I just listened to a fascinating edition of the Books on the Nightstand podcast. (It’s one of my favorites, although I’ve concluded that the hosts and I have wildly disparate tastes in books). In this episode, hosts Ann Kingman and Michael Kindness answer what they call their most frequently asked reader question: how did they get their jobs?
I’m late to the party: the episode is almost two months old by now. Many MMD readers listen to the BOTN podcast, and I’ve gotten quite a few emails about my own book-related job and my day job (it’s not in books) asking for my own perspective on their background. Now that I’ve listened, I can finally talk about it.
By day, Ann and Michael work as sales reps for Penguin Random House, a position which inspires envy in readerly types. Their job is to read, talk books with fellow booklovers, and get people excited about reading. They explained how they got their jobs (short answer: bookish backgrounds and a fair amount of luck) and—since they say you can’t get a job like theirs unless one of them dies—they turned the conversation towards other book-related jobs. Because many, many readers want a job that revolves around books.
At the 20:00 mark of the podcast, Ann mentions that all kinds of new book-related jobs are popping up these days because of the internet and social media. More and more people are creating their own made-to-fit book-related jobs.
I have one of those.
Believe it or not, I was never particularly interested in a job that involved a lot of reading, for the same reason I didn’t last as an English major: I was afraid that making books my work would take all the fun out of it.
And yet, without exactly meaning to, I’ve made books a significant part of my life and my work. That’s not what I expected to happen when I started this blog back in 2011. But now I’m able to surround myself with books, literally and figuratively, and with people who love books as much as I do.
Now I devote a good number of hours to writing this blog, and various freelance pieces. I have my own writing projects in process (some of which may eventually actually see the light of day). I copyedit the books of other writers, pre-publication, and I review them when they’re published.
Good writers have to be readers. And to write about books, you first have to read them. It’s a nice little virtuous cycle, if you’re a book lover.
Every once in a while I’ll have lunch with someone—an acquisitions editor, a sales rep, a full time copyeditor—and think, I want her job. But on a day-in, day-out basis I am very happy with the odd kind of job I accidentally created for myself in the world of books.
Lest you die of envy, right here, I’ll tell you that reading for a living does have its drawbacks.
Reading for work is time-consuming, and it will take as much time as I’m willing to give it, and more. It’s easy for my reading to feel rushed, like I’m going wide but not deep. And my TBR list is a million miles long.
Believe it or not (and I don’t expect you to, so don’t worry), early access to soon-to-be-published works has a downside. Vetting books before anyone else has read them or reviewed them makes you realize how much you depend on other people’s recommendations when selecting your own books, to steer you towards the good stuff and away from the bad. Without that guidance, you end up reading a lot of mediocre books.
Editing books is lots of fun: it’s fascinating to get to see a writer’s creative process, and how subsequent revisions bring a work closer and closer to a finished product that’s a pleasure to read. But in order to make that work the best it can be, you need a critical eye—and it can be hard to turn off your inner critic when the project is over.
But don’t get the wrong idea: reading for a living is pretty awesome. I love getting to talk about reading every day. I love needing to read widely and immerse myself in my favorite subjects. I especially love how I get to read backlist and hot new releases.
If you’ve gotten to this point and are tempted to hate me, don’t do it—just go check out this list of book-related jobs and hobbies right now.
How does reading fit into your job, or your fictional dream job? Do you have a different hobby that you’ve built a career around, or that you’d LIKE to? Tell us about it in comments.