Undergraduate Experience

Cementing Love for Publishing

By Bezawit Yohannes ’18

It’s somewhat paradoxical to say that my journey to get into publishing was both fairly straightforward and also a story of taking advantage of unconventional opportunities — and yet both are true.

I’m happy to say the most straightforward parts were because of the Office of Career Development & Professional Engagement at William & Mary. As early as my freshman year, I knew I intended to major in English and that I wanted to go into some kind of career in media. I began going to the Cohen Career Center to edit my resume as I took on extracurriculars that could help me apply for media-related jobs. A William & Mary alumnus at a W&M career fair helped me get my first full-time internship, as a creative copywriting intern for the Wolf Trap Center for the Performing Arts. And most importantly, I attended the biannual Ferguson Blair Publishing Seminar and learned more about the publishing industry from other alumni who had jobs spanning several publishing houses and media corporations. Attending that seminar cemented my career goal in my mind; I knew I wanted to get into book publishing.

However, from listening to the speakers share their experiences, I knew that entry-level positions in the industry were incredibly competitive, and I’d have to be willing to pursue any and every opportunity, even if it seemed circuitous. I also knew that as a young Black woman looking for representation in the fantastical stories I loved, I would have to work 10 times as hard to articulate my vision for what I knew I could contribute to the industry.

After I studied abroad at the University of Oxford (thanks to my scholarship through the 1693 Scholars Program), I developed an honors project under Professor  Hermine Pinson focusing on Afrofuturist literature by Black authors. Working on the project led me to a decades-long history of Black authors in speculative fiction, while showing me how needed a diversity of Black voices, especially Black women, still was in fantasy literature. At the same time, my honors thesis re-ignited my passion for children’s literature, and I began to follow new Black authors publishing exciting young adult fantasy.

I wasn’t ready to leave my research behind, so I attended Georgetown University to get my masters in English, but I never stopped working toward entering publishing. The challenge was that publishing, especially pre-pandemic, was centered in New York, and that wasn’t financially feasible for me at the time. Once again, it was W&M’s Office of Career Development & Professional Engagement that offered me the answer. I applied for the Ferguson-Blair $5,000 scholarship to attend the Denver Publishing Institute (DPI) — the perfect way to get the experience of a publishing graduate certification without having to find expensive housing for an underpaid internship in New York City.

I had built a #bookstagram platform where I shared my reviews of Black fantasy and young adult novels I loved. The speakers at DPI helped me realize that editorial was only one of many sectors of the publishing industry, and if I broadened my scope, my own social media could be my way in. By promoting books, authentically engaging my audience and creating content in partnership with various publishers, I had developed the marketing skills I needed to pivot into digital marketing at a publishing house.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, it was those skills, and the networking connections I gained from DPI, that led to my first full-time job as a digital marketing assistant at Penguin Young Readers (PYR) — all the more miraculous because it was one of the first jobs available after a months-long hiring freeze. After two years at PYR developing marketing campaigns and video content for social media to promote a variety of titles across age categories, I joined Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing as a marketing coordinator, making a smaller shift from digital to title marketing.

My publishing journey continues to evolve, but the foundations were laid by my time at W&M. I’m so grateful to the folks at the Career Center and to the Ferguson-Blair Publishing Seminar for starting me down this path and cementing my love for publishing.

Connect with Bezi on LinkedIn.

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