Natali Canvanagh graduated from Ball State with a major in English with a concentration in Creative Writing and a minor in Professional Writing. She currently works as a Marketing Coordinator for Random House Children’s Books as well as a co-leader of teams of marketer’s and publicists to execute sponsorships for book festivals and shows. She enjoys the creative freedom her job offers, and reading manuscripts for upcoming festivals and campaigns!
Note: This article was published by Thaddeus Lee.
What did you study at Ball State and why?
I majored in English with a concentration in Creative Writing and a minor in Professional Writing! I very briefly was an Anthropology major when I first started college because I’d been hesitant to commit to an English major, but after taking an intro to creative writing elective I knew that English was the right fit for me!
What led you to your current job?
My favorite parts of my writing classes had been workshops; digging into another writer’s work and dissecting what was effective really excited me! After working on the editorial teams at the DLR and The Broken Plate (and learning about literary agenting in Cathy Day’s novel writing class), I decided to pursue publishing internships my senior year to learn more about the business of books. I ended up at Writers House literary agency, and knew that this was the industry I wanted to be in. Once I graduated, I returned to New York for a marketing and publicity internship at Little, Brown for Young Readers and was hired as a marketing assistant after the internship ended! Since then, I’ve worked as a marketer for a variety of children’s books publishers at LYBR, Abrams Books, and Random House Children’s Books (where I am now).
What jobs are available in publishing to people with degrees in English? It’s a big industry!
(Almost) anything! Of course, it’s beneficial to have a background in the specific area you want to pursue, and there are some jobs that require specific technical skills like book design and creative services. The blessing and curse of publishing is that it’s still largely an apprenticeship-based industry, which means you’ll learn a lot about how to do your job on the job itself. I’d say that most entry level jobs in publishing will require that you have strong analysis skills, an understanding of the current literary market and audience, and an ability to learn. All things that English majors can prove they know how to do!
Provided you’re interested in grammar, proofreading, and the project management of the physical book itself, I’d recommend looking into managing editorial and production. If you love talking to other people about books and are interested in book communities and media, look into marketing and publicity! If you also have a background in education, school & library marketing might be a good fit. Assuming that you love social trends and are interested in digital campaign strategy, look into digital marketing. Interested in how books get adapted into movies or translated in other countries, you could investigate foreign and international rights management, literary scouting, or subsidiary rights!
I also can’t stress enough how important sales is—I’d argue it’s the most powerful department in publishing (even more so than editorial and agenting). I think a lot of people are intimidated by sales because they think they need a background in economics or will work with lots of graphs and data, but English majors could definitely work in sales (and every department works with lots of graphs). Sales has the same relationship with booksellers that publicists have with media outlets and those marketers have with consumers.
What does a typical week in your position look like?
I’m the marketing coordinator for the Young Adult and Shows team, so I split my time between marketing for the YA and teen titles RHCB publishes and co-leading a team of marketers and publicists to execute sponsorships we have with book festivals and shows. My job as a marketer and shows coordinator is to spread awareness about our upcoming books with readers, booksellers, and other publishing industry professionals! On a weekly basis I’ll usually be writing marketing copy or campaign plan documents, reviewing and routing marketing materials for approval from various departments, answering emails, and attending and speaking at meetings with departments in-house or with outside festival organizers. I perform a lot of administrative tasks like maintaining our budget and invoices, preparing workflow documents, and preparing organizational tools that we use throughout the season. I read manuscripts for books we’re planning campaigns around, and now that more shows are moving back to in-person, I’ll be attending festivals we sponsor!
Can you describe your work environment?
My current company (Penguin Random House) gives us the option to work from home, so I work remotely full time 9am-5pm from Brooklyn! Physically it is very quiet, but digitally it is very fast-paced and busy. I’d say that marketing is 85% collaborative, so I’m always running in and out of meetings or problem solving with my coworkers over emails or Basecamp (our routing software that lets us pass notes over marketing artwork with the whole team). My boss gives me a lot of creative freedom over assigned projects (I’m the one writing the copy, approving assets, etc.), and there are initiatives that I’ve pitched myself and been given approval to work on. But everything I do is approved through my director. I always need to prove with data and evidence to them that a plan will sell or spread awareness of our books.
How did your major in English (and classes) prepare you for your life and for this job?
My creative writing and rhetoric classes taught me how to tell a story clearly and concisely! They taught me how to pull themes and messages from stories and how to share them with others in engaging and exciting ways. Whether it’s in something like a tagline, a social media asset, or an ad campaign. In addition, my classes gave me invaluable communication and creativity skills that I use in my projects, but also when working with coworkers. I’ve also thought quite a bit about Rory Lee’s rhetoric classes and how writing changes through different mediums (writing a tweet vs an email vs a formal plan document).
If you’re interested in marketing in publishing, I’d say that digital and social media advertising, data analysis, and project management are the most important technical skills to have. While I’ve learned a lot about all three on the job, they would have been the most helpful to know going in! Knowledge of the adobe suite (photoshop, in design, etc.) is helpful since you’ll be speaking to designers and production managers regularly, but expertise is not necessary (unless you’d like to be a designer or digital marketer!).
What is your best advice to students majoring in the humanities?
My first general piece of advice is that your skills developed as an English major are useful, no matter what other people say. People will always need employees who know how to effectively communicate with other coworkers, clients, and consumers! It’s all about how you pitch yourself and your skills, and how you spin your experiences.
My second piece is that if you’re majoring in a creative field or are planning to pursue anything related to the arts, let go of the idea of “selling out” in the workforce. I think we’re fed a narrative that for our identities as artists to be legitimate, it needs to be our primary source of income (otherwise we’ve failed at “becoming an artist”). The downside to your art being your day job though, is that your art’s primary purpose is no longer just to make you happy: its purpose is to turn a profit for the company and/or yourself. While I still love books and working with books, my relationship with them has changed now that they’re not just my hobby!
Graduating college, I felt a lot of pressure to pursue a job that was directly related to my creative field. But it’s ok for your job NOT to be the creative center of your life. Sometimes it’s ok for a job to just to be your job: a place where you can use skills you enjoy, that pays well enough to let you live your life and offers enough flexibility and space for you to pursue your creative field however you want (without the pressure and anxiety of it being your source of income).
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