Navigating Publishing: From Coast to Coast

“Working in the East Coast publishing industry, I immediately feel the decades-long legacy of traditional publishing. . . . Everything feels bigger here. . . . That being said, I admire and miss the spirit of West Coast publishing.”—Kait Heacock, Ooligan alum and author of Siblings and Other Disappointments

As students of publishing, we at Ooligan know that there are multiple nationwide publishing hubs: New York City, Boston, Chicago, and San Francisco, to name a few. For most aspiring book editors, designers, and marketers, the Big Apple is the endgame. These people will do anything within their power to get to New York and fight their way up to true publishing fame—even if it means living in a box with eighteen roommates and working overtime shifts without pay. In reality, that’s not such a bad goal. While New York can be rough for some, it certainly houses the biggest names in publishing as well as the competitive spirit. And while intimidating, it almost inevitably leads to upward mobility and substantial professional connections. You will meet who you need to meet to get where you want to go, point-blank, period. However, the East Coast scene isn’t for everyone—I spent my New York publishing days crying in the bathroom (no shame). For people like me, the competition is overwhelming and the upward mobility ladder too steep. And that’s okay. I was given advice three years ago that I’ve never forgotten: you need to get in where you fit in.

I’ve found that the West Coast publishing scene certainly has its own advantages, its own unique spirit, and a lot to offer to just about everyone. I’ve found the work environments more relaxed, my superiors more approachable, and the companies smaller. This is ideal when seeking work in a small- or medium-sized publishing house or literary press. If you’re trying to break $1 million over a short period of time and publish the next Harry Potter, New York may be your best bet. (Not to say that’s impossible out here; it’s just less probable.) But if you seek a hands-on work environment with cultivated connections, creative collaboration, and a whole lot of integrity, the West Coast may be for you. That’s the spirit of West Coast publishing that Heacock mentioned. People move one step slower, check things one more time, focus on quality over quantity, and care to preserve the integrity of the brand.

Having worked on both coasts, I certainly know where I fit in. I knew it the first day I could wear jeans and wasn’t afraid of my boss and provided input that was actually implemented within the first week. As a native East Coaster, I recall being both floored and dismayed that the East Coast publishing scene wasn’t for me. Yet geography is dictated by so much more than a plane ticket. From coast to coast, you can capture the unique spirit of each particular city. The scene in Boston versus the scene in Chicago versus the scene in Portland— all are unique and capture the hearts of those most suited to be there, with their people. If we didn’t recognize this uniquity, the United States publishing scene would crumble because it’s just a bunch of aspiring publishing professionals getting in where they fit in, to do the work they’re most suited to do. Whether that takes you to New York City or San Francisco, to one of the Big Five or to a small literary press that publishes three books a year, it is imperative that you hold fast to your integrity and follow the trajectory you are meant to travel on.

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