Pearson and the Universal Music Group have invested $5 million each to launch InsideSessions, a distance-learning joint venture aimed at people looking to enter the music and book publishing fields. The project was conceived by Phyllis Grann, CEO and president of Penguin Putnam, and Doug Morris, chairman and CEO of Universal Music Group. Lori Weintraub, former executive v-p of Warner Vision Entertainment and onetime head of Time Warner AudioBooks, is president of InsideSessions, which will be based in Los Angeles.

At the core of InsideSessions are two online learning programs—From Demo to Deal for the music industry and Writing and Publishing: The Inside Story for book publishing. The publishing course features about five hours of streaming video, during which authors and publishing executives explain different aspects of the publishing business. The program emphasizes practical advice for aspiring writers on topics such as the writing process and manuscript submission guidelines. Among the authors who appear on the program are Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Tom Clancy, Amy Tan, Nora Roberts and Ken Follett. Industry insiders include Penguin Putnam executives Dick Heffernan, Neil Nyren, Susan Petersen Kennedy and David Shanks; agents Lynn Nesbit and Esther Newborn; and publishing attorney Martin Garbus. The course combines "the nuts and bolts of publishing" with such advice as urging would-be writers "to take the time to find their own voice," Grann noted.

The course, which costs $49.95, is now available at the InsideSessions Web site (www. and will soon be up on and Barnes & The company will market the courses through different online initiatives. In addition to the online segment, which includes ancillary materials ranging from manuscript samples to a sample contract, the course has a free CD-ROM. InsideSessions has also developed DVDs and videocassettes that contain excerpts from the online edition as well as new material.

Once students complete the course they may submit a 7,500-word manuscript to Penguin Putnam, although Grann said her primary objective in launching InsideSessions was not to find new writers but to help people learn about writing and publishing from experienced professionals. Grann, who is stepping down from Penguin Putnam at the end of the year, said that whatever her "second act" may be, part of the agreement must include her ability to continue to be involved with the joint venture.