The other day I was asked for some tips on how to get a job in the book publishing industry, and since it seemed like a feat comparable to climbing Mount Everest for me and my friends, I thought I'd post some tips.
These are only observations from my own experiences, and everyone's story differs, but here goes:
First I should say that getting your masters in publishing is not always the answer. You have to decide if it is right for you. My experience with graduate school was frustrating, at times infuriating, and I felt like slamming my head against a brick wall. However, that was mostly due to the program and school I was in, and it wasn't all bad. I did leave with a masters degree to slap onto my resume, I had a basic understanding of the publishing industry and every area I could possibly think to go into (editorial, production, marketing, design, finance) and most important, I had a great group of friends who were in the same boat I was. That support group got me through the job search nightmare and it was always nice to have a bunch of booknerds to talk to and go book shopping with when things got tough. Oh yeah, and I also left with a job lined up, thanks to one teacher who actually cared enough to put in a good word for me.
So you're at the point where you're ready to apply for a job in publishing and you want that extra edge, or you're having trouble getting past the online application process? There are some tricks I've learned in the past (almost) four years. First, you may not want to get your masters degree, but there are plenty of certificate programs or summer institutes to attend that don't cost as much and will still give you the basic knowledge and networking opportunities with actual publishing professionals. NYU has one of these summer institutes, among others, and if you're willing to travel, there's even one in Denver, CO. This site has a great list.
Another good piece of advice is to network. Sure, it's harder for those who aren't yet in the publishing industry, but there are ways. Meet assistants and junior staff on MySpace, craigslist, LiveJournal and other online communities if you don't already know someone in the business. Be creative. Find ways to meet people, have them introduce you to people they know and then have those people introduce you to the people they know. Sooner or later, you're bound to meet someone who knows of a job lead, or who will refer you for an assistant position. Just don't be too pushy, clingy or fake. No one wants to refer someone if they think they are being used to get a job. Be genuine and people will want to help you even more. And even if they can't help you, you've made a new friend in the industry. Remember that support system I mentioned earlier.
If you are in the industry and you just haven't broken into the right area (editorial, most likely), then introduce yourself or have your coworkers introduce you to people in those departments within your own company. If you want to be an editor, find the people who work on the books you like to read and offer to read for them and give feedback. Editors love that, especially since the submission piles can get really intense at times, and it will give you more experience to throw onto your resume. And there is another connection (or two if you count their assistant) that you've just made in the right direction. Also think about joining and attending events with the YPG or Overtime. I was introduced to YPG when I first started in the marketing department of my company 2 years ago and was recently asked to join the Planning Committee. It's been a great experience and I've met a lot of great people in all different areas of publishing, from many different companies.
Other than those networking tips, the best thing I can tell you is to work with books as much as you can. Work at a bookstore, volunteer at your local library or literacy center. If you want to be an editor, do freelance work. There's tons of freelance jobs out there, including tons of writers on Craigslist looking for someone to help them edit their work. If you're still in school and have time, think about applying for summer internships in the city or working on your school's literary journal. Do whatever works best for you, but do as much as you can to fill your resume with experience that shows you are serious about working with books. We're an industry of booknerds and we are eager to hire our own.
After that, it's the same as any job hunt. Make sure your resume is in tip-top shape, practice your interview skills and go get 'em. OH! And the most important piece of advice I could give you. Don't despair! It can be a long, hard road to finding the job you want in this industry and you have to remember that these are big media companies you are applying to. This isn't Best Buy or the local insert-company-here you are applying to. It's a huge industry and there are a lot of people applying. The worst thing you can do is give up because you aren't finding something. I was lucky enough to have (apparently) done everything right, but I also had to work my way through a nightmare job. NOW I'm in a position that makes me truly happy, but there were times when I never thought I'd make it. There were so many days when I thought I should just give up and move back to my hometown. But it's been almost a year now and I've enjoyed it so much that the time has just flown by. If I can get here, so can you.
And for those people reading this -- if I missed anything, feel free to add your own two cents.