Five Questions For Andrea Chambers, director of the Center for Publishing at the New York University School of Continuing and Professional Studies.
1) The change from print to the web has cost thousands of people jobs. Why get into the industry? While the transition to digital has indeed resulted in layoffs and restructuring, particularly in the newspaper business, it has also created a wide range of new positions and opportunities for those willing to embrace change and master new skills. In fact, this is an incredibly exciting time to enter the industry! You have the opportunity to create interactive content that lives—make that flourishes—on multiple platforms. A magazine article morphs into an interactive feature on a tablet, into a slide show on the web, into a cool app. A book manuscript becomes an eBook or an enhanced eBook with video, audio and regular updates. Perhaps it is sliced and diced into a work of flash fiction or sold in an abbreviated version as an Amazon Single. The chance to work on such exciting digital projects, to learn a wide range of new skills like eBook and tablet creation, and to be at the forefront of perhaps the biggest publishing transformation since Guttenberg invented the printing press is, in my opinion, a very powerful reason to get into the industry.
2) For entry-level employees, publishing has always been low-paying. What kind of salaries and benefits can someone just getting into it expect to make and where are the growth areas? Publishing salaries do indeed start off low, and many entry-level salaries are in the mid thirty thousand range. For those working in major media companies, benefits are excellent and comparable with those of any other industry. And the good news is that once you move beyond the entry-level positions in publishing, the salary ranges rise quickly so that senior publishing executives are often earning six figures. As for growth areas, there is an enormous need for employees with strong digital skills. If you have experience in e-book or tablet production, social media marketing, web analytics and online sales, you are very marketable and in demand.
3) A lot of jobs in publishing seem to be freelance, low pay with no benefits. Where can this lead me — if I start out this way? Actually, it’s good news that there are freelance opportunities in publishing because that’s not true of all industries. How many dentists or nurses get to work at home? In publishing, you have the opportunity to work at home, carve your own pathway, and set your own schedule. (I sometimes wish I could do that!) Seriously, publishing is indeed an industry that outsources many functions, from copyediting and copywriting to blogging, editing and writing. Many people enjoy the freedom that the freelance life affords and make it the basis of their career. I know many others who start out freelance and then get hired by one of those bosses they impressed along the way. So, the trick is to evaluate the freelance world and determine if it is a way of life or a pathway, and then go for it.
4) What tips do you have to get a foothold in publishing?
Network with Targeted Media Professionals: Like any industry, it’s important to connect with the movers and shakers of the publishing world, as well as other job seekers. By participating in media-related trade associations, publishing conferences and other gatherings, you can gain valuable insights about where the jobs really are in today’s publishing game.
Get Social: Social media has become an important pillar of the publishing universe. Individuals interested in a career in publishing should aggressively engage social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, literally blogging and tweeting their way to their own personal brands.
Get Educated: In the current publishing labor market, it’s important for job seekers to have educational credentials that reflect the changes that are continuing to reshape the publishing world. Chambers advises job hunters to enroll in a practice-based degree, certificate or summer intensive programs, like the ones offer by the NYU-SCPS Center for Publishing.
Volunteer: One of the ways for job seekers to beef up their resume is by volunteering at a nonprofit that emphasizes literacy or reading skills. While the skills you pick up may bolster your credentials, the bigger win is that you can demonstrate your literary commitment to employers.
Read Until Your Eyes Bleed: Believe it or not, one of the most important things you can do to advance your career in publishing is to read well and read often. In the publishing industry, employers expect hires to be exceptionally well-read and conversant on the latest literary offerings in their corner of the publishing marketplace.
5) What are the qualifications and interests of today’s ideal entry-level publishing candidate? I would say the first qualification is curiosity. Read everything from books to blogs and be up to date on what’s going on in society, culture and the media. To be successful in publishing, you have to be well-read, well-informed and able to see what’s coming next. You will be working in a very creative industry where ideas really matter and culture surfing is a key to forecasting trends. For example, the editors who are still buying vampire books are struggling to hold on. Those who succeed are the ones who devour social media, who look at what’s trending on Twitter and elsewhere, who figure out the next big thing and how to capitalize on it from a publishing point of view. You need to be that person. You also need to have solid writing and editing skills—those abilities are timeless and true. But you also need to be up-to- date on all the new digital skills: Do you understand web analytics? Do you have a rough idea of how to shoot and edit video? Are you very adept at social media? It’s helpful to know a bit about coding and web design, too, though that is not crucial. Do you know how to monetize media? How is your website or blog going to make money for you and why are royalties on eBooks generally more favorable than in print? Practice what you preach by starting your own blog, write for other blogs, websites and print magazines until you get the job you want. Experience counts on many fronts.