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Hannah Bennett is the Production and Distribution Associate at RosettaBooks, and a recent graduate of the MS in Publishing Program at Pace. Hannah hails from North Carolina, where she attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as an undergrad. Since moving to the city, she has worked with as an intern at Tor Books and as the Blog Editor for the NYC Chapter of The Women’s National Book Association, and as the Student Assistant in the Pace publishing office.

 

Prof. Denning:  Hi Hannah and thank you for agreeing to do this interview.  It has been five months since you graduated from the MS in Publishing program in 2012.  Can you tell us a bit about what you have been doing and how your career has developed since then?

Hannah: Thank you for asking me to do this interview! I’m still relatively new to the industry, but I’ll try to give you my perspective as a recent grad, and I hope it will be helpful! I was extremely fortunate when I graduated, in that I got a job right away at RosettaBooks, a leading digital-only trade publisher. I began working with Rosetta as a Production Intern during my last semester at Pace. I found that position through this very blog, actually. When the semester ended, they offered me a full-time position with the company as a Production and Distribution Associate. The job is challenging and has taught me an incredible amount about digital publishing, which I think is vital in today’s industry.

Prof. Denning:  What does your job as a Production and Distribution Associate at RosettaBooks entail?  How do you interact and work with the other members of this worldwide eBook publisher?

Hannah: I’m basically a project manager for titles as they go through the production process. I coordinate with digitizers, proofreaders, and clients as the books move through each stage of production, keeping up with multiple projects at any one time. Another large part of my job is quality assurance of the ebooks, as each title goes through several rounds of error checking before publication. I’ve gotten pretty good at finding backwards apostrophes, let me tell you. I also assist with distribution to the major retailers, and with other odds and ends—everything from creating print-on-demand PDFs to training freelance proofreaders to offering feedback on cover designs.

As with any small company, there’s a range in the work that I do every day. Since the company is so collaborative, I also get to learn a lot about what the other departments are doing and how they function. Our rights and marketing teams send out regular reports on what they’ve accomplished (always impressive!), and they are always open to our ideas and feedback. That’s one of the things that drew me to working with Rosetta—knowing that I would get to learn about the entire process of ebook publication.

Prof Denning:  What are some of your favorite parts of your job? 

Hannah: By far, my favorite part of my job is the people I work with. I get to work with these brilliant, forward-thinking people who are invested in the expanding possibilities of the ebook industry. Not to mention, they are just excellent people to be around every day—supportive and helpful and fun. And sometimes they bring in snacks. J

I’ve also enjoyed the occasional editorial opportunities that I’ve had at Rosetta. For instance, I recently got to help with the creation of our new compilation of Kurt Vonnegut speeches, called If This Isn’t Nice, What Is?

It’s exciting to be in on something from the ground up, working on the manuscripts and ebooks, watching the marketing and PR plans blossom. I love watching something that I’ve had a hand in become a success (or, in the case of production, just become a clean, finished product).

Also, now that it’s spring, it is certainly a perk to work right next to Central Park!

 

Prof Denning:  Tell us a bit about Rosetta Books and some of the initiatives they have taken in response to new technological developments. 

Hannah: RosettaBooks’ main business is the digital publication of backlist titles with strong, ongoing sales potential. A lot of older books are still under copyright, but their ebook rights are available because their contracts were drawn up before ebooks existed. For instance, Rosetta has acquired the ebook rights to classics like Brave New World, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Slaughterhouse-Five, as well as bestsellers like The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. We also publish some amazing collections, such as our Winston Churchill collection and our Arthur C. Clarke collection. We do publish some new titles, often in collaboration with clients, but the core of our business is in the backlist.

Rosetta is a small and flexible company, and this allows us to take initiatives that are sometimes experimental. For example, our CEO evaluates innovative ways to sell ebooks, as special sales avenues become available that don’t rely on the traditional distribution routes. Our marketing department evaluates new tools for web marketing, experimenting with contests, videos, and different campaign strategies. The company is committed to being on the cutting edge of the industry, which is one of the most exciting things about working there.

Prof. Denning:  How does new technology and social media fit into/impact your professional role?

Hannah: The company’s social media is primarily the domain of the marketing team, and I haven’t had a direct hand in it. As anyone who follows me on Twitter can attest, social media is not my personal forte (I guess it helps if you actually, well, tweet sometimes). But I think it’s clear to everyone in the industry that social media has changed the book marketing game, allowing for more interaction with our customers. Rosetta uses Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest, and we’ve seen a lot of positive feedback about our books and beloved authors on these sites. Social media allows us to reach out to our audience at relatively low cost, and to gauge what our readers want most.

As for ebook technology, of course, this impacts me every day. An important aspect of my job is making sure that our books look good across the different e-reading devices, all of which have different screen sizes, capabilities, and limitations. Knowing HTML and CSS has been very valuable, but I still have so much to learn. My coworkers have been a big help in that regard.

Prof Denning:  What have you learned from your experience as a former Editorial Intern at Tor Books and as the Blog Editor for the Women’s National Book Association?   What was the transition from Editorial Intern to Production and Distribution Associate like?  What advice would you give to a young publishing professional looking for their first “real” job?

Hannah: I think the most important thing to say is that the skills I developed in each of these roles have assisted me in later positions. I absolutely loved working at Tor Books (not only because I am a SFF genre girl who had access to all the free fantasy novels I could carry). The position allowed me to get some basic editorial experience and an understanding of the submissions and acquisitions process. As the Blog Editor for the WNBA, I had to stay abreast of current industry news and events, and I also learned a lot about the challenges of creating a successful online presence. Through both of these positions, I got to meet many extraordinary people, helping me to build that network of contacts that is so vital in this small industry. While I’m now in a digital production role, I use the skills I developed in both of these positions in my daily work.

The more time I’ve spent in the industry, the more I’ve understood how the roles are all interconnected.  An editorial assistant might spend time doing work related to sales and marketing, such as editing marketing copy. A marketing assistant might spend time helping with operations or production. It all depends on the company and the employee. What you learn and who you meet can always be useful to you down the road.

That said, it was a difficult decision for me to take a job in digital production. Like many Pace students, my aspirations were all around editorial—fantasy/sci-fi/YA editorial to be precise. I feared that taking a job in production might pigeonhole me. Looking back, I can’t believe I even considered not taking the job, partly because I enjoy my job so much, and partly because the experience has been so valuable.

So my advice, if you can’t already tell, is to be open to a range of jobs in the industry. You never know what is going to be a good fit. I certainly worried, as an editorial person, how I would fit into a digital production department, but it ended up being a good fit. If you take a chance and it’s not the right move, at least you have more experience, a few more contacts, perhaps some new skills, and the ability to keep looking for something better.

Prof. Denning:  Please tell me a bit about how your educational experience at Pace prepared you for your publishing career.

Hannah: Well, for starters, Pace was instrumental in helping me land my current job. It was through the school’s networks that I heard about the internship, and partly through their recommendations (yours, in fact!) that I got the job. But more than that, Pace taught me where I ought to be looking. It taught me the organizations I should be a part of, the publications I should read to stay on top of industry news, the ways to reach out and network with people. It taught me how to be connected and engaged in the publishing industry.

The other benefit of the Pace education is how well-rounded it is. For instance, if I had never taken classes at Pace, I might never have learned very much about print production. But having a cursory understanding of print production has actually been quite helpful to me in my digital publishing role, especially when working on print-on-demand projects or style guides. As I said before, publishing is all interconnected. The broad education definitely helps.

I think I should say, too, that I have Professor Soares and Professor Rosati to thank for some of the most helpful, interesting, and enlightening courses during my time at Pace. So thank you!!

Prof. Denning:  What advice would you give to students who still have to write their graduate thesis papers?  What were the most important points you learned from your own thesis, titled “The Power of Transmedia: How Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishers Can Use Transmedia to Engage Their Fans.”

Hannah: I have a couple pieces of advice. First of all, when you’re choosing a topic, choose something that genuinely interests you. You’re going to be with it for a while. I was fascinated by the idea of transmedia, which made doing my research quite interesting. I especially enjoyed sitting in the computer lab and telling people that yes, in fact, playing on Pottermore was doing research for my thesis (House: Ravenclaw, Wand: Laurel with Unicorn core, 14 ½ inches). I got to study these engaging, interactive, and experimental forms of storytelling, and then I just had to write it all down. So be creative, and make it enjoyable for yourself.

The next piece of advice is easier said than done, I know, but try and get as close to finished as possible by the time the first draft is due. Start early and finish early. That way you avoid the crazy crunch time at the end of the semester, when you already have other exams and holidays to worry about. Plus, you get more useful feedback during your evaluation of the first draft.

And interview people! This was probably the most helpful thing I did in the entire process. Thank you thank you Professor Levitz!

Prof. Denning:  What advice would you give students entering the field to set themselves apart from other applicants?  What specific details should they include on their resumes or in an interview?

Hannah: I have found being a member of professional organizations, such as the Women’s National Book Association and the Young to Publishing Group, to be extremely helpful. You meet people, you gain confidence, and you prove to potential employers your commitment to the industry. If you don’t want to be a member, at least attend publishing events. Go to readings, conferences, panels, and festivals, and volunteer as much as you can. I know you’re busy, but they’re also a lot of fun!

I would say that technical skills are going to be important for anyone entering the industry in any department. Take the courses on ebooks and desktop publishing while you have those resources—it will always look good on a resume.

Obviously, a large part of whether you’re called in for an interview will depend on the experience you have and whether it fits with the position. So take advantage of the broad education you can get as a student, and widen your skill set as much as possible. Learn as much as you can about as much as you can. Especially if you’re undecided about where you want to work, your job search will be easier if you’ve gotten some experience in different departments.

And be patient. You want to seem passionate, not desperate.

Prof. Denning:  Have you always been interested in publishing and media?  Where did that passion come from?

Hannah: I’ve always been interested in books and storytelling. When I was a kid, my parents used to read to my siblings and me in the evenings—books like The Hobbit and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I remember devouring fantasy and sci-fi novels, especially series books. I was that kid that would sit alone at lunch on purpose in order to finish a good book. I read Ender’s Game at a NASCAR race one time. Yeah, I was that kid.

But I appreciate good storytelling in any medium, which is part of what inspired my thesis on transmedia. I’m fascinated by narrative, and I have always known I wanted to be involved in storytelling somehow. I graduated from undergrad with a BA in Dramatic Arts and Communications, and thought I might write—at the time I was interested in screenwriting. I didn’t think I would go into publishing, and I certainly didn’t imagine I would move to NY. But after I became a copyeditor to pay the bills, and had a chance to try my hand at a little editing, I realized I loved that creative process too. Publishing seemed like a natural fit with my interests and the skills I’d acquired.

I still love to write, and I have found that being involved in publishing is a great motivator and inspiration for my own writing. The pursuits feed each other nicely.

Prof Denning:  What do you think the future holds for companies like Rosetta Books and their competitors? What should graduates expect as they enter digital media and the publishing world?

Hannah: I think the future holds a lot of innovation, experimentation, and collaboration. On the technical end, you’ll see new ebook functionality being constantly developed. Companies will have to experiment to see which of these developments their readers respond to. Those students who heard Arthur Levine’s David Pecker Lecture last semester will recall him saying that he finds too many enhancements in an ebook to be distracting from a traditional narrative. Many readers will agree. But narrative structures can change, and if there are opportunities for expanding a story in multiple directions simultaneously, utilizing various media in the process, I think some writers will take advantage of this. Some already have! And there is certainly a place for enhancements in nonfiction.

I also think that collaboration is going to be important. RosettaBooks partners with groups like the Mayo Clinic and Harvard Health Publications, for instance, to publish their resources digitally. And print-on-demand options allow companies like Rosetta to offer print copies of some of their books even without an in-house team dedicated to print publishing. Collaborating with digitizers, clients, agents, marketing teams, and many others allows Rosetta to remain a small and focused company with a large and varied business.

I guess what graduates should expect is change. Be ready to be in a constant state of trying to figure things out.

Prof: Denning:  What do you think are the biggest trends in book and e-book publishing today?  What are the biggest challenges that publishers face?

Hannah: I’m just glad we’re finally done with vampires! I’m joking of course. We’ll never be completely done with vampires…

Since Rosetta doesn’t do much frontlist business, I’m not necessarily in the know about the next big trends in publishing, at least as far as frontlist content goes. But those trends tend to be cyclical anyway. Fantasy gives way to science fiction, gives way to nonfiction, gives way to literary fiction, gives way to fantasy. Give it twenty years, and vampires might even be scary again.

I think the biggest challenge publishers face today is in defining their role. Their relationships with retailers and authors and agents are all being tested and renegotiated right now (sometimes in the courts). And I think that in many ways, the publishing industry as a whole is resistant to change. I want to see publishers embracing these changes instead of hanging on to old practices. Amazon is not going away. Ebooks are not going away. Self-publishing is not going away. How can we work with these facts instead of against them? Publishers have value, but they have to be clear about what they are offering in the digital world that’s going to make authors and retailers want to work with them.

Prof. Denning:  Any other advice you would like to offer up to our students and to those looking to survive and thrive in this industry?

Hannah: When applying for jobs, proofread everything that you do. And then have someone else proofread it. And then proofread it again. You’re entering a business full of former English majors. (Thank you, Diana, for proofreading this interview!)

But look, in the end, the same qualities that are important in any business are important in publishing—integrity, hard work, passion. That’s really the point of all of these interviews and resumes and internships, isn’t it? Employers want proof that you do good work. So take some steps to get noticed. If you do great work as a student, your professors will look out for opportunities for you. Trust me, I know this for a fact—you have an excellent faculty at your disposal. If you do great work as an intern, your bosses will keep you in mind for future jobs. And if no one is noticing your great work, then volunteer, or start a blog, or seek out a mentor. I think it truly comes down to that more than anything. Work hard, be helpful, be pleasant, and opportunities will come along, because people will want to help you out.

 

 

Thank you Hannah for your insightful and informative interview!


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