My Path to Penguin Random House: Permissions’ Jeffery Corrick
Everyone has unique career stories to tell. In our My Path to Penguin Random House series, PRH colleagues share how they entered the world of book publishing, what led them to our company, insights into their jobs, and their future professional aspirations. This week, we’re featuring Jeffery Corrick, Director of Permissions, Penguin Random House.
Here is Jeffery’s story, in his own words.
My path to PRH was a bit quirky – and entirely accidental.
I graduated from United States International University in 1978, with a BFA in Theatre (Directing and Choreography). I returned to my hometown of Hutchinson, Kansas, where I started a professional theatrical touring company. For the next seven years, we toured 16 midwestern states with family-friendly fare, doing over 300 performances a year.
But the material one can present touring small midwestern towns is somewhat limited – and I didn’t want to spend my life directing I Do, I Do and Godspell. With a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, we had started an annual “Festival of New Plays” where I got to work with a number of New York writers. So in 1985 I made the move to NYC and opened Wings Theatre in Greenwich Village, producing exclusively new plays and musicals by American playwrights and composers.
Unfortunately, the term “Non-Profit Theatre” is an understatement. So to keep my off-off Broadway venue afloat, I started taking other work. One of my first gigs was temping for Doubleday & Company, Inc. Little did I know what that job would set in motion.
I worked in the Permissions Department at Doubleday for nine months, then (finding the work unimaginably dull) I quit for a 3-day stint on the Richard Belzer Comedy Special. About a year later came the call from Carol Christiansen (then head of Copyrights at Doubleday): My old boss had quit, and the permissions department had been dumped on her. No mail had been opened, and no permissions granted for over six months. Could I come in and help?
As always, extra cash was welcome, so together we plowed through thousands of requests stacked against the walls of the permissions office. I helped hire two permissions assistants and trained them. Breathing a sigh of relief, I went back to theatre.
But the permissions grapevine is small, and I somehow became the go-to guy whenever a permissions department was overwhelmed or short-staffed. There were more stints at Doubleday, Davis Publications, Bantam Doubleday Dell, Random House… And then I found another way to feed my theatre habit.
In 1982 I’d bought a Kaypro computer to hold my theater’s mailing lists, reservations and the like. But IBM had released the first PC, and (like the BetaMax) I backed the wrong horse. Withing a couple of years, new software was no longer available for my Kaypro, and I couldn’t afford an IBM. So in self-defense, I taught myself programming. First Basic, then Pascal and dBase. Yet another happy accident.
While temping (once again) at Bantam Doubleday Dell for Carol Christiansen, I brought her an idea: At that time, for every permissions request, one had to trek to one end of 666 Broadway to the contracts room to check rights. Then you had to trudge to the opposite end of the building to pull the copyright file. It was mad. I suggested I could write a little program to store rights and copyright information on computer, keep a record of requests, and even type out the resulting license. She was game and took the idea to her boss.
I created the program, and to my enormous surprise, BDD paid me for it! Thus began the next round of my accidental publishing career. Over the next twenty years, I maintained, upgraded and expanded that program. It went through various DOS, and then Windows versions. I coded customized versions and sold them to Penguin, Oxford University Press, W.W. Norton and Random House. Maintaining and upgrading the system for all five houses required regular (and lengthy) visits to the various publishing companies. Publishing-wise, I was now in deep.
The 2008 financial crisis hit my theater company hard. We lost 50% of our donations and fully half of our subscribers. We were drowning in red ink. Kindly, during one of my software maintenance visits to Random House, I was venting to Teri Henry, who – incredibly kindly – offered me a 2-day a week temp job, working for her in Rights Management. I’d kept in touch with Florence Eichin, my boss at that very first Doubleday temp job. By then, she was running the Penguin Permissions Department and offered me 3 days a week there. For the next few years, I kept running my theater company nights and weekends, and split my day-job between Penguin and Random House.
In 2011, my theater lost the lease on our venue in the Archive building on Christopher Street. I’d produced 25 successful seasons with the company and written 13 of my own plays and musicals. But I’d had it (Straw-camel, etc.). I closed the theater for good.
And in the happiest publishing accident of my accidental career, Florence decided to retire that year. I applied for her position, and John Schline took a chance on me. I went from part-time temp to department head on Halloween.
There was a fair amount of trepidation involved (I suspect on both sides). I’d never held a full-time 9-5 job in my life. For corporations, I’d always been a temp, a consultant, a free-lancer. In my “real” theatre jobs, I’d always been the boss. But opportunity had knocked, and I determined to give it my best shot.
I’ve been incredibly lucky, and publishing has been exceedingly good to me. I landed in a position, and in an industry, where I’ve always been treated with deference and respect – whether as temp or Director. My colleagues in the industry have been, without exception, kind, smart and encouraging. With my friends I use an old-fashioned term, “gentleman’s profession,” and I mean it in the best way. I’ve seldom heard voices raised at work. Employees are valued and supported. That can’t be said of many large corporations these days.
And where else could I chat with Charlie Dick (Patsy Cline’s husband) and Alan Sherman’s son (Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah)? I got to have lunch with Marianne Moore’s nieces, and help clean out her New York apartment. I even remember picking up the phone at Doubleday to hear, “This is Jacqueline Onassis, could I speak to…”
Most odd was the unlikely friendship that sprang up with Stephen Joyce, James’ profane curmudgeon of a grandson. After a rocky start, we eventually had hours-long conversations where he’d regale me with stories of the years with his grandfather – and even called from France to “congratulate me on my upcoming nuptials.” Wow.
It’s been a crazy and unexpected journey. But I’m so glad it ultimately led to PRH.
Attention PRH colleagues: If you are interested in participating in the My Path to Penguin Random House series or have someone to nominate, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.