By the Book: English Literature Alumna Christine Modafferi

Christine Modafferi was born in the United States, but  grew up in a small town called Caulonia, in Calabria, right at the tip of Italy’s boot. She graduated from JCU with a major in English Literature and a minor in Communications. Christine then moved to England and received an M.A. in Digital Publishing at Oxford Brookes University. After working for book review websites such as Toppsta and publishing houses such as Penguin Random House, Christine secured a position as an Editorial Assistant at Bloomsbury Publishing, in London.

Christine Modafferi

Christine Modafferi

How’s life after graduation?
Life after graduation hits you hard and fast, but it also feels right and can be rewarding. Since graduation I’ve graduated again! I now have an M.A. in Digital Publishing and have been working with books for the past two years in London.

Can you describe your experience in the publishing industry so far?
During my master’s I was lucky enough to land two internships. I was a social media marketing intern at Toppsta, a fantastic children’s book review website, and I also worked at Penguin Random House one day a week as an editorial assistant.

About three months before handing in my dissertation, the publishing admin team at Penguin Random House asked me to be their assistant and seven months later I was promoted to an admin coordinator role for Penguin Children’s. I gained so much experience and publishing knowledge from this job and it really was the perfect place to start my career.

In June I was offered a role at Bloomsbury and I’m now their Children’s Non-Fiction editorial assistant. I am still learning and building my editorial skillset. My days are made up of checking proofs and plotters, reading submissions, writing copy, liaising with authors and illustrators, and making sure my amazing team of editors is on schedule.

The publishing industry has been shifting toward a more digital-based approach. Do you think eBooks will ever replace print?
You’d be surprised to hear that books still sell! I think people appreciate the experience of going into a bookshop, getting recommendations from booksellers, picking a book and going home to read it. So, to answer your question, no, I don’t think eBooks will ever replace print and, in fact, print has undergone a renaissance over the past couple years.

That said, digital is omnipresent in publishing and as an editor I am very aware of self-publishing, the rise of audiobooks, digital learning tools, influencer platforms, online word of mouth and metadata. Metadata includes essential information such as the title, price, author, category blurbs, author bios, quotes from reviews, sample chapters as well as any related information that helps to sell the book.

Social media and literature seem to be vastly different realms. How do the two come together, in your opinion?
I think social media is a great place for authors and illustrators to showcase their work and for editors to discover them. I spend hours on social media researching, finding trends in the market, reading reviews and looking for new talent. I can’t help but think of Rupi Kaur, the number one Instapoet at the moment. She has very much become a literary phenomenon and it’s all thanks to social media!

What is the main difference, if any, between children’s publishing and publishing for adults?
The main difference would definitely be the markets you’re selling into. With adult publishing, you think of your buyers as your readers, whereas with children’s books you often have to think of who your gatekeeper will be, i.e. parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, teachers, and gift purchasers. On a practical level, you need to make sure there aren’t any stranger danger activities, inappropriate language, or language that may be too difficult for the target age range. It also means that when you’re pitching the book to bookstores, you’re showcasing it in a parent-friendly package.

What is the biggest challenge you have encountered in your professional career? How were you able to overcome it?
I think the biggest challenge so far has been getting into editorial. So many English graduates want to go the editorial route and the competition is so tough it can be quite discouraging. Hundreds and hundreds of people can apply for the same job and only four will get an interview.

I overcame this challenge by meeting up with the editors I was in contact with at Penguin Random House and asking them to read my cover letters and CV. It can be helpful to get other people’s feedback and ideas and use them to improve your professional profile. I also took pride in the publishing experience I had at that point – I explained to my employers how working in metadata and admin had refined my organizational and communication skills, key qualities any editorial assistant should have.

Name one work of literature that everyone should read and why.
Nothing beats Winnie-the-Pooh – its stories are funny and sweet and about true friendship. My favorite story is “In Which Eeyore Loses a Tail and Pooh Finds One.”

What is your career goal?
A friend of mine and I would love to come back to Italy with our publishing experience and build a small independent children’s publishing house of our own.

Is there any class at JCU that helped you in your career?
Strangely enough, my most helpful course was not English Literature related! I remember an admissions counselor advising me to take the Business Communications course with Michèle Favorite – she said it would be useful no matter what I decided to do in life and she was right! The course covered writing CVs, cover letters, business letters, and how to carry yourself in a professional environment. It helped me build up enough confidence to apply for internships I would never have imagined getting and I still use Professor Favorite’s tips and tricks in my day-to-day life at work! For example, making sure that the bits I want people to remember in emails should be at the top and the bottom – everything in the middle will easily be forgotten!

Do you have any advice for students seeking to work in the publishing industry?
Make sure you get a couple of publishing internships under your belt. You can apply for internships, or even send unsolicited applications to your favorite publishing houses. While interning, put your business hats on: listen to the many conversations around you, observe the market and keep an eye out for trends. And please please PLEASE do not get discouraged by the many no’s you’ll receive. It is a competitive industry, but you will get there with passion and perseverance.