How Not to Launch a Career in Publishing

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

I semi-frequently get questions from people who want to know how to break into the publishing industry–not as writers, but as agents, editors, copy editors, publicists, designers, and so on. There are a number of possible methods–get a job with a (reputable) literary agency, intern at a (commercial) publisher, take a (credible) college course. You might, however, want to avoid the approach used by the author of the letter I’ve reproduced below.

(A websearch indicates that the author is a real person. Neither I nor the independent publisher who shared this with me are sure if it’s a scam, or just a monumental demonstration of cluelessness or chutzpah. Presumably it went to more than one publisher; I’d be curious to know of any others who received it.)


[Publisher’s name and address redacted]

Dear Sir or Madam:

Hello, my name is [name redacted], and I have just been accepted as a graduate student at [university name redacted] to study publishing this upcoming spring semester 2011. I am writing to you to simply ask for your help with my educational and possibly career path.

Now, you may be wondering to yourself, why am I coming to you for assistance. Well, it is for two reasons: graduate school is expensive and the job market is tough to break into right now. Publishing is something I am passionate about. I am very fortunate to be accepted into such a prestigious program that it would be so heartbreaking to back out now.

I realize how this request may sound, however let me reassure you that I am not simply asking you for monetary assistance. I am proposing to you to invest in a potential future employee. As of right now, I do not yet have many skills in the publishing world; but after I finish my degree, I know I will be able to contribute all of what I have learned and experience to your company as a potential employee.

Don’t get me wrong; I have looked into alternative ways to pay for graduate school. Scholarships, loans and my current job as a substitute teacher are other ways but not enough. Although applying for scholarships has not been an issue, I find that I am not always eligible for many out there. I enter contests, fill out surveys for points and look into loans I know will take years to pay off, but it’s all in vain. While I am working to earn enough money before the semester starts, it is only a part-time position. Also, because of many teachers were laid off by the school board this year, they have priority over substitute jobs.

As you can see, I have quite a dilemma on my hands. Thus, I am turning to you and your company. I am suggesting to you what may seem like an outrageous idea but take a second to think about it. I am going to get my Master’s degree in publishing, which is what your company is based on. I will learn the latest techniques and skills at [university name redacted], which takes into account today’s changing technology, making me a potential employee. Lastly, by donating to my educational fund, I can be considered your charity, which will gain your company recognition for helping me succeed and stay in school. It is a win-win situation.

I really do hope you consider investing in my educational and perhaps employment future. If you do have any questions or would like to respond back to me, please contact me at [email address redacted]. Thank you for taking the time to read this letter and I do look forward to hearing from you soon.

Sincerely yours,

[name redacted]


  1. And no matter that she deleted letter's author name and surname. I suppose she should have expressed herself in her words, put in a blog post some extremely important quotes, but Not the whole letter. Educational purpose is important, but what's too much = unhealthy.

  2. I think Victoria Strauss had no right to publish that letter without an authors (whatever how silly he wrote) agreement.

    It was not a nice neither to read that letter because of it's purpose nor to know that blog author published it without any permission. Sad in both cases. Unprofessional.

  3. Graduate study has a version of Yog's Law, as well. If the program can't pay at least your tuition, don't go – this might mean they allow in too many students or the field isn't healthy enough. This may be modified in guaranteed career fields like law, medicine and (once upon a time) MBAs, but in most others you should not be covering your own tab for tuition.

    I just finished my PhD, and my whole graduate education (MA and PhD), with the jobs they gave me and the scholarships, cost me less than my BA did.

    In this economy, I wouldn't go into too much hock for a grad degree. Just my 2c.

  4. FWIW, I saw this exact letter posted on a publishing group's listserv a number of days ago. Since I doubt that that publisher sent it to you, you can clearly assume that it is going the rounds.

    And, yes, I think this is probably a variant of the Nigerian scams, and I'd bet that, if you were silly enough to send money, you'd quickly find that bank account empty.

  5. Lastly, by donating to my educational fund, I can be considered your charity

    Not in any meaningful tax-break sense.

    Gifts of money to support a specific individual already identified to the donor (as opposed to, say, a scholarship fund awarded to one winner out of a set of applications) have been ruled by the IRS as not actually qualifying as charitable donations.

    Just thought I'd add that. Either the writer is knowingly misleading, or the writer is terribly misinformed.

  6. If I turn my junk mail filter off for more than two minutes, I get lots of these requests. It's a scam of course- I own an analytical standards company and we get virtually identical letters to this re students going for their Master's Degree in Chemistry.

    What I wonder is how much money these scams take in?

  7. Ah, Youthful hubris. Smells like something written by a early-mid twenties kid wet behind the ears. I remember when I was this green and this stupid sixteen years ago. A couple of months of eating top ramen as they get no response to their resume/cover letter will take that arrogance right out of them.

    They're going for a Masters? Big deal. MFAs in writing and a token will get you a ride on the subway in New York these days.

    If this person wants help paying for grad school I suggest they get a day job like all us struggling writers and take out PLUS, Stafford and Perkins Loans to cover the $40K price tab. If this is how they're gonna approach their publishing career they have a LOT to learn.

    Publishing is a TOUGH business. Hasn't this poor kid read about the collapse of the industry two years ago? How thousands of publishing pros were laid off? There are seasoned professionals with DECADES of experience looking for work, and the writer of this letter ain't nobody special. Publishing is a game of survival of the fittest and the author of this letter needs to do their pushups and get with it.

  8. Someone looking for a legitimate co-op opportunity to help them fund graduate school is gutsy.

    Someone writing the equivalent of a cash-forwarding plea in fractured English is overweeningly arrogant.

    "I'm asking you to invest in a future employee": yeah, no. There are many highly qualified people out of work right now, my friend; if a publishing-related business had any spare money, they'd be better off hiring those folks than paying your tuition bills.

  9. Sounds like those bank scam letters where someone offers you a cut of millions he has to hide from his government. And if it is real, shame on this person. There's nothing gutsy or cute or clever about it. It's pathetic and lazy. Not to mention if I worked in publishing and read a long, rambling letter like that from a "potential future employee", I'd pass on the "employee" part. UGH.

  10. Frances–

    I came out of school with no work experience whatsoever, and you are EXACTLY right about how I wrote my cover letters. They were personal–not in the sense of inappropriate detail, but the sort of detail you're talking about: academic credentials, the papers I had co-authored, and the volunteer work I was currently engaged in. And always, always, ALWAYS I made sure that I addressed the company and specific person I was writing to directly, and showed that I had actually looked at the company and the position to the best of my understanding.

    So yes…having been the student-with-no-other-qualifications coming out of school I can tell you that you are exactly right in how a truly green person with a real wish to work, and not just have things handed to them, writes. And this isn't it.

  11. I see this mentality a lot in people of my generation. And I wish that professors would stop telling students that these sorts of requests *can’t hurt* because they *can.* This person has just signaled to a potential employer that they are likely to be a difficult employee, because they behave as though they are entitled to things they have not earned. This is the same sort of person who thinks they deserve a raise because they do their job well. You are paid in the first place to *do your job well.* A raise, outside of normal wage increases, is only deserved if you’ve gone above and beyond the call of duty repeatedly. Otherwise, being a good employee just means you’ve earned the right to keep your job.

    I think it comes from people being told, “When you get a degree, you will get a good job.” Not, “When you get a degree you *may* get a good job.” So, they get out of college, stick out their hand and say, “Ok, I have a degree, give me my great job.” And that’s not the way it works, they think they’re done working hard, and they’re not. It’s just the beginning.

    This person seems to believe they’re entitled even before the degree, which I think is a little disgusting. They haven’t proven they deserve anything from anyone, as they have no skills to exchange. They didn’t even offer to work a year for free, or at least intern for free, if the publisher granted them their request.

    All they said was, “I’ll be a great asset to you one day. Give me money, *then* I’ll try hard.”

  12. John,

    Yes, the letter is curiously generic; it could apply to any industry and any proposed graduate degree. I'd expect it to look more like the cover letters submitted by recent college graduates with no solid related work experience, but who really want a publishing job. They at least make the utmost of anything at all that indicates interest, experience, or intelligence. They will, for example, say where they got their BA, what their GPA was, and that they took one creative writing class, do volunteer proofreading for their church newsletter, and post a weekly blog with a readership of 200. Their credentials may be slender, but are definite enough for the employer to check out.

  13. I can't believe so many people here are falling for this. This is no different than those junk faxes we get with somebody asking for help. A fax comes in with some outrageous scheme that purports to enrich or gratify me sent if I send money to somebody I've never heard of.

    If you're one of the few who have never received one of these faxes check this link:

    These faxes all include phrases almost verbatim from this e-mail.

    "I realize how this request may sound"

    "Now, you may be wondering to yourself"

    "Don't get me wrong"

    "I am turning to you and your company"

    "may seem like an outrageous idea"

    "hope you consider investing"

    "It is a win-win situation"

    "however let me reassure you"

    There is no college student. There is no promising young publisher. It is all a scam. And in the off chance that this is a real person and this is real, they deserve to fail for putting together an approach that looks exactly like a scam. It speaks to their lack of creativity and reflects an approach that I would not want working for me.

    This naïveté is how so many crooked agencies, agents and publishing scams make money.

    Sorry, I had to get that off my chest.

    John Stanton

  14. No, there is nothing that can justify this person. S/he is simply flat out lazy. They are incompetent in so many ways it's not even funny. First they didn't do any research about the publishing industry. Second, they show incompetence with being unable to get through scholarships. Third, they are too lazy to pick up a heavy load out of work and school.

    You don't go up to a company and ask them to gamble with you paying for your tuition. The person has no such reputable references.

    This person gets no points for trying. All they are doing is scamming for money, true or not, by bypassing the ability to work.

    I'll say it again, anyone who asks a company for money to pay for their education is lazy.

  15. During the 2004 primaries, I got a call from a fundraiser for the Democratic candidate I supported. (Hint: It was the one who most resembled a leprechaun.)

    This caller said "Your donation will also be tax deductible!"

    "No, it won't," I said. "Are you telling people that? You shouldn't tell them that; it's not true."

    But it was at least plausible. Mr./Ms. Chutzpah needs to review the tax laws. (Also, grammar.)

  16. It’s an out-and-out scam, in my opinion, not dissimilar to the posts you occasionally see on CraigsList and elsewhere. A site called CyberBeg ( ) as well as this one ( ) and this one ( ) are not the only ones that teac h you to beg, but they are there. And this letter bears all the signs of a spam scam, especially:
    “Reason I am coming to you”: This doesn’t mix well with the generic Sir/Madam saluation.
    “Graduate school is expensive”: So how did you plan to pay for it before you applied?
    “Heartbreacking to back out now”: Youknew before even putting your name on the application how much it would cost and how much the college’s financial aid office could help.
    “Not asking you for monetary assistance”: You are claiming that giving you money is an “investment” and not monetary assistance? Since you are in grad school, explain the precise difference between the two. Also, how MY money becomes an investment (bear in mind investments return money to ME) if I give it to you.
    “Potential future employee”: I might come to work for you and I might not. Who knows if you are even a decent employee I’d want to hire?
    “As of right now, I do not yet have many skills in the publishing world”: Ah, but many, many do and they already have lots of experience. I’ll hire one of them instead and save my money to “invest” elsewhere.
    “After I finish my degree, I know I will be able to contribute all of what I have learned and experience to your company as a potential employee”: If I decide to work for such a sucker as you.

    “I have looked into alternative ways to pay for graduate school”: If you still don’t have enough money get a full-time job and go to school at night. Or go back and talk to your financial aid office; they know everything there is to know about money that doesn’t involve begging from strangers.
    “…l ook into loans I know will take years to pay off, but it’s all in vain”: And it’s your choice or not to fund your future.
    “While I am working to earn enough money before the semester starts, it is only a part-time position”: Get a full-time job and go to school on a part-time basis. Like many people do. Also: Share your living situation to cut down on expenses temporarily.

    “As you can see, I have quite a dilemma on my hands”: Bull. You have some tough decisions to make. Welcome to the real world.
    “Thus, I am turning to you and your company”: Interesting that you use a generic word instead of my actual company’s name. Dead giveaway to scam spam even if you are a real author.
    “I am going to get my Master's degree in publishing”: Woohoo. Do you know how many people have real experience and are, unfortunately, available?
    “… which is what your company is based on. I will learn the latest techniques and skills …which takes into account today's changing technology, making me a potential employee”: Gotta love that word ‘potential.’ Anyway, experience trumps a newly minted but no -xperience degree.
    “I can be considered your charity”: You’re the Red Cross? Why do you want to be in publishing?
    “… will gain your company recognition for helping me succeed and stay in school. It is a win-win situation.” Huh? All I see is MY money going OUT of my pocket.
    “I really do hope you consider investing in my educational and perhaps employment future. “ Not a chance.
    “I do look forward to hearing from you soon.” That snowball is toast, isn’t it?

    “Sincerely yours”: Dream on.

  17. I'm frankly amazed that anyone would consider this letter a manifestation of gutsiness, rather than of cluelessness or hubris.

    Seriously. This person has chosen to pursue a Master's degree. Yes, it's expensive. Duh. But what on earth would cause anyone to believe that someone else would be willing to help pay for their education, in exchange for, basically, nothing? This person isn't proposing a quid-pro-quo, as in the military (funds now, work later), they are simply asking the publisher to give them money in return for the vague promise that possibly maybe someday this person might be a candidate for employment (assuming the publisher would even want or could afford to hire this person) and the "opportunity" to be charitable.

    I'm sorry, but this is just freeloading. Yeah, it took some chutzpah, but not in a good way.

  18. Gee, pay someone's way and work so many years in exchange… wasn't that called indentured service?

    Hey I'd love someone to pay my bills too! Wouldn't we all???

  19. Dear Publisher,

    I'm a "starving author", and though I have two jobs and very little spare time, I'm passionate about writing!

    I'm seeking funds to pay my bills for the next two years, allowing me to quit work so I can finish my first novel.

    Although previously unpublished, I know my book is a potential bestseller, so please look upon this as a no-fail business investment if it succeeds or a charity contribution if it does not.

    I know the latter is just not in the cards–I'm a really, REALLY good writer, and I know you'll agree once you see my finished work: think Da Vinci Code meets Twilight/Hunt for Red October with a heavy dose of James Patterson, Stephen King, Joan Rivers & Oprah! Speaking of–I've already sent her notice about this book via her website, and I know she will want to display it on her show as soon as I'm done writing!

    I've also sent an outline of the book to Martin Scorsese, who will be the perfect director for the movie. Though the plot unfolds mostly in the in the area around the Caspian Sea and the Islands of the Galapagos, I know the setting can be easily changed to New York.

    I know what you're thinking: "Wow–can this be real?" Everyone asks that!

    I assure you it is! Enclosed are letters of introduction from my pastor, who will vouch for me and my book, and my mother, who is a notary public. She's read what I've written so far and LOVES it, so there's a start on its platform.

    Over the next two years we can work together to build a real buzz about this important new work, and I know it will raise your profile and status in the publishing industry to snag a writer as good as me this early in my career!

    Please contact me at the number below and let's talk numbers!

  20. I see it as a sign of our up-and-coming work force. I recently supervised numerous "youngsters" and found that the majority of them want the company credit card, the office, and the job title. They didn't care much about training. The experience was disenchanting to say the least.

    I was taught to get what I want (or need) by working for it. Obstacles build stamina.

  21. University costs are ridiculous, and I have a few fond expletives to unleash in regards to that issue. I'll spare you, though. I won't lie. I've considered doing the same. Not in publishing, of course, but in another field.

    It never hurts to ask, and this person had guts enough to ask. That actually says a lot in their favour.

    Of course, they can't hope that the publisher would pay, given the state of things right now. All the same, kudos to the author of that letter. That took guts.

  22. Chutzpah aside, I don't want to see anyone who writes in this long, rambling, disorienting kind of way to end up in professional publishing.

  23. The kindest thing the publisher can do is not respond. If the university in question actually offers an expensive publishing course, it's best for this person not to get accepted and scammed any further.

  24. What the person is suggesting is not unheard of in other industries. I can't remember what this kind of program is called, but basically the company pays a student's college costs in return the person has to work for the company for so many years.

    The military does this with people who want to go to medical school, but can't afford to pay for it. I know quite a few people who went to Medical school on the military's dime in exchange the person had to serve in the military for so many years.

    I assume from the reaction here that this is not done in the publishing industry.

  25. If it's legitimate, which should be verifiable (with references [of a sort]), then I give them credit for taking a shot. It isn't American-English (nor Brit or Aussie), so it could be a foreign student doing anything that they can.

    If it's legit, then the person is in a tough spot. There can't be many positions available for functional illiterates. They may be otherwise bright and intelligent, but. . .

    If it isn't legit, then humiliating them would be fine.

  26. Well, it certainly isn't the brightest idea, and anyone who has been following the publishing industry knows his request isn't likely going to happen, but what's the harm in asking? As a starving student myself, I applaud the guy for at least trying to figure out some way to make his dreams come true. Yeah, it won't work, and any half-sane person knows it wouldn't work, but at least he's trying something as opposed to giving in to industry-wide despair. Who knows? He might get a part time job as a book marketer or something.

  27. Given that editors with years and years of real experience are being laid off right and left, I'm actually almost insulted that this idiot is asking for priority.

    I also can't help wondering if this person has any idea what the job market is like in publishing. It's not like other industries where people get paid to go to uni because there aren't enough people out there who can do the job.

  28. Lots and lots of chutzpa. Darn, why didn't my daughter think of this? I don't know why we didn't just send letters to school boards asking them to finance her education against her future employment potential as a teacher. Of course, I didn't think of the snuggie either. Kat

  29. This is marginally better than the authors who send out pleas for donations to help them pay for self-publishing their books, I suppose.

    It sounds like desperation and cojones, along with (as Sophie pointed out) not understanding that publishers don't have spare thousands lying aroung to "invest" in this manner. I mostly feel sorry for this person–this is one of those ideas that probably sounded good at the time…

  30. I've been desperate, but like barrettmanor, I had to come up with my own dough for college. I don't know why the author of the letter ever thought it plausible that a publisher would invest in someone who has shown no demonstrable skills.

    That said, I'd hate to be that author right now. The humiliation would be more than I could stand.

  31. I find this quite sad. Seems like a desperate (but cheeky) last resort.

    A lot of other industries sponsor students, in exchange for their employment once they graduate. But publishers don't make that much dinero, and the industry is far too competitive anyway…

  32. Yep, that's chutzpa. It's become accepted to beg on the Internet for the funds from everything for a new gadget to a new car, to a college education.

    I'll spare you the rant about university costs. (Why yes, we ARE putting a kid through college.) I feel for this person's dilemma, but gosh, how about working for that tuition money? Maybe a second job. That's what I did.

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