personalized rejection letters are crushing my spirit

A reader writes:

I recently graduated from college and am trying to find that first full-time job in an increasingly shrinking industry: book publishing.

I’ve volunteered at small presses, had three six-month long internships, and have a great network of publishing professionals. If I send out my resume, I’m getting responses and doing really good interviews but find myself repeatedly getting rejections.

What hurts more than not getting the job is what these rejections say: “you have so much to offer the industry, I hope you get your foot in the door” and “it’s rare we meet someone with your passion, but at this time we can’t offer you the position.” One of my rejections even said that they were too small a company and that my talent would be better served at a larger press.

It’s hard hearing over and over what a great candidate you are but never getting the job. I understand their perspective and trying to be kind but in truth, it’s crushing my spirit. Is it better for companies to just send out form rejections?

And how do I keep my head up for the rest of my job search?

People who get form letter rejections complain that they’re getting form letters, and why can’t employers take the time to write personalized notes that explain the reason for the rejection?

Employers really can’t win when it comes to rejections. No matter what they do, some people aren’t going to like it. That makes sense — it’s a rejection, so it’s inherently unpleasant to receive.

It sounds like it stings to read that hiring managers liked you but still aren’t hiring you. But they’re saying that they think you have potential, and that’s promising. (Although it’s also possible that these are form letters to some extent. Some people write really lovely notes to people who interview with them, and if they’re not giving you more specific feedback than what you quoted here, it’s possible that some of these are still boilerplate to some extent or another.)

But as with all rejections, don’t read too much into them. Job seekers tend to read way too much into rejections, good and bad, when employers are usually just trying to let people down kindly and don’t intend for their words to be parsed as much as often happens. If it’s easier for you to deal with rejections if you decide none of them mean anything more than “this is to notify you that you didn’t get the job,” then reframe them all as that in your head.

(The one exception to that might be the note about your talent being better served at a larger press. There might be a message there that’s worth paying attention to, if they’re saying you wouldn’t thrive in a smaller organization — which might mean they thought you wouldn’t do well in a role where you had to wear a lot of hats or didn’t have more resources. Although you’ve volunteered at smaller presses, so who knows.)

But also … publishing is just an incredibly competitive industry. That means that when you’re just starting out, you’re going to get rejections. Lots of them. It’s very unlikely that you’re going to end up in a job in that field without wading through a lot of rejections first — so ideally you’d see this as completely normal and unavoidable topography on the road to your destination. (Obviously there are limits to that — times when it does make sense to question if it’s the right path for you — but it sounds like you’re still in your first year post-college, so I don’t think you’re near that territory yet.)

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 172 comments… read them below }

  1. Snark*

    We’ve seen letters here complaining about no rejection letter and insisting just a form notification would be more professional, complaining about form letters and insisting that rejections should be personal, and now personal rejections and complaining that the tailored rejection crushes one’s spirit. THE CIRCLE OF LIIIIIIIFE

    Alison is right. There’s absolutely no win here for an employer.

    Even if it’s personalized, OP, it’s not personal. They can only give the job to one person. It’s not really about you, it’s about a transactional relationship they’re forming with one of a bunch of people they don’t know.

      1. MMB*

        Does anyone know if there was ever an update to this one? I tried searching for one but my phone isn’t playing nice today :/

        1. AMT*

          One of my favorite letters of all time. AFAIK there was no update. I always wondered whether the guy’s coworker was playing a prank on him for leaving himself logged into the applicant management system.

      2. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

        I once went to an interview that ended up badly. in the 70s.

        I was making a relatively low salary on the graveyard shift as a computer operator. I answered an ad and was invited to interview. So I did. The posting promised all shifts available. (More on this) **

        So I go in, the guy explains the environment. OK – “all shifts available” – you work 3 twelve hour days, and the next week – you’re put on a different shift! Weekends? Forgettabout it.

        And then the interviewer says “your salary is out of line… you’ll have to come down”. I explained I was willing to stand pat IF and only IF the job was 9-5, days. I also said that I was trying to get off nights – so overall, I’m sorry, there’s no incentive here for me to leave my current position. But thanks for your time.

        I received a horses**t letter a couple of days later, that I wasn’t what they were looking for and, don’t ever apply here again.


      1. Longtime Lurker*

        I’d rather hear something than be ghosted. As I am trying to get back into graphic design, I’ve been having to do a lot of assessments (which are nicely padding my portfolio) but there’s nothing worse than doing one of those exercises and then getting nothing but crickets and tumbleweeds.

        On the other hand, I had someone wait 3 months to send me a rejection. Really? That much time goes by and I don’t even care anymore.

        Some of the nicer rejections I’ve managed to turn into networking contacts on LinkedIn, so there’s that too.

      2. Jadelyn*

        Minor note, but you really can’t assume that every company has automated recruiting capabilities. I work at a mid-sized nonprofit (700 employees at about 30 locations across the country, we hire probably 75-100 people a year) and we’re only just now finally about to roll out a proper ATS with the kind of automation you’re talking about. Until now, we’ve been relying on a shared recruiting inbox, email, and some manually-completed Excel spreadsheets to keep track of things. It’s unusual for an org of our size to be in that position, I think, but just know that automation in recruiting solutions doesn’t get issued to every company as soon as they start looking at hiring someone.

    1. Person from the Resume*

      Let’s be honest, the title should be rejections are crushing my spirit. Yes, rejections will crush your spirit.

      1. MarsJenkar*

        From my experience, rejections are bad, but not knowing is worse in its own way. It was depressing when I was doing a job search over a two-week furlough at my company (NOT govt. shutdown related, BTW) with not even a phone interview to show for it, but I actually appreciated the two rejection letters I got, compared to the many silent treatments from elsewhere.

    2. Emily K*

      For some reason this brought to mind the episode of Parks and Rec where Chris breaks up with Ann but she doesn’t realize it because he was so positive!

    3. TardyTardis*

      Ah, Rejectomancy! Writers know this one from canned emails and the Dreaded Rejection Slip (is it just a printed slip, or did someone initial it? Was there a short real message? Did they suggest improvements? There was a funny panel at an SF con once where four editors wore turbans and pretended to read crystal balls. It was a hoot).

  2. all that to land in new jersey*

    Oof, this one hits me. I tried to get into publishing–trade, academic, whatever, lots of literary agencies–and eventually ended up taking an higher ed job that included working with a faculty member on their book in order to get something to pay the bills. I didn’t go to college in an spot where I could intern in the field and had virtually no network when I graduated, so it was unsurprising that I never got an interview. I hardly even got rejection letters! I’m still trying to figure out, one year out from graduation, if there’s anything that I can do now to get onto that publishing track or whether that path was dead from the time I declined to take up NYU’s offer of admission that came with a minimum of $80,000 in student loans.

    No advice here, clearly, so I guess this is to say, you’re doing great and have done all the right things so far. Not everyone has managed nearly the resume that you have, and the fact that you’re receiving interviews is an amazing sign! It feels like nothing counts until it counts, and that’s true to an extent, but if you’re able, do take time to celebrate that victory. And if nothing else, you’re getting GREAT interview practice–you’re going to be cool as a cucumber by the end of this job search.

    1. momuniverse*

      Letter writer here: I would certainly hope so. I also currently work at the public library so I do have backup plans for librarianship (although also a shrinking field) but I’d really like to be in publishing. Perhaps I should move to New York where the Big Four are…

      1. JB*

        *Big Five, plus a boatload of independent publishers & a zillion agencies and scouts

        You should ABSOLUTELY move to NYC, if you can swing it. This is where the most opportunities are, and especially for entry level, people don’t often want to risk hiring an entry-level person who isn’t already in the area. Even after I moved here, people were always a little skeptical that I wouldn’t go back to Iowa.

        1. I edit everything*

          I’m not sure I agree. I worked in a large NY publishing office (US branch of a UK-based academic press), and while yeah, there are a oodles of publishers there, the applicant pool is massive. If your connections are on the West Coast, stay there. Everyone in NY has NY connections, giving them a tremendous advantage in that market. It’s twice as hard if you’re coming in from the outside.

          1. owleyes*

            I’m also not sure I agree, and I say that as someone who has a super similar background to OP: three publishing internships during college, one after (some were paid, some not), and now I’m a few months into a job as an editorial assistant at an independent publisher. But I’m not in New York, I’m in the SF Bay Area.

            I have a lot of editors I know who used to live and work in NYC, and they’ve told me about the applicant pool, and yikes. One editor told me that when she was promoted from her first editorial assistant job, they posted the application…and closed it five hours later, because they had 800 applicants. From what I’ve heard, that’s not atypical for NYC, especially at the Big Five. And they hire a lot of people specifically out of Ivies and publishing schools, unfortunately.

            In contrast to that enormous applicant pool, I’m under the impression the jobs I’ve applied to have mostly gotten around 100 applicants, and those pools aren’t quite so clogged with people who paid $6,000 to get a summer program degree in publishing or something.

            So yeah if you’re gonna move for publishing I’d actually recommend the SF Bay Area. There’s a ton of publishers here, mostly indie but not by any means all. Other cities that have a decent number of publishers (but few enough it might be hard to be starting out there): LA, Boston, Minnesota, Portland.

            Also, in terms of getting paid work that will give you experience in publishing while you apply to jobs: lots of publishers freelance out their proofreading, copyediting, and sometimes manuscript coding, and you can do all of that 100% remote. Small presses in particular will usually have information on their Careers page about hiring freelancers. It sounds like you have the experience that you can probably proofread and do light copyediting. If not, get yourself CMOS and look at online classes (some are free through public libraries). Apply to be a freelance proofreader/copyeditor, the press will probably send you a copyediting test, and if you pass it, you’ll end up on their list. It’s a good way to build a network/resume while also getting paid.

            And @all that to land in new jersey, yes, you can, although it’s not easy. I’d suggest trying to get informational interviews (over the phone if necessary) with people in publishing, and be willing to start by moving into marketing/publicity/sales/executive assistant. Informational interviews are a great way to get info and network, especially in publishing. Also look into getting an online copyediting certification and applying for work as a freelance copyeditor and build from there. Experience in journalism can also help.

            1. momuniverse*

              OP here: I actually am based in SF Bay Area. I would LOVE to get in at Chronicle or Insight Editions.

              1. anonymous for this post*

                Hi OP! While trying to break into book publishing years ago in college (2008), I cold emailed a lot of publishers offering myself for internship opportunities. Chronicle was the only one that responded positively; they expressed interest, and instructed me to email another employee with a subject called something like “Internship Activation” to nail down the particulars. I did, then waited a week, but nothing happened. I waited a bit longer, then followed up with a gentle reminder by email, and again nothing happened. My publishing career went no farther and I ended up doing something else with my life. I’m not bitter, but I’m still baffled by how that went. Anyway, I do hope that things don’t suddenly fizzle out for you like this, but if so, get them on the phone or something! :)

              2. slimlove*

                I work in university press publishing, but started out in indie bay area publishing. I would agree you shouldn’t move to NYC, for all the reasons outlined above, plus it’s even more expensive than SF.

                Publishing is a hard, hard industry, and success is usually due as much to luck as anything else. I did 4 years at an indie publisher during and after college, did a master’s degree, and it still took me almost 2 years to get back into publishing after grad school (and this was before the recession!). I ended up working in real estate for a while, and ultimately that helped me, because I learned a ton about contracts and my entry back into publishing was through a rights job (and from there I moved to acquisitions). I also did the basic copyediting course at Editcetera, which also offers classes on stuff like networking as a freelancer. Which is not to say that you should, god forbid, go into real estate, but that any job can be helpful even if it doesn’t seem like exactly what you want right now, and that not getting the perfect job right now doesn’t mean that publishing is forever closed to you. The skills you pick up elsewhere, especially if they’re not all that common in publishing, can help if you think about how they relate to the job you want to be doing.

              3. Happy Pineapple*

                OP, I’ve been in your shoes. I’m going to tell you what you don’t want to hear but might need to. A few years ago I graduated near the top of my class from one of the most renowned programs in the world with my Masters in art history and curating. My goal was to work in ANY capacity in an art museum and work my way up to curating. While going to school I’d built up four years of experience, curated several exhibitions, and even had some big names on my resume.

                And yet, hundreds upon hundreds of applications, personalized cover letters, many interviews, pulling some huge strings with networking, and several years later…nothing has worked out. It absolutely crushed my spirit for the longest time, but now I’ve accepted that it’s very possible I will never get my foot in the door the industry. What’s important for you to know is that you’re not being rejected because you’re not good enough; some are just too competitive, too niche to bring in all the talent that’s available. I sincerely hope that you do achieve your dream, but in the mean time keep your head up, your wits about you, and don’t see it as a “failure” to start building a career in a different field. Paying your bills and being able to move forward with your life is success.

              4. Elan*

                OP, I work in publishing, in a more niche field (religious publishing), not in NY. I say that because I only had one internship and got offered a job at that press upon graduation. When I’ve done hiring in this field, we typically have only a handful of people applying with publishing experience. I’m wondering if it might help to look at more niche presses, away from the big cities; sometimes just a bit of experience, even if the press isn’t directly related to the area you want to work in long-term, can help.

                Also! If you have a great network, that’s the biggest part of the battle in publishing. Continue to cultivate those relationships. Connect with key people as mentors, not as job sources. That helps them get to know you better, and it ensures you’re front-of-mind when they hear about an open position.

        2. Falling Diphthong*

          Daughter’s roommate has been trying to break into publishing unsuccessfully for a year, while living in NYC. And that’s with relevant internships and some connections. So only do this if you’ve got a cushion and are okay waiting tables etc while you try to break in.

      2. Former Media Grunt*

        Since you’ve been interviewing, I’m sure you know this, but maybe it will help. If you’re looking at trade publishing almost all jobs are going to be in NYC, with a few exceptions: the Bay Area (Chronicle, Ten Speed) a few in Philadelphia (Quirk, Running Press), and Andrews McMeel in Kansas City. There’s also a hybrid publisher called Callisto with offices in NYC and California that was aggressively staffing up recently. Publishing, especially editorial, is just super, super brutally competitive. Tap any and all connections you have. The fact that you’re getting interviews at all is a good sign. If you can manage it financially (and emotionally) and it’s your dream, keep going. Good luck!

      3. Liar Liar Pants Dracarys*

        I joined a small educational press right out of college. (1997–pass me my walker) Straight out of college with my degree, I made $8/hr. It was $16,640/yr. Today, that would be $25,350/yr. It’s not a lot of money. Harcourt was still around and everyone wanted in that house. They didn’t pay much more. It’s not an industry you’ll make a whole lot of money in, unless you’ve got some alphabet soup behind your name. (CEO, CFO, EIEIO)

        Don’t move to New York unless you’ve got a firm job or a sizeable savings underneath you. Unless you have family there you can live with while you work out all the logistics. Trust me on this one.

      4. nobadcats*

        Hi LW, I work in educational publishing and I can assure you that right now, things are tight in our field. After Flordia decided to completely dump all their literacy standards and make up something new (still waiting on that), a lot of educational pubs and vendors had huge projects yoinked out from under them.

        But there are little niche opportunities in my field, if you’re good at editing and writing, you can get some good experience freelancing. Sometimes, even with all hands on deck, we need to pull in a freelancer or two to meet deadlines.

        So keep your eyes open for stuff like that. Publishing vendors (those who provide the writing and the editing to the big houses), in the educational field can put some good experience on your resume.

        1. nobadcats*

          Please forgive the typos and comma faults, I’m on vacation, so my editorial eye just went blind. I am a professional! Really!

      5. Mouse*

        If you’re midwest-y, there are a lot of distributors out here. It could get you some industry experience and connections to start out with one of them!

      6. Olive Hornby*

        Yes, you’ll have a much easier time finding something entry-level in New York (or with a resume with a New York address, if a New York-based friend will let you use their mailbox.) I’d also recommend looking beyond editorial roles, which are hard to get and even harder to maintain unless you love working constantly and making no money. If you work at a public library, you might be great at sales or library marketing, both of which involve working with and championing books all day. Fewer people know about those roles, and they’re a great path upward. If you like academic publishing, there may be a traveling sales position in your area or nearby, which is a fantastic way to get to know that industry (and pretty much a prerequisite for being an editor in it, if that’s something that interests you down the road.) You could also consider literary agencies–large houses hire a lot from agencies, and vice-versa, so it’s a pretty permeable membrane–but see above re: pay and hours.

        1. Erin*

          I was going to chime in with this. I work for a company that sells books and other materials to libraries. I honestly found the job I have now because of my background in sales, not because of an interest in publishing. I live in Nashville, which is growing so quickly than I am only half joking when I say “don’t move here, WE ARE FULL.” But, we have a full department that is tasked with developing collections for librarians, another that works directly with book stores, we also print on demand and help authors self publish. And this doesn’t cover everything. My point is, there is probably more out there than you realize and please do not be discouraged. Good Luck.

          1. Drago Cucina*

            I was just going to mention book jobbers (Ingram is our go-to). Also, many people who used to work in publishing are doing free-lance work. Many well established authors are starting their own small presses. I can think of two authors who are regular NY Times bestsellers that meet their contractual obligations with the big houses. Everything else is being done through their own press. They don’t want a big staff and contract out much of the work.

        2. Working Mom Having It All*

          This is great advice. I’m in the entertainment industry, not publishing, but the same holds true here. It is very, very hard to get creative jobs and any position in a creative-adjacent area like development, agent’s assistant at one of the big 4 agencies, camera crew, set PA, etc. Those jobs are also poorly paid, with horrid hours (and the expectation that you’ll bring home work during your off hours!), no benefits, dreadful bosses, etc. Meanwhile I work in business affairs, which is deeply unsexy, but where I’m paid well, go home at 6, and spend all day steeped in TV and movies just like the folks with the sexier titles. It was also relatively easy to get this job, and there isn’t really a bevy of people waiting in the wings to snatch it out from under me if my boss gets sick of looking at my face.

          1. Try any other industry, cupcake*

            “and the expectation that you’ll bring home work during your off hours”

            The horror, the horror.

            1. Another fine product from the burnout factory*

              So, I think we should be horrified, generally, at being asked to work outside of contracted hours without payment for it.

              Being willing to work more than you are paid for doesn’t just hurt you, it hurts your co workers, who are held to standards that you set.

              And, working longer hours to get promoted is sort of like artists working for “exposure”. It’s unclear if it works, and you can’t eat the possibly of a promotion in future.

      7. Stacy*

        Big Five, not Big Four. And yes, you really should move to NYC. One big reason you might not be getting responses is because you’re not local. No publisher is going to move an entry-level worker to NYC.

        (I am a publisher and editor at a small press in NYC, and the only reason I got my move covered here was because I already had 10 years of experience and I started a company they were acquiring as an imprint. Absolutely no one was willing to talk to me even for job interviews when I was applying 10 years earlier from Boston at the end of my master’s program.)

        It’s *possible* to find jobs outside of NYC, but you’ll have the most success in finding something entry level here, and the most possibility of getting yourself on a trajectory that will give you the experience you want to go anywhere, NYC or elsewhere.

        If you’re in another major metropolitan area like Chicago, Boston, or Seattle, again: it’s possible to find something locally, depending on what you want to do. But it also depends on what *part* of book publishing you want to be in. If you want to do children’s books, for example, doing editorial assistant-assistant editor-associate editor years in an adult nonfiction imprint isn’t going to allow lateral moves, especially once you’ve gotten to a certain point in your career, so it’s best to relocate to where the companies are you want to work for.

        All that said, there simply aren’t that many jobs in publishing these days, period. So it will be a slog. Good luck.

        1. anon name*

          Highly disagree that NYC is the best place to get started entry level. People love to act like NYC is the only place that has entry level publishing work and that’s not true. As people have mentioned upthread, plenty of other major cities have publishing industries. I don’t think it’s helpful to push the idea that NYC is the only place you can start a career in publishing.

          1. Working Mom Having It All*

            One reason it can be hard to start out elsewhere is that there just aren’t that many publishers in those cities. Someone was talking about San Francisco and mentioned a whopping TWO publishers based there. I’m sure there are some others, but even so, it’s a numbers game. And being where the jobs are (not just a few jobs, but ALL the jobs) is going to help your numbers.

            I work in film and television and grew up in New Orleans. Lots of movies and a few shows shoot in New Orleans, and my family has spent years trying to convince me to come home because “there are so many jobs here!” But so many jobs is, like, three jobs. Compared to the 3000 jobs in my field in Los Angeles, the mecca of the film and TV industries in the US.

          2. Stacy*

            I say it because I know the industry. There are simply more publishing companies in NYC–that’s just the reality of a very tough industry. I have worked in publishing in Chicago, Boston, and Seattle, and yes, the industries there exist… and are very hard to break into. Numbers-wise, NYC is the place where most publishers are, that’s all.

            Had I to do it all over again, I might not get the master’s in children’s literature while working at Houghton Mifflin and barely making ends meet, and coming out $100k in debt in student loans; instead, I would have moved to NYC and worked to get an entry-level job.

            I don’t like NYC, and I don’t recommend living here, honestly. But that is the reality of the industry.

      8. Working Mom Having It All*

        Yes, if you want to work in publishing, you have to live where publishers are. This is probably why you’re having so much trouble finding work. Most small companies in competitive, shrinking industries aren’t going to pay to relocate someone, and they will interview and hire a local over someone who would need to fly in to even meet with anyone in person.

        (This can sometimes be worked around if, for example, you live in Philadelphia or Boston and can sleep on a friend’s couch while you interview a few hours away in NYC. But if you live a flight away from where publishers are located, you will not get the job. Period.)

      9. HardReturn*

        Sticking my oar in a little late.

        I’ve worked in publishing about 30 years. So many people want to work in publishing. Every week I receive “cold” email résumés asking for jobs I just don’t have. I don’t know what kind of publishing position you’re seeking (editorial, sales, marketing, production, design, etc.) but that you’re getting interviews tells me that you’re going about it the right way. And so many applicants don’t.

        I’m guessing–and this isn’t a criticism–that in considering librarianship as a backup career you’re a “book person” maybe hoping for editorial work? If I’m wrong, I apologize, but this is something I see a lot of–everyone wants to be an book editor, so there’s lots of competition. But so many people overlook working on the business side of the book publishing. Maybe spreadsheets and business plans don’t seem as interesting as helping a writer bring a manuscript to life, but I can tell you from experience the business side is and interesting and evolving place to be.

        It’s an interesting industry–more dynamic than most people think. You (probably) won’t get rich, but the work can be very rewarding. So don’t get discouraged.

    2. AnotherKate*

      Ex-publishing person, here.

      1. Yes, definitely be in New York if you aren’t already. But save a ton of money before you do, and plan to do well-paying temp work while you search for your publishing gig, because when you get it, it will not pay anything close to a living wage for some time (and unless you get involved in the business side, it’s never truly LUCRATIVE, although the salaries do get less austere with time).

      2. Publishing is like acting or performing–if there’s ANYTHING else you could see yourself doing, do it. It’s a job that rewards those who are truly passionate (and truly good at living on a dime in one of the most expensive places in the country, or who have a trust fund/family help/some other kind of nest egg. NO shade whatsoever if that describes you; some of the brightest and most successful people in publishing have the bulk of their money coming from family or a spouse in a more lucrative gig. For me, it was never going to work because I just couldn’t live on the salary and the stress of never having enough money was killing me). It’s also a job that can grind you down if you have any other hobbies or places you’d rather spend your time. For me, I have always loved reading, and am a good editor. However, there came a point when the load of things I had to read was so heavy, it started ruining reading for me. If I read for pleasure, I felt guilty I wasn’t reading for work. When I did read for work, I started hating everything I read. Ultimately, my passion for books wasn’t singular enough for what the gig required.

      3. Good luck–the publishing world, for all its problems, does have a great contingent of people working in it, and the atmosphere can be really fun and rewarding (and the parties, in spite of everyone’s insistence that print is dying, are pretty great).

      1. Stacy*

        Yep. I’m nearly 10 years into living in NYC, nearly 20 years into my publishing career, and I’m just *barely* getting back on my feet financially (especially because I was one of many editors affected by the 2008 crash, when I was laid off). If you can do ANYTHING else, do it. But if this is what you want to do, you have to figure out how to get it done.

    3. SunnyD*

      I got into business, after being really hostile to the idea, and love it. Big companies are microcosms with all these fields you can try out and slide into without having to Interview. I’ve learned so much and gotten so much experience, just by being curious, making connections, and willing to step up and try to help fix problems. And the salary is way better than when I only had this one set idea of what I wanted to do (which frankly relied hard on idealized expectations for my goal field, and judgment of business).

      All to say… Publishing isn’t the only place you can be happy, and in fact may make you miserable. Be open to the doors and windows that open in your path.

    4. RainyDay*

      10+ years in academic publishing here – I’m assuming you’re interested in trade, but $80k is a TON of money to pay for a program that miiight get you in the door for a low-paying assistant job. There are other avenues if you feel you need a degree/certificate (I know someone who spent a summer at Denver’s institute).

      I’ve worked at a number of the major academic publishers and only worked with a few people who got a degree in publishing. Two people got FT jobs thanks to an internship, but the rest of us are humanities majors (and the odd scientist) who fell into the gig. YMMV for trade, but just throwing that out there. $80k is a huge burden to place on yourself for a challenging field.

  3. I Heart JavaScript*

    Job searching is painful, there are almost no exceptions.

    I spent 2 years post-college trying to get a job in the field I wanted to pursue (nonprofit fundraising), then any professional office job. I was working retail to pay the bills and it was soul-sucking–both because I hated the work and because I couldn’t afford my bills. By the end of the 2 years, I was so thrilled just to get a basic reception job that I skipped out on an all-expenses paid, once in a lifetime trip that conflicted with my start date (yes, I asked about both but was told it was one or the other).

    My next job hunt was faster, but far higher stakes. After 5 years at the company that hired me as a receptionist, I had been promoted to an Executive Assistant and was on my way to making a good career out of being an EA in finance. But I hated it. So much so that I could’ve written the letter before this about having no motivation at work. So I learned how to code, quit my job (with nothing lined up!) and went to a programming bootcamp for 3 months. After graduation, I was then looking for a junior developer role with no experience in the industry and a college degree in a totally unrelated field. It was scary. Studying was a full time job, just not to look like a total fool. I had no money coming in, I was living off of my savings and I couldn’t get a part time or retail job this time because I needed the study time if I was going to succeed. I eventually ended up with a crappy developer job for a mortgage company based in another city, but it was a foot in the door and I went all in. I only lasted there 9 months (!!), but that was enough for me to become suddenly very desirable and get an excellent job at a company/website that most people in the US would recognize.

    My point is this: job hunts really suck. In competitive industries, they can feel impossible, especially when you’re a new grad or trying to change careers. They wear on your self-esteem. I didn’t feel normal and worthy of something better until I’d been at the finance firm for over 3 years. It took me another 2 years to be willing to risk the career change. But once you get that foot in the door, it becomes so much easier. Keep grinding and networking and hustling–once you have that first job, the subsequent jobs become so much easier.

    And don’t be afraid to reevaluate and decide that you’re actually interested in or passionate about something else. Sometimes that first (or second or third) job is what shows us what we actually want to do, rather than what we thought we wanted. It’s hard to know what will keep us happy when we’re so young and only have exposure to a narrow set of jobs. Be open to discovering new things! And good luck.

    1. JediSquirrel*

      Thumb’s up on the username. I’ll be sending you a box of semicolons for debugging purposes.

    2. Anon for this*

      Off-topic, but I am so glad you posted this. I’ve been in several years of something soul-sucking and underpaying just to keep afloat. I used to do some html/CSS stuff back in the day, for fun (as part of fandom blogging), but never went into it professionally then. I just got accepted to a 3 month bootcamp, but have massive cold feet (though I know my existing situation is a a dead-end). Might you be willing come back on a Friday thread or e-mail a little bit about your post-bootcamp job search experience?

  4. JB*

    I work in publishing and one thing you might want to think about are those internships. How small were the presses? How well-regarded, awarded in the industry, otherwise notable? Were they local to your hometown or are they independent publishers on the East Coast? etc, etc. For better or for worse, this industry is one where saying “I interned in NYC for a year at Small Press A that an Industry Insider Would Know, as well as Literary Agency A and B that have a reputable and successful list” will get you further than more experience at a small press in, say, Nebraska, or a literary agent who doesn’t work much with the Big 5 and operates out of, idk, Tulsa. It sucks, because NYC is expensive and isolating, but tbh, a lot of getting into publishing is about outlasting the other people who want to get into publishing.

    If you have not yet and you can at all swing it, move to NYC. Get yourself a survival job – mine was at a bookstore and served me SO FREAKIN WELL. While you keep applying for jobs, apply for internships to keep building your experience. Even if you want to work on the house side, apply for lit agency internships, because there are more of them; focus your targets on where you see a lot of other editorial/publicity/marketing assistants on LinkedIn coming out of. Don’t give up, but do know that you’re going to have to hustle, a LOT, and once you get that first job, you will still be hustling for a While. Good luck!!

    1. Thursday Next*

      ^ Agreed re: how well-known/well-regarded those small presses are. I forgot to mention in my own comment that traditional book publishing really only exists in a few major cities (NYC above all in the US). It’s unfortunate that to work in the arts (where you’ll make no money), you also have to live in the most expensive cities.

      1. MissGirl*

        I disagree with this. There are loads of publishers outside NY if you’re willing to go small or niche. OP, should apply widely and be willing to move.

        1. Working Mom Having It All*

          Most companies, especially small companies in competitive fields, do not relocate entry level hires.

          It would be much better for LW to go where the publishing jobs are (NYC), rather than to stay in a small market and apply nationwide and be “willing to move”. Because for every small press in Iowa, Louisiana, or New Hampshire, there are 100 people already living in Iowa, Louisiana, or New Hampshire who are desperate to break into publishing. Why would they hire someone who lives across the country, who they can’t interview in person, whose connections they don’t know, whose references they can’t easily check, etc?

    2. momuniverse*

      One of the presses I interned for was small but founded by a well-known children’s author (I won’t name names, but she was one of the first to start the journal/notebook/diary craze), another was a nonprofit that published names like Gloria Andaluza and Audre Lorde. The place I’m currently interning at has books that have won the National Book Award and has very prolific authors and I believe are well known (I see our books often at the library I work at.)

      I suppose I should’ve mentioned I live on the West Coast and am NOT interested in editorial/marketing/publicity. I’m trying to break into production/operations.

      1. I edit everything*

        If you’re looking for production type work, you have a lot more location flexibility. Lots of publishers outsource that stuff (typesetting, copyediting, page layout, printing). So much of that is remote these days. My publisher was in NYC, but our go-to copyeditors were in Atlanta and Maine, and our typesetter was somewhere on the West Coast. Our manufacturing coordinator was an employee, but she worked out of her home office in Montana.

        1. owleyes*

          Definitely on the location flexibility. Lots of publishers outsource production, so you should be applying to printers, book packagers (not people who box up books, people who make them for other companies to put their name on, but at this stage you probably know that), copyediting firms (if you’re interested in that), distributors, etc.

          If you don’t want to get into editorial I’m doubling down on my “don’t move to NYC” suggestion. I’ve been to West Coast publishing conferences that had a bunch of printers exhibiting. (West Coast publishers, being smaller, are less likely to have in-house production, but plenty of the companies they outsource to are on the West Coast.) I do not, admittedly, know much about how to break into production specifically, but I’d say informational interviews are probably a good bet. Unlike editors, I think people in production and operations have way fewer people genuinely interested in their work/joining their field.

        2. Marin*

          Typesetting? Typesetting is done by software now, and you need to know the design programs, too.

      2. Iworkinpublishing*

        Oof yeah…production and operations jobs are rough right now! Deadlines only getting tighter, tariffs and conflict with China making paper and printing more expensive, a shrinking marketplace and consolidating retailers (B&N is about to be bought out, Baker and Taylor just closed down)..honestly, I’d be worried about this path more than other ones in publishing. It would be super high stress, based on my friends in these roles.

      3. La la laaaa*

        Not sure if you’re in the Bay Are but if you are…a few options:
        -You should look into UC Press — office moved to Oakland while I was interning there in college — or perhaps another university press wherever you are on the West Coast.
        -Also McSweeney’s is ~quirkier~ but publishes a well-regarded magazine and some books as well. My friend interned there and loved it.
        -The Public Library of Science hires a lot of people for copy-editing/research/production-type roles, in my understanding. I managed a college literary journal and we had several editors end up doing publishing there and then moved on to more traditional options.
        -One general piece of advice is to reach out to your university English department and specifically the students who run any literary journals there, and ask them for contacts and recommendations of where to apply. As mentioned above, the one where I worked ended up hiring multiple people from my small college organization just bc they proved a good network of entry level people.

        (I realize you aren’t looking for where-to-apply advice, so please ignore if this is hugely unhelpful…but I spent all of college thinking I wanted to go into publishing so I have all this spare knowledge that I haven’t used in years, wanted to pass it on.)

      4. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

        (I can’t believe I am going to say this …)

        Have you considered newspapers? At least in the short term? Layout/production/ops is rarely what most news guys (and gals) are really interested in or excel in, and it’s really also not exactly graphic design, either. Some places still call it “typesetting” though, as I am sure you know, it’s mostly computerized now.

        These jobs don’t pay all that well, either, and as an industry that is as rapidly shrinking and morphing, it may not be a long term goal, but it will certainly get you experience working on tight deadlines … and these opportunities are available in most cities all over the country.

      5. Production person*

        Oh man, production is tough. It’s a total fluke that I have my current job because most companies have outsourced all the production overseas (mine included; 90 percent of my job is supervising the overseas people who are doing the actual work that I wish I were doing). So the jobs are simply not there, in the US, any more.

        If you’ve got any interest in project management that might be an easier way in. They haven’t figured out how to outsource that – yet, haha!

  5. coffee cup*

    I work in publishing but I’ve never tried to get into books. It’s just way too competitive. I opted for STM publishing, which tends to have more opportunities. I’d advise you look at less ‘glamorous’ publishing as a way to get experience and if you can afford it take a course or two if that’s available to you. I think with this kind of industry you have to get a bit more creative, because it just is one of those where there are more people than jobs.

    I’ve actually interviewed and recruited interns at my company and I can say that when I’ve had to reject someone after an interview it’s usually been incredibly close and very tough. The last time I did it was the worst. We had two positions to offer and three people I liked equally. It came down to tiny, tiny things in the end because that’s what we had to do. But it really sucked to turn people down. One of the things that made it easier was being able to give personal feedback rather than a stock letter, which helps no one. I think you’re feeling dejected because of the search (I get it, I’ve been there!) but try to take positives.

    1. Manders*

      This is great advice. In addition to looking at less glamorous fields in publishing, it might also help to think about whether there are any other paths into publishing you might be missing. I’ve heard from friends in the field that the competition is fierce for editors and graphic designers, but publishing houses need plenty of highly skilled people in other areas too.

      You might also be able to find an industry that will let you build some job skills while you also hang out your own shingle on the side. A lot of my friends in publishing did freelance editing work to build their resumes while something else was paying the majority of their bills.

      1. momuniverse*

        I definitely should’ve mentioned that I have very little interest in editorial, publicity or marketing. I’m seeking operation, production or publisher’s office roles.

        1. Thursday Next*

          Ah, well that does make things easier! There are way more production roles available in educational/academic/professional publishing, I’ve found. They’ll also be better paying, since they’re not in the “arts” per se. I would steer clear of trade publishing.

        2. coffee cup*

          I do equal editorial and production where I work. Production is really useful in smaller, non-fiction publishers, such as journals. Editorial office is another option, and where I started.

        3. anon name*

          Then I’d actually say NYC is not the place for you. San Francisco, Boston, or Portland, Oregon is where you should keep looking.

          1. Fortitude Jones*

            Ohio (Columbus mainly, but also Cincinnati), Chicago, Philly, and Minneapolis are also good if OP wants a production role (educational and small press roles/indie publishing in particular).

        4. RainyDay*

          There’s some really interesting stuff going on in academic publishing right now. Check some of the big guys – many have editorial offices in NYC but maintain multiple offices across the globe.

          1. curly sue*

            How much of that can be done remotely? I’ve been freelance editing for a fiction publisher as a sideline for about five years now and I’ve been eyeing a move into academic publishing, but I’m settled in my current city and not looking to move for the time being.

            1. RainyDay*

              I’ve worked with plenty of remote freelancers. If you’ve got a solid track record, being remote shouldn’t stop you from picking up gigs in the scholarly world. FT positions are more typically office-based but those are remote occasionally as well. The Society for Scholarly Publishing has a good job board and I’ve seen some remote positions there.

    2. JB*

      I would actually steer OP from starting somewhere other than trade, if trade is what they want to do. The foot in the door is more like… in a different building. All of my friends who started in academic or elsewhere hoping to make the jump to trade took YEARS to do it, and one even went back to interning for a while.

      1. Former Media Grunt*

        Agreed with this. I made a jump from academic to trade, but that was because our house was the academic wing of a larger trade press and the hiring editor I ended up working for was married to a coworker, so I was personally vouched for. It’s really two separate worlds.

      2. Thursday Next*

        I worked in educational publishing for a few years, but I also freelanced for a major trade publisher to keep my toes in the water. And when I made the jump to working in trade full-time, I was back down the lowest rung on the ladder. Which is also why those entry-level roles are so competitive! I had almost four years of publishing experience before I landed one.

      3. Stacy*

        Same here. Moving laterally is nearly impossible after a certain point. Better to get a foot in the door in the right department.

      4. coffee cup*

        I guess what I’m aiming at is if you really want to work in publishing, does it have to be books at all? I started out thinking yeah I’ll move to working in books sometime, but now I don’t think it’s even something I’m bothered about. If it truly is the passion, then sure, go for that, but if it’s to ‘work in publishing’ I just mean that there are other ways to do that.

  6. Thursday Next*

    Hi LW, I work in book publishing and I just want to re-affirm that it is REALLY hard out there. This is a very nepotistic industry with very few opportunities, and it often comes down to who knows whom. I don’t want to kill your dreams, but I do think you should really consider how hard it will be to break into this industry, how much unpaid labour will be required, and how low the salaries are once you do get in. This becomes a big barrier to entry for people who don’t come from privileged backgrounds, which is also a big part of why the industry is still SO white/straight/cis/able-bodied/etc.

    So it’s going to be a fight to break in, but things that can better prepare you are: networking, volunteering at industry events, joining the organizing committee of a book festival (again, volunteer), engaging with the online book blogging community, looking for roles in educational publishing (not as “fun” as trade publishing, but better paying and more jobs available) or other publishing-adjacent industries to get some experience on your resume and see what else is out there.

    Book publishing is not just a day job — you really need to be prepared for (and excited by) the prospect of it taking over your social life, too. If that seems unlikely, and you want to prioritize a work/life balance, I’d really consider branching out into other industries. For example, I know a lot of people who have moved over into comms roles in the tech world — it’s much better paying and a lot easier to break into.

    Good luck!

    1. RC Rascal*

      OP— exercise caution when pursuing retrenching industries, especially when you are young and have options. As the industry shrinks there will be more seasoned talent a available than roles. Provided you land that coveted first role , expect a future of longer searches between roles, shrinking compensation, & a higher likelihood of relocation to pursue future roles. Consider now how you can apply your talents to adjacent areas that may be growing , for example online content.

    2. Anoooon*

      Yes, if you’re willing to work in non-trade publishing, there may be good opportunities out there. I work for a small technical publisher. There’s a healthy work/life balance, the pay is decent, and I didn’t have to do any unpaid labor to get my foot in the door.

    3. YouGottaThrowtheWholeJobAway*

      Ha @ThursdayNext, several of my former publishing officemates from back in the day are now in tech comms.

      Coming in to second all of the above from everyone. Publishing has been shrinking by the year and in a lot of cases there is not a 1:1 replacement rate for jobs. A lot of assistant/entry jobs that existed a decade ago were culled in the recession and they never came back. A department I worked in lost 3 out of 6 jobs in one day in 2010 — that was not uncommon. It used to be a very hierarchal pathway but there just aren’t as many footholds in as there were. And a lot of people are moving internally or are moving over from another entry level role elsewhere, so in many cases you are not fighting against other people without experience.

      Some advice (12 years in publishing as of next month, some trade, but mostly academic/education side of things for the past years):

      -If you aren’t in NYC or commuting distance of NYC already, get here. No one will hire you from afar when they have 200 candidates for one assistant job ready to work tomorrow — my old work at at a big 5 company (*at the time it was the big 6) used to cut off applicants at 300 for a job that paid $28k a year. This is unfortunate and very expensive, but it is the reality. Get another job here. Paid NYC work experience will count for more than outside NY experience, and in many cases unpaid internships. A well known trade editor once told me he would pick a waitress over an MFA grad any day because it shows work ethic and being able to put up with a fast-paced workload. You don’t need that NYU degree, just a friend or roommate with access to their email listserv (or Columbia’s or Denver’s). Do not get a Masters in Publishing; if you feel must add educational credentials, one of the 3 summer intensive grad courses are the same thing for waaaaay cheaper and less time — that’s just about buying access to the job lists / networking stuff and adding something to the resume, the grad credit is not of consequence and honestly it’s more important to bond with other up and comers in the field because you never know when one of their grandmas can rent you a room in NJ for cheap (that was the step I needed to move here!).

      -Apply for temp jobs from agencies that work with publishers. This will allow you to meet more people for when permanent roles come up, who can get you even farther because they have worked with you already. I don’t have the team structure now, but my old boss/department hired 3 temps into permanent roles over the course of about 5 years.

      -Don’t waste too much time on trying for prestige editorial roles out of the gate. That EA job at FSG or Knopf is going to someone’s nephew or whatever, do not waste the time! If you can get in another department, try for that. If you can put in 2 or 3 years with the big 5 in another role (this is important do not jump ship before that, it pisses people off), you may also have a better chance to get in for that EA role.

      -Apply to a variety of publishers, not just ones in your area of interest. Fiction will be harder to get into than nonfiction, and that will be harder than education/academic. *Children’s is its own even more difficult universe. If you are trying to get into fiction editorial, you may have to take a circuitous path to get to an area you are interested in.

      -Go to all the YBP stuff! Even if it’s just to listen and socialize. It’s also just good to have other friends in publishing because it’s really, really hard those first years.

      -Decide if you can be happy doing anything else. If you can, do anything else. A lot of people in publishing are not living on their salaries alone and those of us who did not have family/husband money had to work harder and make more compromises. In my case that was settling for “not an Editorial role”, because I decided I didn’t want a second job in my 30s, and wanted stuff like sleep and work/life balance.

      – I am sure I am not the only person who can offer advice but not a job, because of course, no one in my vicinity is hiring for entry level right now.

      1. YouGottaThrowtheWholeJobAway*

        Oh my gosh I meant YPG – young to publishing! not YBP (yankee book peddler, a very different thing, ha). Messed up my acronyms.

      2. Stacy*

        Sadly, YPG died earlier this year. It was such a good networking opportunity, and it just vanished for no reason I can figure out.

    4. AngryOwl*

      I was going to write up an answer, and then I saw everything I was going to say here! So +1 to everything Thursday Next says here.

      I am a former book editor now in comms in the tech space. My plan wasn’t to end up here, but the only place I could get an EA job at out of college was a tech publisher, and I rose through the ranks there before choosing to move on. It turned out to be an amazing opportunity, and I love where my career has ended up.

      There is hope!

    5. Wendie*

      I don’t think this will help with the OPS question, which is about how to feel better. This is gatekeeping. Especially the last para.

  7. Jerk Store*

    This is also shows one of the issues Alison has spoken about when it comes to personalized rejections with actionable recommendations like, Focus On Larger Presses, because it’s sooo subjective. Maybe a press the same size would love to have you, and maybe a larger press wants people with more experience.

  8. I edit everything*

    Getting a publishing job was the hardest job hunt of my life. It was endlessly frustrating, and I wound up taking a job well outside my preferred area (I’d been hoping for fantasy fiction and ended up in academic religious studies). Kudos to you, OP, for getting interviews. I got blessed few even of those. NYC is hard, if that’s where you are, because it’s where *everyone* goes to get into publishing, so while there are lots of jobs there, there’s also a huge pool of applicants. Contrary to what someone above said, you might consider looking outside NYC. Chicago, LA, Seattle, Boston.
    You never know where your career path will lead. I started out an EA for a tech website, went to grad school for publishing, hoped to get into fantasy, worked in biblical studies for 8 years, and now I’m freelance editing a mix of romance and self-help. It’s dizzying. And so very tough. Hang in there. It took me a year to find my first real post-grad school publishing job.

    1. MissGirl*

      Yes, I worked at a publisher outside of NY and I got a job doing a whole lot more than other entry level stuff.

  9. Uncle John's Band*

    I used to work in publishing… I wish I could tell you there’s a secret, but there really isn’t one. Here’s what I can tell you. I’m not sure what area of publishing you’re interested in. Editorial is obviously the great dream and the level of competition is ridiculous. So much so, that I would argue (at least 20 years ago) that it’s almost entirely made up of Who You Know. Submitting a resume to a large publishing house without a “sponsor” is almost akin to submitting your unpublished book to the slush pile. If you’re lucky someone will pick it up and read the first paragraph. (This is also why there’s been a movement in the industry to diversify) That’s not meant to dampen your dream, just to give you a little context to take the sting out of rejection.

    The departments outside of editorial — marketing, rights, sales — are a bit easier. But, I have to say, transitioning from one to editorial isn’t a sure thing. You would have to demonstrate rock star ability and again have a mentor on the editorial side to make the move. You can also try the genres outside of adult literary fiction, commercial non-fiction you might have better luck — kids, art books, BtoB. But the same rules apply for transitioning to the ever-coveted literary fiction side. It’s not easy.

    But, be aware the same issues still apply. My recommendation is to read the Publishing trades to get the latest info, see if you can join YPG (Young to Publishing Group), network the heck out industry events. And I would also consider why you’re so interested in publishing. Many folks assume because they love books, it’s a great place to be. But, honestly, you could work for a library system, bookstore, a book distributor, a book trade organization (BookExpo) and still be in the know about the book industry.

    1. momuniverse*

      My desire to be in publishing comes from 1) a desire to create books (physical objects, not necessarily the text) and 2) understand how they work. Definitely not interested in editorial but I think you are right and I might just have to find something publishing adjacent.

      1. Properlike*

        I work (volunteer) in a publishing-related field on the writing side. Another commenter has said what you may already know: books are not a career, they’re a passion project. The publishing field is changing and shrinking at such a rapid pace that no one is quite sure what’s happening, but the physical book production is not how it used to be.

        Does it have to be physical books for you? Our organization’s booth was next to a small press that made books as art (chap books, poetry, etc.) Would you be happy working to get books into non-paper formats? Experiment with defining new defitions of “books?” My suggestion would be helping authors in self-publishing produce quality products and helping them navigate that to produce a professional product.

        Librarians aren’t book people anymore, either. They deal in information — finding information, teaching people how to find and evaluate information. (I have a *ton* of library friends.)

        It sounds like you’ll need to drill down into those specific skills that make you happy about a job, and apply them to a different industry for the long-term. Keep a foot in books and publishing, join those organizations, and maybe a move back in will materialize in the future. But it’s kind of like coal mining right now.

        1. OrigCassandra*

          Well, we are book people. We’re just not ONLY or EXCLUSIVELY book people. :)

          OP, there is a niche of academic librarianship called “library-as-publisher.” I suggest checking out Educopia and the Library Publishing Coalition to find out more. Academic libraries are also becoming administratively responsible for an increasing number of university presses. A few public libraries are experimenting with helping patrons self-publish; what you’ll see here is typically closer to trade-publishing work, but much of it is ebook-only or -mostly, which may not suit you as well.

          A librarian and educator of librarians (and archivists, and records managers, and web people, and information-security/privacy folks, and digital asset managers, and taxonomists/ontologists, and information-governance folks, and A/V and digital preservationists, and prospect researchers, and school-media specialists, and and and…) who came to librarianship from publishing production

          1. Bibliovore*

            Came to say something similar. Started out as a bookseller. Moved into publishing as the lowest of the lowly assistant in sales. Moved over to marketing. Got a library degree. Public librarian, moved over to school librarian, moved to academic. Very involved with our “library as publisher” program. Still a book person- there are other people for the data and technology

      2. Uncle John's Band*

        Honestly, if you’re interested in the creation of a physical book, than the best department would be the design department, but without experience in art/design, that’s going to be a challenge. Publishers typically outsource the construction of their books. (Slow boat from China is a real thing — or at least it was a decade ago). Look at the copyright page of the books, they may mention vendors used to put the books together. For complicated construction, authors may even thank vendors in the notes.

        If its the construction you’re really into, I’m just going to throw out a recommendation to look at pop-up books. These are usually kids books, but can be art books as well. These type of books usually require a different sort of skill set and so it’s more likely that a good company who puts them together is regularly mentioned and used and may be a good name to know.

        Also, an alternative from Proper’s comment about librarians dealing in information. I know librarians who literally read, select the books that go on shelves. So, while librarians who work at a circulation desk deal in information, there are definitely library jobs that handle books.

      3. PubProd*

        Honestly, if you’re willing to relocate, you might want to look into the factory side of book manufacturing. Customer Service, sales rep, file prep, pre-press and digital production… there’s a whole world of people who work outside of the publishing house who make a book a finished physical object. (plant tours and on-press approvals are one of my favorite parts of my job haha). The other bonus would be living in a much lower cost of living area, if ‘city living’ isnt your style (trying to shift my career to the factory side of production is my personal backup plan for if/when I get absolutely sick of New York)

      4. e271828*

        It sounds to me as though you want to work at a press or bindery, not in publishing. “Publishing” means the editorial end, as you see from comments here.

        There is a huge and active book arts community in the Bay Area, including people producing small editions, one-of art books and fine bindings, and doing binding for small presses. Have you been going to CODEX? Have you taken any classes at and started networking at the San Francisco Center for the Book? The presses are what everyone notices, but you can learn the basics of bookbinding and learn more about what kinds of jobs might be possible now in production.

        Bookbinding/book making has had a renaissance in the past ten to fifteen years. Much of this is concentrated in artists’ books, but there is some work in other areas using bookbinding skills. The gold standard for physical bookmaking is probably still the North Bennet Street School’s program, but if you’ve already done college and internships, you may not want to detour into that.

        1. Lore*

          Publishing is far from entirely the editorial side! Honestly, the best opportunities at my (big 5) employer right now are in analytics and consumer insights-type marketing (partly because the good people in those kinds of jobs keep getting snatched away by tech companies for massively more money). The advice about freelancing is valuable if you want in on the managing ed/production editor side. For operations, publishers’ office, etc, learn SAP or other database management (seriously the least replaceable person on my floor is our FileMaker guru) and learn SQL and other analytics tools. Readership data and better consumer outreach are the
          holy grail in trade publishing right now.

    2. Bee*

      YPG is unfortunately dead, unceremoniously killed by the AAP with no explanation. Which is a real shame because it was SO important to so many of us.

      1. Uncle John's Band*

        That’s too bad! Obviously my advice has lost some of its relevance. Publishing has left a mark on my soul though (not a good one), so I couldn’t help myself. It was an industry that wanted to take the moral high ground, but ends up out of touch and out of reach. (Perhaps not too dissimilar from my advice!)

      2. YouGottaThrowtheWholeJobAway*

        Oh man what a bummer, that is crap! I am no longer young (to publishing over elsewhere) but that is a huge lifeline cut off for the newbies.

  10. MissGirl*

    OP, I worked in book publishing for ten years before realizing I could be just as happy in another field making twice as much money. In fact, I’m happier because now I can go on these things called vacations.

    Book publishing has become a passion field. You don’t go into it to make money but because you love it. Due to that, you see a lot of people working long hours for little pay with a long line to get those jobs.

    Reset your expectations, branch out in your applications, and know it’s going to take a while. In the meantime, figure out what hard skills you lack and see if you can improve those.

    I had two interns quit because they thought they’d be spending all day reading manuscripts when I had them coding ebooks. I got my first job because everyone worked in Quark and I had some Adobe experience. Flash forward a few years and everyone was in Adobe.

    Publishing means starting at the ground floor and being a jack of all trades, especially if you’re looking at small presses. I was an editor, designer, coder, marketer, contract negotiator, and whatever else they needed me to be.

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      Yeah, there’s just lot much money for anyone in books right now, from authors to publishers (except for the rare exception who makes it huge, but that’s not most people). It’s a little bit like acting. Lots of people want to do it, one or two will make it big.

      1. Properlike*

        I know several bestselling authors with well-known book series through my job. Every single one of them talks about how drastically their sales receipts have shrunk in the last 10-20 years. (We’re talking 50-70%.) The writing organizations are seeing the same shrinking with their budgets. “Making it big” is a completely different metric than it used to be. You might be well-known, but you’ll still need to keep your day job.

        1. Sloan Kittering*

          Yeah, I heard the average traditional published author makes like $7K a year (and that’s among the people who are actually published, which it theoretically the top, what, 5%?). Self published is lower. You used to be able to get a big advance – 50K, 100K, more – on spec, and *then* write the book – now they want you to present the finished book to them and they’ll pay you maybe 5K for it, with the option for royalties. Authors tend to blame the publishers for taking the money, but as OP can attest, there really isn’t that much money to steal because most people don’t buy books at cost – the publishers aren’t making much either. It’s too bad.

      2. Elizabeth West*

        Yep. Of all the published authors I know personally, only one doesn’t have a day job, and he’s been in it for over twenty-five years and has multiple irons in the fire (comics, etc.). He also doesn’t have health insurance and had a major accident not long ago; the bills had to be crowdfunded.

        Right now, I’m concentrating on the day job part of it. Because insurance is nice.

  11. Bee*

    I am also in book publishing, and it took me six months of actively applying to get a job (which was a year after I graduated, because I did an internship that fall), and it ended up being through a connection from my internship. One of the places where I interviewed gave me the classic “overqualified” line, which felt absolutely bonkers to me – I was a new grad! How was that possible! But once I got the job I did, I was SO grateful they’d turned me down, because they were 100% right that I would’ve been bored out of my mind, and it would’ve kept me from getting the much-better-fit job that I did.

    You’re only six weeks post-graduation, and while I totally get the frustration and powerlessness involved here, it’s likely to be a long haul. Do whatever you can to keep getting experience (slush reading for a top-tier literary agent or journal, for example), get a job that will help you save up money and understand when you leave (I worked at a used bookstore in my hometown), and lean into your network for recommendations. This is a hugely competitive industry, especially at entry level, where they might be looking at literally dozens of people who are extremely well qualified. A recommendation from someone they know can be the differentiating factor – it was for me.

    Good luck!

    1. momuniverse*

      OP here: Something else I should’ve mentioned, I graduated last year. The (paid) internship I’ve been at the last seven months is my first publishing “job” post graduation.

  12. NothingIsLittle*

    Just wanted to say that I went to college for publishing (specifically) and ended up going for a long time without a job. It got to the point where I couldn’t be unemployed anymore, and I ended up getting a job at a University. It’ not what I pictured myself doing, nor is it what I want to be doing 10 years down the line, but I like the people I work with and it’s giving me time to build up my resources and experience. It’s working out for me because my end goal was academic publishing anyway, but it might be worth considering jobs in a publishing adjacent field and keeping up-to-date in other ways (book blogging, volunteering, etc) if you find yourself unable to continue being unemployed.

    1. Aggretsuko*

      Yeah…I think reasonably at some point you probably have to settle for what you can get and consider yourself fortunate if you end up in a reasonable situation. If I were the OP I’d branch out applying in other areas besides the dream field.

  13. Sloan Kittering*

    This reminds me of my friends who get super outraged about “how” they were broken up with – but really, I suspect that’s a distraction from the fact that it hurts to get broken up with. It hurts to be rejected on a post it or in face to face or by email or on the phone. It’s not what you wanted to happen.

    1. Aggretsuko*

      Yeah, there’s no good way to make it suck less. You can make it suck more (i.e. ghosting, being insulting, doing it on camera) but you can’t make it less awful.

  14. FormerEditor*

    Heyo, former small-press editor here.

    I think, OP, the most important thing to ask yourself is: what is it about book publishing that makes it feel like it’s your one true calling? Is it genuinely about the work, or is it just because of the perceived glamour of making books for a living and what that would say about you as a person? (I’m not trying to come off as harsh, that’s a very valid reason!) I think sometimes people get caught up in the idea of a job, but once they actually land the job, it turns out it’s not the magical life cure-all they were hoping for. I that New York publishing life is what you crave, then pursue it, by all means – you’re young and it’s okay for you to take some time to get your career started.

    But if your reasons are something like wanting to help get authors published or anything other than the prestige of it, I would second what a few other people have said and look into whether there are other routes you can take to get there. If you’re willing to move anywhere, you might be able to find a job at a smaller, lesser-known press that maybe no one in New York has heard of, but where you enjoy the work and feel like you’re making a difference. One of the most rewarding jobs I’ve had was working for a small academic journal, because I was responsible for editing papers that had taken years and years of research and that was an important task for me. It wasn’t as glamorous as book publishing, but I felt good about what I did and it scratched the publishing itch for me. I was able to say “I’m an editor at an academic publishing house” and know that I didn’t have to live anywhere I didn’t want to in order to make it happen.

    I’m not sure my message is really coming across here, but I think there’s this very strong “I need to move to New York!” energy when you’re just out of college and looking to get into the publishing industry. For certain types of people and certain types of publishing, this can be the right answer! But don’t think that the only meaningful publishing, even book publishing, is happening in New York. I would hate to see you move there because you felt like you “had to” and end up miserable or broke or both if there was another way. You can have a career in publishing without ever living in New York, it just might look a little different than you expected.

    (By the way, I worked so hard to become an editor only to realize I actually wasn’t cut out for it at all! I transitioned into content writing for a digital marketing company and it’s a way better fit for my skills. So be open to following whatever path you end up on! You might end up somewhere even better than you thought.)

    1. FormerEditor*

      If**** that New York publishing life is what you crave

      And now we see why the editor life was not for me. I’m the typo queen!

    2. 5 month mommy*

      This comment hits me hard. When I was in the LW’s position, there were a few interviewers who tried to convince me that I didn’t want to be in publishing. But I loved books, I loved editing books, and I thought these people were particularly terrible interviewers (and I think they were, to some extent). But I commuted to new york for years and struggled to enjoy editing novels that received little success, working around the clock for minimum wage. When I finally expanded my search to outside New York, and thought more about the type of work/life balance I wanted, I found the perfect role in production at a trade magazine (a trade I have no interest in). “It scratched the publishing itch for me”—I was good at editing, but found editing to be thankless, and I LOVE working in production, and I’ve never been happier.

      1. Sloan Kittering*

        Honestly I think part of the work of growing up/building your career is realizing that the things that “sound” the best (the prestigious roles, the thing you “should” want) may have zero overlap with what will make you happiest / most fulfilled – and you really don’t want to be one of those people who never figures this out until it’s too late.

  15. Ilikebookstoo*

    Hi – publishing person here too. OP, for the areas you’re listing, a lot of the folk I’ve seen hired at my mid-size publishing house have project management certifications, and many come from PM’ing at organizations like Google, Amazon, etc. I also really agree with the poster who said to avoid retrenching industries. Traditional publishing is at best constricting, and very possibly dying, and the people who are going to get squeezed in the future are largely in production. If this is really what you want to do, consider a few years in an adjacent field developing translatable skills – they’ll open a lot of doors for you. And yes, this is easier in NYC.

    1. YouGottaThrowtheWholeJobAway*

      Yes this a big consideration, a lot of Production roles are being outsourced directly from NYC to India or other cheap offshoring countries at this point. A lot of Production roles at my work went away 3ish years ago, never to return.

  16. LadyAbhorsen*

    I just got a job in publishing, having literally no experience or internships within the industry. However, what I did have was four years’ experience with clerical duties and organizational systems, with which I applied to an entry-level position in production. While I’m going to be starting from Square One on the publishing side, and have less to offer in that respect than a recent college grad with in-industry internships under their belts, I was told I was hired because my experience with the realities of handling, processing, and managing documents and data is incredibly valuable in this department, and they had no worries I’d be able to translate that form OldJob to pub.

    Which is to say, if you do get frustrated with this process, it might be useful to consider a sustenance job which could give you those kinds of skills.

  17. smoke tree*

    This sounds like such a publishing thing. I work in publishing and everyone I know in the industry has had these experiences. “You were an amazing candidate, but unfortunately, we had to give the job to someone with 30 years of publishing experience who for some reason applied for this entry-level position.” It’s just really hard to get your foot in the door, as you have experienced–I don’t have any great advice, unfortunately, but you’re not alone!

  18. 12*

    At one point when I was looking for my first professional job, my dad told me he had read that it takes 12 applications to get a job. This was during the recession, so I decided to assume it would take twice as many in a difficult job search environment. I literally wrote down each job application and checked them off when I got a rejection. No need to be disappointed by a rejection; that’s one closer to the job for me! It’s served me so well in successive job searches, and in dating as well. I just assumed there would be 11-23 no answers for every yes, and kept applying/dating. This strategy has gotten me a series of great jobs and one great husband.

    1. paperpusher*

      I like that way of looking at it, but feel free to up your number! I applied to over 100 jobs before I got a full-time job in libraries (I included more generic customer service applications as well – there weren’t 100+ library jobs posted in my country during that time!).

      Now that I have a steady job, I keep the spreadsheet and occasionally look at it to remember that life is a lot better than it used to be. Job hunting SUCKS.

      1. Sloan Kittering*

        I do think it’s very helpful though to switch your mindset from GET JOB, which is out of your control, to SEND APPLICATIONS, which is within your control. It’s subtle, but can be very empowering.

      2. 12*

        @paperpusher, it definitely depends on your industry! I think the point is to choose a number that is reasonable for your circumstances and not get discouraged when things don’t work out. If it turns out your circumstances are particularly difficult, 100 or 200 might be way more reasonable than 12 or 24. I managed to get a job within 12-24 each time in my particular field, but dating took several rounds of 12-24. My husband says his experience dating was that many women wanted to do a lot of vetting first, so he never ended up getting to meet them. Their loss – I followed my (somewhat honed) intuition, followed safety precautions, and just wanted to get more dates to get to 12 and then 24! The point is not to get discouraged and to keep looking for appropriate jobs/dates when one falls through.

        1. Burner*

          Ahahaha, during my last job search I really improved my ability to be rejected by doing exactly what you are talking about on the advice of a career counselor, and I remember thinking “I should approach dating this way too.” You are so right! Every rejection just gets you closer to the right one :)

          1. 12*

            @burner, it took a long time to be sanguine about it in a dating context, but once I figured it out, it really helped!!

  19. Iworkinpublishing*

    And 7 years in, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. I almost wish I’d been rejected more and forced to look elsewhere, in other fields: publishing is chronically low-paying, very corporate (resistant to change, broken systems and processes that people still cling to, systemically racist), and while I got into it because of my love of books, at the end of the day the books aren’t what matter most to most employees. It’s the whims of executive management (and avoiding their wrath) that guide day to day business at most publishers I know. If OP loves books, do as I should have done: keep them as a hobby! (Can’t believe I’m a dream-killer, I would have hated me a decade ago…)

  20. annakarina1*

    I had a really hard time trying to break into publishing in the mid to late 2000s. I had a few internships (one well-known magazine, one well-known alt weekly, one indie magazine, and a tiny literary agency) that didn’t go anywhere, and it was both a bad combination of economic instability in the publishing world and me just being a bad fit at each place I interned at. I ended up having a day job at a non-profit arts museum, and while I didn’t like it, it was a stable job for a few years. I ended up switching to the library and archives world, and finding my place there. I really feel for the OP struggling to break into the publishing industry, and how it must be much harder now than it was for me 10-15 years ago.

  21. YouGottaThrowtheWholeJobAway*

    @iworkinpublishing I relate so hard. Someone once asked me why I don’t try to get a culinary job and I was like, I’ve already ruined the magic of theatre and books for myself, why would I ruin cooking too?

    1. iworkinpublishing*

      Are we the same person, @yougottathrowthewholejobaway? (Bc yes, I am thinking about throwing the whole job away, and cooking and theater are my other passions.)

      1. Sloan Kittering*

        Cooking is a terrible industry! Terrible hours, low pay, and rampant sexism. Sorry to be a dream killer :( I think almost anything that people see as “creative” is probably oversubscribed and underpaid, but if you can *find* the creative aspects to jobs that don’t present that way, this may be the way to go.

        1. YouGottaThrowtheWholeJobAway*

          Oh lol Sloan Kittering, it is not my dream for those reasons and more! I like making one single pie at my leisure and licking the bowl; I do not want to get up at 4 am to lug bags of flour around for no health insurance.
          I was in theatre tech before so I hear the terrible pay/hours/sexism. That was why I went to publishing, the grass was greener at the time.

          @iworkinpublishing thank you for sharing my very specific damage.

  22. Cathy Gale*

    As a new person to the publishing industry, you don’t see how rare – incredibly rare – these personalized letters are. 12’s comment above points out that this can be seen as a numbers game – every no gets you closer to yes. In a way, it points out why those personalized letters are a gift. They don’t see *you* as another number.

    From another person who has been there, work on something related to your dream that you can do to reinforce your passion and your interest. It may be that you have to do a patchwork of things for a while, even ten years like I did. The important thing is that you do something fulfilling and that uses your skills in a way that you enjoy and feel productive.

    As I did, you might end up doing technical writing, front end web development, academic editing, managing corporate social media, collaborating on a labor of love small press magazine, or a dozen other things. I actually wanted to do film.

    The important thing is that you find things to do that are meaningful and enjoyable while you continue to hunt for the right position. By the time I got my “right position” I was in my early thirties and discovered a passion for a field that incorporated my “degree field” but also new skills I’d picked up.

  23. Samwise*

    OP, I have a 20-something friend who was set on a career in publishing and is currently working as an editor at a prestigious publisher in New York. In addition to the internships, volunteering, working on the college paper, and developing a very good network, my friend was advised to take the Columbia Publishing Course as a way to fast track into the biz, especially for NYC publishing. They are convinced that it made all the difference. It’s expensive, and I don’t know if it’s truly the thing that got them the job, but I pass the info on to you.

    You might info interview people like my friend, if you can, and check the job placement for the Columbia Course, as well as similar programs at other universities (NYU, U Denver for example).

  24. Editor now, intern then*

    LW, I feel like I could have written your letter a few years ago (at one point I did! I wrote Alison out of desperation after spending 18 months in the same internship with lots of good feedback and no job offers on the horizon). This industry is really frustrating – I’ve been involved in a fair bit of hiring in recent years, and its hard to turn down candidates because we see a lot of really wonderful people, and any one of them would be great at the job. I’ve also been involved in some reorganization and evolution of publishers; its been a bit volatile in recent years.

    A few people have said to look at academic/research publishing; I really second, third, and fourth that. It’s not glamorous like trade publishing, but its more stable. You don’t get to read books all day – but you wouldn’t in traditional publishing either! So much of this job is project management, is dealing with nervous authors and people entrusting what feels like their life’s work to you, and you guiding them through that. If those are skills you’ve developed in your internships, those will be immensely valuable, not only in publishing but in a lot of industries. If that’s the thing you love about publishing, then definitely make sure you’re emphasizing that in your cover letters and interviews – and if its not, then consider that a few years down the road you may find you’re frustrated the job isn’t all you hoped it would be.

  25. Kella*

    Regarding rejection letters: Last year I started accepting submissions for guest posts for my blog. Most aspects of writing on the internet are extensively documented by other bloggers so I searched for guidelines about how to write a rejection letter. Instead, I found dozens of posts of people complaining about rejection letters rejecting them the wrong way. There was one where someone complained about all three approaches in the same post: “They never responded to me, how rude!” “They just sent me a form letter, couldn’t be bothered to write a personalized note. How disrespectful!’ and then of course, “They gave me specific criticisms about what I could’ve done better, ouch! That’s not nice to hear!” So yeah, the problem is rarely the manner in which people rejected you, it’s the fact that they rejected you that you don’t like.

    Also, while I know hiring is different from reviewing submissions, I imagine this is true for hiring to some extent as well: I’ve found that the more personally tailored my rejections are, the more likely the person will take that as an invitation to continue negotiating and try to convince me to accept their piece, or say, “okay, well what if I did this instead? Then would you accept it?” It’s really tiring and makes form letters more and more appealing.

  26. Donkey Hotey*

    Yes, rejections suck, no matter if they are personalized or impersonal.

    My father in law once told me: No one is a “real” writer until they have received 100 rejections.
    Seems fitting that the rule would hold true for the flip side of the coin.

    Best of luck to you in your search.

  27. agnes*

    It’s really not about the letter. It is the rejection that sucks. I think that is an important distinction.

    I can almost promise you that anything said in 98% of rejection letters is not specific to you.

  28. OhGee*

    I started my career in publishing in 2003…in the purchasing department. (I wanted a job, and that particular, very unglamorous job paid better than an EA job, which is what I really wanted.) By the time I got interviews for EA jobs, I’d been promoted to buyer, and was making about 30% more than the EA jobs I longed for. Then I moved in to production project management – again, not the glamorous editorial life I’d imagined, but good pay with nice people. The last time I worked in publishing was 2012 – a contract gig that I knew I’d be leaving. I pitied the young women – exclusively women – who arrived as interns and hoped to become editors. All this is to say, as others have, please consider other possibilities for yourself. I now work in higher education, am paid well, have incredible benefits, and do interesting, challenging work. I never got my dream editorial job, and I’m pretty sure I’m better off for it. Take all you have to offer somewhere else.

  29. Nonprofit writer*

    OP, you may want to consider the nonprofit world. You can likely make more money (really!) and get to to writing /editing while working for a good cause. If you have an editorial background, larger orgs that have any kind of writing staff may be interested. It helps to have nonprofit experience but even volunteer work could help.

    I say this as someone who worked in publishing & then moved to nonprofit, and am now a freelance consultant. I kept doing some freelance editing while I was working full time so now even though my area of expertise is in the nonprofit world, I still get to work on a book every so often & enjoy it.

    Good luck!

  30. Buttons*

    I just want to acknowledge all the commenters who are in the field the OP is in, and who have offered up their experiences and advice. All of you help take Alison’s advice and resources to the next level, and I truly appreciate reading your comments. Thank you, Alison, for giving so many people the opportunity to contribute.

  31. Gaia*

    I recently received a rejection that said “while we haven’t selected our preferred candidates, we won’t be moving forward with you.”

    Uhhh thanks? You had to throw in that you haven’t picked the next round but it’s definitely not me, huh? LOL

    I’m sure they meant nothing by that though. I try to just be glad to hear something considering how often people get ghosted in the process.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Yikes, that does feel cold!

      I wonder if that’s their awkward way of saying “So it’s not you and if you see us re-post the position, it’s still not you.” :(

    2. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

      What’s worse – and sets off the bullcrap alert – is when you get a harsh rejection – and two months later, THEY ASK YOU TO RE-INTERVIEW!

  32. Thany*

    I wish I had more information about how to get into book publishing when I graduated in ’09. But NO ONE was hiring during the recession, much less publishing companies. And I had no network skills on how to navigate the industry. I love seeing the comments here about people who are presently and former publishing professionals and how it did or didn’t work for them. Despite my goals, I ended up going back to school for American Sign Language interpreting and then ended up starting a career in social work, which I love doing! And that was after three years of trying to knock on doors that wouldn’t open. I decided to take the open window where I saw opportunities, which started for me during my ASL program. Obviously you have some pretty positive interactions in getting interviews in this competitive field, and I hope your door will open, and if not check the windows. :) Good luck OP!

    1. awaskyc*

      That’s cause you were competing against people like me, with six years of experience as an assistant editor, just laid off, applying to entry level jobs. ’09 SUCKED.

  33. Working Mom Having It All*

    As someone in a difficult industry to break into, I will tell you. It’s not you. It’s that every job you apply for is a 1/100 chance of getting an interview. Every interview you get is a 1/3 or 1/5 chance of getting the job. It’s worse odds than a coin flip.

    And, yes, experience, connections, and good job hunting skills will help you increase the odds. But the reality is that in a field like this, there are a lot of qualified people with strong networks who know how to write a resume and ace a job interview. And so it goes…

    Of course, I’m a firm believer that, if you love it, you should stick it out. I’m a great example of the fact that, yes, it is possible to break into a difficult field. I wouldn’t tell anyone to pursue something they’re not passionate about because it’ll be easier to land a job. That said, you do have to be willing to brace yourself for a lot of rejection.

  34. MissDisplaced*

    Ugh! I’m sorry OP but trying to break into a specific industry like that limits your choices…and thus the opportunities and rejections hurt more.

    I used to work in publishing and it’s been brutal in that industry with mergers and cutbacks and so, so many magazines and papers disappearing. It’s why I got out. You seem to be doing everything right, so I’m not sure what else to tell you but to keep at it!

    Also, could you consider taking a side step approach to publishing such as trade journals or maybe working at a university that does their own research publishing? Some large chemical or pharma companies also publish their own research, and that could be an avenue to explore. I’m not saying it’ll be any easier, but maybe it could widen your pool to get more experience.

  35. Burned out hiring manager*

    There is no winning. And the less you say, the less ammo they have to argue with.

    That’s why I don’t even respond to applications that aren’t a fit anymore, and why my rejections are as vague as possible after an interview.

    I don’t have the time or energy to deal with all the arguments, desperate pleas, and insults.

    1. Anonymous Educator*

      There may be no “winning,” but if you’re going to piss of some people, you might as well piss off the people who don’t have any right to be pissed instead of the people who do have a right to be pissed. You’re doing the right thing. No phone screen or anything? No rejection needed. Everybody else not hired? Canned vague rejection.

  36. The Editor*

    Publishing is an extraordinarily competitive field so I would recommend looking at editing/proofreading positions outside of publishing houses. I edit insurance manuals at a major insurance company and I have friends that edit legal documents at law firms, textbooks at textbook companies, instruction manuals for appliances at manufacturing companies, etc. These jobs are less competitive than jobs in publishing houses and the pay is often better but you need to hunt for them a little.

    1. Fortitude Jones*

      Yeah, I always wanted to be in publishing – both as an author and editor – but I write and edit proposals in the software industry now and love it.

    2. New Job So Much Better*

      There are a lot of writing/editing jobs in non-publishing fields. I do this for a large, local mortgage company. I work on mortgage products/programs/guidelines, and we also have a marketing department that hires copywriters and media designers/writers.

  37. PinkPillow*

    I work in academic and educational publishing and it took me about two years to find a job. I have a PhD, I did a couple of internships, and I’ve done a lot of freelance academic editing. As other commenters have said, publishing is a very, very competitive field. One idea is to focus on getting freelance editorial work. You can build your resume, make connections, and earn some money in the meantime. Good luck!

  38. awaskyc*

    This thread is full of people who worked in publishing or used to, but I’m going to throw my hat in anyway.

    I worked in book publishing for a decade, for one of the prestige trade publishers. I no longer work in publishing and am much happier for it.

    Regarding the job hunt, I had two job searches, both for editorial assistant. Both lasted more than a year. The last one was 10 years ago and during the recession, and during that I applied to more than 100 jobs, went on 12 interviews, and got 1 offer. Just to peg your expectations, I would say to yourself that 100 applications is expected, so when you get rejection 57, you know there’s still nothing wrong with you—it’s just the market. Also, both jobs I got in trade publishing, I was rejected three (or four) times by that exact imprint before I got the job. Sometimes when they liked you but they went with another candidate, they make sure you’re top of the pile next time an opening comes up.


    I would strongly caution you to consider working in some other field. Book publishing is a prestige industry, and it’s in decline. Book sales have been flat to down every year for more than a decade. Amazon is the 800-pound gorilla, with almost half of all book sales in 2017, and they don’t give a crap about books. Their whole book business is a rounding error. They have in the past had something called the Gazelle Project, which was designed to take out small publishers. B&N has been declining for years and just got bought by a private investor for not that much. Baker & Taylor, a major distributor for indies, just exited the market.

    In short, it is not a good time in the land of books from a business perspective. There will continue to be a book publishing, I have no doubt, but there aren’t many opportunities in a shrinking industry, and all the people already in it will by fighting you for every one.

    What this means for you is that there is very little money and very little opportunity for advancement. People are lined up at the door for your job (as you are right now), so they can treat you like s***, and often do. My experience was both publishers I worked for spent zero attention to development, coaching, career planning, even to basic things like performance reviews. They also didn’t do anything to remove emotionally abusive bosses, because it didn’t matter how many people they made quit, they could always hire someone new.

    Since publishing is mostly in one of the most expensive cities in the world, and it pays incredibly little, I had a whole bunch of freelance gigs to make ends meet. So if I wasn’t reading submissions, I was copyediting on the weekend, or doing book reviews, or researching freelance articles. I read almost nothing because I wanted to. This made me hate authors. It took a year after quitting the industry to start liking fiction again.

    I also found that having a publishing resume got me exactly zero when trying to get a job in anything else. I had to go back to school for a masters to transfer careers. I’m five years into a new career now and find it much more engaging, fulfilling, and interesting—though no one wants to hear about my new job at parties.

    Book publishing has a cache to it—if you get into one of the big houses, you do feel like you’re part of a very exclusive club, and people treat you that way, too. If that’s what you want, it’s hard to get other places. But if what you want is to have a job with a lot of reading, or writing, or editing, or deal making, or project management, or marketing, or whatever it is that’s drawing you to publishing, I’d strongly recommend looking elsewhere for it. There are a lot of jobs that sound boring at first but scratch the itch you’re looking for, without all of publishing’s downsides.

  39. londonedit*

    Hello, fellow publishing person here. Would like to point out that even ‘glamorous trade editorial’ isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be! Years ago (if you were a commissioning editor) it was all lunches with agents and authors, book launches here there and everywhere…not so much anymore! We still have to explain to our authors that barely anyone actually has a proper ‘book launch’ nowadays, and publishers certainly aren’t willing to spend money on them.

    Anyway. I don’t know how useful my advice will be, because I work in UK trade publishing and it doesn’t seem *quite* as insanely competitive as the New York scene, but it’s still an extremely poorly paid industry and it is extremely competitive to get into. I feel so sorry for people trying to break into the industry now – when I graduated in 2003, I did some office temping and then got a job as a receptionist with a small but well-respected independent publisher. I didn’t even do any work experience or internships! That was great because I learned all about the company and what everyone did, and when an editorial assistant job came up, I asked if I could be considered, and I ended up getting it. I had some tough times in the 2008 recession – I was made redundant by a small company that had overstretched itself – but by that point I had enough editorial contacts to start freelancing, and a couple of good companies on my CV to impress interviewers with.

    16 years on and I’m pretty well established in my role (I chose not to go down the commissioning route, so I’m a desk/project editor) but because I decided I didn’t want to end up managing people and getting stuck in endless editorial and budgeting meetings, I’m in a mid-level job that really doesn’t pay much. And I mean REALLY doesn’t pay much, especially with London living costs.

    I know how much more difficult it is to get into the industry these days (I’ve been on the panel for a few university events aimed at students wanting to break into publishing, and I always feel like it’s an evening of crushing people’s dreams…) and I’d definitely suggest trying to get some related experience in a different industry (anything that involves writing/project management/communications etc) because publishing is so hard. And sometimes it’s quite depressing being in an industry that everyone keeps saying is shrinking and dying!

  40. TPS Cover Sheet*

    OMG you got a rejection letter!?!? Man, those are rarer than chicken’s teeth. Usually when you submit there is a ”due to high volume yada yada… if you haven’t heard back within 14 days yada yada..” And you never hear anything. You might get an automated ”we have received your application”, and if the AI parsing the cv’s has got SMTP rights, you get a form rejection within a day or so. I got an actual physical mailed postman-carried rejection letter this year, a form, but signed by a person (checked the ink), I framed it on the wall as it is so rare to get one. Might be worth a few bob on eBay…

  41. Retail not Retail*

    I got a rejection email and the language in the form letter is so indicative of the joys of job hunting.

    They had someone better suited for the role. The role of part time front end clerk at a grocery store. The same chain I worked at from 2012 to 2016 where I made my way up to customer service and was cross trained in many departments. What?!

    I just trot out that anecdote whenever anyone implies minimum wage job hunting is so easy.

  42. Kate H*

    As an aspiring author with a few hundred rejection letters from publishing, are you sure these aren’t form letters? Rephrase them a bit and they sound an awful lot like the ones agents send to writers.

    And now, to be more helpful: If you’re not on Twitter, get on Twitter. Follow publishers and literary agencies that you’d like to work with. I’ve seen a fair few calls for applications on Twitter. I was able to pick up an internship with a respected indie publisher that turned into a proofreading job for a few years because of it. There’s also been a pretty major push in recent months for agencies and publishers to hire remotely as much as possible, although it’s still very new.

    The truth right now is: If you’re not in New York, you’re probably not working in publishing. Although, there are a few other cities that have a decent publishing industry (San Francisco, the Twin Cities), especially if you’d be interested in working for a literary agency instead of a publisher. That’s definitely something to consider if you can’t move to NYC.

    1. londonedit*

      Your first point is a good one. When I worked on reception, part of my job was sending out rejection letters for unsolicited manuscripts. The standard rejection letter was along the lines of ‘Thank you for sending us your manuscript for Rubbish Book Idea. I am afraid that, after careful consideration, our editors have decided that your book is not quite right for our list. We wish you the best of luck in placing it with another publisher’.

      Most of the time we had no response, but there were definitely a few occasions where people phoned up to ask exactly what ‘careful consideration’ meant; which editors had read it? How carefully was it considered? Was it discussed in a meeting? What about it made it ‘not quite right’? And I’d have to explain that I was sorry, I couldn’t give any more information, and they had received our standard form letter. Some people just read way more into it than others.

  43. Sarah N*

    I just want to tell the OP to hang in there! I’m not in publishing, but in another field where hiring is very challenging — I applied to over a hundred jobs over the course of three hiring cycles (I’m in academia, and in my field hiring for permanent positions only happens in the fall) before landing a job that I love. I had one-year contract gigs in the meantime, so I wasn’t unemployed, but still — it was demoralizing! Some of the best advice I got was that when you’re in a challenging job market like this, luck and randomness play an incredibly large role — of course you want to make your application materials as good as possible, but beyond that, it’s important not to take rejection personally. Of course this is easier said than done, but the more I was able to take this mindset, the better my mental health was. I also think it’s important to think about an exit strategy and give yourself a time limit at which point you’re going to seriously explore those other options. That can be a long time limit–obviously I kept trying for years and it did eventually pay off! But I wouldn’t have done it forever.

  44. LaughingGhost*

    Forgive me if I’m reading into this too much, but the response of it being “rare [that] we meet someone with your passion” had me wondering whether that was more of a culture or personality signal. Is it possible that their personality or how they present themselves in an interview is either overwhelming or just not a good fit for the company’s culture?

  45. Pub Cheese*

    Hi OP – very cool you’re interested in production. From others upthread, it sounds like it’s still a tough sector, but I think once you get away from those most popular editorial/publicity/etc. roles there are some interesting choices. It sounds like you are already networking-savvy, but I thought I’d share how I ended up in production-adjacent work, largely thanks to internship contacts. I started out in an unpaid editorial internship, but when I happened to mention I might be more interested in copyediting/proofreading, my supervisors perked up, photocopied me the proofreading marks pages from the Chicago Manual, and encouraged me to go down that route – I think since it was something different from all the editorial hopefuls they had working there. In the year before my move to NYC and in the year after, I kept a sad spreadsheet with the 300+ jobs I applied to, with only 10-15 or so interviews logged in there. Luckily after I moved my internship contacts set up an informational meeting with a copyeditor they knew at a big press, and she was able to get me a part-time freelance copyediting gig where I started learning the ropes. (I also had friends of friends of friends kindly set up coffee dates with publishing people they knew in contracts, finances, etc. who were nice enough to talk to me and offer advice or the promise they’d send along internal openings sooner. — I think this may be one perk about being situated in the publishing hub city. Though it’s accompanied by the challenges others have mentioned above, of course. And I suppose those meetings could be done over phone?)

    Anyhow, it still took me more than 6 months (working in the food industry) after moving to land a FT publishing job as a marketing assistant at a small press – unrelated to what I wanted to do ultimately, but from there I did a lateral move into production, and then kept up the slow crawl from there.

    That crawl is agonizing, salary and promotions-wise – but at least there is generally movement, unlike at some of the nonprofits I’ve since worked at. I eventually had to get out of traditional book publishing to make a little more. But despite all the frustrations, dysfunction, disillusionment, and broke-ness that can come with the field, I’m still glad I tried it – and it did feel a lot easier to get interviews at other places once I had that foot in the door. (For what it’s worth I did not have a large financial cushion or an advanced degree / certificate. The financial strain was my biggest burden and resulted in a lot of debt, but I don’t think an advanced degree ultimately mattered more than experience, at least in my particular situation.)

    Good luck, and I hope it works out for you soon!

    1. Pub Cheese*

      Just wanted to be transparent after reading awaskyc’s note above that I did also supplement all the aforementioned publishing jobs with freelance just to get by. That is one perk of being versed in copyediting/proofreading in particular, and I’m not sure how many publishing roles lend themselves to that. (Though of course ideally one should be able to live on one salary alone, and this widespread practice – literally all of my peers in managing ed freelanced – is a symptom of how skewed and poorly paid the industry is. Gah!)

  46. SG*

    Another person working in publishing, and I have my own doom-and-gloom stories. I’ve been a guest lecturer in Masters in Publishing classes where I did my best to break it to several students (gently) that the degree alone wasn’t going to guarantee them a job working on children’s books (their stated dream). But from my position in government publishing, I have to stress the fact that there’s more to life than the Big 5, and that medical, legal, scientific, and technical publishing have a lot more to offer than you think. Even nonprofit/think tank/foundation publishing work has some good sides, though if you’re in NYC/DC/Chicago/SF it often pays peanuts at the entry level.

    On the job hunting side of things, the main thing that I’d want to see from any publishing candidate at any level is a portfolio. A candidate from a smaller organization who shows up to an interview with an armful of materials is going to wow me more than anyone from a major house who shows up empty-handed. From editors, I want to see copies of the materials you worked on and your editorial notes/revisions/markups on a sample chapter or text. From designers/production folks, I want copies of the materials you worked on and a design spec sheet or comps you produced for layout. From marketing/sales people, I want copies of the materials you worked on(!) and your marketing/sales plan for them. Project managers, show me how you put it all together. In an interview, someone from Compass Point State University Press who lays out a strong portfolio is going to wow me more than someone from Oxbridge University Press who shows up empty-handed. That’s the key piece of advice I have — show me how your work fits into what I need for my open position. Even today, when I’m not actively job hunting, I’m still thinking about what I’d put into my portfolio if I were going out for an interview tomorrow.

  47. feet, doors*

    There’s tons of great publishing industry advice here already, so I just wanted to acknowledge that you already seem savvy about the industry, OP, and that I think I understand why you’re feeling so particularly frustrated about what should be “good” rejection letters. As others have said, getting rejected at all sucks. But there really can be something uniquely demoralizing about being repeatedly praised while still being rejected (speaking from personal experience here): there’s little or nothing you can do, little or nothing you can change (beyond shift the focus of your job hunt). You’re not bumping up against your own weaknesses as a candidate, but against the weaknesses of an entire industry you really want to join. It can be a boost when an interviewer says they hope you get your foot in the door elsewhere, but it can be demoralizing to hear it over and over, running out of doors, because the problem isn’t your foot, it’s the building you’re trying to enter. You love and are good at the business; the business is broken. That’s a rough tension to reconcile and it paradoxically gets worse the more “good” rejections you get. No advice, just empathy.

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