Hamilton Alumni share experience and tips from inside the publishing world

By Makayla Franks ’19

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On Saturday, April 22, in the Red Pit, four Hamilton alumni came to talk about their roles in the publishing industry. In their talk, “Explorations in Publishing: How to Publish a Novel,” the group talked about each of their different roles.

Hali Baumstein ’11 and Olivia Valcarce ’15 both work as editors in Bloomsbury Children’s Books and Scholastic, respectively. Amy Appel ’13 works as a literary agent in McIntosh & Otis Literary Agency and Lauren Magaziner ’12 is a two time published author who writes for middle grade (ages 8-12).

Questions spanned from the obvious “How did you get your job?” to the more practical “What are red flags in your line of work that make you immediately put a project to the side?”

In response to the first question, each had different takes on how they arrived at their positions. “I worked a lot of internships before I landed this job,” Valcarce said. “Experience is key for trying to land an entry level position. Which is a bit of an oxymoron, I know, but they teach you the skills that you need for editorial work.”

Magaziner said that she started writing her first published novel, There’s Nothing Worse Than Witches, when she was a first year student here at Hamilton. It was in the process of being published by the time she was a senior. “I wrote a lot of query letters and read a lot. Knowing what’s on the market is crucial to knowing how to market your book and say what makes it different,” she advised.

In response to the second question, Appel started with the very basics. “Get my name right, for starters. And make sure you review it. It is painfully obvious if you just type out your query and just sent it off en masse to a ton of different agents. Also listen to the specific requirements per agent. Some do things differently. It’s important that you know what that agent is doing.”

Baumstein added, “A tip for how to get started looking for agents is to go to a bookstore, to the section you like and pick up a book that you really enjoyed reading. And then check the acknowledgements. A lot of times authors will thank their agency or their agent in particular in the acknowledgements. Then, you can personalize your letter with works you know they vouched for, and you have some names to start with.”

Across the board, all four speakers heavily emphasized reading. Knowing what else has been successful in the genre you are seeking to enter into––and what could possibly be your competition––is important for authors, agents and editors alike. Talk of how contracts work, what “advances” and “royalties” are and other business type stuff that goes over the heads of most writers, was also discussed.

In the end, the most helpful piece of advice was to just leave the business to the agency and publisher to handle.

Additionally, all four agreed that Hamilton itself helped to sharpen their skills. Giving them strong writing and communication skills, their time here helped to make them stand out in their job hunts and in their positions where they work now.

This event was made possible by the Novelists’ Support Group and the Career Center. Perhaps, we will see more literary-themed panels in the future.

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