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Kate Icely

DISPATCHES 7: Finding Work in Unexpected Places

Getting an internship can lead to a job—but it might not be the job you were expecting.

Getting an internship can lead to a job—but it might not be the job you were expecting.Getting an internship can lead to a job—but it might not be the job you were expecting. When I first started taking courses at Ryerson University, I didn’t have a clue about the variety of jobs available to me. I knew I could be an editorial assistant at a publishing company, but there were so many other possibilities I had no idea about.

Take freelancing, for example

Meet Avril McMeekin and Avery Peters. Both work as freelancers in Toronto, and both interned at Random House of Canada. Avril and Avery freelance now, but their internships helped them get where they are today. Avery told me that interning helped her understand how publishing works and gave her the confidence to enter the system as a freelancer. Alternatively, Avril found the contacts she made while interning invaluable—some of those contacts still give her work today.

Editorial skills are transferable

Editorial skills are not suited to book publishing alone. As Rosemary Shipton, a Toronto-based freelancer and the founder of the Ryerson Publishing Program, told me, the Ryerson program was created to help people find work in the communications industry—and communications is a pretty broad field. It covers not only book publishing but also corporate publishing, government publishing, and even self-publishing. All of these industries offer possibilities for freelancing and in-house work.

Susan Bond, an experienced freelance and in-house writer/editor, and managing editor of The Editors’ Weekly, similarly asserts that editorial skills “are transferable anywhere.” Editors learn “about clarity and conciseness… about organizing thoughts, categorizing information, and about attention to detail.” All these things, she says, “help you to become better able to articulate anything,” and that skill will always be in demand. 

Unexpected doesn’t need to mean scary

All this is very well and good, but getting started in freelance work can be daunting. The hardest skills a freelancer has to learn aren’t the grammar and editorial skills, but rather the soft skills—things like invoicing, client relations and self-promotion.

First, create a community. All of the freelancers I spoke to recommended this over anything else. As a freelance editor, you need to have a network of support; otherwise, as Avril told me, “it can be very isolating.” If you attend a publishing program, your teachers are great foundation for that community.

Beyond your teachers, you can also join professional associations. The Editors’ Association of Canada (EAC) is a good place to start, but there are many more across the country. As Susan recommends, “you don’t have to become a member of every professional association, but it’s important to pick at least one or two and get involved.” Meeting like-minded people is invaluable for creating a network of peers and finding jobs.

Finally, mentorships are a great resource. Avril has found relying on teachers and freelancing friends in informal mentorships extremely helpful. Avery took a more direct path and acquired a mentor through the EAC’s mentorship program.

(Successfully) finding work in unexpected places

With traditional book publishing in such an uncertain state, it can be easy to feel discouraged about finding work. But with the right contracts and  supportive mentors or colleagues, it is possible to find a position that’s tailored to you—either in house or out. The key is to keep an open mind and research all the alternatives.

For those of you worried about what the future holds, things may not be as dire as we’ve been told. Take it from Susan, who says, “So many people need help with clarifying their thoughts on paper (or online) that there really is a lot of work out there; it’s just a matter of meeting the people who need the help.”

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About the author

Kate Icely

Kate Icely interned at both the Porcupine's Quill and Random House of Canada. Now she works as an editorial assistant at Penguin Random House Canada.

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