On Finding Your “Niche”: Escaping the Publishing Trajectory

I spent my time in the New York City publishing scene sitting in a dark hole. Or, at least, that’s what I—and the three other girls with whom I shared one single table in an incredibly cramped, vaguely-uninhabitable alcove—called it.

I had just graduated college, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, and was ecstatic about the opportunity to enter the caffeinated, stressful, “big league” world of New York City publishing. My young mind was brimming with bold plans about entering the publishing world and leaving my mark, one monumental, internationally-bestselling coming-of-age novel at a time. I even had a brand new coffee mug for the occasion, prepared for the thrilling late night layout sessions and intellectual conversations with my new-best-friend colleagues who’d inevitably change my life, and I’d change theirs, and one day we’d be running the place and accomplishing all we’d always hoped to achieve.

Fast-forward eleven months, and you’d see a very different picture. I was strung-out, sleep-deprived, drowning in invoices and Excel spreadsheets and foreign rights contracts and four overflowing piles of unchecked QA copies, seeking out any excuse to take a day off or take a minute off or take even thirty seconds off to eat some semblance of lunch before 4 p.m. I couldn’t make ends meet on my painfully low assistant salary, so I was sharing a bed (not a house, not a room, but a bed) with two other people, commuting two hours each way and eating dollar slices of pizza every day. I spent my time crying in the bathroom and crying on the train and crying for no reason other than the fact that maybe I was hungry, or maybe I just really hated my job. It was incredibly heartbreaking to finally admit that my dream of being in the Big Apple was nothing like I’d expected, and it was just so not for me, but it was supposed to be for me because isn’t this where editors are supposed to thrive? No other option had ever crossed my mind: move to New York, work your way through the ranks at whatever publishing company is willing to hire you, inevitably achieve success because New York is where anyone who’s anyone ends up. I had been beaten down by the “typical publishing trajectory,” never recognizing that there were other outlets, other places to go where the environment could be just so different, but the success could be just as real.

So I moved to Oregon. I began the MA in Writing: Book Publishing program at Portland State University after rage-quitting my New York City job and committing myself to a three-thousand-mile journey to find my “niche” and cultivative my own sense of happiness and success. The Portland scene attracted me tremendously in such an unfamiliar and unexpected way, and just two months in, my anxiety has depleted by probably 80 percent (getting out of the smog helped), and my sense of identity (both internally and in the sense of where I see myself in the future) feels so much more alive. I have found my publishing “niche”: the place where my work and my experience and my personality collide in such a way that I’m excited about class, excited about work, excited about my potential, and excited about all of the opportunities that are now afforded to me, all the way on the other side of the country. I feel connected to the Oregon publishing scene, as it commits to the same ideals that I do, and I feel as if those with whom I interact in this new environment are positive influences who not only want to support my goals but also want to set me up for success rather than let me burn out and lose my bright-eyed shine.

I encourage anyone reading this to never force yourself into a trajectory simply because it seems like the only way. Commit to the unexpected. Take a risk (avoid alcoves). Take a small ounce of time to figure out where you fit—where you’re meant to be and where you’re going to be set up for success. I promise it is not only more sustainable, but will positively impact the work you produce (and your sanity).

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