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FAQ: If I Want to Write, Should I Get a Publishing Job?

 N.G. asks a very good question:  if I want to be a writer should I try to get a job in publishing, or avoid the business altogether?

This is a can of worms. Lots of people who go into publishing have the desire to write. Some do. Many don’t. Would they have realized their writing ambitions had they stayed away? We’ll never know.

Also, what branch  of publishing? Clearly, editing is the closest to the writing process, but does that work sap your creative juices most? In my case, I didn’t write for the first twelve years I worked in publishing as I climbed my way up the editorial ladder. I even stopped keeping my diary. It wasn’t a conscious decision; I became completely wrapped up in my authors’ lives and work.

The time factor:  editoral work is extremely time consuming, most reading and editing is done on nights and weekends. It’s almost impossible to write. Also, if you’re struggling with your own work and what you want write, it’s “easy” to get absorbed in someone else’s work and avoid your own. I’ve seen some editors and other publishing people become competitive with their authors. This is the sure sign of a frustrated writer.

One reason to go into publishing is to make connections and see how it’s done. I would have never sold my first book had I not known agents and reviewed hundreds of non-fiction proposals to see how to put them together. 

Ultimately, I think it’s probably better to do something that leaves you more time to write. And, more important, read.  The day you step into a publishing cubicle, your life is consumed with reading a lot of sub-standard material as you comb through stacks of submissions.

When I was an assistant editor at Ballantine, my boss handed off a how-to book for me to edit. The woman barely knew how to string a sentence together. We must have gone through eight drafts and the Dingleberry still didn’t get it. In the end, all that work raised a D- manuscript to a C- book. All editors have zillions of stories like this — it comes with the territory.  But the whole time working with her I remember thinking, I will have read eight drafts of this piece of crap and go to my grave having never read War and Peace.

You know how they say you have to play tennis with someone above your level to improve? I think the same is true with writing. You could be reading slush or you could be reading Tolstoy.


Pencils Down

Going to spend the day working with a writer on her copyedited manuscript. I just want to say for the record that I love the copyediting stage more than any other — it’s the fine tuning and the points of grammar, syntax, tense and word choice that really turn me on. It’s what I miss most about no longer being an editor. The best copy editor I ever worked with is Peg Anderson formerly of Houghton Mifflin. No one could work a blue pencil like Peg.


Then meeting a writer for a discussion of  her novel.

Then paying the bills. Party!

Then catching up on everything else I didn’t do today.

Then going to a movie. I will see anything just to escape myself. I mean it.  Any suggestions?

Twelve-Step Program

Please read this article by Jon Karp, Publisher of the imprint Twelve, if you want some really cogent thoughts on the state of publishing. And you won’t need to turn your life over to a higher power except your keyboard.