The Black employee resource groups from Macmillan Learning and Macmillan Publishers recently hosted a panel “From Our Perspective: Black Professionals in Publishing” to share perspectives on working in publishing and encourage BIPOC students to consider the industry as a future career.
The panelists represented a variety of roles, backgrounds and levels of experience in publishing, and shared valuable insights about what they’ve learned in their careers. The panelists included: Keith Barksdale, Jr., Publisher’s Representative, Macmillan Learning; Natalie Gordon, Benefits Manager, Macmillan Publishers; Phoenix Harvey, Director of Marketing, Enterprise & High School Solutions, Macmillan Learning; Dominique R. Jenkins, Senior Manager, Author Events, Macmillan Publishers; Jason Walker, Director of Product, eCommerce & Integrations, Macmillan Learning; and Natasha Wolfe, Senior Design Services Manager, Macmillan Learning. The 90-minute discussion covered a range of topics including these key insights from the panel:
You don’t need a masters degree in publishing to get a job working in the industry (but it can be helpful).
Our panelists took a variety of different paths to get their publishing jobs. Only one of the panelists had a masters degree in publishing, Dominique Jenkins. While agreeing a masters in publishing wasn’t necessary for everyone interested in a career in publishing, Dominique thought it would be helpful for her because she had a “late start” in publishing and her degree helped her network and “learn more about the ins and outs of the industry”. She noted “If you don’t want to spend the money for (a master’s degree in) college, there are other avenues to get a job in publishing.”
Natalie Gordon got her start in publishing when she attended a networking event and sat with the Macmillan team; she used the connections she made there to reach out after she saw an opportunity on LinkedIn. Natasha Wolfe went to liberal art colleges to keep her options open, and went on interviews in hopes of being a graphic designer at an ad agency. When she discovered they would only hire for freelancing, she realized that wouldn't work for her. Her career counselor suggested that she try publishing -- 20 years later she’s still working in it. Keith Barksdale had a higher education background and took a risk. As it turned out, being able to talk to strangers on campus was a great benefit to his publishing sales job. Jason Walker had been working in the e-commerce space and was looking to change industries; the edtech space Macmillan Learning was playing in had interested him. Phoenix Harvey studied political science and accounting, but after she had a child and went back to work, she knew she wanted to work in education and make an impact. She did informational interviews with educational publishers, and it wound up being a good fit, so she began her publishing career as a sales representative.
Not everyone who works in publishing first imagines a career in publishing.
Many of these talented employees found their way into publishing … but only after experiencing other industries and roles.
When she was younger, Phoenix didn’t have much of a vision for her career other than she wanted to carry a briefcase and be a “business lady”. Jason has degrees in biology and computer science, and thought he would go into medicine. He focused on academics and enjoyed doing research. Natalie imagined herself being a firefighter in elementary school, then wanted to be in computer systems. She knew she wanted to graduate from a four-year college and after a gap year and networking, she got exposure to benefits and consulting and knew she wanted to work in HR Management. Dominique wanted to be a singing vet, and studied opera and theatre, and then wanted to do what Jackie O. did -- be a professional journalist. She ultimately wanted to shape the books her nieces and read, and found her way to publishing. Despite each of their early thoughts of their careers, their passions led them to a fulfilling career in publishing.
You can pivot to a variety of roles in publishing.
Publishing is about more than editing books, and several of our panelists have experienced a range of these roles in publishing. For example, Phoenix started her career in publishing as a sales rep, but has since had roles of increasing responsibility in marketing. Dominique has been in the industry since 2002 working for several publishers with roles in special sales, regular sales, marketing, conventions and library marketing, and author events.
Internships and networking can help springboard your career in publishing.
While internships help get entry-level experience and look good on the resume, there are other pathways that our panelists recommend. Networking was repeatedly suggested as one of the most important career strategies.
“Build your network,” Dominique said. She noted that informational interviews, joining diverse publishing communities -- including POC in Publishing and LatinX publishing, and LinkedIn are all important. She added on LinkedIn students should state they have an interest in publishing, join networks and don’t hesitate to reach out to people in the field. Natasha agreed, and noted that took advantage of her professors, especially the adjunct ones who had experience, and asked them for advice. Jason has done some meetups, which he noted are pretty popular in the tech space. People who are there are there to interact and exchange ideas.
Networking can be intimidating though, noted Phoenix, who is a self-proclaimed introvert. She explained that each of her roles in publishing have been supported by her strong networking and contacts who helped to open doors. It’s difficult to imagine going to a networking event, but you should consider it. “It just takes one to give you that opportunity,” she said.
Natalie mentioned that virtual coffee hours and reaching out to professionals on LinkedIn were options for introverts, “The worst thing they can tell you is no,” she noted. It’s important to advocate for yourself.
Be active, know yourself, connect, listen and make mistakes.
The panelists had a few suggestions for skills and experiences that were helpful for pivoting to a career in publishing. Jason suggested that students maximize their skills outside of class by joining in activities and Phoenix agreed, noting that leadership and organizational skills are important. While communications courses and networking were critical, if Dominique could go back she would also do more activities. One of her mentors told her not to give up on her dreams and remember who she was -- advice that has been critical to her success.
As an outside sales rep, Keith suggested that students listen closely. He also suggested that taking an improv class is a great way to help you think on your feet, and it also helps in becoming comfortable with being embarrassed. “Making mistakes will make you a stronger individual,” he said.
Phoenix recommended that students set up alerts on LinkedIn to be among the first to respond to influencers or people you respect when they post something interesting. This helps to build relationships, noting “If you comment on mine, I’ll probably comment back.”
When Phoenix hires, she looks for experience that demonstrates skills like resilience and grit. For example, students who work during the school year and are still able to maintain good grades, or students that had a low GPA in highschool that were able to excel in college.
Imposter syndrome is a real thing, but it can be overcome.
Dominique noted that during her first job out of school, she had to fight to try to stay true to herself. “When you’re the only person of color in a department, it’s challenging. Having a strong circle of BIPOC friends helped me.”
Keith noted that he was “unapologetically Black” and encouraged students to be proud of who they are and bet on themselves. Natasha felt like she needed to prove herself, but having a colleague who came in early just like she did helped to encourage her, and reminded her that she deserved to be there as much as -- and sometimes more than -- anyone else.
One final piece of advice from the panelists:
Dominique: “Don’t be afraid. Walk into every job opportunity like you’re a boss.”
Phoenix: “Make them tell you no. Do not count yourself out.”
Natasha: “Stay hungry. Do what it takes to get your foot in the door.” Once you’re in you can explore further.
Jason: “Don’t be afraid to create your own path.”
Keith: “Take risks. Be bold. It’s not where you start, it’s where you finish.”
What are the next steps for anyone interested in learning more?