Written by Emily Harstone April 18th, 2024

The Other Side of the Desk: Caitlin Jans

Most writers don’t have a clear idea of what it’s like to work in publishing. The many professionals who make publishing possible often work very hard, without much credit.

Our goal with this article, and all of the articles in this series, is to give writers a more realistic idea of what it is actually like to be on the other side of the desk, and what it really takes to make a living (or part of one), in the publishing industry.

We really want to highlight how many people have very different roles on the other side of the desk, and how many of these roles don’t pay enough (or at all).

Often authors can act (or feel like) agents and editors are the enemy, but often they are also writers themselves, and are equally familiar with rejection. I hope this series helps demystify what it is actually like to work in the publishing industry.

If you work in the publishing industry and feel like you are a good potential candidate for a future interview in this series, please send us an email: submit@authorspublish.com.

We are paying all contributors to this series, and the questions will be similar to the ones asked below. These are the questions we think readers most want to hear the answers to. If you have any additional questions you think should be added to the regular rotation please let us know by sending an email to the same address.

For our fifth instalment of the series we are talking to Caitlin Jans, the cofounder of Authors Publish and The Writer’s Workshop at Authors Publish. You can learn a little bit more about the history of Authors Publish, here. She is the primary editor of the magazine and she has edited every article and eBook that Authors Publish has published in the last decade, plus.

In her very limited spare time, she also writes, and you can learn more about her creative writing here.

Describe a typical day at work:

My workdays vary wildly, although the one thing that remains consistent is that I almost always work from home. We have a home office now, and I mostly avoid it in favor of the living room which has better light.

I usually spend the first half hour of every day answering emails, which I think is true for most people with desk jobs. This includes emails from the instructors at our workshop, editors and freelancers at the magazine, and emails from our subscribers and our students. Myself and my cofounder (who is also my husband), still answer the vast majority of the emails we receive every day from subscribers, some days, if we host a major lecture, or offer a popular free ebook, this can involve over 200 emails in just a few hours.

Most days I’d say I spend about an hour and a half total on work related emails, so it’s not just the half an hour time period in the morning.

Usually after that I spend time writing and scheduling new articles, reading submissions and responding to them, editing and fact checking articles and ebooks I’ve already accepted, helping instructors on their curriculum, giving feedback to the students in my own classes, working on my own curriculum, etc. I teach and write for Authors Publish under my pen name, so I’m always wearing more than one hat.

The bulk of my days involve me working on 3-4 longer projects related to the above list.

Some days I’m mostly teaching, some days I’m mostly helping other instructors, some days I’m mostly writing articles, some days I’m mostly editing the work of others. That’s part of what makes my job interesting for me.

Back when Authors Publish started I mostly just wrote, edited, and answered emails and most of my work days ended up looking pretty similar. Now even my teaching months are very different because some of the classes I teach are asynchronous and focused on written feedback, and other classes are live and focused more on real time interactions.

What do you spend the bulk of your time doing?

Probably answering emails and giving detailed feedback, both to other instructors and my own students, as well as the writers I work with on the magazine.

Does this job pay your bills?

Yes, I make a living doing this work. This is the only job I have, and the only job I need, and I feel incredibly privileged to say that, as I know how many people in the writing industry wear multiple hats because they have to – although to be totally honest, my job involves wearing multiple hats – administrative, editorial, etc…. But they are all related to each other and all fall under the larger Authors Publish umbrella.

What do you think makes you good at your job?

The question I feel least qualified to answer honestly!

I think I’m good at my job, because I’m someone who really loves learning. I’m learning new things all the time, from the instructors I work with, from the publishers we research, from the subscribers who are in the trenches of submitting.

I feel like in order to be good at my job I have to keep learning and growing, and I like and want to do both of these things.

My job isn’t just one thing, and what is keep shifting and changing, and I seem to be able to shift and change with it.

I also think I’m someone who deeply cares about others and I want to do my best to support our subscribers.

If you told me we’d make more money next year if we started doing something new, I wouldn’t start doing that. It wouldn’t motivate me. But if you told me it would help ten more subscribers place their books, I’d do everything I could to make it happen.

What is a common misconception people seem to have about your work?

As the editor of Author Publish, I’m the person who reads all of the submissions that come into Authors Publish and I choose what to accept and what to reject.

Many of the people who submit work to Authors Publish assume that a primary component of my job is to read the submissions in-box.

Back when we started out, I didn’t receive very many submissions and I accepted about 50% of the “appropriate articles” that were submitted. What I mean by “appropriate articles” is articles that we could actually consider publishing because they were about writing and publishing. Even now the bulk of our submissions are articles, I’d call “inappropriate” because they are about politics and diet, or they are creative works like poems or short stories. We do not publish any work of this kind, and we make this clear in our submission guidelines, but that doesn’t seem to help.

Now when we are open to submissions we receive about 30 submissions a week of “appropriate articles” and about 40 of “inappropriate articles”. Most writers still expect a response within 48 hours and often send follow up emails within this time frame if I don’t respond.

I have to reject a lot of submissions now. I even reject pieces I like but aren’t exactly the right fit for our publication. We’ve also started to have limited submission windows.

Submitting authors sometimes get really angry if I don’t respond within a week, don’t send a personal rejection, etc. About a quarter of the submitters want detailed feedback on the article I rejected.

None of this is particularly realistic within the perimeters of my job as it currently is. I still have higher acceptance rates and quicker response times than industry standards by a wide margin, but am often left feeling that even that is not good enough.

Authors who send follow up emails within a week or two, just makes my job harder, and my response time slower, because I have more emails to deal with overall.

This is just one small part of my whole job, and that is true for most editors, and I don’t think most submitting authors understand this and it leads to frustration for both parties.

What is an aspect of your job that might surprise most people?

I’m not sure. As someone who isn’t the editor of a major press or a hot shot literary agent, I don’t think there are as many conceptions about my job at all, so I’m not sure what would surprise people.

I know that in the first five years a lot of people I knew in real life didn’t consider this to be an actual job, and I fielded lots of awkward questions about when I would get a real job, even though I was paying my bills and putting away savings from this one.

Once we started hiring instructors, things seem to shift, and more people considered it to be a “real job”

I also think a lot of people don’t think of this as a customer service job but it very much is.

Have you ever considered quitting your job, and why?

Often, actually. To be clear, I love most of the elements of my job but in any job there will be causes for frustration, especially during the pandemic, which both impacted childcare (I have two kids under ten), and brought out the worst in some people.

A lot of my job is front facing. I receive at least a dozen emails every day not just from people who are paying customers, but largely from free subscribers, some of them are people I have come to know and care about, some of them are strangers who I still hope the best for, but some of them just have a lot of anger that they need to get out one way or another.

Sometimes I receive very angry, horrible emails, that really have nothing to do with me, but still impact my day. Sometimes I receive legitimate criticisms that make me think and help me improve the business but still contain a lot of anger. Sometimes it is hard to figure out if the angry email contains a valid criticism or not.

Some of those emails have caused me to fantasize about quitting but most of the time I am happy with the work I do.

What is the best part of your job?

I love that I get to work with the people I work with. I have had the opportunity to co-teach with four really amazing instructors whoI have learned so much from. The long term editors I’ve worked with at Authors Publish are some of my favorite people in the whole world.

I also am deeply grateful for and have learned so much from my many students over the years. And also from long term subscribers who have kept reaching out.

I love helping writers learn what it actually takes to be published, which is often a very different skill set than writing.

Most importantly, it is deeply meaningful to me. Although I always will have some self doubt about this, (and everything else in my life), I think I have made a real difference in terms of making publishing more accessible. Which is and always will be my primary motivator.

If you are a writer, how does your work impact your creative writing?

A lot of people believe that being in the industry makes it easier to find time to write, and for me this has very much not been the case.

Teaching particularly takes away a lot of my writing energy most of the time. I do really wish that this would change, and maybe it will someday.


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