Written by Emily Harstone January 18th, 2024

The Other Side of the Desk: Megan Fishmann

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), as a writer.

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 second article in this series we are very honored to feature Megan Fishmann. Megan is the Vice President/Associate Publisher, Senior Director of Publicity of Catapult/Counterpoint/Soft Skull. Previously she’s held editorial positions at VQR, Narrative, Zoetrope and publicity positions at both Random House and Algonquin. A former Henry Hoyns fellow from UVA’s MFA program, her work has been published in The San Francisco Chronicle, BUST, PureWow, The Hook, 7×7, FiveChapters and more. She currently lives in San Francisco with her husband and two children. 

Below are Megan’s very thoughtful answers to the questions we asked her.

What do you do for a living and how did you get there? Currently I am the Vice President/Associate Publisher, Senior Director of Publicity at indie presses Catapult/Counterpoint/Soft Skull. I’ve worked in publishing for almost twenty years, at big houses (Random House), medium sized houses (Algonquin) and now the indie press Catapult Book Group, where I’ve been for ten years. I’ve held editorial positions at literary publications as well, such as VQR, Narrative and as a reader for Zoetrope. I began as a Publicity Assistant at Random House and have worked my way up to VP/AP where duties include weighing in on editorial submissions, offering feedback on covers and copy, setting pub dates, overseeing our awards program, along with running our publicity department. It’s a job where no day is the same, filled with exciting challenges!

Describe a typical day at work.

I live on the West Coast so I usually start my day waking up before my kids (around 6:30am), catching up to the East Coast by answering time sensitive emails that had been sent while I was sleeping. I do a quick scan of the news headlines before rushing to get my kids off to school. I then sit at my ‘desk’ (aka my kitchen table, I’m fortunate that I get to work from home) and tackle my inbox. On average I have anywhere from two to eight meetings a day and my inbox usually averages to about 150 emails (at least) per day. Those meetings can be onboarding a future author by walking them through what our publicity/marketing process looks like, a cover memo meeting with our Creative Director, an editorial meeting with our three editor-in-chiefs where we discuss future projects, a weekly team publicity meeting, pitching a celebrity book club some of our upcoming titles or even meeting with a prospective author (and agent) to try and convince them to sign with us. My job as Vice President/Associate Publisher involves weighing in on many things: a book we’re thinking about buying, cover approval, ARC copy, galley quantities, setting pub dates, etc. At the same time, as Senior Director of Publicity, I’m responsible for overseeing our publicity department, making sure that not only are my books getting publicity but also that my amazing team is supported in achieving their publicity goals as well.

What do you spend the bulk of your time doing?

Typically, I’m in meetings or answering emails. Twice a year I do in person media trips to NYC where I aim to meet with as many producers and editors as possible (throughout the rest of the year, I do those meetings over Zoom). I read our books in my off-hours: usually on my phone while trying to put my young kids to bed (it’s no wonder I now need reading glasses). I’m fortunate that I’m an incredibly fast reader, it’s extremely helpful in terms of keeping up with submissions that editors might ask me to read and weigh in on, or our future books we are planning on publishing. It’s also important to keep up with what other houses are publishing these days, so often I’m dipping into several books at once: perhaps a manuscript we’re considering buying, a Fall 2025 book we’re going to publish and a new book published by, perhaps, Tin House.

Does this job pay your bills?

My job contributes towards paying my family’s bills.

What do you think makes you good at your job?

I really do enjoy my job, and I think that matters when working in an industry that involves a lot of time, commitment and energy! I pride myself on aiming to not take more than 24 hours to respond to an email (during the work week), especially when it involves author care. Even if I don’t know the answer off hand, I like to communicate that their email has been received and I’ll get back to them. I believe that I’m a strong champion for the books we put out into the world as well, and that my enthusiasm for what we publish goes a long way. 

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

Being a publicist gets such an extremely bad rap and it is so disheartening for all those publicists out there. So often our job gets trashed by others (especially on social media), who think we’re merely sending out thousands of spam emails to try and ‘make the spaghetti stick to the wall’ (and thus get a publicity hit). I prefer to think of publicists as literary taste makers. If you’re good at it, you take the time to invest in getting to know the amazing editors and producers who work in the media. Knowing their taste, knowing who they are, treating them as actual people and not just cogs in the machines… I always encourage my team to not write mass emails but to ask people what are they reading? How were their holidays? If their kid is going off to school or if they had a stressful Halloween? To understand their taste in the job, so that when you pitch them a specific title saying “I truly believe you’ll love this one” they’ll know to trust you. I’ve been doing this job for almost twenty years now: it takes time and emotional investment in building relationships that are anchored on trust, appreciation and above all, a love for books.

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

I think what might surprise people is moreso what goes on at an independent publishing house. We really aim to let everyone have a seat at the table. I love that anyone at Catapult can attend our editorial meetings and have the chance to read a manuscript, and weigh in with their thoughts. I think there’s such a collaborative effort to that, with it being an opportunity that is not necessarily given at a big house.

Have you ever considered quitting your job, and why?

I think everyone has had bad days where they want to scream into a pillow and toss their laptop into the ocean: a campaign hasn’t performed the way you expected, an author or agent yells at you, a schedule’s details get messed up and a car service was not rescheduled to pick up a Pulitzer Prize winning author in a snowstorm (true story, this was before we all had tiny pocket computers to assist in our day to day life, I’m still shellshocked by that mistake I made). Ultimately, though, I recognize what an incredible job I have: for authors to trust me with their work, and to spread the love of a book to readers all throughout the world. I consider myself extremely fortunate to work for a company that amplifies voices that deserve to be heard, and who take risks on publishing award-winning books that Big 5 houses might have otherwise ignored.

What is the best part of your job?

Hands down getting to work with dream writers. Collaborating with a creative and insightful team at the office. Reading authors’ work before it’s out in the world. Brainstorming on an essay with an author (I have to put that MFA to use!). Watching a book I believed in from the start take off and be celebrated. Receiving an email that an author was able to pay off their car from the money they earned from their book. Passing on fan mail to an author. Scoring a dream publicity hit. Trading free books with other people in the industry (although my husband would disagree about that part, as our home can no longer fit the many, many books I bring home).

How does your work impact your creative writing?

I’ll be honest, I don’t get as much of a chance to write anymore. I miss it but between my job and being a mom to two young kids, it’s just not something I can make time for at the moment. I am hopeful that as my kids get older I’ll be able to carve out more time to write. While there are many talented people who are able to balance working in publishing while having a writing career (shout out to my extremely talented colleagues Lena Moses-Schmitt, Dan Lopez, Yukiko Tominaga), I’m honestly not able to make that time now, but that doesn’t mean the door has closed for me! I’m hopeful I’ll be able to find a balance once again in the future, especially now that my kids are sleeping through the night.


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