My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Reading Elaine Welteroth’s memoir More Than Enough: Claiming Space for Who You Are (No Matter What They Say) was right on time. While I could certainly relate to her experiences of being a creative and independent child, failed romances when we really should’ve known better, and chasing dream jobs, Chapter 21: Burning Out, in particular, resonated with me. It led to a moment of (more) clarity. I’ve been pursuing a career in publishing for over fifteen years, but that one perfect dream job just seems so elusive. Welteroth was lucky in that she landed the dream internship then job she never knew she wanted and then was ok walking away in pursuit of bigger and better things.
After majoring in business management then black studies at two different colleges, I enrolled in the school of publishing at Emerson College. As a Continuing Ed part-time night student, while working full time at a major publisher, I took book publishing, book publicity, and various writing courses. As I got closer to the finish line, I quit my full-time job to become an unpaid intern at a small magazine and later a book press for experience and for college credits.
With my degree in Writing, Literature and Publishing in hand and tons of experience under my belt, I bid farewell to my family and support system in Boston and moved to New York for the first job that said yes to me. People thought I had ambitions of becoming the black Carrie Bradshaw, but I wanted to be Carrie Bradshaw’s editor. My first job was Editorial Coordinator for a publisher of weapons and law enforcement magazines despite the fact that I had never seen nor held a gun or hunting knife in my life. Ever. Everyone has to start somewhere. Due to office politics (a menacing, bullying and micromanaging Publisher), I left the position a few months shy of one year. I had no back-up job, but I believed in my skills and experience. A month later, I landed a job as editorial assistant at a small, startup of legal publishing.
The plan was to the be there two, maybe three years tops. Well, ladies and gentleman, it is nine years and 2 months later. In that timeframe, I’ve had only one title change despite my responsibilities growing exponentially. Not to mention so has our once two-person team. In the midst of that we were gobbled up by a huge international company. Once that happened all the promises of my career advancement, including leading my own team, were quelled. Eventually after several re-orgs, I was moved to report under the colleague with whom I had founded our team. The shift was 100% seniority and not performance based. I know this for a fact.
When I was first hired, I believed hard work would be rewarded. It was the first job I’d had with hours 9 to 6. 7, 8, 9 and sometimes 11 pm would find me still seated at my desk. When I requested an increase in pay, the response was to switch me from a salaried employee to an hourly employee to qualify for overtime. Despite glowing performance reviews, I never received a bonus, which was doled at “manager’s discretion.” Still, I held on and was loyal to my job. The project was my baby, and I didn’t want it to fail. I was, however, job searching.
I’ve applied to over 100 editorial/publishing jobs. This is based on cover letters I have saved on my USB flash drive. Folders dating as far back 2014, with subfolders of the company names that contain the Word and PDF versions of my cover letters for nearly every type of editor. Five or six years ago, I was ok applying for editorial assistant positions, but now with all my experience (not just number of years), I’m qualified for a mid to high level position such as managing, deputy, or executive editor. Just as promises of leading my own team were erased from business planning, so have been my title changes, which I believe has impacted my job search.
It’s ego bruising that with all my experience, at least 90% of my resume submissions go unanswered. Another 5% receive the dreaded auto-decline email. I’ve been ghosted after receiving initial phone calls and I’ve gone on a few interviews. I’m often told that they decided to go with someone else. Full stop.
Reading Welteroth’s memoir confirms my suspicions. As is the case in most industries, they hire from within. Welteroth did her due diligence in researching and applying for her dream internship at Essence, which she landed, but ended up at Ebony. While working at Ebony—and working her butt off—she made other connections in the industry. This led to a domino effect of people remembering her and offering her positions when they became available. She in turn also did the same as she rose through the ranks. I can’t help but to wonder how many people, like me, have poured their hearts and souls into revamping their resumes and drafting impressive cover letters only for them to end up in a rejection pile because there was never any intention of anyone else being considered anyway.
I don’t want to seem like I’m complaining. I’ve benefited from having connections. In my early twenties, I started at a bookstore as a part-time sales associate before becoming full-time. When the book special orders clerk resigned to tour with his band, he handpicked me to be his replacement. The informal conversation with a manager was just a formality to say that the position was mine. Just like that I had a bump in pay and a new position that I didn’t even know was available. Shortly after that, the store’s shipment receiver left to become General Manager of another bookstore. When he needed an Assistant Manager, he reached out to me, and I gladly took the position.
So, I don’t begrudge people getting positions based on connections they have. In the publishing industry you absolutely must have an inside connection to get your foot in the door. The first step is usually as an intern and you work your way up. I’ve been there, done that but at different companies and unfortunately at companies that are now defunct.
As a member of the Women’s National Book Association, I’ve asked members to pass along my resume when LinkedIn shows that I have a connection at a company I’m interested in. When they do, I believe I receive a response as a courtesy, but that another candidate—another colleague or friend—is already in mind for these positions.
LinkedIn connections are also hit or miss. People are quick to send connection requests (probably to up their numbers), but so many of my messages have gone unanswered, even after being read. I try not to take it personally, but it sucks. I reply to all messages, even from recruiters who are offering positions in which I have zero interest, in the hopes of improving my email karma. One young man reached out repeatedly so I could provide hiring managers’ names and emails for positions he was applying for at my company. Understanding his position, I always supplied them and wished him luck in the process. For me, even some internal applications were left unanswered. That baffles me because I had the same company email address as they did.
A few months ago, I had a panel interview at a top publisher. The interview went over the allotted time. I would’ve bet money that the position was mine. After the interview, I sent four thank you emails. A week later, the managing editor with whom I would’ve been training and replaced, replied “It was nice to meet you.” Shortly, thereafter I received the automated rejection later.
At one point, I received so many rejection letters, I screenshot and sent them via text to two cousins who were rooting for me. They too were going through the job searching process and could relate…until they couldn’t. They both landed new positions and I was left wondering what was wrong with me. I don’t think I’m overestimating my skills and experience in the jobs that I go after. In fact, sometimes I’m intimidated and don’t apply even when I match every bullet point listed.
I’m burnt out. I’ve been at my job for nine years. It’s the longest I’ve ever held a position. I’m proud of my accomplishments. I was hired as the editorial assistant to manually migrate a giant excel spreadsheet into a SharePoint database. Whenever new projects were ideated, inevitably the statement “Sherring can do it” was mentioned in meetings that I wasn’t even attending. Next thing I knew, I was sending emails to writers about submission due dates, receiving their drafts, forwarding them to editors, drafting contracts and scheduling and leading editorial meetings. I helped redesign and test new landing pages, trained interns and provided reports needed for marketing campaigns, among other things.
I like what I do. I wish I could cut and paste it into another company. Don’t get me wrong—the company has great perks. Every month we get delicious treats to celebrate employees’ birthdays, we have summer Fridays, and every once in a while we get free movie, sports, Broadway, or comedy show tickets on a first come first serve basis. Then there’s the company swag: water bottles, champagne glasses, fleece jacket, hoodie sweater, socks, leather bound notebooks, pens, scarf, a cooler-bag, a blanket, Sony headphones. The list goes on.
It was never the plan to work in legal publishing. Just like working at a weapons publication, it was interesting to be introduced to a foreign world. The novelty wore off. My interest has waned. I like pop culture, current events and general interest. I want to be able to discuss the content I work on with friends and family. Nobody in my circle, including me, cares about labor and employment or litigation laws. I miss the days of grabbing free or discounted books that ranged from cookbooks, YA novels, memoirs and bestselling novels. Even if I don’t return to book publishing, I’d love to work at a magazine or digital publisher that reaches a wider audience, even if it’s another niche like health. I don’t want scientific or pharmaceutical publishing. I’m sure I can do it, and the money would be great, but that’s not for me. I’m at a crossroads. I know I’ve done all I can do in my current position and it’s time to leave. However, I keep hitting a wall when it comes to moving on in the publishing industry.
Maybe the publishing industry isn’t for me anymore. Part of the reason publishing and editorial work seemed so appealing to this introvert is because I thought I’d be able to be buried in words all day long with little contact with others in real time. Not true! I’m in meetings every week and fielding emails all the time. My unread email count is never not three digits.
Based on my experience of working with writers, PR and marketing reps, I want to move on to be a director or project manager, perhaps relating to education. Maybe I can move into the creative side of marketing. At least I’d still be able to work with words and still be involved in the behind-the-scenes action of bringing a project to life. I’m not sure what I want to do, but I need to figure it out so I can change all my job search alerts.
I once told my cousin that I didn’t want to move back to Boston until I reached the goal of becoming a managing editor of a publication. If I moved back before then, I’d feel like a failure. She assured me that after surviving mean NYC and earning a Masters in writing, I definitely was not a failure. I didn’t receive it then, but my therapist told me the same. Perhaps I’m too hard on myself and perhaps I’m not landing those positions not because I’m not qualified, but because the Universe has something else in store for me. We’ll see.
If you’read this, and you are: empathetic, impressed, hiring, have leads or connections, let me know in the comments section or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org! Please and thank you. 🙂