Alumnae discuss careers in literary publishing

Charles Beers, Staff Writer

Kate Berner ’12, Mary Coyne ’11, and Janine Le ’09 may not have graduated in the same year, but they all found their niche in the publishing industry. Dozens of students and faculty gathered in the ELC Walls Lounge on Jan. 29 to hear these three alumni shed light on the publishing industry and the paths that brought them to where they are today.

Berner works as a lecture agent at the Knopf Doubleday division of Penguin Random House where she organizes speaking engagements for authors such as Edwidge Danticat and Jane Smiley. Coyne currently works in Cambridge, Mass. as an editor at BookBub, a startup focused on eBook discovery and marketing.  Le is employed at Sheldon Fogelman Agency, an organization that represents children’s book authors and illustrators.

The panel was moderated by Andrew Ciotola, the program manager for the Stadler Center for Poetry and managing editor of West Branch magazine. He began by introducing the panelists, and then asked each of them questions about their careers. These questions ranged from addressing the decisions that led them to their current positions to the skills they obtained at the University that prepared them for their jobs.

The alumnae shared many similarities in terms of their respective work days. Both Coyne and Le described their process of going through submissions from authors looking for representation.

“What books are going to perform best?” Coyne would ask herself, analyzing sales numbers and popular trends to determine if the latest entry was a good investment.

In contrast, Berner’s day was primarily focused on reaching out to get the authors she represents to speak, as well as organizing their travel plans and handling their expenses.

Each of the panelists said that the University’s education helped them tremendously in the early stages of their careers. Le said the University taught her how to “give feedback to authors constructively,” and her involvement in the Fire and Ice Literary Arts Magazine forced her to “take responsibility.” As for Berner, the University honed her “attention to detail,” as well as her understanding of the complexity of a seemingly ordinary task. Coyne added that her University education taught her how to “offer creative solutions to problems,” which proved useful once she began her editorial track at BookBub.

While all of the alumnae found great success in their career paths, their journeys were far from easy. Berner recalled how she was “freaking out for three months” after graduating, and then worked as an unpaid intern for six to eight months. Coyne faced a similar situation when she started an unpaid internship in public affairs to learn about how the industry worked. Despite the lack of stable income, each of the three alumnae were flexible and persevered, eventually finding stable jobs and establishing themselves within the publishing community.

“I thought that the panel was tremendous,” Visiting Assistant Professor of English Joseph Scapellato said. “The panelists were very generous, experienced, and helpful. I also loved how they offered to be connections for students.”

Before leaving, the panelists offered some advice for students seeking publishing careers. One of the biggest tips offered was for students to look at what they like to read and find those publishers, while still remaining open to other publishing experiences. Coyne stressed the importance of gaining experience early by finding summer internships at companies, as they are great resume-builders for the publishing world.

“I think that they talked very frankly about their paths and how they had to be open to taking different turns,” Scapellato said. “In the end, I think this panel made a career in publishing seem possible.”

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