Volunteering at a Publishing House

I’m a big believer that who you work with determines about 70% of satisfaction in a workplace. And there’s this real thing called corporate culture—also known as corporate ethos—that’s an important factor as well.

I volunteered two afternoons a week at a mid-sized house when I was about 28, bartending and writing and trying to figure out how to get a life. I’d heard from a friend that his girlfriend at the time had done an eight-month program in publishing and snagged a great job as a textbook editor that paid her pretty handsomely.

I was living on the west coast in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, at the time and the only publishing training available were two-week seminar courses offered through Simon Fraser U’s continuing studies; the program my friend mentioned was in Toronto. Before deciding to relocate and throw down three thousand dollars and eight months of my life, I emailed the editorial department of a house that did cookbooks and travel books mostly.

No glorious experience lay in store for me. I found the four late-thirties women I made photocopies for completely impossible to relate to. I listen(ed) to heavy metal, read fantasy fiction, and only started to take an interest in cooking from scratch two months ago. The 28-year-old me had nothing at all to exchange over the lunchroom table with these people. I did like the sales assistant I was paired with for a month or so, though. He was a really laid back hippie type called Trent. Cool guy, seemed like he probably had two thousand CDs at home, and looked like a young Bruce Cockburn. He tried with me; he really did. He let me try to write catalogue write-ups for titles like The Young Witch’s Guide to Love Spells and The Food Processor Bible. Somehow, I just wasn’t managing to grasp and sell the reading experience a young wiccan girl of thirteen was supposed to get out of a book of spells to snare that cute boy.

I was asked not to come back after my second month. The four women I was technically working for just plumb found me uncomfortable to be around. Ditto. Lesson learned. Don’t work for a publisher of books that draw people you’ll never relate to.

Mark