TCW - Jobs, Money & Opinion

How to Break Into Publishing: Part 2



Last Tuesday, I posted Part 1 of my thoughts on "how to break into publishing," where I talked about the importance of networking, freelancing and gathering information. Let's move on to Part 2, shall we? Again, feel free to leave questions or additional thoughts in the comments.

Be ok with starting small. Low-wage internships or 5 cents a word freelance assignments may not seem like much to write home about, but they're the building blocks of your career. A degree in journalism is no guarantee to a job in the field, so intern early and often. When you're there, take advantage of every learning opportunity available. Take on extra assignments. Solicit feedback--and it if falls more on the "constructive criticism" side, take the feedback with grace and apply it to your next assignment. Set out your learning goals at the beginning of the internship, and check in with your supervisor to make sure you're reaching them. Be helpful, not entitled. Ask, "What are you working on that I can help you with?" rather than "What stories do you have for me to write?"

Take these opportunities to meet as many people as possible, both inside and outside the publication. When you meet people, all the above notes about networking apply.

Consider alternate paths. Explore avenues in which you can build your experience and contacts, even if you've yet to make it onto your dream publication's masthead. Volunteering, even at non-publishing organizations, can help you build leadership, organizational and other workplace skills you might not gain otherwise, and will fill in those gaps in your resume while you're job hunting. Plus, you'll meet people well outside your normal circles. Find a cause you're passionate about, and then dive in. 

If freelancing is getting off to a slow start, focus on writing you can do on your own. Blogs are a great way to not only keep your clips rolling, but also gain valuable experience in online publishing mediums. Especially if you're still in college, starting a well-written and professional blog, particularly one that incorporates multimedia, can demonstrate what a hard-working, proactive, knowledgeable and passionate writer you are. 

That's not a license to start blogging about the minutia of your life. This is, after all, a blog you'd want to be comfortable leading potential employers to; it's another way to position yourself as the writer you want to be. Think about what type of writing you want to specialize in, find a unique angle and get started. If you can successfully pitch your blog to an established website or blogger site (like ChicagoNow!), great, but platforms like Wordpress or Blogger work just fine. Investigate sites where you can merge a professional portfolio and a blog, like Writer's Residence, and kill two birds with one stone. 

Be a professional. I recently had a new college graduate come into TCW to interview for an internship position. The resume in front of me was that of your average college grad: stints at the school newspaper and lit magazine; a short internship at a regional pub. But her actual experience, once she explained it to me, was far more impressive and on par with a professional candidate, from long-term investigative news assignments to restructuring the financial and managerial strategy of an entire publication. On the flip side, I once had a potential intern come in whose resume and professional website were so complete and polished, I assumed she was in the final months of her education. I was shocked to learn that she had only just completed her freshman year. 

The point, as I told candidate number one, is that you shouldn't be positioning yourself as a "college student" or "recent college grad," but as a magazine/newspaper/writing professional. Don't let your experience as editor-in-chief of your award winning campus newspaper get lost next to your other unrelated on-campus activities. In journalism, you are your experience, not your age. So don't sell yourself short. Present yourself as a professional, and you will be perceived as such. To me, that also means switching over from a college email to a non-school account; not only because it appears more professional, but also because it will be much easier for editors to keep in touch with you (and for your emails to stay out of their junk mail) after you've graduated and have abandoned your .edu email account.

And while we're on the subject of resumes, don't be afraid to ask for feedback on yours from trusted professors or mentors. When the story is you, it's hard to be objective. Find a pair of fresh eyes. And for the love of Pete, write a fresh cover letter for each position. I've received applications in which unrelated experience is explained at length; I've even received cover letters in which the names of other publications have been accidentally left in. Form cover letters are a kiss of death and recruiters can spot them before you even click "send."

Evaluate your public profile. As journalism continues to mesh with new media and social networking, your online presence is as much a part of your application materials as your resume or cover letter. So make sure it's up to snuff. If you join a publication, you may be asked to use your Facebook, Twitter, Digg or LinkedIn to promote content and/or events, so go through it with a fine-toothed comb to ensure it skews more professional than personal. (Some people choose to set up two accounts, one personal and privacy-shielded, and the other professional and public; I personally don't trust privacy settings and therefore focus on making sure my one account meets professional standards.) Evaluate each post, picture and Tweet through the eyes of a potential boss and ask yourself: is this a person you'd want to hire? 

If you're not already on social networks, I highly recommend you reconsider. Especially if the publication in question has online platforms, demonstrated savvy in these mediums can go a long way. But again, do it right; Twitter is not an excuse to tell the world what you had for breakfast or how much you looooove!!11!! Robert Pattinson in 140 characters. It's another opportunity to position yourself as a professional and an expert in a particular subject matter. Do your research on best practices before you jump in.

Consider J-school carefully. Another common question posed to me is, "What do you think of journalism grad school?" It's a tricky query, because the answer is certainly different for everyone. What I'll say (after offering a big disclaimer that this is just my personal take on the subject) is that before you send in a tuition check, ask yourself a few questions: "What specific knowledge or skills do I want to gain from J-school that I can't gain from real world experience? Has my research of the job market shown me that I'll be more employable when I exit grad school than I am now? How exactly will the program I've chosen help me advance in my learning and career goals? How will the courses help build on the knowledge I gained in undergrad and in other writing experiences?" If you don't have concrete answers to these questions, get some. 

The bottom line.
Looking over these notes, a common theme has emerged: Be proactive. Be respectful. Be genuine. Work hard, believe in yourself, be flexible in your expectations, constantly evaluate your approach and progress, and you will make strides in publishing.

Good luck!

As always, follow me on Twitter at @CassandraGaddo.

Photo: ABC



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