Name: Janet Schwind
College & Majors/Minors: Indiana University Bloomington. Double major in Journalism and English.
Current Location: Indianapolis, IN
Current Form of Employment: Self-Employed Writer, Editor & Publishing Consultant
Where do you work and what is your current position?
I am currently enjoying my fourth year as an independent writer, editor and publishing consultant. Prior to striking out on my own I had come from an advertising agency background where I was a copywriter and producer, writing for a wide variety of clients in both business to business and consumer areas. I worked on everything from print ads and brochures to websites and radio, tv and video scriptwriting and production. I often worked with graphic designers, partnering with them to brainstorm concepts.
After a few decades of this I decided I had had enough of the advertising world— suffered a bit of creative burnout— so I quit my job. It was scary as I had made my way up the ladder and was making a lovely sum of money. But that didn’t do it for me anymore. It was totally exhilarating to quit! I slacked about at coffeehouses, thoroughly loving my escape from the cubicle farm. I was out and about among the living. I felt freedom! And sunshine! I moved forward trying to discover what I wanted to do next, taking on some temp editorial jobs with the state legislature until I landed a job at a small publishing company. This lasted 2.5 years until the economy took them under but what I gained from that job was a passion for publishing. I had fallen in love with it! I wore multiple hats at this small company— primarily as project manager, taking each author through the publishing process. I was responsible for creating the timeline, working with graphic designers to develop covers and interiors, with orders and shipping, with printers, and with online distributors. Oh and I edited manuscripts. I even wrote a chapter in a book we published called "Overtime: The Bonus Years."
I do not believe anything happens by accident. Such a detour from my former advertising background led me to this new passion, and gave me the tools I needed to do what I had always wanted to do— have a freelance career combining everything I love: publishing (editing) and writing for business.
Last year I was able to take 5 weeks away from my life to take an amazing adventure: I walked the Camino de Santiago in Spain— a 500 mile pilgrimage. I am working on a speaking/powerpoint presentation and will likely write a book after that. I have over 3000 photos so it’s going to take a lot of editing.
Tell us about how you found your first job, and how you found your current job (if different). Tell us about the interview process, too!
My first job was with my hometown newspaper (South Bend Tribune) on the editing desk. I worked every Friday and Saturday night proofreading articles and writing headlines to fit the copy space. I loved it! Only a few people worked those lame hours, but there was something special about that first job.
Eventually the hours were not enough to sustain me though. Shortly thereafter I got a job at a large advertising agency as a copy editor— what I considered to be my first professional job. It was very exciting. While there, as editor I asked for small writing projects in order to build myself a sample portfolio. That strategy worked because I was laid off from that job after one year and next went to a small ad agency with my writing samples, and landed my first job as a copywriter.
I don’t recall having to take any tests for these jobs. There have been a few jobs in my career where I have taken editing and writing tests, however. They were temp jobs as I recall. The interview processes at ad agencies involved showing samples of my previous work. Whatever samples you can accumulate, the better— especially starting out. Write for businesses and magazines and anything where you can gain experience and a sample to take away. They look for professional samples— not like poems and fiction stories.
What was another writing-related job that was important in your career?
I had the opportunity to write a video game as a freelancer in partnership with Gabriel Interactive, and with a grant from the National Cancer Institute. It was an educational antismoking videogame for young girls to encourage them not to start smoking. This was a new application of my skills. The project was important to me for many reasons. It lasted a year and a half, and it enabled me to jump into having my own business. The creativity involved with this project was out of the box for what I was used to doing as a copywriter for the advertising market. It really stretched me creatively and also was such a fun and satisfying project to be involved in. I worked with game designers and programmers. I learned a new software called Chat Mapper which enabled me to write dialogue in non-linear fashion for the video game play. This was very different thinking, sometimes difficult to wrap your head around. We brainstormed characters and storylines and I helped develop each character and their personalities. It taught me to think differently and working on such a huge team was fun. I even wrote in a peripheral character based on myself— Janet was a cute hippie girl who made jewelry and sold it on the beach in Dolphin Pier.
What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life?
In college I was on the yearbook staff my senior year, which was a fun experience. But honestly there wasn’t much else during college (in the extracurricular sense) that I did toward my career. I worked in the audio visual department’s library for some extra money. I filed tapes. (This is sort of like saying I carried a watermelon*.)
What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree?
If you’re still in school, I would say to have a second major. English is good, but perhaps a second major gives you a broader field of career possibilities. Having good writing and communication skills is so important in any profession. Put yourself in as many environments as you can where you are required to write. Collect as many professional samples as you can. Offer to write for free when you’re just starting out, in order to build up a portfolio of work. Find a magazine you want to write for and study up on their stories and then submit articles. Experience as many different things as you can, and write about them. Start a blog. Create a GooglePlus professional profile and a LinkedIn profile. Be aware of your internet presence and clean up anything that is out there that doesn’t enhance your professional appearance. Be consistent in the way you present yourself online across all of these channels. This will help build your credibility and your consistent appearance in search engines. Live life. Do stuff. Write about it.
*Jennifer Grey’s character, Baby, to Patrick Swayze in Dirty Dancing.