Friday, February 12, 2010

Getting Started

It's funny, no matter how much time passes, I don't think you ever forget the tension of breaking into a new field. It's frustrating and difficult, and often you wonder why you're putting yourself through all this. What was wrong with what you were previously doing?

I was in college at Louisiana State University when I discovered that there were paying jobs for people who simply "liked to read and write." Jobs besides teaching or newspaper reporting, I mean.

I was a student assistant for Dr. Jim Borck when this epiphany occurred. "Jimbo" as we affectionately called him was director of graduate studies for the LSU English Department and general editor of the Eighteenth Century: A Current Bibliography.

The ECCB. Talk about a snoozer! It's actually a reference book published annually listing books being written today on the eighteenth century. Confused yet? It's apparently really helpful if you're one of the 50 college professors who specialize in that time period in literature.

But content notwithstanding, working in that office with all those cool, creative nerds who shared my interests, and then getting that published copy of Vol. 12, I fell in love with the whole process.

I enrolled in graduate school and took "The Business of Book Publishing" taught by Katherine Fry, who was the director (I think) of LSU Press. She was a really great teacher. And after finishing that class I promptly switched my focus to public relations. Not really.

Back to my first thought--breaking into the business. Despite the fact that I decided to become an editor, I still lived in the petroleum and engineering capital of Louisiana. And other than LSU Press, a very, very small academic publisher with an astonishingly low turnover rate, or the Advocate, there weren't many jobs out there. Almost none, actually. And quite a large number of nerds just like me fighting to get them. (LSU grads tend to like staying in Baton Rouge.)

So as I wasn't planning to move to a major city, I had to figure out some way to distinguish myself from the other penguins. By sheer luck (and bugging the crap out of Dr. Jay Perkins in the LSU J-school), I managed to get one clip in the Business Report, which was extremely helpful. Then I just had to wait for the occasional want ad that would appear from time to time for that rare local businesses that needed an editor.

Months later, I finally landed my first job as Director of the Editorial Department at Insurance Achievement, Inc. It was a tough job working for a punishing boss, but I stuck it out. And I met some amazing, cool writers and editors who became part of my circle of friends back home.

Nine months later, I landed one of those coveted editorial jobs in the ranks of the LSU "unclassified" employees. The salary was pretty meager, but the benefits were top-notch. College holidays, two weeks "free" vacation at Christmas, ginormous-group healthcare plan, access to that gated parking lot right across the street from The Chimes...

It took a few years to get there, but it happened.

Then I moved to Shreveport and then to Indianapolis, where I became a mom, left the editorial game and focused on freelance writing alone. For a year covering 2008-2009, I went back to editing for Baldwin County Parent magazine, which is now Baldwin County Living. And then Fall 2009 the unthinkable happened. I sat down and wrote a book. Two and a half, actually. A series.

Knock me over with a feather.

Now I'm trying to break into another new field, and I tell ya. It's tough. Possibly as tough as landing a job as an editor in Baton Rouge pre-Katrina. But I'm encouraged when I remember it eventually happened and how many cool, nice people I met along the way.

I'm currently in the process of finding an agent, and it's overwhelming to say the least. If you're in the same boat as me, Nathan Bransford has an incredibly helpful blog that you should check out immediately! Don't send Query 1 before doing so. Learn from my mistake.

Try to take your time. I've learned the hard way, e-querying is not my friend. It was probably better than I'll ever know that those editorial ads appeared months apart when I was trying to break into Field #1. I had no choice but to wait, stare at my "query letter" for weeks, play with it, polish it, talk to people, do reasearch. All of those things are vital in this game.

It's hard, but I'm reminding myself what I've learned: Patience, little donkey.

And while I wait, I hope to connect or re-connect with some amazing, cool people out there doing what I'm doing--editing, writing, trying to get published, being a mom, contradicting your mom and then realizing your mistake...

Here we go~

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