What the Corporate World Taught Me about Publishing
All pictures are of my cubicle at my last job. I decorated with pictures of wolves and American Indians. And cats too. I had to surround myself with pictures and items to relieve the boredom.
A few months ago, RWR Magazine had an article where the author explained how what she’d learned from working in the corporate world helped in her publishing career. I confess I didn’t read the article, but it got me thinking about my own life in the corporate world and what it taught me about publishing. Notice I don’t say “writing,” but “publishing.” Writing is the creative side and that’s certainly not something you find much of in the corporate world. Publishing is a business, and corporations have that in spades.
I grew up in corporate
worked steadily there for forty-three years, with only a five-month break when
my son was born. My bio states that I’m a former corporate drone and cubicle
dweller. So true, but when I started working, right out of business college,
there were no cubicles, just lots of desks in rows. Being “corporate” isn’t
very exciting, and I’ve had my share of sneers directed at me by those more
“creative” types who look down on us company drones. But, my jobs paid the
bills, and paying bills is a good thing.
What did the corporate world teach me about publishing? The most important lesson was to be professional at all times. I had to learn to deal with my bosses, co-workers, and customers in a businesslike manner. No histrionics, no bad-mouthing, no anger, even if the bosses were jerks and the customers cursed at me, which they did frequently. Later, as a manager myself, I had to negotiate the tightrope between the union and management.
I was in customer service in one capacity or another for my entire career, most of it at the phone company. I worked for Verizon, although it wasn’t called that, for almost twenty-five years, eighteen of that as a customer service manager. When I accepted their early retirement offer in 1994, I was supervising fifteen service representatives. Don’t think that doesn’t teach you discipline and professionalism. And don’t get me started on the customers. I’ve been yelled at and cursed at by customers who think all public utility employees are there for them to demean. I’ve been told to do things to myself that are anatomically impossible, sometimes before eight in the morning. I was even cursed for real by a gypsy whose phone we’d disconnected. We employees were allowed to hang up on abusive customers, but even then, I was always polite. You can see how all this prepared me for the tough publishing world.
When I started writing and submitting and the rejections came in, I dutifully wrote thank-you notes to those editors and agents who’d rejected me. That was the professional thing to do. When I attended conferences I always tried to treat the other attendees and the editors and agents I met in a businesslike manner, even when some of those agents and editors were rude to me, as some were. After awhile I stopped sending thank-you notes for form rejection letters. I’d become jaded by then and figured if those editors and agents couldn’t send me a personal letter, I didn’t owe them a personal response.
I’ve never responded to a bad book review. As a corporate employee, I had to learn tact in dealing with others. To me, the tactful thing is to ignore those bad reviews and the people who write them.
I also had to learn to manage my time, especially when I had so many people reporting to me. Since I retired for the second time a few years ago, from an insurance company, I’ve not been real good at managing time, but I’m going back to my roots and making to-do lists and compartmentalizing chores. It’s the only way I can be productive. And being a productive writer helps me to get those books written.
Another thing I learned from the corporate world was how to dress professionally and neatly. Things have changed drastically from those early days when I first started working. At one time, we women were expected to wear dresses or suits, heels, stockings, the whole “corporate” look. We couldn’t wear slacks either. By the time I retired from Verizon, slacks for women were accepted in the corporate world. Then came “business casual.” Yes, I do know what that is. I’m happy to see the corporate dress code relax. Because I was trained at an early age to dress appropriately, I continue to try to do that when attending writing conferences and workshops.
But does it really matter how an author dresses at a conference? I think not. In the corporate world, when going for a job interview, a candidate had to dress very professionally, to put his or her best attired foot forward. Writing is one occupation where it doesn’t matter how you dress or what you look like. If an author attends a conference wearing a sweatsuit, but she has a great book to pitch, the editor or agent will want to see that book, and they won’t give a fig as to what that author is wearing. Agree? Disagree?
I had to learn discipline, too, of course, in my jobs. That same discipline helps me bring in books on deadline, whether a publisher’s deadline, or one I inflict on myself.
We corporate types might be a little boring, but we’ve learned valuable lessons in dealing with the world.