza 

We are currently in the “Golden Age” of publishing. With the inventions and popular sales of tablets, apps, and mobile devices, this “Golden Age” is more than just holding the power of a red pen in your hand. It’s more than just the text in a book or magazine.

I grasped this knowledge after attending the “Trends in Digital Publishing” panel discussion on Monday, March 24. Moderated by director Anne Converse Willkomm, the featured panelists were some of the most extraordinary intellectuals in today’s publishing industry: digital content producer and Rosemont graduate faculty Thomas Hartmann, digital publishing consultant Scott Chappell, writer and Wild River Review social media director Don Lafferty, and Publisher’s Weekly senior news editor Calvin Reid.

I enjoyed the panel discussion so much that halfway through the seminar, I stopped taking notes so that I could absorb the words of wisdom. Their background and experiences are different yet extraordinary. They provided very insightful, informative, and thought-provoking opinions about the digital content and the future of the entire publishing industry. They took turns defining content and who owns it. On a social media outlet, you are a partial owner of what you write. Content is all around us. It’s a delivery vehicle. A book can be a combination of many things, not just a solid object.

The panelists were profoundly optimistic that change in the publishing industry is a good thing. Traditional publishers are joining the bandwagon of applying the digital aspect to their business model. Not only will digital publishing help the consumer masses grasp up-to-the-minute information with one easy touch, it will also encourage the well-rounded producers – such as authors – to come up with more than one way to publish their latest work. For example, if an author opts not to use or gets rejected by a traditional publisher, he or she can still publish work through Amazon, social media outlets, or blogs.

With the latest changes and upgrades, we must not be preoccupied or scared. Curiosity is the key to educating ourselves in order to stay on top of the publishing game.

Director’s Post: eBooks on the Move

by Anne Converse Willkomm

While on Twitter today I came across an article on Digital Book World on the top selling ebooks of 2013.  As I scanned the list, it brought me back to one of my first Push-to-Publish conferences about 5 years ago. Self-published authors were scarcely considered human. They kept to themselves, and the traditionallypublished authors made little effort to engage. The boundary between these two camps was not nearly as defined a year later, and even less loosely defined the following year. In 2012 and again last fall, no real line existed in the sand.

According to Digital Book World’s article, numbers 7, 10, and 17 in the top 20 of the 2013 bestselling ebook list were self-published. That’s 15% of the list – pretty impressive, given there were no self-published titles on the 2012 list. According to an article written by Jeremy Greenfield on Digital Book World, self-published books took the No. 1 spot on the Amazon ebook list four times in the first quarter of 2013. As the first quarter of 2014 winds down, it will be interesting to see if this pattern holds true. It appears that it will, as Amazon reports an increase in self-published ebook titles. However, it is important to note that from self-published titles in Amazon’s eBook genre best-sellers list, the self-published titles represent only 3% of the total daily revenue.

What does this mean?

Self-published authors are forces to be reckoned with, and the E.L. James and Hugh Howeys of the world are not merely statistical exceptions. It might indicate that self-published authors are putting in the time and effort they were once accused of bypassing, i.e. to write and create the best book possible versus writing and uploading with little to no editing. It also means that self-published authors are becoming savvy. They are learning how to market themselves and their books. Self-published authors are taking advantage of price shifting and manipulation to get their books into the hands of readers and reviewers. During 48-hour ebook giveaways, self-published authors can get their books onto readers’ phones, tablets, and ereaders. Some of those readers will write reviews, which will further promote the book. Traditional publishers do not practice this. They release a book and maintain a consistently higher price than most self-published authors. But are the traditional publishers making lots of money on ebook sales? Not yet.