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Publications Unit Alumni Showcase featuring Julia O’Dell ’10

Julia O'Dell '10

Julia O’Dell ’10

Julia (Drauden) O’Dell ’10 is an Illinois State University alumnus from the Department of English’s publishing studies program who worked as an intern at Milner Library and the Publications Unit, in addition to being involved in the Euphemism literary magazine and a creative writing group.

She began her career working as administrative support for a law firm, before landing an entry-level position at Goodheart-Willcox Publisher as an editorial assistant, eventually resulting in her promotion to the position of editor with the Department of Business, Marketing, and Career Education. There, she helps develop and revise textbooks covering a wide range of topics and subjects.

By starting her career in an administrative position, O’Dell has unique insights into what skills potential employers look for and how the proficiencies acquired through the publishing studies sequence can be applied to different jobs and careers. Since her graduation, O’Dell’s education in publishing studies at Illinois State University has helped cultivate the expertise she needs to further develop her professional career.

We were given the opportunity to interview O’Dell about her undergraduate studies at Illinois State University and how her experiences in the publishing sequence aided in her post-graduate career.

What drew you into the publishing studies sequence of the English major at Illinois State University and why did you ultimately choose to pursue the degree?

“Once I realized that there is more one can do with an English degree, I decided to pursue the publishing sequence because I wanted to challenge myself to do more and be more than what I thought was possible in high school.”

I was drawn to the publishing studies sequence because earning a degree in English, but not teaching, was intriguing. English had always been my best subject in high school, so in college, I decided I should focus on refining my strongest skill set. The idea of becoming an English teacher was something I was drawn to. However, once I realized that there is more one can do with an English degree, I decided to pursue the publishing sequence because I wanted to challenge myself to do more and be more than what I thought was possible in high school.

How did your internships at Milner Library and the Publications Unit help prepare you for the job field?

For my first internship at Milner Library, I designed and produced flyers and posters to promote library events. I learned a lot about what would be expected of me as an employee after graduating—working five days a week, making deadlines, and attending meetings or events. My biggest project was creating a multi-page brochure to promote Milner Library and its services. I researched what the library offered as resources, compiled the information in an accessible way, and presented it in a professional and attractive manner. I felt immense pride seeing my brochure as an insert in The Vidette around campus that fall.

two girls standing in front of Ewing Manor

Julia O’Dell (right) visiting the Ewing Manor with her best friend and college roommate of four years, Claudia Kurzeder Smith (left).

My internship at the Publications Unit was a much more intensive study of the publishing process—it was what made me fall in love with publishing and want to pursue it as a career. An essential skill I acquired was using and interpreting proofreader’s marks, which is now something I do daily. I still use one of the “rules” my supervisor taught me, which was if you don’t know the spelling of a word as well as you know your own name, look it up. My biggest accomplishment was copyediting and page-building Fort Da: A Report by Elisabeth Sheffield. Maintaining the author’s voice was crucial, especially because Sheffield stylistically bends a certain grammar rule. I loved seeing the publishing process from beginning to end. While I don’t do all of this in my daily work now, the publishing knowledge I acquired informs many discussions I have with our in-house production team.

Outside of your publishing classes and internships, what were the experiences at Illinois State University that most impacted your future professional career?

I think being involved with the literary magazine Euphemism was a great experience that helped my love of publishing grow. It was fun to try to generate students’ interest in submissions and issues and then review all the submissions and make decisions about what to include. In addition, I was involved in an informal creative writing group that helped me gain confidence in my own creative abilities. Through the connections I made in that group and at the Publications Unit, I was able to participate in a couple of poetry readings at Illinois State University and Illinois Wesleyan University. These experiences made me feel like I had merit as a writer and that pursuing a career in this sphere would be possible.

Where did you start when entering the field of publishing as a recent graduate? How did you progress to where you are now?

I did not go directly into publishing when I graduated from ISU, as much as I wanted to. The hiring climate was incredibly challenging for new graduates, and I was in competition with people who already had many years of experience. I got hired as an administrative assistant at a law firm, where I assisted with editing and preparing articles for industry publications written by senior members of the staff, in addition to regular administrative duties. After a year, the owner of the firm had finished writing a textbook about case management for nurses, and I was invited to copyedit the final manuscript.

julia o'dell in her graduation cap and gown standing with her parents

Julia O’Dell with her parents at her ISU graduation.

While at the law firm, I applied for and was offered an Editorial Assistant position at Goodheart-Willcox Publisher, a leading publisher of career and technical educational materials. This was an entry-level position, and I was selected for my strong publishing background and experience, but also for my administrative experience at the law firm. This was an eye-opening moment for me, and I realized the importance of building a variety of job skills. At first, I handled contracts, royalty agreements, and completed smaller-scale editorial tasks, like performing quality control, writing photo captions, and building glossaries. I started being trusted with more editorial work and was promoted to Assistant Editor. My job responsibilities transitioned to almost entirely editorial tasks, where I worked with textbook manuscripts and made more decisions about my projects, like selecting the photos to be used and which special features to include.

I now have the position of editor and am the most senior employee on my team. As an editor, I work to develop textbooks from the initial proposal through manuscript preparation, editing, and production. As I have gained experience, I’ve accepted more responsibilities, which include developing working relationships with authors and ensuring a product meets all state and national standards to make it successful.

What were the most valuable professional skills you cultivated during your time at Illinois State University?

“Being an English major at ISU pushed me to find the outer limits of my critical-thinking abilities … and learning how to draw connections between texts and create an architecture of ideas … has really informed what I do today.”

The first skills that come to mind are the ability to research and check facts, which I actually use every day. In addition, being an English major at ISU pushed me to find the outer limits of my critical-thinking abilities and the application of logic. Analyzing literature can be both challenging and fun, and learning how to draw connections between texts and create an architecture of ideas to support my own theories has really informed what I do today. One of my strengths is analyzing the structure of a textbook or an individual chapter and making sure the content that follows progresses logically.

Is there an aspect of publishing, and more specifically educational/textbook publishing, that you wish more people were aware of?

I think one of the most fun things about being in publishing is how much you learn by virtue of what you’re exposed to. I’ve worked on textbooks about information technology, marketing, finance, careers, and even game design, and through conversations with our creative department, I’ve even learned a lot about graphic design. I didn’t know anything about the educational sales cycle or features that might sell a textbook book before starting at Goodheart-Willcox. I have learned a lot about many aspects of publishing through interacting with individuals in different departments, and I imagine other areas of publishing encourage similar experiences.

Because you completed the publishing studies major at Illinois State University and currently have a position in the professional publishing field, what advice would you give to the current publishing studies students?

“Find or create a situation in which you are using your publishing and editorial skills before graduation—my internships were crucial to my career success.”

My advice to current publishing studies students is to find or create a situation in which you are using your publishing and editorial skills before graduation—my internships were crucial to my career success. As a new graduate, it is very frustrating to apply for entry-level jobs that ask for prior experience, but the way to get experience is to find an internship, job, or volunteer position that utilizes and refines necessary skills. Applicants who show a passion for writing or editing are the ones who stand out. Ultimately, keep an open mind. When I was a student, I never thought I would become a textbook editor, but it ended up being a dream job. Although publishing is unique due to its niche areas, many of the skills are transferrable across genres and even into other fields.

For additional information about the publishing studies sequence, visit the website. For more information about Publications Unit internship and assistantship opportunities, contact Steve Halle, director of the Publications Unit, at cshalle@IllinoisState.edu or (309) 438-7481. Follow the Publications Unit on Twitter at @PubUnit_ISU and on Instagram @PubUnit.