When was the last time you got your hands not just inky or pencil-smudged but dirty in publishing? It’s viewed as one of the more office- and brainiac-friendly pursuits of both happiness and monetary wherewithal for the food, the rent, the “miracle” moisturizer the cute girl at the mall sells. You may have other priorities. By any account, publishing is broadly seen as a career which it is and a noble industry that cracks into the realms of philosophy, science, and literature which it certainly can be. For those who want to make a demonstrable living walking the noble career path, though, there’s another aspect that deserves its share of attention: the trade.
If you were putting yourself through night school and apprenticing during the day to earn your certification in publishing, how would you handle it? If you and society all around viewed the creation, editing, proofing, promotion, commission, and digital distribution of the written word as practical in the same way refrigerator repair is practical, would your approach be any different? In other words, if Mike Rowe wanted to get into publishing, what would he do?
I can’t say for sure. But here are some tactics I, daughter of a refrigerator repairperson, adhered to to go from unenthusiastically selling cell phones at the mall (how differently might my life have gone if I’d had something fun, like Dead-Sea-Salt/dark-side-of-the-magic-moon moisturizer, to sell instead?) to making a living full-time in publishing:
Depending on the area of publishing you’re in, an MFA, MBA, or maybe even a PhD is probably viewed as one of the surest routes to success in a somewhat unsure industry. And sometimes that works. Sometimes you study under seasoned professionals who know firsthand of what they preach and have fingers on the pulse of publishing as it happens in the here and now.
If studying writing, you may study under professors who manage to convey the techniques and history of the craft without poo-pooing either your enthusiasm or your personal perspective on writing. Enough disclaimers, though. Sometimes you get none a’ that and no bag of chips either. Not even a bag of those weird cappuccino-flavored chips.
In trades the world over, learning at the feet of someone who’s been there and preferably still IS there, doin’ it and doin’ it well is viewed as a critical step on your way to making it solo. That could mean applying for internships in your last year of college, and those can be highly useful but they’re not the only way.
The most important aspect of apprenticing, to my way of thinking, is the opportunity to truly observe the inner workings of your chosen field up close, and to try your hand at it while there’s still someone there—a knowledgeable someone; someone you have handpicked to lead and guide you as your own personal McGonagall to say “For shame! That won’t do at all.” Your dream guide/tutor may speak differently. The upshot: apprenticing doesn’t mean fetching people coffee or being the publishing house gossip girl. It means absorbing and acting.