Anna Comer Interviews Publisher Peggy Tierney

As my internship with Tanglewood comes to a close, I decided to interview my supervisor, President and Publisher of Tanglewood, Peggy Tierney, about next steps in building a career in the publishing field.

Anna Comer: Following an internship in publishing and graduation from an undergrad program, what might some next steps be for someone interested in a career in publishing?

Peggy Tierney: They need to start looking at publishers’ websites and see if they are posting anything. If they have had an internship at a publisher or job experience as a writer or editor, that would be important to emphasize in a resume and the cover letter. To find internships, look at publishers’ websites because they are often posted there.

AC: Is a graduate program necessary and/or recommended? Will it give you a step up in any way?

PT: Yes, a degree from a good publishing program can absolutely lead to a job. There are some great editing and publishing programs across the country. A few are NYU, George Washington University, PACE, Emerson and others. More can be found by searching online for college publishing programs. 

It can be a little challenging to get a publishing job outside of New York, since the big publishers are in New York. However, there’s a lot of small publishers across the country, and though they are less likely to have openings, it is possible. 

Another city that has editing jobs–not  necessarily books but at least a job in some kind of publishing–is Washington, DC. Many big nonprofits and other organizations are located there and often have newsletters, magazines, or other reading material that need editing. It will put writing and editing skills on your resume.

AC: What are some ways to gain experience or skills that may be useful to a career in publishing aside from an internship?

PT: Another path to a publishing job like editing is to be willing to take a different job at the publishing company. Sometimes people take a more low-level job and show the company they have something to offer in a higher position. 

AC: Aside from editing, what are some other positions in the publishing industry?

PT: Marketing, publicity, and sales are three big areas. It is not unusual for people to work in one department and then move to another. For people looking for a creative job, it takes a lot of creativity to come up with great marketing and publicity activities.

AC: Do you have any tips on networking in the publishing industry? Are there any publishing organizations or conferences?

It is very limited. We used to have a conference called Book Expo every year, held in New York every summer, and all of the publishers exhibited to show their new titles to booksellers. In the more recent Book Expos, they allowed the general public in, but the conference has kind of waned away. Book Expo might start up again if COVID is no longer a problem, but it’s in flux. All of the bookstore owners used to come to Book Expo because that’s where they could see all the new books and meet people and see colleagues. They could pick up a lot of sample copies of new titles, called galleys.  But it’s changing more because we now post PDFs of the new titles on websites like Edelweiss or on NetGalley, where booksellers can go to browse and take a look at the ones that interest them. But I am guessing something will replace it, because looking at a PDF online is not the same as having the conversations that happen at conferences, that can’t be duplicated on a website.

There are also big conferences for librarians and educators, but I don’t think they are open to the general public. I went as an exhibitor so I am not sure of the rules of attendance.

AC: I can see how that would make it hard to network. You have to find people in the industry first.

PT: I want to say again that there can be more than one path to a job in publishing, and that publishing has a lot of different forms. I worked at the Child Welfare League in Washington, DC, and I was lucky to get a book publishing job there. One person I worked with was a writer and editor, and she went on to get writing and editing jobs for magazines for various organizations. That may not be your dream, but you could be writing or editing for a living. 

For connecting, that is a big reason to go for the internships because a company gets a chance to see who you are and what you can do, and you get to meet the people there. Even if you get an internship or job working in the mailroom, you can still meet people. I know of a successful editor who literally started in the mailroom. 

AC: Do you have advice on anything that might make you stand out amongst the crowd in such a competitive industry? If you were hiring a new editor, what’s something that you’d see on their resume and make you think, “That makes them stand apart”?

PT: Working on magazines or newsletters or doing publishing related activities. Working in bookstores or in libraries. Volunteer in some way connected to reading. Showing knowledge of books, knowing what books are popular, what’s been published, being able to explain what you look for in books, what makes the books you like enjoyable. They want to see you’ve really thought through what makes a good book and what does not. Show that you are analytical.

AC:  Lastly, do you have any general advice for someone interested in a career in publishing?

PT: Nothing I haven’t already said. Get the best education you can. Be open, flexible, and conduct a wide search for a publishing job.