by Willy Nichter, Contributing Writer
Mead Hall’s Founders Room was filled to capacity on the afternoon of Monday, March 20, as students and faculty alike gathered for Writers@Drew’s Publishers Panel. The panel, featuring a variety of publishers, editors and other members of the literary community, served as a forum for interested students to learn about the publishing industry and how one can both get involved and get their writings published.
“We both organized it,” said Professor Courtney Zoffness, referring to herself and Associate Professor of English Patrick Phillips, the two co-chairs of the Creative Writing department. They have organized all of the Writers@Drew events this year, as well as co-hosting the panel.
Many of the students attending were quite enthusiastic about the event. “I heard about it from Courtney herself because of Insanity’s Horse,” said Amanda Farbanish (’17), Editor-in-Chief of Drew’s literary magazine, Insanity’s Horse, “I want to be an editor, so I think this will be very beneficial to me as I pursue my career.”
The event opened with a speech from Professor Zoffness. “I can’t tell you how thrilled I am for this turnout,” she said, looking over the packed room as she started her speech. From there, she went on to describe the six panelists, saying, “We picked these panelists partially for the diversity of the fields they represent.”
From there, Professor Phillips began the event in earnest, asking the panelists how they achieved their current position and what they did that prepared them for said position. The panelists then went down the line with their answers, both exploring their histories and giving advice to the assembled students.
“I was the friend who always edited my friends’ papers,” said Alane Mason, Executive Editor at W. W. Norton, getting a chuckle from the audience. She went on to describe her early working experience as an intern at Harper’s Magazine. “It’s good to be a bit of a jack-of-all-trades, and that’s basically what an editor does,” she said as she finished her answer.
“As a child of MTV it was thrilling, absolutely thrilling, to be there,” said Mimi O’Conner, a freelance writer, of her time working at MTV, the job that inspired her first book, “The Dictionary of Corporate Bullshit.”
The last to give his answer was James Yeh, the Culture Editor of Vice, and he talked about his early work experiences and the difficulties he experienced then. “I was juggling a lot of things,” he said, discussing his various different jobs.
From there, the panel moved into answering audience questions, beginning with a student asking, “Would you say that it’s [being a writer] achievable for everyone who has the type of mindset to get themselves there, and if so, what steps do they need to take to get there?”
“Can anybody be a writer? Sure,” answered Mason. “Can everybody get published? Absolutely not,” she continued, before going into more detail about the nature of publishing.
Regarding a question of whether a student should choose to pursue a writing-based career, specifically investigative journalism, over a Business major, Mason said, “If you don’t take a risk, you’re not going to know.”
When asked whether there was room for important lessons in children’s books, Netta Rosenman, Vice-President of Klutz Books, a subsidiary publishing company of Scholastic Books focusing on children’s books and activity guides, answered, “Absolutely.”
“When people think of children’s books, they think about what children’s books mean to them,” she continued. “We are looking more and more for lessons in children’s books.”
Don Lehr, a literary agent for Trident Media Group, also weighed in on the matter. “One of the most extraordinary areas in children’s books is YA,” he said.
One of the last questions came from Professor Zoffness, and was directed at the youngest member of the panel, W. W. Norton Editorial Assistant Eve Sanoussi (’14), who recently graduated from Drew. Zoffness asked, “What surprised you most about becoming an editorial assistant?”
Sanoussi then began to describe her experiences working at W. W. Norton, and her perception of the editorial assistant position in general. “An editorial assistant is usually the assistant to the editor, and editors are the people who pull together the creative vision behind the book,” she said, “The editorial assistant is very critical in connecting with the authors.”
She finished up her answer with some basic pieces of advice about being an editorial assistant, first among them being, “You may not do much editing, but you still have to be a good editor.”