I worked on my education. I got As and was proud. My work was published and even won an award from a prestigious literary journal. I applied and actually got a job as a reader at The Atlantic Monthly, where I read incoming poetry for Peter Davison and fiction for Mike Curtis. So began my descent into the strange world of literary publishing began. Here, there were different dress-codes, other values.
I had to learn anew the rules of each new company, each publisher. So I learned and learned and when I was afraid, I faked it, until I did learn properly.
The Atlantic Monthly
Hair: Preferred dirty-blonde, but medium brown with highlights is acceptable. Headbands are back in, but only if they are leather and made by Ralph Lauren
Make up: Kiehl’s face wash; Rose’s lip balm.
Attire: Anything J. Crew; oxford shirts in pale hues of lemon, blue, and pink.
Perfume: Eau Sauvage or anything vaguely lemony. Hadrian if you can afford it.
Most valuable accessory: A leather saddlebag you bought in Europe or at least looks vaguely European.
Most valuable skill: Ability to stand out from a crowd that is yes, believe it, as educated and as smart and as pretty as you are.
What matters most: Your alma mater.
What you learn: How to analyze literature; separate the good from the great. That there is a lot of talent in the world, but that few will see their names on these pages.
Time came to leave the safety of The Atlantic, and I found a job at a small, literary press with a reputation for excellence. Here I worked in a beautiful building full of rare and fabulous books. Managed some of the great literary giants; worked with Andre Dubus, published works by Aaron Apelfeld and Faye Moscowitz, to name a few. I read everything. I traveled and met agents and book reviewers. I was young and eager to do well, and I did. I tried to learn everything – from manuscript to bound book. And through this job, I attended parties at impossibly huge penthouses with original Chagalls on the wall; I met Arthur Schlesinger and mortifyingly, asked him,, “So what do you do?” and he put his arm around me and laughed and said, “You’re so charming,” and smiled and I wondered why he was saying that. Across the room, I saw my publisher’s mouth drop open as he overheard the conversation. So I was out of my league a bit, but I questioned everything, and thus I learnt.
David R. Godine, Publisher
Hair: Who cares. Most days you throw it into a hasty bun, held in place by a red-editing pencil. Your bob has grown out. Who has time for a hair-cut.
Make up Minimal. Sometimes, you smudge on a bit of mauve or soft red for publicity trips or conventions. Mostly, you’re too tired to care.
Perfume: None; Instead you live off the gratitude you feel for having the supreme luxury of working ten or twelve hour days for this highly prestigious press. Isn’t that reward enough. You come to love the smell of printer’s ink instead.
Attire: This is book publishing! Serious business! You wear lots of long black and grey skirts and simple pale silk shifts. You don’t have time to think about your wardrobe; easier to have five of everything. You discover Capezio dance shoes and buy two pair in black. You will wear these for many, many years.
Most valuable accessory: Several boxes of red-colerase editing pencils and an electric pencil sharpener.
Most valuable skill: Establishing an excellent rapport with key media reviewers and authors.
What matters most: The last book you signed; the last time the New York Times reviewed one of your books.
What you learn: An appreciation for fine literature and the true craft of quality book-making. Also, how to run a letter-press all by yourself.