For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved reading and writing and stories. I loved the plastic crinkle sound that covered library books made when you opened them and the spine cracking upon the inaugural opening of a hardcover. I loved raised ink and thin, yellowed dog-eared pages. I loved tall tales and bookmarks with ostentatious tassels. I was drawn to independent bookstore owners and the cats who slinked around their stores as much as I adored splashy covers on bestseller tables at Barnes and Noble. I was fascinated by the way in which stories could bring people together. I loved the escape, the knowledge, the authors, and how all these worlds could be easily accessed simply by turning pages. I loved it all.
There is a chance I made a career out of representing writers and writing because I wasn’t truly built for, or as passionate about, anything else. I’m too short for basketball, and I shrink at the sight of open wounds, so WNBA player and surgeon were both out of the question. I have an old friend who was a writer like me when we were growing up, but he was also good at other stuff like science and medicine. He too was praised by teachers and won awards for writing and thought the school newspaper was the most important thing in the world, but while I protested the high school frog dissection and wrote an op-ed about it, he was pioneering new experiments in chemistry class. He became a surgeon. I went into publishing.
One day we were discussing this. By that time I’d gone to the world’s top journalism school, gotten my M.F.A. in Creative Writing, studied under legends and represented bestsellers, but I told him that given that choice he had I would have chosen surgeon over writer too because surgeons save lives. We were talking over the phone, and when I said this, there was a long pause before he replied, “Book save lives too.”
Books save lives too.
So I guess that’s my story, how I ended up here and why I do what I do. Books save lives! Maybe it was the thing I was good at, but maybe since childhood, I’ve known that books teach us things and take us to faraway lands. They connect us to others, and they provide context in a world filled with an endless stream of text. They open dialogue and doors and give birth to new thoughts and fulfill that need for narrative that lives inside all of us, but one of the most gorgeous, beautiful, transformative and egalitarian things about writing is that you can do it anywhere. You can be anyone. You don’t need a fancy office or a magic pen. In fact, I’m not even sure you need a room of your own. I’m actually writing this right now at the diner, and if it were paper, I can assure you it would be covered in coffee stains and French fry grease.
Do you have a local diner? A laptop? A zany pet parakeet that children love? An idea? A sense of your own mortality? A dream? A life-lesson? A story?
Then you can write too. Welcome.
*special thanks to Rail Line Diner in Chelsea, New York, NY
My career in publishing began with a class not unlike the Path to Publishing I now teach. I was working at a big, glossy magazine in the era when magazines were glamorous, bosses were tyrants, and we all had bloated expense accounts. As exciting as it was, I began craving something more creative, so I signed up for a continuing education class at Mediabistro. This was before online classes, which meant attending in-person on the second floor of a building on Prince Street.
On the night of our first class, it was a torrential downpour, and I remember the awkwardness of “going around the room” while everyone introduced themselves and fumbled through an explanation of what they hoped to get out of the class. But over the coming weeks, I got to know my teacher, and she taught me how to publish my first personal essay. I also go to know, and eventually befriend, the other members of the class. In the end, we exchanged emails and continued to meet every other week for the next decade. We cheered each other on as we wrote, received rejections, wrote more, published, shared contacts, and pushed each other to write better. In the end, we all went on to attend MFA programs in New York City.
At the MFA program, I met other writers who became lifelong friends. At some point one of my MFA colleagues suggested I apply for a job as a literary agent. She said the career offered the perfect combination of sales and creativity for someone like me. “What’s a literary agent?” I asked. I still wasn’t even quite sure what this job entailed, but I applied to a Craigslist ad and got a call the next day. I had the job by Monday and stayed for six years. I cut my teeth reading submissions and assisting and eventually began taking on my own clients. I also started a literary community called H.I.P. Lit with my writer friends from graduate school. I took on ghostwriting projects. My books won awards and became bestsellers.
I’ve now been working in publishing of some sort for over fifteen years, and I’m delighted to add courses as my latest endeavor. It feels right because my book journey began with a spark of curiosity that led to class, which set me on a path that changed my life forever.
Just the Basics
Kim Perel began her career at Forbes magazine working in an editorial capacity, and later worked as an advertising copywriter. For over five years, Kim was an agent at Wendy Sherman Associates where she conceptualized sold, and even authored numerous books for major publishers. She is passionate about powerful writing and delicious sentences. She holds an MFA degree in Creative Writing from The New School where she studied with world-renowned professional writers in the areas of fiction and nonfiction. She also received her undergraduate Bachelor’s degree in Journalism from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. In her spare time, she co-curates the popular H.I.P. Lit event series.