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#46: What Ten Years in Book Publishing Can Do to a Person, by Maria Gagliano

Memorial Day weekend marks the ten-year anniversary of my start in book publishing. I’d accepted my first job in May 2004 as an editorial assistant at Random House. I was to start the Tuesday after Labor Day. I remember going to the beach with my friends that weekend, all the while feeling guilty that I wasn’t somehow “preparing” for work on Tuesday. Shouldn’t I be reading a book or something? I thought. 

It’s crazy to think that was ten years ago. I don’t feel that old. Out of my fellow assistants at that job, I am the only one who still works in book publishing. I’m not sure what that says about me. 

Ten years in this industry does a lot to a person. None of it especially bad, but I thought I’d share some of the quirks I’ve picked up along the way.

I’m Spine-Obsessed. When I see a book, the first thing I do is look at the spine to see who the publisher is. If it’s new nonfiction, I scan my memory of book proposals to recall if I’d seen the submission. I can’t stand at the nonfiction table in a bookstore without getting flooded with questions of who a book’s publisher, editor, or agent were. I try to imagine what the manuscript was like when the editor first received it. Did she do a lot of editing? Was it beautiful as it was? I need to know! It’s exhausting. 

Frugality Rules. This is not an industry of bonuses and mega pay raises. As I write this, I’m wearing a pair of Birkenstocks that I bought in 2007 and marking my calendar for Memorial Day 50% off sales. Of course, frugality isn’t reserved for book editors, but it’s a quality you’re destined to master if you stick around long enough. I suppose it’s an asset—right?

I Can’t Contribute to Most Conversations About Pop Culture. This one is totally my fault, not the industry’s. When you decide to start another publishing outfit on top of the one you work for during the day, there’s little time for anything else. So, TV went away a long time ago, and with it, my ability to contribute to many office hallway conversations. I’ve never seen an episode of Girls or Downton Abbey. I didn’t know what Lena Dunham looked like until she tweeted about my author’s book (then I scurried onto Wikipedia for a Lena Dunham crash course). On the plus side, I’ve mastered the art of nodding and mmhmm-ing during these conversations, then quietly slipping away to read another manuscript.

Everything Is Quantified in Books: A hardcover book these days costs roughly $27. It takes me about 8 hours to read one (give or take, obviously). This is the framework that colors many of my decisions. Should we order a pizza tonight? Well, I can buy a book with that money, which will offer much more joy. Should we endure a long flight? Well, I can use the time to catch up on a book. Should I get these jeans? Yes, they’re as cheap as a book! Should I stop buying coffee every morning? Well, if I did, I’d have money for two more books a month. You see what I mean. It’s also exhausting. But a useful decision-making tool.

So, on this upcoming ten-year anniversary, I have to thank the book world for making me the resourceful, obsessive, selectively-informed bookworm that I am. It’s been a good ten years.


Maria Gagliano is a writer, editor, baker, and Business Director of Slice. Her writing has appeared in BUST magazine, the Huffington Post, and Salon, among other publications. When she’s not playing with words, she’s teaching herself to sew, garden, pickle, preserve, and cook like her Sicilian parents. She shares her (mis)adventures at pomatorevival.com.

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