YPG’s Town Hall Discusses Career Transitioning

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On Wednesday, July 16th, 2014 at 6:30PM, over 80 YPG members from 17 AAP member publishing houses and related companies joined the very first YPG Town Hall: How to Navigate a Career Transition at the NYPL Jefferson Market Branch with YPG Planning Committee member panelists:

  • Alex Arnold, Editorial Assistant, Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins Children’s Books (transitioned from adult to children’s)
  • Brigid Black, Associate Production Manager, Sterling Publishing (transitioned from large publishing house to smaller house)
  • Samantha Mandel, Editorial Assistant, Henry Holt Books for Young Readers (transitioned from academic to trade)
  • Stephanie Stein, Assistant Editor, HarperCollins Children’s Books (transitioned from marketing to editorial)
  • Ashley Woodfolk, Assistant Marketing Manager, Random House Children’s Books (transitioned from adult trade books to children’s)
YPG Town Hall panelists

Town Hall panelists (from left to right) Stephanie Stein, Alex Arnold, Brigid Black, and Samantha Mandel, with moderator Ashley Woodfolk

With the room filled to capacity of eager, career-minded YPG members, the panelists candidly discussed, from their own personal experiences, how to best approach a career transition.

Moderated by Ashley, the panelists first addressed recurring themes they discovered from previously submitted questions. These questions began with how to transition from one publishing genre to another: in this case, from academic to trade. Samantha addressed this question, stating that while the transition did take a long time, what helped her most was rigorous networking, especially through YPG, since she was able to leverage those relationships to move within the industry. She also discussed that she personally took a step back, title-wise, on the editorial ladder (from Assistant Editor to Editorial Assistant) for the sake of the transition, and she made a strong point to vocalize to interviewers that she saw the move as a step forward toward her dream position rather than a step down.

This naturally moved into a discussion on transitioning laterally, upwards, and internally. Stephanie (who moved from marketing to editorial internally) encouraged attendees interested in transitioning within the same company to ask for what they want, especially in conversations with HR. Ashley described her own lateral move from Assistant Marketing Manager in adult trade books to the same role in children’s books and explained how she positioned herself as “differently qualified,” rather than over- or under-qualified, when making her transition. Alex shared how she made a lateral move from adult to children’s, too, and agreed that you can skew your experience towards the position you desire by staying on top of industry trends on your own time, remaining knowledgeable in the area of your interest, and to continue to learn about the area you ultimately want to work in.

The next question addressed how to discreetly show your interest in other areas while in your current role. Brigid encouraged members to find a mentor or take advantage of company mentoring programs (when available), and to find someone in a role you want, learn how they got there, and emulate their steps. Stephanie added that you can demonstrate interest in current day-to-day tasks that might relate to a job you want and to then offer to spearhead these tasks for your team, showing your expertise. Ashley encouraged members to continuously search for people you can take to lunch. Being friendly builds natural connections, she said, and you never know who might be able to advocate on your behalf.

To this point, an audience member asked for advice on finding and “courting” a mentor. The panelists joked that mentorships are a lot like dating, in that you need to take it slow, not come on too strong, and build a natural chemistry and rapport with your mentor in order for it to be a successful relationship. All kidding aside, Ashley and Alex dished out some critical advice, saying: you can start by asking for an informational interview, showing your intellectual interest in their work, being flattering and polite, and start with the first meeting and see how it goes from there to continue the relationship and consider monthly or repeated meetings.

The packed Town Hall house

For the next question the audience wanted to know specifically how to handle a transition while maintaining a relationship with your boss. Do you tell them up front? Do you reach out to Human Resources? Stephanie emphasized the importance of following all HR policies when it comes to interviewing internally, which vary house to house, but ultimately said you need to be open but can be discreet until you actually act on an opportunity. Alex said she was able to drop subtle hints that made it less of a shock when her opportunity to transition actually came since they knew where her interests lay. Brigid had a slightly different experience in that her boss wasn’t initially pleased about losing her, but that her explanation of not being challenged and feeling restless ultimately won her boss’s support. While Brigid had the rare, lucky thing happen to her of being found and contacted on LinkedIn, she appreciates the difficulty in transitioning and how important it is to not burn bridges in the small, interconnected publishing industry.

Samantha warned that some worst-case scenarios (like a supervisor seeing a business card from another house’s HR department in your folder at a meeting) can happen, so be as honest about your interest in transitioning as possible. Ashley added that she told her boss as early as possible about her interest in children’s books, and that she was lucky to have the experience of complete support during her entire search process. But ultimately, the panelists agreed that you need to do whatever you think is best for your particular situation and relationship with your manager, and as long as you follow HR policies, you’ll be fine. Brigid added that we’re all in the early phases of our careers and now is the time to take risks and find opportunities so that we go in the direction we want to be in, and that generally, people in publishing do want to see you do well and go for your goals.

At this time, panelists took some questions from the audience. The first was about how to stay positive and avoid feeling discouraged if your search is taking longer than you’d like. Ashley explained how she keeps a list of things she can proactively do and tackles it task by task to avoid getting overwhelmed. Brigid quipped that you need to be your own marketer to stay on people’s minds and all of the panelists agreed that personality fit is probably the number one deciding factor when landing a job.

The next few questions were more specific to certain job types (editorial, publicity), and included questions about what a good “reader’s report” includes (the report you may be asked to do for an editor on whether to pass or go on a manuscript), skills needed to transition from a non-editorial to editorial role, and how to come across as a strong publicity candidate if your media contact list isn’t as long as others’. The panelists spoke to their own personal experiences and encouraged members to always find opportunity to demonstrate their “differently qualified” skills.

Panelists discussed topics submitted in advance and took questions at the event

There were then a couple questions about transitioning from a big house to a smaller house and how to fit in within these cultures when coming from a different one. Brigid spoke to this, saying that you have to know what culture you’re looking for and what the perks of a big company versus small company are (i.e. the tight-knit, “big fish in small pond” culture at a small house versus having more opportunities for growth at a larger house).

Panelists took the last few questions about how to know where or what to transition to, being new to the industry and still standing strong on your decision to move, and salary negotiation (especially when moving laterally or a step down). The panelists concluded that you need to learn where you want to go and what position you want by observing, and that you should always feel confident to go for what you want, if it’s the right move for you.

The first YPG Town Hall ended with an enthusiastic move to the Crooked Knife in the West Village for drinks, networking and further discussion. Handshakes and business card exchanges led the way to general mingling, and it is safe to say that a fun time was had by all. Stay tuned for our next YPG Town Hall!


This event write-up was contributed by YPG Planning Committee member Heather Luciano. Learn more about Heather and the YPG Planning Committee here.

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