(from The National Library of Ireland. You can tell these people work in publishing because of their moustaches. After obtaining a job in publishing, everyone is required to acquire a moustache for dramatic twirling when having possibly evil secret machinations.)
“Doesn’t everyone in publishing know each other?”
When I was out upon the town last week (with my moustache at the ready for dramatic twirling), I came upon a Young Person, who asked of me that question, which I shall now endeavor to answer here.
On the surface of it, it would make sense that everyone knows each other in publishing. There aren’t that many publishers, and they all seem to be in New York (except the ones who aren’t), and they all seem to talk to and about each other all the time (even concerning things that were thought to be secrets), so presumably they should know who they all are! Right?
With this premise in mind, I went over to look at Wikipedia, which blithely informed me that over 5,000 people work at Random House. And that’s just one publishing house.
So: I don’t know all the people who work in publishing. I don’t know if there’s anyone who knows all the people who work in publishing; there might be, if someone tried very very hard and traveled a lot and was extremely methodical about it. There are so many people who work in less visible roles in publishing — in AP or contracts or in the mailroom or the warehouse, in legal, or finance, or IT, or internal data systems — that it’d be difficult to come into contact with them all unless you worked serially in Human Resources or IT everywhere. (And even then it feels like Zeno’s paradox of people being hired after you’ve left and possibly everything would end miserably in mass turtlecide.)
So then why does it seem like everyone in publishing is involved in some secret knowing-everyone-in-publishing cabal?
The answer to this has to do with relevance and areas of interest.
Many people work in parts of publishing that I (and possibly you, the reader of the First Second blog) are completely uninterested in. Technical manuals? Home improvement and hunting magazines? Trade publications for industries I don’t work in? (I recently discovered that there’s a trade publication for pizza restaurants. Fascinating, but I don’t want it.) Academic articles? College or travel guides? These things are not types of publishing for which I am like, ‘Hunting magazine publisher, you and I have so much in common professionally! Let us at once become bosom friends and share all our industry news!’
But: children’s publishing, science fiction/fantasy publishing, comics publishing? There I probably know some people who I have met through shared personal or professional interests (or begging books off of them). And once I know those people, I might meet their friends from work — and friends of those friends. Then there are also the people that I meet around the office, and at professional events — conventions, receptions, book parties, etc.
Plus people in publishing do tend to subscribe to our industry’s trade publications, which means that even if we haven’t met someone who works in publishing, we may be having information about that person e-mailed to us on a weekly basis. Then there will at least be name-recognition!
If you’re a person that I’m meeting socially at a book or industry-related gathering, odds are that you haven’t come because you’re a huge fan of the pizza trade magazines and are hoping that there’s someone here that can get you a job — or because you already have a job at a pizza trade magazine and just know that there will be so many people you can talk to at this party about pizza. This is because people will not be talking about pizza, but instead about comics. So you’re probably interested in the same parts of publishing that I am — the specific areas where I already know a lot of people.
So if you’re just starting out in the publishing industry (either working here or being published), you may feel like everyone in publishing knows each other after constantly walking into meetings, parties, and events where everyone does know each other. But rest assured, there are always new people in publishing to meet — and lots of people who work in publishing doing things like telephone system maintenance who you may never meet at all.