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.

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.

STRAND!

I went to The Strand Book Store! Woooo! (: I also went with my roommates to see Me Before You (which was missing quite a bit of scenes from the books, but movie adaptations are always going to be off). And I just kind of hung out this weekend. After last week, it was nice to just relax. (:

People we met today:

  • Amy Farley: senior editor @ Fast Company
  • Lorin Stein: editor @ The Paris Review
  • Eric Gillin: head of product of the food innovation group @ Condé Nast Traveler
  • Susan Kittenplan: vp & exec. editor of digital magazines @ Yahoo!
  • Rachel Christensen: director of social media @ Buzzfeed Life
  • Jed Sandberg: digital editor @ Bloomberg
  • Laura Schocker: exec. editor @ realsimple.com
  • Adriana Nova: creative lead @ VaynerMedia
  • Janice Morris: head of lifestyle and entertainment news @ Twitter
  • Ethan Klapper: global social media editor @ Huffington Post
  • Stephanie Downes: senior manager of audience dev. @ Pitchfork
  • Paul Brady: deputy consumer news editor @ Condé Nast Traveler
  • Christian Hoard: senior editor @ Rolling Stone
  • Ray Isle: exec. editor @ Food & Wine
  • Jean Godfrey-June: beauty writer @ Goop

A lot of what we were “taught” today was based on the editorial test or social media. They’re two very different topics, yes, but the main take away? Know your audience and craft your copy (the text) to cater to the audience, whether it’s in the print or online or whatever your platform is.

As for our project, well, I’m just as confused about my role with this project as I was last week! Awesome!!! Okay, my group’s business team is going into our program director’s office hours in the morning to get a little more of a starting point. So in all honesty, we’ll have some direction, and it’ll be a-okay. I’m just a little stressed right now, haha go figure.

We also have an edit test that’s due on Thursday that’s giving me a headache. It’s basically a “test” that is intended to show HR peoples and editors at publications what you can do in terms of line-editing (grammar, etc.) as well as how well you’d channel the publication’s vibe/voice/etc. It’s not super stressful, just something else about the magazine hiring process that I’m not so excited about. I’m still trying to come to some kind of consensus about what I’d be willing to do in terms of working in the magazine publishing industry. But that’s neither here nor there.

In any event, I’m still leaning toward book publishing, but we’ll see how things go in the book session. Until then, more magazine work!

 

Stuff I probably shouldn’t worry about yet.

Recap of my time in New York thus far:

  • 93% – In Class / Doing Homework / At Program Event
  • 4% – On the subway or walking
  • 2% – Sleeping / Trying not to go crazy
  • 1% – Writing posts here and/or texting people and/or catching up on Facebook

Basically, I don’t have an answer for the people who’ve been asking me how I like NYC, because really, I haven’t really seen it, or gotten to know it much. Not really anyways, because let’s face it, this is what I know so far:

  • it’s hot outside
  • groceries are expensive
  • there’s a line, to everything
  • it’s hot inside
  • the subway system is kind of fun, if slightly confusing still yet
  • i’m in love with the narrow one-way side streets with the trees

That’s it. And based on that fabulous amoutn of knowledge, it’s kind of terrifying to think that potentially, in a month and a half, I might have to decide whether I take a job here or not.

In all honesty, a job offer almost guarantees that I will have to move, since there isn’t much in Montana in the way of publishing, whether in Digital/Magazine or in Book publishing. Moving means I’ll have to find a place to live (which is beyond stressful). And realistically speaking, I’ll really want the job that comes after the job I get offered, since it’ll probably be an assistant position of sorts. Or, I might get an internship placement as opposed to a job offer, in which case I’ll need to move and find a job, on top of (probably) not actually doing what I want to do (at least at first).

I mean, I’m not afraid to work through the assistant-type job. Experience is experience, and I’m all for learning new things and broadening my scope of skills and interests; I will bust my butt at any job or internship I take, because that’s just how I work – I don’t like disappointing people.

I just hope that regardless of the position and regardless of where I go, I feel like I’m where I’m supposed to be – both in terms of the physical city/town/whatever, and in the workplace/among the other employees. I’ve worked jobs in the past where that hasn’t been the case, and I don’t know that I can handle that again. Particularly in this field because it doesn’t doesn’t just working difficult, it makes me hate what I do… and I don’t want to burn out before I even get where I’ve been working to get for the past few years. But I digress. If I go too much farther in this, I’m going to get ridiculously stressed out. And I’m already overwhelmed by this project. So.. yeah, IN OTHER NEWS:

Tomorrow begins the second week of the program! And we’ve got a lot of project reviews lined up. Not sure exactly how it’s going to go, since the business stuff is still completely over most of our heads. Not necessarily in terms of what it should look like – but more so where to start with our numbers. In any event, I’m going to sleep. I’m exhausted.

Last day free before the actual work begins!

So, trying to get a decent view of Manhattenhenge was a bust last night – it got a little too cloudy but that’s okay. There’s a possibility we might see it tonight (it’s supposed to be cloudy all day though), but I’m not too worried. There are a few days in July that it’s supposed to line up too (:

20160529-s'mac.JPG

I had some pretty fabulous mac ‘n cheese, at S’MAC (Sarita’s Macaroni & Cheese). I haven’t had in something like ten years when I first became lactose intolerant? But, I didn’t die, and the cheese didn’t actually affect me too much. Maybe I’m growing back out of it? I’d love that so much. I don’t think I’m going to jump right in and drink some milk haha.

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Walking around East Village and Gramercy Park was pretty awesome. I’m still trying to get used to all the boroughs and neighborhoods. But with my killer natural sense of direction, I’ll be fine, right? Just kidding. I’m pretty horrible at figuring out cardinal directions. I’ll get a giant wall map of the area soon thought, so I think that’ll help (:

I’m off to get my NYU ID today and a MetroCard. After that, I think my roommates and I are gunna do some more wandering/exploring closer to downtown, since that’ll be sort of where our classes are.

Hope you all have a fabulous Memorial Day!

I’m Here!

Okay, technically I’m at LaGuardia. But I’m here!!!! (: it’s exciting! But I’ll write more tomorrow. I’m tired of flying, and I’m ready to sleep.

minor update: hotel shuttle picked me up in departures. Seems odd but hey, whatever works I guess?