Ask PubCrawl: Breaking into the Industry

We here at PubCrawl try our best to elucidate different aspects of the industry for you via our posts and podcast, but we are also available to answer questions (as best we can) if you email us or send us an ask through Tumblr. PubCrawl alumna Alex Bracken used to do a feature for us called Ask Alex where she would answer more industry-focused questions, and we’ve gotten a few about publishing programs.

From Bev:

Hi, I hope I’m directing this question to the right place—I’m a graduating senior English major and I’m potentially looking at two options in Professional Publishing programs for the summer, NYU SPI and the Columbia Publishing Course. Does anyone have any insight into what the differences are between the two? From what I can tell, Columbia seems more focused on book publishing: is this true, and can anyone testify to whether this helped you more as a writer? I know that Columbia doesn’t provide a professional certificate and that NYU does, but I’m not really sure what a professional certificate merits. Overall, I’d be extremely grateful for insight from anyone who employs students from these programs (or doesn’t) or anyone who’s attended or had experience with either. Thank you!

Hi Bev, I have not attended a professional publishing course, but I have known several people who have, including our very own Alex, who wrote about summer publishing programs here. In her post, she says that it appears that Columbia focuses more on book publishing while NYU focuses more on digital/magazine publishing.

As for whether or not this has helped anyone as a writer, I can confidently say probably not. Both of these professional programs are focused on the business of publishing, not the craft of writing. However, if you are looking for insight into how the industry works, they ‘re incredibly useful and enlightening. A few of my editor colleagues attended these programs before and after they began working in publishing, for various reasons, and they say the mileage they’ve gotten from them depends on the work they’ve put into it. Another one of my editor colleagues used to teach a seminar about editing at NYU.

As for who employs students from these programs, I do know that the Big 5 routinely recruits from these programs; one of my good friends went to CPC and she was hired based on her interview from their job fair. I would say both publishing programs are about equal in terms of post-course hiring; like any industry, the connections you make are just as important as what you learn about it. In addition to publishing courses, I would highly recommend internships. Each of the Big 5 and other midsize and small presses offer them, as well as literary agencies. I got my start in publishing via an internship at a literary agency; I did not attend a publishing course.

From Liv:

Hi Pub Crawl! I was recently accepted to Columbia’s Publishing Program at Exeter College and can’t wait to get started! It’s might hope to find a career in book marketing or publicity. However, I’m a little concerned and have a couple of questions I hope you’ll be able to answer… 1) I just graduated with a Bachelor’s of Business Administration, so I don’t exactly have an extensive education in literature studies. How essential is it to be familiar with the classics and/or things like common literary themes, narrative structures, critical theories, etc. when you work in publishing? 2) For the past couple of months, I’ve been trying to learn as much as I can about the industry (that’s how I found your amazing blog!), but I was wondering if you might have any recommendations for other sources? Thank you so much! Sorry that this is such a long message. Love you guys and your posts! Best, Liv

Hi Liv, many people who work in publishing did not major in literature in college. Some majored in communications, and others majored in the sciences. It is not essential to be familiar with the “canon” of literature to work in publishing; all you need is a genuine love and enthusiasm for books. I was an English major in undergrad and I can tell you that as an editor, I employed exactly zero percent of the knowledge I gained in class. Academic criticism has no place in publishing. And even some of literary terms you might have learned in school mean something different in the business, like genre. I would also argue that studying writing and not literature is far more useful in the industry, in terms of narrative structure and tropes. As an editor, some of this would be important, but to be honest, as an editor, I was more concerned with whether or not the book I was editing was a good story (if fiction) and/or written in a clear, engaging, and readable way (if nonfiction).

As for other sources on the industry, I would recommend you check out the archives of Kristin Nelson’s blog Pub Rants. She is a literary agent, so much of her advice is author-focused, but she also has incredibly useful information about contracts, royalties, and money. If you’re interested in an editorial perspective, I would recommend you check out Cheryl Klein‘s website, where she’s posted some of her speeches and talks, and will be coming out with a nonfiction book about editing and writing.

Hope this helps, y’all! If you have any more questions, let us know in the comments or via email and Tumblr!

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