#65: An Interview with Penguin Random House editorial assistant Kary Perez, by Maria Gagliano

Authors and editors offer excellent insight into the publishing world, but sometimes the best wisdom comes from deeper within the machine—the assistants who make this crazy book world go ‘round. Because while it’s the editors who find brilliant authors and help make their books even better, the assistants are often the ones who truly make the book a reality. They work closely with production departments, legal teams, and liaise with dozens of people who are part of a book in some way. Without them, our books may not ever make it to the printer with integrity and grace. I spoke with Penguin Random House editorial assistant Kary Perez, who worked her way through a series of internships and is now keeping the machine running around several bestselling nonfiction books each year. And when Kary is not busy keeping everyone’s books intact, she spearheads office coat drives and keeps her colleagues laughing with .gifs that take the tension out of any stressful day.

What made you want to work in book publishing?

Like most people that end up in this industry, I’ve loved books from a young age. Books offered me an intoxicating form of escapism and adventure. I travelled the world (and beyond), won wars, attended a certain wizarding school, and questioned the meaning of it all from a jail cell, all before I even went off to college. Once I got to college I realized that books were much more than the experiences they granted me; I realized they were also products with an industry dedicated to them, and that I could be a part of the process.

How did you break into the industry?

When my sophomore year of college was coming to an end, I knew I had to get some sort of internship experience under my belt. I did some research, and taught myself about the “Big Six” that kept appearing in my Google search results. I blindly submitted my resume and cover letter to Simon & Schuster’s HR department, and was brought on as the Summer Editorial Intern at Gallery Books. I had no idea what I was doing, but I showed up on time, filed, sent mailers, and read with enthusiasm each day. From there, a colleague at Gallery referred me to an internship with Curtis Brown, where I spent eight months with the Children’s and YA department, reading slush and writing submission letters to editors. Once I graduated college I scored a job at Open Road Media, and a year later I started at Penguin. It’s been a winding road thus far, but there hasn’t been a day where I haven’t learned an invaluable lesson.

Now that you’re in, is it different from what you’d expected?

There’s definitely a romanticized version of what an editor does that many of us conceive when starting in this industry. It’s this image of a person surrounded by manuscripts, holding a red pen, cut off from the world, yet living through the story in the manuscript they are working on. Now that I’m in it, I know it can be like that sometimes, but those moments are rare and should be cherished. Publishing is an incredibly social industry, it’s all about who’s who, who’s working where, who’s doing what, and I honestly would’ve never expected that. It is a bit jarring to try to fuse the image of what you wanted (to be locked away in an office with a big cup of coffee while I read all day) with the reality (lunches, coffees, and drinks, oh my) but I am learning, and I am pleased to report I am even becoming more gregarious as a result!

What’s one of the craziest things you’ve had to do for an author?

I’ve certainly acquired some character-building battle scars in the past few years. In particular, my experiences with permissions requests can induce nightmares. I won’t get into too much detail, but about four months into my tenure here at Penguin, I had approximately two weeks to get all of the text and photo permissions cleared for the autobiography of a prominent rock star, and there were A LOT. I also had to figure out how to ensure a bottle of champagne would get to said rock star’s hotel room in Oslo on publication day. When you have two weeks like that, it makes you realize that you’re not necessarily doing it just for the author; you’re doing it because you’re a part of a bigger mechanism, where many dedicated people in many departments are working incredibly hard to create something that we all believe in and will hopefully resonate with readers.

What would you say to someone asking for advice about starting a career in publishing?

Publishing is incredibly competitive, and there aren’t too many people that get their foot in the door without knowing someone that knows someone in publishing. I know I was so lucky to have Simon & Schuster pick my resume out of the batch. Research is crucial; know the “Big Five”, their imprints, and the independents. Sign up for Publishers Marketplace, and start to figure out what everything means. Apply to internships, consider volunteering at a library or working at a bookstore, work on your resume and create a LinkedIn profile if you don’t already have one, and mostly just become knowledgeable about the industry. Essentially, I would tell them to blast “Eye of the Tiger” on repeat, 24/7.