NEW YORK — English majors from colleges across the country have for years flocked to New York, lured by the romance of a glamorous career in publishing, only to find that salaries for the few available entry-level jobs couldn't pay the rent for a closet in a tenement.
Today, the industry is hungry for qualified applicants, although people prospecting for starting positions in book publishing might still be hard-pressed to live on the salaries they are offered.
"Lately, you hear over and over talk that publishing houses are concerned about attracting good candidates," said Jim Milliot, executive editor of BP Reports, a weekly newsletter on book publishing. "Whether it will translate into better salaries has yet to be seen."
Being able to distinguish Thomas Mann from Tom Wolfe, however, isn't good enough to keep the wolf from the door; a candidate should be willing to learn how to run a publicity campaign, or at least a calculator.
Elizabeth Geiser, senior vice president at publishing house Gale Research Institute in New York, helps to create those kinds of applicants by running the University of Denver's Publishing Institute during the summer. The school sponsors a four-week, six-credit course in all aspects of publishing for 80 students. The program, which began in 1976, costs $1,600.
Publishing companies mine for employees at such programs, which Radcliffe College invented in 1947. While some executives say the programs are unnecessary and expensive, they do offer students the opportunity to learn how they might fit into the industry.
The Radcliffe program--which began as a way to give women some help when competing against men returning from war--is a six-week, coeducational summer program designed to provide an intensive introduction to book and magazine publishing, from evaluating original manuscripts to the sales and marketing of finished products. The program costs $3,475 and offers workshops on such topics as copy editing, manuscript selection, design, production, publicity and budgeting for book publishing. It also covers circulation, promotion and advertising for magazines.
The Denver and Radcliffe courses are taught by people working in the field--most of whom are potential contacts for employment. Both programs claim to place 80% of their graduates in publishing jobs.
Another, possibly cheaper, way to become acquainted with the way publishing houses work is to do an internship. Executives say you should avoid programs that relegate interns to one division of the company. Instead, seek a program that will rotate you through sales, marketing and publicity as well as editorial.
Thus armed with knowledge and experience, job hunters must send off their resumes. But to whom? To reach the right person, rather than the wastebasket in a personnel office, consult publishing directories at a public library. Among the best are Literary Market Place (R. R. Bowker Co.)--or LMP as it is known in the trade--and Publishers Directory (Gale Research Inc.)
Before writing, executives warn that you should become familiar with the books their firms print, either by reading the publishers' catalogues or by spending time in stores leafing through their books.
While New York remains the Mecca for the publishing industry, regional firms and smaller presses offer greater opportunities for learning, responsibility and promotion. You stand a greater chance of being the next Maxwell Perkins in Minneapolis than in Manhattan.
"It can be very difficult to break into the field in New York, but here in Los Angeles it isn't," said Ann Klefstad, senior editor at Sun & Moon Press. "The field is much more open. If you can do the work, they will let you in."
Klefstad, 32, started out as a free-lance proofreader; she was eventually hired by a company looking for a full-time copy editor. The job title for entry-level jobs is generally "secretary" or "assistant editor"--and salaries can start as low as $11,000 a year, although $14,000 is a more typical annual salary.
Despite the fact that book publishing houses say they are hurting for applicants, industry analysts cite studies showing that the growth in the publishing industry is not in books, but in information services (such as computer databases) and corporate communications (such as companies' in-house videotapes).
"The fastest-growing area of publishing is in communications technology and the slowest growth within the communications industry is in books," said Eliot A. Minsker, chief executive of Knowledge Industry Publications.