Encounters in Publishing #9: Who Am I? by Liz Mathews
June 12, 2013
A Dual Life
Within two days of each other, I was both a publishing cheerleader and a publishing naysayer. How do I live with myself, one might be inclined to ask, and I don’t have an answer. I just do.
Less than a week ago I had the opportunity to travel up to Harlem and meet some schoolchildren who’d won a writing contest. I stopped in on two classes and presented four kids with their awards (well, three kids, because one was absent). The classes were electives, and were headed up not only by a teacher in the school, but also some outside folks who happened to be employed in publishing, with the idea that having real editors involved would better encourage the kids to write, and would also maybe turn their eyes toward the publishing industry as a possible career idea. To go along with that, during the students’ feedback session, it turned out they really enjoyed their field trip to a publishing office. And they also suggested getting authors such as Rick Riordan and Suzanne Collins to visit the following year. The visiting editor suggested she’d see what she could do.
Part of winning involved the kids recording their pieces, for later use as a podcast (which you can check out on this here website). Two of the students, eighth graders and girls, were quietly happy that they’d won, and they dutifully read their pieces both in front of their class—half of which was paying some attention—and then into the small recorder I’d brought along. Ideally they will continue their writing and find success with it. But it was the seventh grade boy who seemed super-stoked to have been a winner, and nervous though he might have been, he was also all smiles and excitement before, during, and after recording his story. “This is so great,” he told me, grinning at me with a huge smile of braces and sparkly eyes before he started recording his story about traveling to a make-believe, ancient Egypt. “It’s so exciting,” he shook my hand again when he had finished, and beamed his way back to the classroom.
But of course, I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t make sure to rib publishing, just to balance out all the good feelings that visiting the kids in Harlem called forth. Two days after meeting the students, I went to a picnic in the park near my home, and it happened that two of my former coworkers were also in attendance. One is still in the industry—and happy with her elsewhere position—and the other is also happy but now doing something completely different. She had brought a friend along, who’d recently moved to the city.
We all got to talking about what brought us to the concrete jungle, and I contributed publishing. “But I’m pursuing other ideas right now,” I was quick to add. The guy new to the city said, “Oh yeah, my sister thought she wanted to get into that,” and my former coworker chimed in, “But I did a good job of talking her out of it.”
“That’s probably for the best,” I said. We all agreed that nursing, the sister’s actual career pursuit, was a lot more lucrative.
In retrospect, I have a question for myself. Why does it feel so positive to point kids in the direction of a career that I try to talk adults out of? In ten years, if I run into these contest winners (and/or their classmates), and they’re thinking about making a go as a publishing editor or publicist, will I be quick to dissuade them from a dream I encouraged a decade prior?
I doubt it. Who am I trying to fool? I was one of those beaming, brace-faced kids once. And I wouldn’t have listened to a naysayer for a second.
Liz Mathews composes ads for many things science fiction and fantasy. Her writing can be found in magazines, catalogs, newspapers, brochures, and books; and on bookmarks, postcards, cable television commercials, and even doorhangers all across the United States and in some parts of Canada. She lives in Brooklyn but considers the cornfields of Iowa home.