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.

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.

We present today!

Yesterday involved a LOT of computer screen time and a LOT of proofreading. But we have four final binders put together, and a video finished, and a presentation that’s getting wrapped up!

We have a 10-15 minute presentation (I don’t even have to speak!) later this afternoon and then the magazine session is done!!!!

Here’s a photo of the cover of our magazine, and a photo of Maggie, our design director with the feature story (her pride and joy)! Also, as a side note, this is a student project, and is not an actual magazine. This purpose of this project was to have us all come up with and create a fake magazine media brand.  Please don’t spread this around.


It looks really good! And I’m hoping I can get a off copy of the mockup later on so I can make my own copy for safe keeping! (:

Magazine Crunch Time!

So, all our reviews are done. And we’ve been let loose to finish our projects… Needless to say, we have a lot to do:

  • designing the actual magazine pages we’re presenting
    • cover
    • masthead
    • front of book (columns, etc)
    • features
  • finalize text of editorial components
    • brand mission statement
    • editorial marketing position (why do people need this brand)
    • editorial calendar
  • finalize text of business plan components
    • audience development plan
    • advertising/marketing plan
    • promotional/brand extension plan
    • media kit
  • formatting the above mentioned things to look fun and awesome for our presentation.
  • make a powerpoint/visual component of our presentation
  • put together a short promo video for the presentation

Did I mention we only have until Thursday afternoon? Or that we have to print four copies of everything and put it all in separate binders for the judges and program directors? Or that we have industry visits this afternoon, and limited color-printing access tomorrow?

I keep looking at it as just another 48 hours.  Well, just over 48 hours. Presentations are from 1-6pm on Thursday, with awards directly afterward. I’m hoping we’re maybe like, second or third in the lineup, not really anything after number five, but definitely not last, if we can help it. I just don’t wanna have to wait forever I guess.

Designing things is difficult. I created our OneSheet (a single-sided sheet that describes our brand, it’s editorial mission, the design philosophy, the business plan, the digital strategy, and all our circulation information) last night with a knock-off version of Illustrator/Photoshop that I’ve used before, mostly because I’m still only just now getting used to InDesign. Plus my InDesign is an older version and it’s making me made trying to go back and forth between programs. BUT I now have a much larger appreciation for my coworkers who do the design stuff. I always did, but now I really get it.

Anywho, back to work! If you don’t hear from me by Friday, assume I’ve collapse and have decided to sleep through the weekend.

Well shit.

So, you know how this magazine session was all about creating our own brand (with a print/magazine component and a web/digital component?) that was unique and awesome within our assigned category?

Turns out, our exact idea (same concept, same emphasis, same words, same everything) already exists, just in a digital-only platform. A few of us are going to talk to the program directors about it in the morning and figure out what to do from here. but in any event, Greatist was named as one of the top best 15 start-ups to work at last year – so at least we did a really good job with this idea?

And they’re hiring! Hahaha. They have some REALLY awesome job perks (nap room? flexible hours? unlimited vacation???). But none of their current positions are things I qualify for – except for one, and even that one’s a stretch because it’s a community management position, where I’d be working on establishing and building community outreach things from scratch. Not impossible, but not my favorite thing to do.

In any event, this is a bit of a set back, depending on what our directors say tomorrow. Hopefully we don’t have to start over from scratch (especially given that we won’t have the chance to pitch drafts to people and get feedback on our ideas), and hopefully we can figure out a way to distinguish ourselves from Greatist. In the next week…

Meh.

The last couple days have been a little chaotic. Group work and complications persist. I was in heels (that I haven’t QUITE broken in yet) all day, so my feet hurt now, and I lost my MetroCard. The MTA office was closed when I called last night, but I left a message. They’re roughly a month behind on claims for lost cards and/or refunds, so if I see a refund, great. If not, meh.

20160609 - view

The networking event we had last night was fun! It was at the Kimmel Center by Washington Square Park (the view from the floor-ceiling windows of the 10th floor is above). We sat through a panel discussion on what’s new in editing when it comes to the digital side of things, and then food/drink/networking. That said, of the alumni we were meeting with were incredibly rude…? It’s why I don’t like networking. I’m fine talking with people and building relationships. I’m not exactly the greatest at it, but I manage okay. It’s just stupid when the people you’re trying to network with obviously don’t actually care or want to help in any way.

We’ve met a whole slew of people in the last couple days. The managing editor from National Geographic was probably my favorite – along with a writer-editor duo from The New Yorker and Vanity Fair (they put together the bridge scandal piece in a recent issue of Vanity Fair). I wanted to talk with all of them after their presentations, but the NatGeo editor’s presentation was followed directly by another one and there wasn’t time, and the Vanity Fair pair were mobbed by everyone else who wanted to talk to them… which has pretty much been the case for every other speaker we’ve had.

Today’s going to be another long day, since we have a couple reviews tomorrow that we don’t actually have anything done for. Okay, that’s a lie. We have general ideas for it all, but nothing formal written up… We’ll get there though. We have allllllll night after classes. In the meantime, have a photo of me and two of my roommates (Maya and Dimana) from last night’s event (:

20160609 - group

 

Editorial Clinic and Group Woes

Our editorial clinic went well today – the editor we worked with (the editor in chief of Women’s Health) really liked our idea, but didn’t feel like our mission statement reflected the actual crux of what we were trying to do. And re-reading through it, we could see how that would be the case. So we’re trying to re-work it.

The problems we’ve been running into, honestly, is the group dynamics – still. I feel as though there are definitely divides between what each group member wants out of our project, which understandable given that there are ten of us. Really though, the issue isn’t necessarily that we don’t agree on something, it’s that we don’t finish talking about one thing before some of us move on to something else…

In any event, I’m off to crunch numbers and finish an edit test. Bye!