“Because she loved to read”: Notes on a career in publishing from Meagan Szekely, WVU Press’s former graduate assistant

Screen Shot 2018-06-01 at 8.24.48 AM.pngMeagan Szekely is the marketing manager at Naval Institute Press. Previously, she worked as an editorial assistant at Johns Hopkins University Press and as a graduate assistant at West Virginia University Press. Meagan has a master’s degree in professional writing and editing from West Virginia University. She has worked on books about Appalachian culture, Florida manatees, World War II spies, and Victorian shoes. A native of Huntington, West Virginia, Szekely now lives in Annapolis, Maryland, with her husband and cat. She is passionate about books, Coca-Cola, and West Virginia.

From the very beginning of grad school, I lived by Jeffrey Eugenides’s words from The Marriage Plot: “She’d become an English major for the purest and dullest of reasons: because she loved to read.” To which my mother replied, “But what are you going to do with a degree in English?”

At the time, I wasn’t quite sure where my love of books would take me, but I’m certainly pleased with my adventures in publishing so far. I wanted to be involved with making books, but I knew I wasn’t a Writer (at least not in the ways I had conceptualized Writers), so I had to look to other means of participating in the book creation process. I found myself in my second year of the professional writing and editing master’s program at West Virginia University when the most opportune assistantship called my name. WVU Press had an opening for a production and editorial assistant, and I was thankful to land a spot on the team of book creators at the beautiful Bicentennial House. My first day on the job, I worked on placing images on pages in an InDesign file and fell further in love with books. I journaled that night (because all good English majors keep journals as readily as the average Jane Austen character), “Today I did something that will appear in a book; I hope this feeling never gets old.” And, while at times I have been exhausted by author queries and overwhelmed with catalog deadlines, I still hold on to the magic of being a part of the publishing process.

I don’t just love books in the sense that I love to read books, I love books in a way that encapsulates everything about them; the ways books feel, smell, look, and exist are my passions. At WVU Press I experienced the nitty-gritty ins and outs of how a manuscript becomes a book and saw every part of the publishing process—one day I would be proofreading, the next day discussing cover designs, and the week after that wading through the slush pile. I learned there is so much more to publishing than reading or editing; publishing involves innovation, creative thinking, and negotiation. At WVU, both in my master’s program and at the press, I began to understand not only that publishing allows ideas to thrive through the words on a page, but also that every decision made when producing a book cultivates ideas. Will this cover speak to the intended audience? Will the copy capture the author’s thesis without giving away the full oomph of the book? How can this idea be captured in a six-by-nine black-and-white page, or is there another way to convey it?

Since my time at WVU Press, I have furthered my knowledge of publishing and love for books in the acquisitions department at Johns Hopkins University Press and in the marketing department at Naval Institute Press. While each position has focused on different parts of the publishing process, I am thankful every day for my assistantship at WVU Press, which allowed me to fully participate in publishing for the first time. At any moment when the job is stressful or mundane, I hold on to the first moment I saw “Many thanks to Meagan Szekely” in print in a WVU Press book and remember that I am in publishing for my love of books and because I have a part to play in the publishing world.

WVU Press is pleased to be involved with two initiatives designed to help train graduate students in a range of career options, including publishing: an NEH Next Generation PhD planning grant led by the WVU Humanities Center and the WVU English department, and an American Historical Association Career Diversity grant led by the WVU history department. We’re proud of our unbroken string of placement of graduating student workers in publishing and nonprofit jobs.

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