In most industries, who you know can sometimes be as important as what you know. Publishing is no different. The right mentor has walked the path you are now trying to walk, and can give you a vision of what publishing looks like as a long-term career. Mentors are important for any career path, publishing included. But sometimes it can be challenging to know where to look for mentors, and how to build a mentoring relationship.
Here are some of the strategies that have worked for members of the NetGalley team, and tips to find and keep mentors in the book world.
Cast a wide net
There is great opportunity in the publishing industry to find mentors through advanced degrees or other programs focused on book publishing, including internships. While these may give you access to potential mentors, they aren’t the only place to find professional connections. Even if you don’t have the institutional support of a publishing school or an internship, you can still make inroads in the industry and create meaningful mentoring relationships.
You might find professional mentors even when you aren’t looking for them. Israel Carberry, NetGalley’s Engineering Manager, found two of his professional mentors through their shared interests in civic engagement: One while volunteering at a food bank, another while volunteering at his local chamber of commerce. As their friendships organically grew through shared interests and values, he began to ask for some professional advice, slowly building a mentoring relationship.
Tell friends and acquaintances that you are looking to break into the industry and ask if they know anyone who would be willing to sit down and chat with you informally to share information about their experience. Friends of friends, parents of friends, neighbors, and other members of your community are great resources. And even if you don’t know anyone in your circle who is in publishing, see if you can build relationships with individuals who work in fields adjacent to publishing. For example, a journalist likely knows publicists who pitch them books for review.
Once you have been connected to a potential mentor, ask them to join you for a cup of coffee so that you can learn more about the industry or to get their advice on job hunting. Make sure to do some research before you meet so that you can ask informed and specific questions.
Follow up after an informational interview to thank the person for their time. This helps the conversation continue, and demonstrates that you absorbed the insights they were able to share with you. Find them on LinkedIn, as well, so that you are added to their professional network.
No matter where you find professional contacts, it still takes initiative and follow-through to turn these contacts into mentors. NetGalley’s Sales Assistant Katie Versluis recalls how she met her mentor, Allie.
“She was doing a presentation in my class about book marketing…Being an eager student I hung on her every word. She’s only a few years older than I, but she had already accomplished so much and was working as one half of the marketing department of a feminist press in Toronto that I admired greatly. During the question period, I asked her if they took on interns, and she said, ‘It’s possible…’ but [that] they weren’t planning to in the near future. I, of course, took that as a ‘Heck yes we are, please apply,’ so I drafted an application email to her before she’d even left the building.”
Katie’s application was successful. While the internship did not transform into job afterward, her relationship with Allie did help her find a job. The two of them stayed in touch after the internship ended, and Allie tagged Katie in a Facebook post for the Sales Assistant role at NetGalley. “She said, ‘Apply!!’ and I said, ‘NetGalley was my baby! I’m all over this!’ And the rest was history.”
Katie gained access to publishing industry professionals through her degree, but she made the most out of that access by proactively reaching out to gain an internship, and then by staying in touch after the internship ended.
Keep in Touch
Most of us are only actively in touch with our networks of colleagues, friends, and mentors when we are in transition–looking for a new job, asking for references and letters of recommendation, thinking about a career change. We might reach out to our mentors to ask for advice or to see if they know of any interesting job opportunities.
However, it’s crucial to stay in touch with your mentors even when you are not actively asking for advice. Mentorship is about relationships and those relationships can grow and change with time. When NetGalley’s Communications Assistant, Nina Berman, was making the switch from radio to book publishing, a friend connected her with Sarah Younger, a literary agent who helped Nina edit and format her résumé and cover letters. This ultimately helped her land a job at NetGalley. Several months after Nina started at NetGalley, the two met to catch up and Sarah mentioned that many of her authors use NetGalley, but perhaps not to its fullest potential. Nina was happy to return a favor and sent along some resources and best-practice materials about NetGalley for Sarah and her authors. These relationships can often be mutually beneficial in surprising ways. Stay tuned for a guest post from Sarah in the fall.
Some ways to stay in touch: If you had an informational interview with someone during the course of a job hunt, follow up with them once you have found that job. Let them know that their advice was useful and that you are grateful for their support. If you see their name pop up on Publishers Lunch, drop a line! If their imprint is putting out a book that you think looks terrific, send a quick congratulatory note. It keeps the conversation going and can help transform a one-time meeting into a relationship.
Publishing can be a daunting industry to break into, full of ambitious and talented people, but it is a friendly one. People want to help others succeed!
How have you found mentors in publishing? Let us know in the comments! We’d love to feature your advice and experiences in a future Insights post.