Would you choose a literary agent or publisher based on brand name, or based on their knowledge in new media?
In my observations, many writers would, given the choice, choose the brand. Ironically, most already established in literary name and recognition, might make riskier, possibly more profitable, decisions. Like Stephen King, who sells his books through his own subscriber-based library, or Tim Ferris, who made a bold move relatively early on to sign his next books exclusively with Amazon. I was even impressed with Red Room, which offers authors the opportunity to sell books from their own author pages. It also offers a nice split to the authors themselves while connecting them directly with their books’ buyers through its social networking features. You never even have to leave the site to purchase the book, which is a nice plus for readers.
Unsurprisingly, given the perceived threat of a turn in the market toward digital consumption, publishers and literary agencies are making more careful investments, on both authors and employees, narrowing the chances for young job applicants – and this, amidst a doom and gloom marketplace for young graduates across all industries.
What does this mean for college graduates eager to get a foot in the door of an exclusive media industry? That luck is yours to make. Be optimistic: there may be possibilities beyond the straight and narrow path. When I entered publishing at 22 as a “writer,” who, like everyone, wanted to be an editorial assistant, I was placed instead in a strange and unknown territory of publishing called Book Publicity. This was important, of course, for what came later: as my then mentor unforgettably told me, “you can either climb the ladder of publishing or enter through the side door.”
For those of the Facebook Generation, I can guess your preference. But either way, be prepared to work hard: not merely on the job but to get the job.
Perhaps the greater lesson is, you will always need to “sell” yourself to get the job. And in an industry that values creativity, if you think creatively about self-marketing, your possibilities are not infinite – you will still need to do the hard work for small pay, like any entry level assistant – but they are less limited.
To enter publishing from any side of the business today, and particularly publicity, your online expertise may matter most. (Side note: I chose my talented interns on the basis of their social media interests and understanding, and rejected others on the basis of their lack of interest or capability in online mediums.) Fortunately, while a plus, you don’t need prior media experience per se to make the argument for how you might be — that overused cover letter term — an “asset” to the company. Because everything you need to know about online exists online. Your selling point could be as simple as your blog traffic, a Tumblr account that demonstrates your writing skills, a youtube video you’ve created. According to this recent article in the Journal, social media is the new resume for college grads entering the workforce. Or, if exhibitionism isn’t your thing, perhaps it’s just spending real time learning how social media works and all about new eBook legislation, strategies, and companies. You may even find that your dream job is with a startup digital company you didn’t know existed when you were fruitlessly blind-sending job applications to top publishers.
For those who long to work directly with authors in non-corporate environments and perhaps discover the next David Foster Wallace from the slush pile, this digital expertise may also be the differentiating factor that gets you the job over others at a literary agency. Here, there’s more room to make the case for a position that doesn’t yet even exist at most agencies and invent your own title as an in-house “digital specialist,” who can offer the following:
-manage company website, offer basic web expertise -manage company Facebook and Twitter feed -conduct frequent research, keep abreast of new developments in publishing, inform company digital strategy -inform author digital strategy on publishing either backlist titles or eBook originals online
-collaborate with vendors to digitize and upload eBooks
All of the above is free of time and money: no prior company experience, all available to be learned online.
If I were in an author’s shoes, there’s no doubt that my best interests would be handled by a forward-thinking, adaptive, digitally-savvy, full service agency or publisher. And you can make this case – gently, of course. You can be an informant to the rest of us.
What can publishers and literary agencies most benefit from right now? Young people like you.