Nine. That’s the number of people before me in line. It’s not yet 4:30 a.m., and our day began at least an hour ago, but work won’t start for another two. As the bus pulls up to the stop, I think about work. Well, like most people I think about work a lot. You see, I’m often asked about how to get into the publishing business. There’s a cosmic irony to this because I had never planned to be an editor and never undertook any of the usual training. The anticipated trajectory of a doctorate in the humanities used to be teaching, which is what I did for many years, but when an educational career slips off the rails in a capitalistic society you have to be willing to learn real fast. (Fortunately the long years of schooling do help with that.)
I’m sure that I’m not the only person whose career plans didn’t pan out as anticipated. Back in seminary one night long ago, three friends and I had a “future dinner.” We prepared a supper and each came as who we would be twenty years down the road. I recall that I was a world-traveling professor and the author of several books. “Come on,” my friends complained, “be realistic!” It’s a bit beyond those two decades now, and I was a professor for many of them. I have written several books, although so far only three have been published. World-travel? Well, that’s been a bit modest in recent years, I have to admit. One of the other friends I’ve lost track of. Another committed suicide after graduating. We really can’t see far into the future.
Publishing is a challenging gig. My rapid career contortions perhaps prepared me better than I think. I have a kinship with those who ask about how to get started in it. Generally we’re educated people who like books and wonder what kind of career you can find with that combination these days. (There are more of us than you’d think!) Compared to higher education academic publishing is a small world. I’ve come to know many more academic colleagues since being an editor than I ever did as a professor. I have something they want—a reputable venue for publishing their latest book. Often I have to do a lot of educating since publishing doesn’t work the way that most people think it does. It’s like being a professor without the status. No, I didn’t see this in my future. As I look for a seat on the already crowded bus I wonder how many of these other early risers planned their careers just like me.