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The Importance of Industry Experience

Buried in the Slushpile

There are so many facets to the publishing experience.

There’s being a children’s book author or illustrator and the experience that comes from creating books for kids to consume.

Then there is actually working for a publisher in some capacity whether that’s as an editor (like me!) or in marketing or sales or the like. That’s a very different way to experience a children’s book.

And finally, there’s working in a bookstore or as a librarian – in other words, as someone that actually puts books into a child’s (or the adult in their life’s) hands.

All of these roles are key to the publishing industry as a whole – And all of them are WILDLY different. The experiences that you earn in any of these different roles is both invaluable and varied.

And they make your writing and publishing career richer for the experience.

I spent years working in bookstores (first Barnes & Noble and then BookPeople), and little things like where CBAY put the barcode on the back of the book directly came from that experience. I’m also really good at handselling books. I had to be after seven years on the sales floor.

Author Joy Preble has also spent a fair amount of time in a bookstore eventually becoming the kid’s buyer for Brazos Books. I asked her how she thought bookselling had impacted her writing, and she told me: “I honestly think it was my extra reading that impacted me most as a writer because so much extra access to books through early reader copies allowed me to study and deconstruct what was selling to the publishers. So while I can’t say it changed what I write, it definitely helped me hone my craft.”

She also got to see first-hand what publishers were pushing and industry-trends while also seeing what customers were actually buying. As Joy put it, “bookstore work allowed me to see what customers gravitated to and why, and what they might actually purchase, if a book was hand sold to them.”

Joy got quite a bit during her time in a bookstore – just like I did!

What I’m trying to say is that I highly, highly recommend that you try to experience as many parts of the industry as you can.

Volunteer at your local library or a literary book festival.

Get a part-time job on the floor of your local independent bookstore.

Intern with a small publisher.

And write, write, write those books.

You’ll find the experiences rewarding.

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