Me: Joanna speaking?
Kody: Hi, Joanna! It’s Kody. So I’ve got the first draft of A Midsummer’s Nightmare done and I’m emailing it to you.
Me: Yay! Send it.
This is what I do for a living. I get to read manuscripts by some of my favorite authors. How freaking awesome is that?? But it wasn’t easy to get here.
Before college I was like Kody—but way less cool. I wrote stories—not nearly as good. And I was getting ready for college—undecided on a major. I wanted to major in English, but my parents didn’t think that was the best route (“What in the world can you do with an English degree besides teach??”), so I eventually majored in psychology, dropped that in my third year, and ended up with a Human Development degree (“What in the world can you do with an HD degree at all??”).
I was kind of lost, but my one constant throughout college was reading and writing. I even ran my own critique group. I also attended a good handful of conferences. (Yes, I know what it’s like to pitch to an agent in five minutes—terrifying!) And I never thought that I could actually do anything with this passion besides write.
So I became a teacher (take that mom and dad)—and as much as I loved working with kids, I wasn’t entirely happy. So I dropped grad school (my bank account still hasn’t forgiven me…), quit teaching at the end of the year, and became an administrative assistant to Whatever Company, Incorporated. I was living on my own and engaged to a law student. The job didn’t matter. My TV-less, basement apartment didn’t matter. My fiancé—well of course he mattered, but he was really focused on law school. And I was trying to focus on writing. I say “trying” because I was actually critiquing more than writing. By this time I was in four different groups. And I really liked it. Like really liked it. I loved to be able to pinpoint the potential in a story and to help an author fulfill it. And so it went.
Finally my parents (have I mentioned how awesome they are??) sat me down for the “Where-are-you-going-in-your-life?” talk. And they suggested I develop my critiquing skills and get a job in publishing. Genuis! And here I am today—it was sooooo easy.
Ha. Ha. Ha.
Getting a job in publishing was about as easy as backpacking across Europe with no shoes, no money, and no backpack. I couldn’t even get unpaid internships at first. Imagine getting those rejection letters:
Dear Ms. Stampfel,
We know that you are willing to work for free, but we don’t want you anyway, so go beg on a street corner.
Every Publishing House Ever
Okay, they were more polite than that, but that’s what it felt like. Talk about a competitive field! So what did I do? I quit my decent-salaried job and applied to Barnes & Noble. (Minimum wage went up since I was in high school, so I’d be okay, right?) I worked the worst shift (7am-noon) five days a week, and started taking NYU publishing courses at night. Just so you know:
Making Less Money + Spending More on Courses + Four Critique Groups = No Sleep/No Life
But I was more focused than ever. I read Writer’s Digest, Publisher’s Weekly, School Library Journal, Romantic Times, blog upon blog upon blog on the book world. And I read them religiously. I was already a member of SCBWI and attended every event they had in NYC or surrounding areas. I networked. I continued to critique. I applied to more jobs.
It took well over a year for my big break. And a little humiliation (I’ll spare you the details). But I finally got a part-time position with independent publisher Blue Marlin Publications. They worked on a couple of books a year, and they had a booth at Book Expo America (a book nerd’s dream!) and needed some help. I stayed with them almost a year after that before moving on to an unpaid internship at FinePrint Literary Management, which turned into a paid assistant position three months later, which led to my first sale as a Jr. Agent four months later. Then another. Then another. And so on.
Start to finish it took me over three years to get a full-time job in publishing, which has turned into a dream job (in case you don’t know the end, I’m an agent with Nancy Coffey Literary & Media Representation and I work with amazing clients, ie—Kody!).
What did I learn from my experience? Persistence and constantly trying to improve my skills got me here. I was also very proactive in my research and networking. Does this sound familiar for you writers out there? Now that I’m on the other side of the desk, I can safely say that the same rules apply. You need to research. You need to network. You need to hone your skills. Don’t let one or one hundred rejections stop you. And don’t be afraid to put that project aside and start on something new to start the process all over again.
Okay—lecture over. As for me, I couldn’t be happier. Of course I do more than read and sell. There are loads of meetings, conferences (don’t be nervous to pitch to me!), queries, deadlines, contracts, phone calls, blah, blah, blah to handle. But I’m loving every minute of it.
And in case you’re wondering, I don’t write anymore. But maybe I’ll get back to it one day…Until then, I get to read manuscripts from clients like Kody, and that is more than enough fun.
HAPPY EARLY BIRTHDAY, KODY!!!
Monday, August 3, 2009