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Headshot of Rebecca Tarr Thomas
Photo Credit: Rebecca Tarr Thomas

Rebecca Tarr Thomas '10

Rebecca Tarr Thomas graduated in 2010 with a B.A. in English and specializations in both Professional Writing and Technical Communication (PWTC) and nonfiction writing (what is now SPOW). She currently works as an Acquisitions Editor at Adams Media. View her LinkedIn profile to learn more or to connect with her.

How did you get to where you are today?

I started my career at a small publisher in the town I grew up in. After I graduated UMass, I lived at home for about a year, and I worked freelance: I did some web design work, I worked for a business setting up an ecommerce site, and I worked at a local golf course, keeping myself busy and getting a feel for the kind of work environment I liked.

I wanted to try something more creative and maybe get more into the web design side of things, so I went business by business through an office park near my house, and found a cute listing for a publishing company named Hollan Publishing: not hiring. I sent them an email anyway, and they “hired” me as an unpaid intern for their ebook company. I spent my time formatting manuscripts and writing promotional “eblasts.”

After a couple months I was hired on full time, and I started helping with the nonfiction publishing side of things. By the end of my time there, I had done just about everything related to publishing: I’d written books (under pen names, and my own), edited manuscripts, delivered lunch to photo shoots, served as a “hand model” for a DIY craft book, been alternately praised and yelled at by authors, negotiated deals, assembled contracts, attended trade shows, and even designed a book cover. But I wanted to try out my technical skills and see if I would be happy in the technical field, so after about 4 years there, I got a new job as a sales researcher for Xerox.

The job and my colleagues were great, but it was quickly clear that the work wasn’t a good fit for me. I mentioned to a colleague at Hollan that I wanted to get back into publishing, and soon my old boss had hooked me up with her friend at another publishing house, Adams Media. I started my job as an Acquisitions Editor for Adams Media in May 2015, and have been happy here ever since.

Is this where you thought you would be when you first became an English major?

I was never sold on publishing. Even in college, I never could get a clear idea of what it involved, and it seemed like a lot of paperwork. I picked English because I’ve always loved to read and write, so I knew I would enjoy the work, even if I didn’t have a plan for what to do with it. But through my college career I made sure to give myself some options, study a lot, get some marketable skills under my belt, and I knew I would figure it out. Following that path of “things I enjoy” and “things I can be successful at” brought me to my current career.    

What do you do now? What is a typical day for you?

I am an Acquisitions Editor at Adams Media, which is an imprint of Simon and Schuster (which is in turn owned by CBS). If you remember hearing that J.K. Rowling shopped her Harry Potter manuscript around to a ton of publishers before it got picked up, yup, I would be the one reading the manuscript, and hopefully not tossing it in the can!

Basically, I acquire the new titles for my imprint. Sometimes these ideas are submitted to me by authors and agents, but usually we do it the other way around, and I come up with book concepts, and find people who are the best fit for writing that book, based on their expertise, their writing style, and the strength of their social media following. Then I pitch the idea to my team, including my publisher, to see if it will be approved and published, or if it’s not a good fit.

In a typical day, I’m doing a lot of different things. I brainstorm new book ideas and research trends. I work with authors all throughout the writing process, from reaching out to see if they can write the book, to reviewing their samples and reworking them before pitching the idea to my publisher, to reviewing the manuscript when it’s delivered, before routing it to the development editor assigned to the project.

Today I spoke with our Art Director about illustration choices for an upcoming tarot book. Some days there is paperwork: work order forms for cover designs, contract files to fill out and process, and sales pitch documents. But even if it’s not riveting all day every day, I wouldn’t say my job is boring, because I get to do something a little different every day.

What advice might you have for students who are interested in the job you have now?

Find people in the industry. Don’t be afraid to reach out and talk to people about the work they do. Publishing is one of those industries where it really helps to know someone, so make sure to network with your coworkers, take advantage of networking opportunities with your programs at UMass, and if you can, take an internship or get yourself in an entry level position, even if you have to get coffee or make copies for the first couple months. But also make sure to push for more: you don’t want to be making coffee three years down the road, so make sure you take entry level positions as your opportunity to see how a publishing company runs, what kinds of jobs there are there, and where your greatest strengths lie, and then push for the opportunity to do more.

How have your specializations helped you in your career? What about any specific courses?

My education helped set me on the right path for work, although it’s tricky to see the direct connections between my classwork and what I do day to day. Most of the skillset I make use of has come from the PWTC certificate. I think the most important thing I learned was how to write a memo. This concept is so helpful when thinking about professional correspondence, and has helped me in so many situations in getting across information clearly and concisely. I also do a lot of internet research, which was a part of my PWTC training. Overall, the ability to communicate clearly and understand written text quickly has served me very well in my professional experience.

Do you have any advice for English majors and soon-to-be graduates?

The joke about being an English major ending up as a well-spoken homeless person is stupid. There are so many opportunities available to people with the ability to communicate clearly: it’s a rarer skill than you may imagine, and remarkably valuable in many fields. But you need to go looking for it; you have to start by giving yourselves the marketable skills to succeed, by taking career-minded classes or programs, attending alumni talks, and thinking about where you might want to go in life.

Dream big, but back it up with preparation. Study all you can, and talk to all the people you can: you never know where they might end up in a year or so. Talk to you parents’ friends, connect with professors, talk to people in your chosen field, and learn all you can. Then you need to get yourself out there and get as much experience as you can under your belt. It’s okay if you don’t know exactly where you want to end up, but if you spend time trying things out, and talking to people who know what’s up, you’ll just keep getting closer and closer to the work that brings you bliss.

Interview by Sierra Sumner, Digital Communications Intern