Three Mystical Women Demystify the Publishing Industry

By Julianna Vehslage

4 mins read
books in black wooden book shelf
Photo by Pixabay on

From daunting, miserable jobs selling soap at the mall to sneaking novels into math class, three women found their passion in the field of publishing. Each of ​​them agreed that they found a magnetic attraction to literature, which ultimately directed the scope of their lives.

On Wednesday Feb. 23, Drew students gathered via Zoom to learn about publishing from Jenna Johnson, Rebecca Gradinger and Denne Michelle Norris in a discussion led by Courtney Zoffness to “demystify” the publishing industry.

Gradinger, a literary agent for Fletcher and Company, said she never really thought about going into the publishing industry. She powered through college with the intent to be a television producer, received an internship on an MTV comedy show and ended up going to law school. “I didn’t know how important it was to do something you love,” Gradinger said. “I got to a point where I used to photocopy novels at work and read them.”

Norris, the Editor-in-chief of Electric Literature and current professor for a fiction workshop at Drew University, said she had a similar experience, cycling through miserable jobs and tedious classes. She had a political science internship, part-time job and endured the purgatory of math class. “I used to hide literature behind textbooks,” Norris said. “I should be paying attention in class, but you’re boring me!”

Now, Norris explains her life with youthful passion. “I love editing,” she said. “It’s like being on the playground for me.”

Johnson said she never saw herself as a literary agent either. “Being the kid who was into English was my ‘thing’ throughout life,” she said. “I just wanted to do something that was more challenging for me, so I majored in History.”

It was only in college that Johnson scored a paid internship at a literary agency and delved into the depths of what being an editor really is.

For those unfamiliar with the publishing industry, Johnson said she can condense it into three things: “Acquisitions, editing and publishing. You might not be great at all three of these things or love them, but it’s great to have all three.”

“Being an editor is having confidence in your vision, real humility, and perfecting the way you ask questions,” Johnson added.

All three publishers left Drew students with some advice for how to pursue a career in publishing. 

As far as scoring a job, Norris said at one point it all came together for her. “Something that can help you get a job is reframing what you’re doing outside of work,” she said. “I have the eye, I know what I’m doing. I’m qualified. I just have to market myself differently. When that lightbulb went off, it made sense to me.”

With a glimmer of passion in her eye, Gradinger explained that what you really need in the industry is to be curious. “The best thing about my job is that I get to chase my curiosity,” she said. “I get to constantly ask, ‘what else?’”

Photo courtesy of Julianna Vehslage

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