I’ve had a couple of questions lately about education and career paths, and what to study or do to make your way into publishing, and, specifically, towards being a literary agent. Now, knowing that I’m not an officially licensed guidance counselor, here’s a few thoughts.
The first thing to do is read everything you can get your hands on, but that’s just good advice for everybody. Yes, I was an English major in college (a double major, actually, along with history), but I know people from every course of study who’ve found their way into publishing. It helps to be able to read critically, but business majors will always be needed to actually RUN the publishing house — same with marketing majors, who can get the books into readers’ attention, sales people to get the books into readers’ hands, and designers and artists to make the book pretty.
Basically, there’s no one course towards working in publishing. Yes, there are a lot of English majors, but if you polled a bunch of people at most major corporations, I think you’d find a good number of English majors there, too. We’re everywhere! Look, under that hydrangea bush! It’s another English major!
One reader asked me to help her decide between an English degree and social work, but you can read any course of study for “social work.” You have to go where your drive is, and if your drive leads you towards helping people — hoorah! The world needs more people like you. Books will always be there for you.
Also, here’s a secret about the working world after college: you can change your mind. You HAVE to pick a major to get through college, but if you study a range of subjects towards that one major, you’ll graduate a well-rounded individual with lots of possibilities in front of you. Try social work for a few years, or sales, and if that’s not where your passion is, keep searching. Lots of people come to publishing from different works of life.
Ad for being a literary agent, once you’ve decided publishing is the business for you, (and you’re still reading critically), try interning, or do what I did, and answer every ad in the classifieds that leads you towards agentry. Just know that it’s not always a straight shot.
We agents — we like to meander.