Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Stacy Whitman: How I Got into Publishing

I grew up outside a small town in Illinois, on a small farm where we raised horses, pigs, cows, and rabbits (which were my 4-H project). We were pretty poor, but we also made do with a huge garden and clothes from yard sales and generally living off the land. I loved being involved in 4-H and FFA.

My first major in college was actually animal science pre-vet.
I wanted to be an equine veterinarian. What else would a girl who grew up on a horse and pig farm want to do? But I worked my way through college in publishing jobs, first because they were “easy” jobs—not as much physical labor as working on the dairy farm at school, and not as many allergic reactions, either—and then because my experience and skills kept leading me to more jobs in the same field. I typeset college textbooks in Unix/LaTeX, I reported and took pictures for a local newspaper, I edited phone booksyes, phone booksI transcribed 19th-century journals and proofread them. Eventually, after changing my major and floundering with a human development and family studies major (I loved the child development classes, but didn’t like any of the expected career tracks from the major), I realized in the midst of an elective children’s literature class that I could combine my work skills and my interests. It only took me about six years of undergrad to figure out what I wanted to do.

m there, it was just a matter of figuring out how to get a job in children's publishing. But as an independent student who was paying my way through college with part-time jobs and major student loans, I was leery of moving to New York City. Not to mention it was a LONG way from home.
But even so, I continued doing those undergrad publishing-related jobs—internships, classes, student jobs. And I finally graduated with my bachelor’s degree, and a lot of student loan debt.
How would I afford an apartment in New York, even with roommates? I couldn’t see a way to do it. So instead I moved to Chicago
closer to home, though still three hours and a world away from the farmand after a few months of looking, got a job as a publisher’s assistant at a trade magazine. As I worked my way up the ranks at the magazine, I got involved with the local SCBWI chapter, worked on my writing, and considered graduate school. My choice was between grad school, writing, or move to New York and start my career all over again as an editorial assistant. At a Chicago SCBWI event, I met Anita Silveywho ended up being one of my publishing teachers in grad schooland she suggested that if what I really wanted was a lateral mid-career move into children's books, the children's literature master's program program at Simmons College was the best way to go.

It was at Simmons College
which I was only able to afford through the grace of more student loansthat I figured out my next career step through networking. I had a classmate who announced that Houghton Mifflin was looking for temps in their school textbook division. That job helped me make ends meet as I finished my classwork. Several of my teachers guided me in finding internships. I got an internship at the Horn Book Magazine and Guide, and to round out my experience I worked in a bookstore. In class, I learned how to critique children’s books in-depth, which made me a better editor, not to mention more well-read, an important quality of a good editor.

All that experience finally made me stand out as the right person for the associate editor job in Seattle at Wizards of the Coast, working on the Mirrorstone imprint
fantasy for children and young adults. Each step of the journey made it more possible for this farm girl to pursue what she really wanted to do, despite economic downturns, changes in the industry, and personal financial challenges. Eventually, all those experiences helped me have the courage to start my own small press, which was acquired by Lee & Low Books to become Tu Booksand now I live in New York City, which I avoided all those years. And it was exactly the right path for me.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Stacy,

    Thanks for sharing your story! It is uplifting to know that you really can make it into publishing even if you don't come from old money or necessarily have "industry connections". My question for you is, have you ever seen people break into the publishing industry from other career fields, without having to start from the bottom?

    Aside from being the editor-in-chief of my college's literary magazine, and an internship at an Art magazine, I do not have much publishing experience. But, I have been working as a technical writer-editor for about 3 years now. I'm looking to get into publishing, and if possible, parlay my tech writing experience into a position at the associate vs. entry-level. Have you ever seen people do this?