Name: Daniel Brount
College & Majors/Minors: Ball State University, B.A. in English (concentration: Creative Writing) with a minor in Professional Writing & Emerging Media
Current Location: Austin, Texas
Current Form of Employment: Page Designer & Copy Editor
Where do you work and what is your current position?
Currently I work as a features page designer and copy editor at Gatehouse Media's Center for News and Design. Gatehouse is a newspaper publisher that owns a couple hundred different publications across the U.S. At the Center for News and Design in Austin, Texas, we design for those publications, as well as a some other papers not owned by the company. In my position, I primarily design the features sections (food, entertainment, religion, health, home and garden, etc.) for a variety of papers. When needed, I also proof pages before we send them out for publication.
Tell us about how you found your first job, and how you found your current job (if different).
My position at the Center for News and Design is my first out of college, but I did work several part-time jobs and internships during college. These ranged from a variety of positions on the university newspaper, The Ball State Daily News, to tutoring at the Writing Center to doing a public relations internship in the Ball State English Department. I found those positions through initially volunteering at the newspaper and by doing my best to be involved in the English Department.
But before I got my job at Gatehouse, I spent a few months searching. My initial plan was to get a job in book publishing in New York City. After a few months of applying to every position in NYC that caught my interested and hearing very little back, I decided I needed to do some rethinking. Book publishing remains a goal for me down the road, but I realized it was important to expand my search for the time being. I took a step back and looked at my other skills. I asked myself, what else could I do? What else am I qualified for? Journalism and design were the first things that popped into my head. So I expanded my search. Instead of just looking for book jobs in NYC, I looked for book jobs, editing jobs, design jobs, and journalism jobs nationwide. A few days into this search, I found a listing for a Page Designer & Copy Editor position at Gatehouse on Indeed.com. I didn't feel like I was quite qualified enough to work in professional newspaper design, but I gave it a shot. Less than a week after applying for the position, I started making plans to move from my family's home in Wheeling, Illinois, down to Austin, Texas.
What was another writing-related job that was important in your career?
By far the most important writing-related position I've had is actually a tie between two internships. During the fall semester of my senior year at Ball State, I moved to NYC as part of the New York Arts Program. The NYAP gives students in participating Midwestern liberal arts colleges the opportunity to spend a semester doing arts internships in NYC. My internships were at sci-fi/fantasy publisher DAW Books, an imprint at Penguin Random House, and at literary agency The Rights Factory. These internships gave me hands-on experience in the book publishing industry. I read submitted manuscripts. I wrote reader's reports and title information sheets and query letters. I learned about contracts. I did social media. I edited cover copy and client manuscripts and book proposals. I created book pitches and submissions lists. I compiled reviews and publicity information about various books. I communicated with literary agents and editors and authors and other publishing professionals.
These positions gave me an inside look on the book publishing industry and proved to me that it's an industry I will always pursue. Throughout the semester, I improved as a reader, writer, and editor, gained a massive list of new skills, and made numerous fantastic connections. And, of course, I got to spend an incredible semester exploring NYC.
And while I'm not working in book publishing right now, those skills that I learned still apply in various ways, and they are skills I'll retain for jobs down the road.
What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life?
I did absolutely every single thing I could in college. I didn't give myself a moment to rest. If I was bored for a second, I decided that meant I needed to try doing something new. College isn't just about taking classes. It's about taking chances. People spend so much time saying that an English major is useless, but I found that even in college, I had an endless amount of options. There were too many internships for me to take, too many jobs for me to work, too many activities for me to join. So I got involved in as many as I was able to. Every single extra activity I did or job I worked opened up a new skill set, expanding the scope of opportunity for me in post-grad life. Limiting myself would only hurt me later on, so I knew I had to prove to myself that I have no limits whatsoever.
The most influential things I did in college: the student newspaper, English Department involvement, and the NYAP.
Working for The Ball State Daily News allowed me to expand my skills with a lot of in-depth, varied work. I wrote articles, edited stories, designed pages, took photos, and managed an entire staff. If it wasn't for this, there's no doubt that I wouldn't have been hired at my current company. But I also had the opportunity to use everything I learned in my English classes and apply those things in a new context. I could use my lessons in storytelling when writing articles, taking photos, and designing a page. Different skills can be applied in ways you'd never think of at first. Designing a newspaper page is all about telling the story of the content on the page, so why not use lessons learned in creative writing classes?
My involvement within the English Department was also integral to developing my skills. Among other roles, I had my public relations internship, my writing center tutor position, positions on literary magazine The Broken Plate and academic research journal The Digital Literature Review. And while all these did a lot to add to my experience and teach me new things, it was being so close to the department that did the most for me. I think students underestimate how many opportunities their department can provide for them. The professors and staff members that I grew close with encouraged me and educated me in so many ways both inside and outside the classroom. Their support is an essential element of my success. Do as much as you can for your department and get as involved as you can, and you'll be amazed with how much you'll get in return.
And with the NYAP, I explained how much that did for me before. But I should mention that one of my professors in the English Department is Ball State's liaison for NYAP. If I hadn't worked with her so closely through my department involvement, I may not have been part of NYAP.
What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree?
Never sell yourself short. You have so many skills that you can apply in so many different ways. Be creative. Try something new. Take your assets and use them to overcome your weaknesses. Jump for every opportunity that comes your way. Never think, "I'm not good enough for this." It's always worth it to give your best shot.
Find a community. My involvement in the English Department gave me a close community of other English majors to keep in touch with and learn from. My time in NYAP gave me a community in NYC, within the book publishing industry. Make as many connections as you can. View those connections as more than just a resource. They're part of your community. Find ways to help and support them, and they'll do the same. The English major community is massive, and we can all help each other.
Find a cause. When I returned to school after NYAP, I missed the closeness I had with the book publishing industry. So I decided to start a book blog (now also a TV blog). This not only helped me keep consistent with my reading and writing, but it also lets me feel like I'm still linked to book publishing. I'm supporting literature that I believe in, and I'm keeping up with what's happening with books. But it also gave me a cause. I quickly became involved in the #DiverseBookBloggers movement on Twitter. There's a huge community pushing for more diverse books and more diverse characters. As a result, I decided to focus my blog on diverse books. Supporting diversity is now a cause that I believe in and will stick with throughout my career. Another goal of mine is to be an author; now my writing is more focused on diverse characters and stories than it ever was. Having a cause gives my work purpose, and it also sets me apart from the crowd. If you have a cause to be passionate about, it'll fuel your work. It's invigorating. It pushes you to work even harder.
Do more than just work. Outside my job, I also have my creative writing, my blog, my freelance projects, and so much more. Having multiple commitments and outlets expands my creativity and improves my work in whatever I'm doing. Work shouldn't be the only way you use your degree. It's fun and it's useful to give yourself some hobbies and some side projects.
Make yourself a brand. In one of my classes at Ball State, we designed logos and other branding materials for ourselves. My website, resume, letterhead, and other materials all use my logo and a specific design style. This gives me a clean and professional representation, and it makes my work recognizable.
Pick your passion, but don't let that limit your scope. Book publishing is where my passion lies, and it's where I want to work in the future. It's one of my biggest goals (setting goals is another important thing to do). But just because that's what I want, it doesn't mean it's the only thing I can do. If you widen your scope, you can develop your skills in new ways and explore new industries. You might find that you love other areas of work too. Maybe you'll find that you love to work in public relations or design or journalism or marketing (just a few things that English majors can do). It's important to recognize that your experiences in all these different areas can overlap. You can use your skills at other jobs to make yourself standout. Be versatile. Be more than one thing. This goes back to never limiting yourself. You are more than your job. You are more than your degree (even if English is a wonderful degree to have).