Wow, okay, so a LOT has happened since my post about moving back to New York. And, amazingly, all of it has been good.
If you’ve been following me on social media, you’re probably up-to-date on what’s happened with me. A little over a month later, I have two publishing credentials under my belt, a paying job, a new apartment, and have started writing a new book that I’m in love with. I feel so incredibly lucky.
Let’s start with September 1st, the day I published my last blog post. I’d been invited that day to tour a literary agency called Folio Literary Management by Molly Jaffa, a literary agent I met over the summer at Midwest Writers Workshop. The funny thing is, I almost never ended up speaking to her at the conference. I’d attended MWW three times before. I mostly go back now to see my friends and enjoy a weekend full of writing-related fun. It was only a week before the conference when my fiancé pointed out, “You know, we’re about to move to New York, where you wanna work in publishing, and there will be a bunch of publishing industry people at MWW.” I was like, oh, yeah. I should probably network, huh?
A few years ago, whenever I heard the word “networking,” I responded with cynicism and anxiety. You could only move up in an industry if you kissed up to people and made exhausting small talk? It seemed like something I would hate. But slowly, as I actually got to know people in the writing and publishing world, I grew to understand that “kissing up and making small talk” isn’t what networking means. The word is just shorthand for making natural conversation with people in your industry, mentioning your goals, and remembering you’re not owed anything. That’s it. Don’t go up to an agent or editor, force a conversation that’s just your resume in disguise, and expect them to give you an internship or even a referral. Don’t have that be the only thing you say to them. Because that is gross, and will probably make the agent or editor feel used. You should treat them like a person, because that’s what they are.
Anyway, I’d learned this lesson already when MWW 2016 rolled around. I like to have at least one conversation with each of the agents every time I attend MWW, in case I wanna query them someday and they remember me, or in case there’s something I can learn from them, or just so I can chat with someone who works behind the scenes in publishing the way I want to (one of the agents and I had a great conversation about feminism and Ghostbusters this year). I haven’t spoken with every agent every time, and that’s all right. If it’s not natural, no reason to force it.
MWW has an annual event called “Buttonhole the Experts.” It’s sort of like musical chairs. Each “expert” (an agent, editor, published author, or other sort of person who could be called a publishing expert) gets their own table, and those seated at the table have a few minutes to ask them questions. Then the bell rings, and everyone has to scramble for a seat at another table. I started with my friend Summer’s agent, Brent Taylor, because he’d read a manuscript of mine recently and given me some good feedback (and he was also super nice). The bell rang and I wound up at the next table over without really planning it (he ended up being Jim McCarthy, an agent who represents a Twitter friend of mine, Tehlor Kinney). Then it was the final round. I looked around wildly and noticed the next table over had an agent I hadn’t talked to yet, Molly Jaffa. I had no idea what the hell I was gonna ask her, but I wound up there anyway, because there wasn’t exactly time to hesitate.
When the Q&A started, I asked her the first question that sprung to mind so I wouldn’t just sit there looking like an idiot. Something about what steps the industry has been taking to diversify their work force, especially in the wake of Lee and Low’s Diversity Survey. She said it was moving slowly because publishing is such an inaccessible industry. This is true, and I knew that publishing is difficult to break into. You have to live in New York for most publishing jobs, which is expensive as hell. It’s difficult to get your foot in the door without an internship, most of which are unpaid, and not everyone can afford that. I deflated a little bit, though, when she mentioned how hard it was, because it reminded me of the uphill battle I had ahead of me.
I hadn’t even planned on mentioning my desire to work in publishing, or that I was moving to New York soon. It just came out in response to her answer to my question. Before I knew it, she was asking me what job I wanted and what age category I wanted to focus on. Then she wrote down her contact information. She told me to hit her up as soon as I moved so we could get coffee or drinks and talk publishing.
Okay well I did NOT see that coming. I also didn’t expect most of the other agents at the conference to find out I was moving to NYC to work in publishing and shower me with advice, well-wishes, and offers to let them know if I needed anything. Publishing is an apprenticeship industry, guys. Lots of people wanna pay it forward by helping the people who are just starting out, because they remember when they were in that position. I learned this in the best way.
Back to September 1st. By this point, Molly had offered to show me around her office instead of just meeting up for coffee, and I of course said yes to this. I desperately wanted a publishing gig, but I told myself not to expect anything. She’s just doing a nice thing for you, I told myself. You’re owed nothing. You’re just going to hang out with someone who works in the industry and is really nice. I showed up, admired the many bookshelves lining the walls of the agency, and sat down to chat with Molly. By the end of the conversation she’d offered me an internship.
I didn’t anticipate this at all. We’d done nothing but have a few friendly conversations and suddenly I had an internship with someone who seemed like she was awesome to work with (spoiler alert: I was right). But she seemed to trust me, since she’d touched base with me at MWW, so she gave me that foot in the door. I’m pretty sure I left the office shaking, I was so thrilled.
Working at Folio was fantastic. I got to commute to a real office, which was probably more exciting to me than it should’ve been. I got to read and evaluate manuscripts. I learned about the other side of the query inbox. I sat in on meetings, became more familiar with current trends in YA and MG lit, and worked around people having conversations like “Okay, but I don’t know if the subplot is working” (definitely my type of people). Being around so much literature-in-the-making inspired me to start writing a new book two months before I’d planned to. Molly was an absolute delight and I loved getting to know her. Plus, oh my god, there were so many books lying around. And so many of them were just…up for grabs. My room is currently overflowing with random books I got for free.
But as much as I loved Folio, I still needed a paying job. True, my incredibly privileged position was what allowed me to move to New York and take on an unpaid internship in the first place–I was living off of savings I had accumulated from my acting days (or, what’s left of it after college took most of it). Every day, I am thankful for this, and for everyone who ever watched my movies/TV episodes and allowed me to build those savings. Still, though, I was getting nervous as I watched my savings gradually deplete over time. They wouldn’t last forever. So I kept applying for publishing positions, as well as non-publishing jobs. I’d been applying since May. At this point, I’ve lost count of how many jobs I applied to. My “professional stuff” folder is overflowing with cover letters and resume drafts, a feeling I’m sure is familiar to anyone on the job hunt right now (sending you all love, because it sucks!).
Then one day, on my way home from Folio, Molly messaged me with a link to a job opening. It was a marketing position with Paper Lantern Lit, working with author Adam Silvera. Well, that was awesome. I really enjoyed Adam’s debut, More Happy Than Not, and knew he lived in New York (I’d secretly been hoping we’d meet some day so I could tell him I loved his book). Beyond that, the job asked for someone who was comfortable in front of a camera, was familiar with social media platforms, and knew YA and MG trends. Extra points if you had a bookstagram. Holy shit, it was perfect.
I ran home, opened my laptop, and started whipping up an application. The job had only been posted an hour or so before, so I wanted to act fast. As I was doing that, publishing friends donned their superhero capes once more. One tweeted the job posting to me. Another publishing contact sent me an e-mail with the link. And another recommended me to Adam by name. I felt so much love and support as I watched these roll in while I put together my application. It was such a comfort to know that so many people were rooting for me.
After a few days of obsessively refreshing my e-mail, I got an interview. It turned out to be the hardest interview I’d ever done–I had one day to come up with nine marketing pitches for a variety of Paper Lantern Lit titles. But I buckled down and put in the work. I wanted this job, and I was gonna give the interview my all.
I met up with Adam for the interview. He was super friendly and easy to talk to. I delivered my pitches. Molly wrote up a recommendation letter and sent it off. I waited with fingers crossed.
And at long last, I landed a publishing job.
That might sound a little ridiculous–I’ve only been applying since May, right? In the grand scheme of things, that’s not that long. But I’d decided to pursue a publishing job at the end of my sophomore year of college. I had to finish up school, and then I stayed in California an extra year to be with my fiancé, who is a year younger than me. That amounted to over three years of waiting. I was so, so ready for the wait to be over, and now it is.
I’ve had this job for a week, and I love it so far. So much of it feels natural. I feel useful. I’m thrilled that every day, I get paid to be excited about books. I feel so lucky to have gotten this opportunity.
Oh, and then there’s that book I’m writing, the one I’ve been shouting from the rooftops about on social media. It’s a little over 50 pages long right now (single spaced), and it’s coming along swimmingly. But I think I’ll talk about that in another blog post, since this one’s so long already.
Move to New York? Check. Job in publishing? Check. The last goal left is the big one, the nine-years-in-the-making one, the publish-my-own-book one. I think I’m on my way there.
A huge thank you to everyone who encouraged me on this journey. Your words have meant a lot and have helped push me. I wish all of you the best of luck in whatever it is you want to achieve, as well as mountains of patience. Because it takes so much patience, but it’s so, so worth it.
*Avatar by Charlavail