This past summer, I went on an adventure that changed the course of my life. That is still changing it, chipping away at the established norms of how I live my life, what I want out of it, what I aim to give, and the kind of person I want to be.
I've known for years that I wanted to work in the publishing business, that I wanted to be a part of it and call it my home. I found out about the tiny handful of summer publishing institutes that offer an in-depth look into the industry and its multi-faceted nature, along with some graduate college credits: you can find them at Columbia, New York University, and the University of Denver. I applied to the latter two, badgered my two favorite, most influential professors for letters of recommendation, and waited. NYU didn't take me.
The University of Denver did.
In the first week of July, I packed up my car with five weeks' worth of living necessities and embarked on a three day road trip that would ultimately end at the DU campus that I would call home for four weeks. I drove to northeastern Utah first to visit a friend (1,400+ miles, baby!) and traveled through Missouri, Kansas, and Colorado to get there. Those three days, with nothing to keep me company but my iPod, were unparalleled in sheer freaking awesome. I'd never done anything like it or been any further west than the Mississippi River, and I was a jittery bundle of excitement, nerves, and awe. It was a great precedent to set for the rest of the summer, as I finally drove back east through Colorado, winding down Route 70 East, one eye on the road and the other on the breathtaking scenery around me, headed for campus.
On July 12th, my publishing education was about to begin. It started off with brunch, and I love brunch food the way people love their children, so I knew we were off to a good start.
I spent four weeks surrounded by 95 other students hoping to learn more about the business. Book nerds, design fanatics, literary marauders, writers and readers from all over the country of all ages: my people. I roomed with two exceptional, smart, funny women, one from the DC area and the other from Colorado, and gained lifelong friends. One is getting married in December; she invited us to her wedding. I met librarians, technical writers and editors, other recent college grads, teachers; we did group projects together, attended literary trivia at a book bar in Denver (that is a real thing! It's a bar and a bookstore - how much more awesome can you get?), hiked on the weekends, and explored Boulder and the surrounding areas.
And did homework. Oh, sweet biscuit, did we do homework.
The greatest aspect of the program involved the guest speakers and presenters. Our keynote speech was given by Don Weisberg, the President of Penguin Young Readers Group. I had the privilege of meeting and talking with Peter Dougherty, the Director of Princeton University Press, and had lunch with Todd Stocke, the Vice President of Sourcebooks in Naperville. Virginia Duncan, the Vice President and publisher of Greenwillow Books (a HarperCollins imprint), talked to us about children's publishing. There were countless other incredible presenters. Each week, we had workshops led by industry professionals with assignments in editing and marketing, and every weekday exposed us to yet another facet or niche of publishing. It was so much information that all of us walked around in a daze, exhausted from it all by the end of each day.
Did I mention homework? Copyediting. Proofreading. Marketing campaigns. Publicity releases. For one assignment, I had to pitch an original non-fiction book idea to an independent publisher. It was terrifying and exhilarating. Thank you, Mr. Godine, for giving me wonderful feedback and putting up with my tendency to talk way too fast when I'm nervous.
When I was still an undergrad, many of my fellow English majors had never heard of the publishing institute programs. For those English majors curious about publishing and able to scrape together the funds, I highly recommend it. The biggest takeaway from a program like this is the ability to network and who you meet, and not just the industry professionals: your classmates become your network. I know of a few DPI grads moving to NYC together to seek jobs there; we all communicate fairly regularly, keep one another informed of job opportunities and regional conferences/activities, and generally support one another. The program directors keep you informed, too. Becoming a part of this vast network is like finding a really wicked smart family that completely understands your book obsession, because they keep shoving those books into your hands.
Graduation from the program crept up on me, and leaving to drive back home was like leaving the greatest summer camp a book nerd could ask for. It felt like I had lived in an insulated bubble, fed on a steady diet of everything publishing, but I realized that it's not an environment I have to leave; I can exist in it as often as I want. It reinforced my desire to find a career in this industry, for I believe with my whole heart that giving of myself to an industry that educates, entertains, and enlightens the world through books is a pretty good way to make a living.
No, Colorado is not the publishing hub that is New York, although opportunities in publishing exist outside of the big five in NYC. There's more to the business than trade publishing, too, and these programs illustrate that. The Denver Publishing Institute was perfect for me, and I fell in love with Colorado while I was there.
Fall is approaching, and all three of these programs are gearing up to open admissions for summer 2016. Check them out. If it's up your alley, give yourself a chance to have the experience of a lifetime.
I did, and it was one of the best decisions I've ever made.
Feel free to type your email address in the box and click the "create subscription" button. My list is completely spam free, and you can opt out at any time.