The Kids are Alright: Publishing Education

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about publishing education programs for younger people in our industry.

How did you prepare for your publishing career?

Chances are that, if you’re “of a certain age” (that sounds so much better than “old”, don’t you think?) you didn’t actually train for it. You were an English major or an Education major (or both, in my case) or a Philosophy major or… Maybe publishing called to you—you loved to read, it seemed glamorous, SOMEONE has to be the next Maxwell Perkins, etc. Or, then again, maybe you just fell into it—there was this guy/girl and they worked at Random House…

I got hooked while in college, working on the college literary/political magazine. We had NO idea what we were doing, did not even know the language for basic things. We liked the fact that type lined up on the right, but didn’t know that “justified” was a word for that. So we figured out how to do it on our IBM typewriters because we certainly could not afford typesetting, even if we knew how to go about getting that done. But we wrote it or found writers, typed it, pasted it up with LOTS of rubber cement (yeah, we LOVED making those rubber cement balls)…most of all we figured it all out and had a blast.

Out of college my first real publishing job was with a small journals publisher. I was the managing editor for six quarterly journals—responsible for copyediting, typesetting (I even worked with a hot metal typesetter), design, printing… none of which I knew anything about when I walked in the door. For this they paid me $125/week and I got, possibly, the greatest real-life publishing education available at the time.

Unfortunately, jobs like that don’t really exist anymore. Fortunately, there are terrific education programs to help younger people learn about publishing, the business of publishing, and figure out what aspect interests them. And some of those same programs allow folks already in the industry to learn more.

Full disclosure—I’ve recently received the honor of being asked to serve on the Advisory Board of the Pace University, M.S. in Publishing program.

As the new President of the Book Industry Guild of NY, two things have brought all this into focus for me.

First, in October our monthly speakers program was on this subject of publishing education. We had speakers from three of the NYC-area programs—the Center for Publishing, New York University School of Continuing and Professional Studies; the Columbia Publishing Course, Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism; and the Pace University, M.S. in Publishing program. They each described their course offerings and how their courses helped students find intern jobs, which often lead to paid positions. For example, the NYU representative reported that 48% of the interns they placed moved on to full-time positions at the publisher they were interning for. That’s a terrific rate of success.

Second, due partially to the state of the industry, both corporate and individual membership in the BIGNY has been in steady decline in. We are not unique—similar organizations around the country face the same situation. If you’re not familiar with the BIGNY, much of what we do is in the area of education—speakers, field trips, etc. I see one of my most important tasks to attract younger people to the organization. I know that there is more to this than just making them aware of the BIGNY and that we need to, in some ways, re-define what the organization offers. Yes, I do enjoy blowing things up.

Shameless plug– students can now attend our monthly speaker meetings free of charge.

But, also, as someone who cares a great deal about the present and future of publishing, I want to know where our next innovators and leaders are coming from. Yes, this is partially because I’m so frustrated with many of the current leaders.

This boils down to two questions for me:

  1. What is attracting young people to publishing these days? Lord knows, there’s enough gloom and doom and bad press to scare away the most courageous souls.
  2. How are publishing education programs preparing folks for the turbulent world we live in?

I spoke first thru email with Professor Jane Kinney-Denning, Director of Internships and Corporate Outreach and Blog Editor for Pace University MS in Publishing. Professor Denning is also President, Women’s National Book Association-NYC. She pointed out to me that their students see the same things in publishing that drew many of us—they love publishing and see the industry as a terrific outlet for all kinds of creativity. She also told me that their students understand that “there are so many different directions one can go with a career in publishing.” Also, just as importantly “In this era of rapid change, there are so many opportunities for those who are willing to seize them.” I admit I loved hearing this, I feel like a drone sometimes saying that same thing over and over and…

Most telling was that many of their graduates are in positions that simply did not exist five years ago—positions such as heading a digital division, running their own digital bookstore, heading an ebook division, etc., etc.

And how do their students feel about the negativity that some would foist on publishing these days? They get that the industry is in flux, she said, and “it is almost a requirement of the job that people working in it, or who want to work in it, be open to the opportunities that change presents.” An important factor is that, while there are challenges “keeping abreast of current trends is relatively easy to do—by networking, attending publishing events, joining industry groups like the Book Industry Guild, the Women’s National Book Association, AAP’s Young to Publishing group or many of the other organizations who have as their goal to provide networking and educational opportunities.” In other words they come in knowing what many in the industry have had to learn—that complacency is for those who don’t want to work in publishing.

Sounds good, but how does an educational program prepare someone for an ever-changing world? Dave Delano is a respected industry veteran and an Adjunct Lecturer at Pace. He teaches a course on “Book Production & Design” that’s a core requirement for the degree at Pace. Lord knows they are subjects that seem to change by the moment. To prepare students for the real world, of the 14-week course there are only three sessions covering traditional paper, print, and bind. He spends almost as much time on color theory and file preparation—essential topics no matter how the content is distributed.

Professor Denning pointed out to me that all the courses in the program address digitization. They understand that “it is essential to understand digital management and to have a skill set that allows you to utilize the many new tools available to producing and marketing products.” Courses are continually added and the curriculum is constantly updated.

And, of course, there are the internship programs that place students at all the major publishers.

Obviously, I’ve gotten my information mainly from the Pace program. But, if you look at the offerings of all the publishing education programs you’ll see similar courses, opportunity for internships, etc.

This all leaves me with a more positive/optimistic sense of things than I’ve had in a while. And considering that I’m well into my annual “I hate the frelling holidays” cycle, that says quite a bit. As with everything that has ever been, the young will eventually lead us. They haven’t cornered the market on wisdom, but it seems to me that some are getting a better head start by taking advantage of these programs that are out there. It’s up to us, shall we say, “experienced” folks, to nurture them and understand that there’s a now source for ideas and leadership.

Now if I could only convince them all to join the Book Industry Guild of NY…

Michael Weinstein is a member of the Publishing Executive Hall of Fame and has 35 years experience in production, manufacturing, content management and change management.

He is currently Production Director for Teachers College Press. Previously, he was Vice President, Global Content and Media Production for Cengage Learning. Prior to that he was Vice President of Production and Manufacturing for Oxford University Press, Pearson/Prentice Hall, Worth Publishers and HarperCollins.

In those capacities, he has been a leader in managing process and content for delivery in as many ways possible.
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  • BHPanimalwatch

    Part of the issue for those of us you describe so tactfully as "of a certain age" is that we came out of college or wherever into an industry that like others prior to the 80s and 90s expected to train whoever they hired. We were not expected to have a degree in publishing. We were expected to be exceptionally literate and have a passion for books and the selling of books. We did not call ourselves Publishers until we reached a certain level of achievement. It was an aim and an ambition. Being a Publisher implied independent judgment and originality of approach – the kind of being who could not only build a list for a conglomerate but with the ability, for example, to found a publishing house. So many independent publishing houses from the 60s and 70s are now no more than brand names in a conglomerate so that role models must now be more difficult to find than in our day. Publishing houses were more diverse and more open to pluralistic and non-conformist thinking and less obsessed with the bottom line than today. Employers were looking for talent rather than any immediately usable skill or training. A parallel problem exists in teaching where too much emphasis has been on training rather than education. You have to be on top of any subject you teach or publish. While the Pace course sounds excellent and focused as basic training (and more than that) it should be an add-on to an education (by life experience or college) that can sustain a love for books and their content over the long haul. That we have to notionally explain the nature of Bunker Hill Publishing by using the term "old fashioned trade publisher" may speak volumes.

  • Don Schmidt

    I just went through the Pace program and graduated in May 2012, and I have been in publishing for 28 years. I wanted to set myself apart and learn about the new technologies that are driving the industry. I highly recommend the MS in Publishing Science Course of study at Pace. You can teach old dogs new tricks! Nice to see you on the board, Mike! Best of luck and if you ever need a hand, please don’t hesitate to let me know… Don Schmidt

  • MichelleSybert

    An interesting article with some good points, but here are some details that you didn’t mention that make it even more difficult for those my age to start a publishing career (apologies for the length):

    1. These degrees are quite expensive, ranging from around $35,000 for the entire degree from Pace to about $31,000 per year at New York University (2 year program). And then there are living expenses on top of that. Even summer long programs cost between $6-9,000.

    2. After all that, entry level positions around the country pay roughly $33,000 per year, and many are located in cities like Boston, New York, and San Francisco, where rent alone is likely to be over $1,000 per month.

    3. Many publishing professionals aren’t even aware that these programs exist. I spoke with quite a few, and they had never heard of the Master’s program–and said they would prefer two years of work experience over a Master’s in publishing.

    4. And it gets worse: these same professionals mentioned that they had over 200 applicants for entry level positions–and this number in particular came from a small Chicago based publisher. One professional in Indianapolis mentioned that they had several applicants for UNPAID internships who already had a Master’s degree. Many entry level positions at the big 6 now require one to two years of previous experience.

    5. To add insult to injury, thanks to stricter rules (or more adherence to these rules), most interns must receive either pay or college credit for the experience required to get a job. Obviously, publishers would rather require that interns receive credit than pay them, which means that the interns must be enrolled at a college, and the universities are happy to collect on that enrollment. For my three credit hour undergraduate unpaid summer internship, I had to pay $600, plus several hundred in fees. If I had chased after the New York internship that would have earned me more valuable connections, I would have paid an extra $3000+ in living expenses.

    So how do kids get into publishing? Commitment. To publishing, poverty, and rejection. And they need luck. Lots of luck. Are there some of us out here crazy enough to keep trying? Yes. But is a $35,000 program really a step in the right direction to help us?