Name: Heather Cook
College & Majors/Minors: University at Buffalo, English B.A. and Creative Writing Certificate; SUNY Buffalo State College, Masters English Education Candidate.
Current Location: Buffalo, NY
Current Form of Employment: Commissioned publishing agent, publishing consultant, and freelance writer. Former literary columnist of ARTVOICE.
Where do you work and what is your current position?
Currently, I'm wearing many different hats! My overcrowded planner is my best friend. I'm a commissioned publishing agent, submitting the written works of authors to publishers and literary agents. I work from home, researching literary markets in order to find a good fit for each client. I'm also a publishing consultant for a local literary journal, Plur•al•ity Press (hey—they're looking for written submissions!). What does this mean? I didn't know what the job entailed until my first day! In short, using my publishing knowledge, I help guide and direct the journal's marketing department in becoming more successful.
Simultaneously, I am a graduate student, artist and freelance writer. Yes, indeed I'm a bit of a dabbler. I used to be ashamed of my dabbler instincts, but learned to embrace it. Shouldn't we all strive to be multifaceted, though? I call it the English Major hustle: do whatever you can to get paid to do what you love. It keeps life interesting.
Tell us about how you found your first job, and how you found your current job (if different).
My first English-related job found me. After graduation, a former professor and mentor asked if I'd like to be her "project assistant," submitting her written works to various markets for publication. Do you know there are over five thousand literary markets out there waiting for your submissions? I was terrified to say "yes," because, I mean, come on, that was a lot of pressure and a huge responsibility for a newbie, right?! However, with new knowledge, my shaky confidence wore off rather quickly. Taking advantage of this opportunity was the best decision I ever made. This is when I got an inside look at the publishing industry and the rules it follows. Without this opportunity, I may not have realized how much I enjoy working in the publishing industry. I took everything I learned in that gig and ran with it. A few years later, I'm representing three new clients. Shout out to my favorite-ever professor, and now friend, for believing in and guiding me.
As for my current job: I went out of my comfort zone by way of attending a three-day poetry retreat with a group of poets I had never met before. We shared our craft and ambitions in the campfire light. This is where I met the founder of Plur•al•ity Press. Our casual conversation on the publishing industry unexpectedly lead to a job offer. Who knew? Connections can be made anywhere, so you really have to put yourself out there.
What was another writing-related job that was important in your career?
After graduating I had no idea where I wanted to go or what I wanted to do, but I was offered an internship, which later turned into a job as the literary columnist of ARTVOICE, Buffalo's weekly paper. I interviewed writers, poets, bookstore owners and covered local literary events. The pay was less than great, but the experience was invaluable. More importantly, it helped me rule out journalism as a long-term career. Here, I realized that constantly looking for the next big story wasn't for me. I needed something more "behind the scenes." It's okay to try something new and not like it—it's better than never stepping out of your comfort zone, right?
What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life?
As much as I possibly could. Most importantly, I joined clubs (UB Lit Club and UB Girl Effect). At first, I turned my cheek to clubs, believing it was "lame." However, these clubs lead me to the like-minded bookish beings I now call lifelong friends. They were/are my biggest supporters, allies and confidants. Years later, from different corners of the world, we still continue to push each other to succeed. I also jumped on the editorial team of our literary magazine, took advantage of a few internships and attended as many conferences I could squeeze in.
All of this preparation not only added oomph to my CV, but also gave me the life experience I so desperately needed. I highly recommend fully emerging yourself into the field as you study. When you're open-minded and take risks, you'll truly realize what you like and do not like.
What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree?
Studying English will expose you to different worlds and guide you on your quest for self-discovery. It will make you feel small and large at the same time, but do carry on. Regardless of the rumors, do not let the job market discourage you! An English degree is invaluable. I mean, what company wouldn't hire a critical thinker who knows how to effectively communicate? If you're passionate, work hard and stay open-minded, a career (or two) will surely come in due time! Until then, keep reading, writing, learning and networking in order to hone your skills. After all, it's what you've been trained to do.