It's a natural, isn't it? You love books. You picked up a pencil at age six and have never put it down. You hate to admit it, because you purposely avoid reading any book with the Oprah seal on it, but you've dreamt about sitting down with Oprah and discussing your latest book. Your past loves are going to be SO upset they ever dumped you when they walk by their local Borders and see all those copies of your book on display in the window. The publishing industry is where you're headed for First Day Job as soon as you finish this Bachelor's/Masters in English, right? You'll have your foot in the door. You've read so many writers who started out in the publishing industry. Look where David Rakoff is now, and he was once a starving editorial assistant just like you're going to be.
I'm here to say to you: don't do it. Please, please don't do it. I spend quite a lot of time out here browsing through blogs written by all you oh-so-talented twenty-somethings, and I find myself thinking over and over again, "Oh, I hope he/she doesn't decide to go into publishing," because, chances are, if you go into publishing, I'll never get to read your book, and I want to read your book. You see, once you get a job in publishing, your life-long desire to want to publish a book of your own will plummet the way the stock market does whenever Republicans are in power too long. The publishing industry is a place meant really for editors, not for writers. And don't fool yourself into thinking, "Well, yes, she may be right when it comes to getting jobs at major trade publishers, but I'm not doing that. I'm just applying for this job at Tiny Little Publisher That Publishes Travel Guides or Midwest University Press, and this job certainly won't interfere with the novel I'm writing in the evenings and on weekends."
Once you've taken a job at Non-Trade Publisher, you'll find yourself sitting in meetings, listening to discussions about whether or not to publish a book and why, and it won't be long before you're thinking, "Man, if it's this bad here, imagine what it must be like at Major Trade Publisher." You will see books you wouldn't touch with a ten-foot-pole receive high praise in the review media and find yourself thinking, "Huh? We held our noses and stuck that piece of crap into production, because we were being hounded to make sure it made the fall list. Did the reviewer even do more than read the table of contents and the introduction?" You will read a gem of a proposal on restaurants in Australia and be the only one voting to publish it, because "we just have too many books about Australia on the list already." Besides, no one else thinks the author has enough clout, and "we need more big-name authors here." During the same meeting, someone will propose a book on hiking in Antarctica by Ms. Nobody, and everyone will be oooohing and ahhhhing, talking about how hiking in Antarctica is the next "hot thing," and "we can be the company that builds a name for Ms. Nobody."
You will also see great books on important topics turned into 16-page picture books, because the company does not want to pay the printing costs for a book that long. You will see the company's major authors wined and dined while slaves write their books for them. Meanwhile, you'll have to tell your "lessor" authors you're sorry but unless they can deliver triplicate manuscripts written in blood, the company won't sign a contract with them.
It's quite disheartening. I, too, once thought I wanted to be a published writer, but I no longer want to pursue that path. I've met very few colleagues in the world of publishing (at least on the editorial side of things) who did not at some point in their lives have dreams of becoming a writer. However, I have only known one or two with published books (and none of those were fiction, despite the fact I know one of these editors writes novels), so I have a feeling I am not the only one whose desire to publish was ruined by working in the publishing industry. I still love to write, but these days, the only place I plan to publish is in the blogosphere, so that those who enjoy reading me can do so, whether a group of ten people sitting around a table thinks they'd want to or not. I'm waiting for blogging software to improve to the point that it will be easier to post serial fiction, and then I will start doing that (I'm hoping I will have some final drafts of things written by the time the software catches up).
However, I don't want everyone publishing the way I plan to publish. My writing needs an editor (editors cannot edit their own writing. It just doesn't work), and the best way to get one of those is to publish the old-fashioned way. Besides, I don't want books to die. I don't even want publishing companies to die (although I wish they'd become less greedy). That means we need lots and lots of writers who have not become jaded by an inside view of the publishing industry. So, I'm begging all of you writers, yet again, to choose a different career path. Consider library science (you still get to be surrounded by books and readers all day). Consider teaching. Consider being a ski instructor. Leave publishing up to the editors (believe it or not, there are people out there who were born to edit, not to write, and who are perfectly content doing just that). Just do two things for me please: keep writing, and never give up.