Each summer, universities across the country play host to summer publishing programs. These intensive programs last approximately 4-6 weeks and focus on many areas of publishing such as editing, marketing, design, sales, and digital media among others. This past summer, Ball State English alumna Madisen Ray was granted the opportunity to attend one of these publishing programs hosted by the University of Denver. Continue below to read about Madisen’s experience at the University of Denver Publishing Institute as well as the program’s impact on her future.
So you want to work in publishing? Then an English degree is where you should start! I always knew I wanted to work with books, I have always loved reading and writing, and these passions led me to my English Literature degree at Ball State. If you’re an English major like I was, despite the piles of books you have to read and the thousands of words you have to write, just like me, you love it. And all that reading and writing and presenting pays off—those are the skills needed to talk about books, and that is what you will do when you work in publishing.
Deep down I knew this, but I didn’t know how to go about applying those skills. After six months of working at a bank in Fort Wayne after graduating, I knew it was time for a change. I was still passionate about publishing, but I needed some advice. After contacting my old advisor Debbie Mix, she encouraged me to pursue one of the summer publishing programs offered at different universities across the country. The three main programs I found are the University of Denver Publishing Institute, New York University’s Summer Publishing Institute, and the Columbia Publishing Course. They vary in length from four to six weeks, are focused on books and/or magazines depending on the program, and will run you a few thousand dollars. Don’t get sticker shock! These are graduate programs. I have a graduate certificate in publishing from the University of Denver, and it was worth every penny.
After applying and being accepted to both the University of Denver and NYU, I chose to attend the Denver program. It was a bit cheaper, it was shorter at only four weeks, and the timing worked out better so I could be a part of my best friend’s wedding. I flew out to Denver with a pound of bobby pins in my hair from the wedding the night before and was thrown headfirst into the most immersive program I have ever been involved in. Every morning at 9 AM, the 97 students that made up DPI2012 filed into a lecture hall and listened as industry professionals from every facet of publishing spoke to us about our potential career paths.
Weeks one and two were devoted to editorial. Publishers and editors from Big Six houses (you know them: Random House, Penguin, Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Simon & Schuster), university presses, textbook publishers, and children’s book presses spoke to us about their jobs. Copyeditors and literary agents spoke about their roles in the business, and we had two wonderful independent editors giving us in-depth lessons on what it really means to be an editor in the publishing industry. (Let me pause quickly to tell you that yes, there was homework. There were advance assignments that I had to complete in the month leading up to the program, there was practical editing work, and I had to do some practical writing. And, the most dreaded of all, I had to do some math, too.) These two weeks were very exciting, and I learned more about the publishing industry in a couple days than I had learned anywhere else.
Week three brought marketing. On the first day of the program, the director of DPI, Joyce Meskis (a Purdue alum), told us to keep an open mind because you never know where your publishing passions will take you. As soon as marketing week began, my dreams of being an editor began to fade, and a new dream of social media marketer began to manifest itself in my brain. That week taught us just how marketing in the book world works, and how varied and interesting it can be. From social media marketing, to print ad campaigns, to publicity, it’s as diverse as book genres themselves, and marketers are as important as editors. I learned that without a good marketer, a good book will never sell.
The final week was devoted to helping us get jobs. We had mock interviews, real interviews, resume pointers, and a panel discussion with returning DPI graduates who came to tell their horror and success stories with breaking into the publishing industry. “It can be done,” they promised, and the Denver Publishing Institute got them there. Not only did I get a crash course in publishing and the skills necessary to get a job in the industry, but I also made great friends and had a fantastic time exploring Colorado for a month.
I wish I could end this by saying my publishing dream has come true and I am now a marketing assistant at Penguin in New York City. I wish I could tell you that, but I can’t, because I am still working on my dream. I had several informational interviews and several real interviews with different textbook publishers and university presses across the country, but nothing has panned out just yet. But I’m not discouraged. The economy is tough right now, we all know that, and I am still narrowing in on exactly what I want to do with my career and where I want to be. For now, I want to stay in Indiana and gain more social media marketing experience. Next year, I plan to be on my way to my dream career.
The University of Denver Publishing Institute is one of the best life choices I have ever made. I was able to continue my education without spending several years in grad school, I learned more about the publishing industry than I could have in a semester at an internship, and I made memories that will last a lifetime. If you are interested in publishing but don’t know where to begin, I highly suggest a summer publishing program. You won’t regret it.
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I attended the University of Denver Publishing Institute in 1977, its second class. Elizabeth Geiser, the director at the time, brought enthusiasm and graciousness to her class and I enjoyed the class and my classmates. Madisen ends her excellent article with the view that you won’t regret this summer course. This can be true for some people who love writing. While book publishing isn’t dead, it is on life support. Outsourcing, off shoring, and the internet has brought challenges to publishing. It was hard enough in 1977 to find a job in publishing. Today, it’s almost impossible to find a publishing house that will justify your salary and that would pay you enough money to live, especially in Manhattan. You’re looking for a career in a vanishing industry. If you are a dilettante or if you want a taste of graduate school without investing two years in graduate school, this institute might be a good choice. It’s not a good choice if you are looking for a way to market your English degree or if you are hoping to rely on the institute’s anemic alumni network. At the institute, you will hear interesting lectures and meet interesting people. But if you want a book publishing career, be prepared for acute disappointment. It’s difficult to know what education and experiences will help you as you continue your life’s journey and all learning has value. The question is whether the value of this summer program justifies its costs and expectations. At least for me, with the perspective of time, the answer is no.
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[…] Featured testimonial: “The University of Denver Publishing Institute is one of the best life choices I have ever made. I was able to continue my education without spending several years in grad school, I learned more about the publishing industry than I could have in a semester at an internship, and I made memories that will last a lifetime.” – Madisen Rey […]