Reflections on NYU’s SPI & Publishing

New York University is one of a few colleges that offer intensive publishing courses. Their Summer Publishing Institute (which has now finished its 38th year) is a six-week long course that covers magazine and book publishing essentials. Columbia University has a similar program (as well as an additional, all-book focus program at Oxford), and Denver has a program as well (though their program is shorter and less hands-on from what I understand). I can’t speak to the other programs much, but here’s the skinny on NYU’s SPI course.

As previously stated, the course is 6 weeks long. Generally, the course begins at the beginning of June and ends halfway through July. The first three weeks are dedicated to Magazine Media Publishing, while the last three weeks are dedicated to Book Publishing. The days are rather long – more so in the first three weeks than in the second. I began most days, in the class building (the Woolworth Building in Lower Manhattan), by 8:30 or 9 AM and ended the class day anywhere from 4:30 to 6 PM. There are a number of different sessions throughout each day, and your attendance is mostly required for all of them (I’ll touch on this again later). Most of the sessions fall into one of the following “categories”

  • Speakers: they don’t necessarily give lectures, but they’re not exactly very interactive either. most will have powerpoint presentations. some will tell stories the entire time
  • Panels: there will be anything from 3-6 people on these panels. there are a lot of leading questions asked and expected answers given. Truthfully, I found these sessions to be the least informative/helpful, but they did offer a large variety of viewpoints on singular topics/themes, which was nice.
  • Interactive Sessions: few and far between, but very much the most exciting and memorable (some were game type settings, others were relied heavily on question/answer engagement)

There wasn’t any one of these types of sessions that was completely useless. I learned from all of them. But the practical knowledge/applicable skills were generally difficult to uncover in panels most, then speakers, then interactive sessions.

Overall, I’ll say that the Magazine Session was more stressful as opposed to the Book Session. I think there are a number of factors that made it that way in my opinion:

  • the work flow and pace of the magazine industry is incredibly fast, even in the real world. where some publications are quarterly, monthly, or even weekly for magazines, books take years to get published
  • there was a larger volume of work to be done for the magazine session overall.
  • there were less check-in opportunities in the magazine session. we would get feedback and then change things, but not have any solid ideas of whether our changes were for the better or not
    • additionally, the check-ins were a little more loose in terms of what was to be “finished” and/or “turned in” for evaluation/review – meaning that we didn’t have concrete ideas of how those concepts were to appear in the final project.
    • alternatively, the book session’s check-ins were gradual and each assignment showed up in the final project where
  • we went into the book session with the magazine session already under our belt. for the magazine session, we went in blind.

There were difficulties in the book session regarding group members doing their assigned tasks and actually doing their fair share… but that was largely due to the fact that in the book session, the last three weeks of the program, students are exponentially more stressed about finding jobs and/or places to live after the program ends and thus, are dipping out of class more frequently. hence, the attendance issue. the program directors and administrators understand that we’re all stressed about this stuff, but they do ask that we check in with them prior to disappearing and/or not showing up. Heads up, attendance does count toward your grade for the course.

Things I wish I had known (about the program, about publishing, about New York) prior to the start of the program:

  • There are three sets of assignments in the program. I knew about the first two, but not the last.
    • pre-program homework assignments
      • assignments for the magazine session
      • assignments for the book session
    • the group projects:
      • creating a magazine media brand (complete with mock-up and business strategy) in your assigned category
      • creating an imprint and producing a three-title list (complete with catalogue and marketing campaigns) in your assigned category
    • and two editorial assignments
      • an edit test during the magazine session
      • a reader’s report during the book session
  • There are a lot of departments and roles within publishing. LOTS of different avenues you can take to get involved. “Editorial” and “being an editor” is what you hear of most, but I promise,it’s not what you think it is. There’s so much more to it, and it’s changing still.
  • New York City is enticing. It’s also expensive. I know, that’s a given. But really, it’s really expensive. And it’s a “who you know” kind of world here, more than you’d think.
  • LinkedIn is a thing. Get familiar with it. Use it well.

Words of advice for anyone looking to break into publishing and/or go to this program:

  • Read up on industry news. magazine.org and publishersweekly.com are going to be your best friends. knowing what’s going on is a really good, really easy way to connect with people and have something to discuss.
  • Edit rests and reader’s reports are generally part of the application/hiring process for editorial publishing jobs and sometimes for other department too. Get familiar with them.
  • As I said before, editorial is the most commonly known aspect of publishing. But there’s a lot more. Sales, Advertising/Marketing, Subsidiary Rights (Books), Consumer Marketing (Magazines), Publicity (Books), Social/Digital. Are you interested in finances? Do you like research? Do you have retail experience? Bring it all to the table and figure out your strengths and weaknesses. I guarantee that they’ll play into multiple departments, and that’ll give you a much better projection for how to break into the publishing industry. As the most well-known part of publishing, editorial is also the most competitive. Give yourself an angle. Give yourself something unique.
  • Bring more money than you think you’ll need. Budgets go out the window. You’re going to want to explore and have fun too. Time is a little limited (especially with the weekend computer workshops – if you choose to attend them), but you’ll find yourself awake early on the weekends and late during the week, wishing you had an extra ten bucks for insomnia cookies or something. Trust me. Also, don’t forget that your MetroCard costs money. Walking’s great, but not for the distance from the dorm NYU reserves for SPI to the Woolworth Building where they have us come for “classes”.
  • If you’re serious about publishing and New York, and you can swing it, make a trip to the city prior to the summer you attend the program. At the very least, look into the different boroughs before the program starts. Each of the boroughs has their pros and cons, and each have a multitude of neighborhoods with different feels to them. NYC has a 30-housing market, so there’s really no point in looking for a place early when you won’t be able to move in for another two months or however long. But, you can, at the very least, get a sense of prices and comfort level.

And lastly: Job hunting.

This one’s a pain. I hate job hunting. But here’s the reality. The people who go into publishing and stay in publishing don’t do it for the money. Chances are, you’ll make sightly more on the magazine side of things than you will on the book side, but that’s honestly just my guess based on how people have acted/carried themselves and talked about it. Here are some things you’ll want to keep in mind about job hunting (both in publishing and in NYC in general):

  • Start networking EARLY. The more people you know in the business, the better. Tap your internship supervisors and your fellow interns. Don’t forget though that your connections outside the industry help too – there’s no telling how you might be connected. You know more people than you think you know.
  • Most hiring managers want their positions filled asap. In fact, most want them filled before they even know they’re going to be open. So keep that in mind because you don’t want to apply and have them ask you to start when you actually have four weeks of the program left… Alternatively, when you start applying, be ready to jump on something if they offer it. If you have plans for after the program, it might be best to wait til after those are done to apply for jobs.
  • Don’t forget about temp agencies and internships. Retail jobs are awesome too – don’t knock working at B&N or the local Indie.
  • Follow up with every single person you connect with. Thank them for taking the time to talk to you. Thank your interviewers. Send a quick email thanks to let them know you’ve grateful within the first 24 hours, and then send (handwritten) thank you notes/cards asap. It goes a long way.

Where am I in all of this? I’m applying for a lot of jobs. Trying to make the best of my connections and expand them as possible. And just… I’m crossing my fingers and hoping it all works out.

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VICTORY

Our imprint won the “Best Website” award! This is especially rewarding because I made the website! I haven’t had much experience with wix.com before, but I got the hang of it eventually. There really isn’t too much freedom in terms of the design if you pick a template – you can customize colors and such, but the general layout and build of the website isn’t as customizable – but that makes sense when you pick a pre-made temp! Which is absolutely what I did. I worked really hard on the website, and while my part in the presentation wasn’t the best (I didn’t really look at my notes???? I don’t even know why I took them up there besides the fact that having them helped? //shrug), navigating through the website was actually really helpful.

There was one other group who made an actual website (as opposed to creating a mock-up via InDesign and/or Photoshop). I liked theirs too! Lots of colors, fun designs, all that good stuff. They were the entertainment imprint (we were lifestyle) and their set up wasn’t too different from ours. They had everything separated out by individual titles though, as opposed to lumping all the authors together, the titles together (to then lead to individual pages), and then having news/content/events separate. Neither way is wrong, but I’m obviously partial to the latter, since that’s what I did haha.

Tomorrow is the career fair, so I’m brushing up on the companies that will be there, I’ve got my resume printed out (re-designed for a change of pace and now typo free!) to hand out, and I’m figuring out my elevator pitch. I’m going to work on that for the next little while, but Tiffani (my friend from Bozeman) is here for the weekend. She’s still at LaGuardia, but she’ll be in Manhattan soon so we’re going to get dinner and basically just do whatever for awhile before I get a good night’s sleep (I SLEPT THROUGH MY ALARM THIS MORNING! OOPS!) before the career fair in the morning. I should be all wrapped up with this by about 1 PM tomorrow, which is fantastic. I really plan to take the entire weekend to kick back. I’ll follow up with any of the recruiters who asks me to before the end of the day tomorrow, but honestly, most people in publishing have Friday afternoons off in the summer, so I’m just going to take the weekend to spend time with my friends and decompress.

Real life begins Monday! Maybe Tuesday! And it’s going to be fabulous! I’ll be back to write a couple final posts about the program as a whole and really get into the details. I haven’t yet decided if I’m going to keep this wordpress blog going, since that wasn’t the intention when I started it, but it’s something I’m considering. In any event, I’ll be back with a few more posts and more photos, I promise. (:

The Last Week and a Quick Trip Back

The second week of the book session was fabulous. It was full of really passionate speakers, book industry visits (There was a Barnes & Noble breakfast/talk, a visit to Macmillan where we had a few Children’s Publishing Group employees chat with us, and a trip to Three Lives & Co., a teeny tiny independent book store in West Village). The visits did nothing to deter me in my plans to move to New York City. If anything, they only made me more sure that being in publishing is what I want to do.


My roommates and I outside the Barnes & Noble at Union Square 

Macmillan offices in the Flatiron Building 

I also had the chance to go back to Montana (which is where I am now, typing up this post) to attend the wedding of a couple I am incredibly blessed to know and indescribably happy for in this next step of their lives. To be able to be here for their wedding was great, and to be able to be here for the weekend and see friends and enjoy the quiet has been fantastic too.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking the past few days (as I have the past couple weeks), and all I can say is that this is the time that I take to do something new, exciting, and a little terrifying. Moreover, I feel happy, and right, and excited by New York and publishing, in a way that I haven’t before. And I’m more anxious to get back there than I thought I’d be. Good thing I fly back in the morning (:

There will be more to come in the next couple days about the program as a whole, but we wrap up on Thursday with our project presentations and then on Friday, we have the career fair and luncheon. I fully expect to celebrate quite a bit, but I’m also really excited to just enjoy the city for a while as I buckle down on getting a job and making my move permanent.

 

Sorry, I’ve been quiet…

It’s been a little hectic. Basically, I’ve decided I’m going to give New York a real shot and move here. Doing so on a limited budget, no actual job lined up (yet), and no housing lined up (yet) is terrifying. BUT DON’T WORRY! I HAVE A PLAN!

New York has been wildly fascinating. There are so many different neighborhoods and cultures and people, and I can’t even begin to explain how much I absolutely love that. It’s a city really unlike any other, and I’ve only really scratched the surface. In any event, the next few months are going to be a little rough, for sure. But something will come together, and it’s going to be wonderful. (: I have to believe that it will. Preferably sooner rather than later, but I’m not afraid of working hard. And if, after I give this a solid shot, I discover it’s not for me, I can make changes there too. I have to try though, and really, I’m excited for it! Also worried, but I can’t help that too much.

As far as the program goes, the book session is much more laid back than the magazine session was. I’m learning quite a bit, but it seems that there’s even more of the apprenticeship type of learning with book publishing than there is in magazine publishing. So I’ve got some base-line knowledge and will get some more before the end of this project, but realistically speaking, the job and house hunt are taking up more of my mental space than the program is. I’m dedicated to making it the best, naturally, but I also know that in the end, it’s not exactly what I learn but how I use that knowledge. And my goals are job-related in that aspect.

Bye Bye Magazines!

I am so happy to be done with the first section of this program. The magazine session was infinitely informative, and it was absolutely incredible to have the opportunities we did with the industry leaders we met and networked with. Our project turned out beautifully, even if the judges from our presentations today found that we “lacked passion” (yes I’m still bitter about that…).

Nevertheless, we learned a lot about the magazine side of publishing and I feel confident enough to say that while I don’t necessarily want to work in magazines (whether in editorial, advertising, design, or digital), I actually feel pretty well suited to do the jobs. Obviously some of the hard talents/skills would require some learning and training (I’m still struggling through InDesign and Photoshop. Never mind InCopy and all the other applications I might have to learn about), but everyone we’ve talked to has stressed the “be flexible” concept in working with magazines, because, due to the nature of the industry, everyone does a little bit of everything. Besides that, I feel like I have a fairly decent handle on what it means to embody a brand and to have all your work fit into a media brand in particular.

All that to say I feel like I wouldn’t be opposed to working in magazine publishing (whether in print or online or what have you), but it’s definitely still not my first choice. The pace of the work and the high stress level of the work are major turn offs for me, though manageable. Even worse is the emphasis made on advertising/business – it’s a business, first and foremost, and not so much about the content. And some of our speakers would have argued with that point, but the truth of the matter is that so much of the revenue for a brand (which allows a brand to continue existing) comes from the advertisers who want to partner with and/or advertise with the brand itself – in print or digital. And while I understand the nature of the industry, I don’t like it.

 

The presentations today were honestly all pretty good. There were some that were better than others, naturally. And ours was relatively okay. It wasn’t the best one, but it also wants the worst. I wasn’t exactly a fan of how the Q&A session with the judges morphed into a critique from the judges that no one in the groups could respond to. Moreover, I was frustrated with how harsh the judges were. They were, all three, higher ups at different publishing companies (such as Hearst Publishing Group, the umbrella company that is home to O (oprah), House Beautiful, Cosmo, HGTV, etc), and based on the way they critiqued the groups, it appeared that they were not aware that 1) these were hypothetical launch projects, and 2) 90% of us had no prior knowledge of the magazine publishing industry prior to the start of the program just over two weeks ago. Beyond that, the critique/feedback was, as our program director worded it, “very beneficial” but it’s hard to see the benefits of commentary that can’t actually be taken and incorporated into the project, because it’s not real, and it’s now over.

In any event, the groups that won had really awesome projects. Obviously everyone did a great, but I’m honestly not surprised that the top two groups were who they were. Their presentations were fabulous and their brand concepts were really well through out. That said, I also wish it hadn’t been a contest, because as much as the directors “wished [they] could give us all awards”, the awards just made the entire process antagonizing and demoralizing. Beyond that, they’re in charge of the program. If they wanted to, they absolutely could give everyone awards. But that’s neither here nor there, because I don’t have any power over things like this. (Yay, for being at the bottom of the totem pole!)

All of this sounds really negative and bitter, and yes, I’m a little upset at how little recognition was given to how hard everyone worked. But, I do admit that I know sooooooo much more about publishing (on the magazine side of things) now than I did on day one. And I’m really grateful for it (: This has been a really informative, eye-opening program so far, and I can’t wait to dive into the book session tomorrow/next week!

On a brighter note, most of our group went out to celebrate the end of the program and putting together a fabulous end product, and it was a lot of fun to just relax with friends (:

We have a “Career Day” type of set up tomorrow with a bunch of panels and speakers, and a brief overview of the book session before we jump into that on Monday. Then, it’s the weekend! I’m thinking downtown NY and Chinatown tomorrow/Saturday, plus an HTML workshop and maybe some shoe shopping with my roommate Sunday.