How I became a publishing professional

Welcome to my new newsletter, A Writer in Publishing. I’ve worked as a publishing professional for a full decade, and have been writing fiction seriously for almost fifteen years, and I want to explore how these pursuits overlap, or more often, don’t overlap. I’ll discuss my own journey as a publishing professional, I’ll interview other fiction writers who earn their living in the publishing industry, and I’ll occasionally post a short story that has placed in a contest but never been published. Hope you enjoy!

The first publishing company I toured was Wipf&Stock in Eugene, Oregon, in 2006, during my senior year of college at the University of Oregon, when I was interviewing people who held careers I might want. I’ve since learned that Wipf&Stock is a hybrid publisher like She Writes Press, in which the authors pay the upfront editorial and production costs instead of the company, but I didn’t know that then, and if the lady who I interviewed explained that to me, I don’t remember it. The publishing process fascinated me, but Wipf&Stock wasn’t hiring, and I didn’t know of any other publishing companies or how to break into the industry. For the time being, I went with something more familiar: I’d worked with kids for over a decade, and landed a teaching job on the East Coast.

Fast-forward three and half years: I was a first-year grad school at West Virginia University (WVU). I’d received full tuition waivers to pursue my MFA in fiction writing, but not a paid graduate assistantship. I was working too many part-time jobs around town when I heard that West Virginia University Press was hiring. I applied, got an interview, and took an editing/proofreading test, which I think I bombed. Fortunately, one of WVU’s fiction professors knew I was applying. I think he put in a good word for me, and I was hired. For the next two years I was an editorial and production assistant at West Virginia University Press.

I’m grateful to the staff at West Virginia University Press, not only for hiring me, someone without any experience in publishing, but also for teaching me the industry. I’ve since learned people often start off in publishing in unpaid internships. I took the more common path of working at restaurants/camps/nannying for money during college, and didn’t consider pursuing internships. I wish there were more apprenticeship, learn-on-the-job-while-being-paid programs like the one at WVU Press.

As an editorial and production assistant, I was paired with the production manager, so I naturally learned in-depth what is called the editorial production process. After the board approved the publishing of a manuscript, and any structural edits (called developmental edits) were done, the manuscript entered into the editorial production process, where it was copyedited, reviewed by the author, laid out in InDesign, proofread, reviewed by the author again, and sent to a printer. Nowadays—as well as in 2010, when I started at WVU Press—almost 100 percent of copy editors are/were contract workers, but I had the rare opportunity of copyediting—as well as a deeper editing called line editing—on the job, and spent hours looking up grammar and style rules in TheChicago Manual of Style. The production manager also taught me how to manage multiple book projects at once and how to use InDesign: by the end of my time there, I was laying out entire books, including text, photos, charts, and graphs. I also wrote and proofread cover copy—the summary on the backs of books—for the marketing manager and edited grants for the director.

I was paid a set amount biweekly; I remember it worked out to around $17/hour (over double per hour what I’d been earning at my part-time jobs).

In 2012, during my final summer at WVU Press, I applied to dozens of publishing companies all over the country, but especially in the West, since I wanted to move back toward my family in Oregon. After I finished my assistantship, I received my first freelance copyediting jobs: WVU Press gave me a collection of short stories to copyedit, and the West Virginia University History Department contracted me to copyedit the biennial West Virginia History journal. And then in the fall, I accepted a job as a project editor with Perseus Books Group in Boulder, Colorado.

Next time, I’ll discuss my interactions with the publishing industry as an aspiring fiction writer. Thanks for reading! I hope everyone is safe and well.


Rachel King