‘I help convince a reader that the book they are holding is, indeed, worth their time’
The week after President Trump’s election, sales of 1984, George Orwell’s classic dystopian novel, skyrocketed. I mean really, truly took off: they increased by 9,500%, and the book landed the coveted spot of #1 bestseller on Amazon. As a private citizen, I find it alarming that our current political situation is aggressively reminding readers of the hellscape that is Oceania. But as an aspiring editor? Well, I feel positively buoyed by this news. The only reason why those of us in publishing go into it is because we believe books are fundamentally important to the fabric of our society. The thousands of readers demanding 1984 right now–who are turning to literature for comfort and guidance–prove us right.
I am an editorial assistant. I schedule appointments, make lunch reservations, and file expenses. I sit all day at a desk, staring at a computer, passing information from author to editor to designer to publicity (repeat indefinitely). I go home and read submissions—endless pages crafted by people hoping against hope that one day they’ll see their name stamped on a hardcover— that, sadly, more often than not, my bosses will end up passing on for one reason or another. I mail lots and lots of books to lots and lots of people. In many ways, it’s just another office job.
But I also get to write catalog and flap copy—the very words that help convince a reader that the book they are holding is, indeed, worth her time. I get to form relationships with authors I greatly respect and admire. I get to write impassioned reports to my bosses when I read a great submission that I think they should publish. I get to help edit—which really means being the book’s best, most attentive reader—and interact with the manuscript in a way very few people ever will. In exchange for all the grunt work, I get to put a piece of myself in every book I work on.
I’m now the most annoying person to browse a bookstore with, as I’ll parade around pointing at titles and saying, “That’s mine. And that’s mine. That’s mine, too. I wrote the copy here. See my name in the acknowledgments?” Of course, none of these books are “mine,” but knowing that I played a part in that book’s birth fills me with near maternal pride.
As an English major at Hamilton, my primary task was to think about literature. As an editorial assistant at Alfred A. Knopf, my primary task is also to think about literature. It’s a pretty sweet deal, and this job is a natural fit for a bibliophile. But it isn’t glamorous work, and it’s oftentimes frustrating, and a lot of the work you do is completely behind the scenes and off the clock. This job is wonderful, but it’s also a labor of love. So if you think dedicating yourself to books—championing them, defending them, losing sleep over them–sounds like your cup of tea, then being an editorial assistant might just be the perfect job for you.