Pride in their programs. Pride in their students. Pride in their faculty. Those are the predominant sentiments of the leaders at five of the top graduate programs offering master’s degrees in publishing. Though many schools offer a variety of certificate programs, the focus here is on master’s degree programs only. There is much commonality among them, such as a frustratingly low percentage of men enrolled (5%–20%). Another trend is more evening class schedules, which allow students to manage full-time employment alongside school. Most importantly, all aim to prepare students for an ever-changing industry, where finding jobs has become more competitive. But there are distinctions that come from curriculum, philosophy, faculty, and location. We spoke with the directors at Emerson, NYU, Pace, Rosemont, and Simon Fraser to find out what’s new, what’s different, and what’s special about their programs.
Built into the DNA of our program is growing up—literally—side by side with an MFA program,” John Rodzvilla says. “That’s part of our mind-set. It’s not just about the business of publishing; it’s about working with authors and understanding their point of view.”
The program, Rodzvilla adds, looks at “the art and craft of publishing with a little bit of business. It’s focus is on the midlist.” And by midlist, he emphatically does not mean mediocre books that languish in the netherworld without marketing, but rather “making important books, the books that need to be done.”
That attitude is at least partially drawn from location. “We prepare students for our localized market here in the Boston area,” Rodzvilla says. That market includes such publishers as Candlewick Press, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and several academic presses including Harvard, Harvard Business Publishing, and MIT Press.
That said, Emerson recently added an MFA in popular fiction writing and publishing, an online writing program to prepare students to write professional-level stories and novels in the genres of fantasy, science fiction, horror, mystery, thriller, romance, and young adult. To help these writers understand how best to place their work in the market, the program includes courses on traditional and self-publishing. The program had its first artist in residence this year, Ytasha L. Womack, the producer, director, and author of Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy Culture.
Self-publishing has also impacted the curriculum in other ways. Rodzvilla explains that more and more students are familiar with the self-publishing revolution, many of them dabbling in it themselves. That experience means that “they understand it’s not just editing that’s important; it’s marketing and publicity, too,” which in turn helps them understand traditional publishing better. Last spring, Rodzvilla doubled his offerings in marketing and publicity to meet demand.
“Our curriculum is constantly evolving to reflect new trends in the industry and to meet the needs of the publishing profession,” Rodzvilla says. Among those needs are proficiency in metadata, content strategy, and innovation, resulting in new classes.
A source of pride for Rodzvilla—and his peers at the other programs—is the close interaction between students with professionals and faculty and fostering opportunities for students to have real-world publishing experience. He points to Luna Tang, an international student from Qingzhou, a small town in eastern China, who recounts her experience on the university’s website: “I coworked with a few copy editors, as knowledgeable as walking encyclopedias; I took business trips with professional subrights agents, socializing among different publishers at international book fairs; I supported acquiring editors at negotiating tables with diplomacy and eloquence; I worked with teams filled with marketing savvy turning trade books into bestsellers. This work culminated in my leading a team of five on a book series of scientists’ autobiographies, and talking in Japanese with Dr. Makoto Kobayashi, the Nobel Prize laureate in physics, about his research and life.”
Specific courses also offer experiential learning for students. This spring, for the third year, Emerson is offering a course in which students work with the Boston Globe to pitch ideas and develop a special section for the newspaper. The department also runs a community publishing course where students create catalogues for Artists for Humanity and Bookbuilders of Boston.
Our program stresses that publishing is a collaborative business,” Andrea Chambers says. To that end, the curriculum is structured so that students gain expertise across all areas of programming. Rather than specialize in editing or design, students are required to take courses in three main areas: content development, marketing and distribution, and monetization, she explains. “Even if a student seeks a career as an editor, as we all know, in this publishing climate, an editor needs to understand not only editing but publicity, marketing, sales, finance, digital, and so much more. We believe that it’s our responsibility as publishing educators to teach all major areas of publishing to our students.”
That said, students have enormous flexibility to select courses that meet their interests—and employers’ needs. “Increasingly, that means courses that emphasize digital, such as Web Analytics, Writing and Editing for Digital Platforms, Website Production, Interface Design, and, of course, video,” Chambers notes. This year, the video course options were expanded with the addition of an editing course to supplement an introductory course in creating, shooting, marketing and editing video for publishing.
Internships are an important part of NYU’s program, and students are encouraged to seek them from their first semester. This is less about the possibility of getting a job than it is about helping students determine that they are on a path that is right for them. To highlight the success of this approach, Chambers cites students who have made comments such as, “I loved my internship in publicity but realized that I really want to be an editor.”
Experiential learning happens inside the classroom, as well. Chambers invites representatives from major book companies to present unique business challenges that students work on as classroom projects, then propose solutions for them in a guided learning environment. “The students receive invaluable feedback from the companies themselves,” she adds.
One of the program’s courses is taught by Ellen Chodosh, the director of NYU Press, who provides an inside look at how an academic publisher works, drawing upon real-life examples. Students visit the offices of the press and attend meetings with staff, including editorial board meetings. “I would call this experiential learning in the most positive and productive way,” Chambers says.
NYU’s program has the advantage of being located in New York, the heart of trade publishing. Chambers likes to think of the program not just as NYU School of Professional Studies’s Center for Publishing but as the Center of Publishing. “We are fortunate to have an illustrious faculty of leading publishing executives who bring extraordinary knowledge and experience to the classroom,” she says. Members include Peter Borland, v-p and editor-in-chief of Atria Books and Washington Square Press; Justin Chanda, v-p and publisher of Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers; John Clinton, v-p and director of digital video at Penguin Random House; Sean Desmond, v-p and publisher of Hachette’s Twelve imprint; Page Edmunds, executive associate publisher for Workman; Victor Hendrickson, assistant general counsel at HarperCollins; and many others.
The NYU programs also offers insight and opportunity beyond the five boroughs. “We are a very global program,” Chambers says. Over the years, she has developed close relationships with major book fairs, enabling students to assist the Beijing, Frankfurt, London, and Shanghai fairs. Next April, students will go to the Bologna Book Fair for the first time.
On the job front, similar to what is going on at other programs, students are encouraged to seek employment in the publishing industry right from the first semester. The school provides support through the Wasserman Center at the NYUSPS, and job postings are sent out weekly. Chambers notes that she often hears from students that their degrees and their knowledge of all aspects of publishing helps them move up the ladder more quickly than they expected. As one recent graduate noted, “While every publishing job applicant can say they love books, few can say they understand P+L’s, contracts or marketing plans.”
This past summer, after more than a half century at Pace and 30 years running the publishing program launched in 1984, Sherman Raskin retired. Manuela Soares, who has been on the faculty since 2004 as the only other full-time professor besides Raskin, has taken the reins. Working alongside Raskin for more than a decade prepared her well for taking the helm. “I’ve had years to think about what could be different, so I’ve already made some changes to the curriculum, but not too many,” she says. “Our curriculum is really strong in teaching the skills that students need and anticipating what they might need in the future.”
Also based in New York, Pace, too, has the advantage of having industry leaders on the faculty. “They know what’s going on,” Soares says. She has frequent conversations with people at publishing companies about what skills recent hires have and what they’re looking for. “That’s really helping in judging our program against that criteria.”
The other advantage of having faculty directly from the executive ranks of publishing is the opportunity for serendipitous relationships. A few years back, Michael Denneny, then an editor at St. Martin’s, was a guest speaker at the same time a student was applying for a job at the company. When the student was asked in her interview what she knew about St. Martin’s, she responded, “Quite a lot, actually. Michael Denneny just spoke to my class.”
“It gave that student an advantage over the competition,” Soares says.
Among the changes Soares is making to meet current industry needs is establishing new courses on metadata and digital development for books and magazines; the latter will be taught by Kristen Flanagan, the deputy editor, digital, at Architectural Digest. Soares is also updating the titles and descriptions of courses to better represent what they are. “Desktop 1 and Desktop 2 are classes that go back to the 1980s and ’90s,” she says. “What they really are are publication design courses—so let’s call them that. A former course called Electronic Publishing has become Web Development. And General Interest Books is now Fundamentals of Trade Publishing. The substance of the courses remains, but they’ve been updated and refreshed.”
Soares emphasizes Pace’s comprehensive “top-to-bottom” approach that prepares students for all aspects of publishing. “When I started many years ago in publishing, I realized that you get siloed into your particular area, and it’s very, very hard to get information and to understand how it all works together,” she says. “I’ve seen, many times, people who were in the wrong department and had a very difficult time moving to another area. One of the benefits of our program is that you really get to understand the business of publishing: creative, writing, editing, distribution, finance, and so on.”
A unique experience for Soares’s students is the possibility of turning their thesis papers into articles for Springer Verlag’s Publishing Research Quarterly. She is on the editorial board and can recommend worthy papers to the journal’s editor, Robert E. Baensch. Recently, an 85-page thesis by a Brazilian student become the basis of two articles; the student landed a job in international rights.
And this year, Soares is excited to report that, though many of Pace’s students have gone to the major book fairs such as London and Frankfurt, next year it will be sending two to four students to Beijing. The international travel as students is important, she says, because “once you’re working in the industry, you may not have the opportunity to do so.”
Soares’s program goes beyond the basics. This year, she herself will teach an ethics class. “Skills are important,” she says. “But in addition to how we publish, it is important to understand the philosophy of why we publish what we publish.”
Good things come in small packages—and also in small classrooms. Marshall Warfield believes that the small class size (an average of 14 students per class) is an important advantage offered by Rosemont. “We’re small enough that students build effective relationships with instructors and other students that allow for more effective networking,” he says. Though Warfield acknowledges that networking is an important part of everyone’s publishing program, he feels Rosemont’s program allows it to happen more organically, more comfortably.
Warfield cites one example in which his own connection turned fortuitous. A student was working with Warfield on his thesis, which looked into novelizations from video games to examine how intellectual property flows across media formats and is treated by authors and editors. Warfield spoke with a friend who works for filmmaker James Cameron in L.A. and asked him if he would speak with the student. The friend did, and now that student is working on intellectual property for Cameron.
Another point of pride for Warfield is the school’s particular variety of concentrations: editorial, children’s and YA publishing, and design. The children’s concentration is fueled by Rosemont’s impressive children’s library, which was why Rachel Dougherty—then an illustrator, now an author as well—chose the program. She was looking for a particular book on Emily Roebling (of the Brooklyn Bridge–building family) as part of her research for her own forthcoming book on the subject, and the only library that had it was Rosemont’s.
The concentration in children’s publishing also benefits from its faculty, which includes the 2018 Newbery Award winner (for Hello Universe) Erin Entrada Kelly. She graduated from the school’s MFA program a few years ago, but “her publishing background makes her a valuable asset to our program,” Warfield says.
In the design concentration, Warfield lauds Susan DiGironimo, who is the award-winning director of the college’s graphic design services by day and an instructor in the evening. He points out that graduates from the program are as likely to land design jobs as they are more traditional publishing roles.
On the job front in general, Warfield says that with Rosemont degrees, besides the full-time jobs they are landing, graduates are qualified to do freelance work as editorial consultants, marketing consultants, and designers. “They are always able to find something that applies their skills in project management and education—the heart of publishing.”
Warfield also emphasizes the importance of good research that “forwards the state of the art of the industry.” He adds, “I want them to help the publishing industry discover something new about itself.”
Rosemont’s program is continuing to expand, Warfield says, noting that “program changes are underway for the fall 2019 semester that will allow students to have more choices and pursue their interests more effectively.” A formal announcement detailing changes is expected in February.
Suzanne Norman, who heads up the master in publishing program at SFU in Vancouver, points out that “our graduate students come into the master of publishing from a variety of disciplines, but mainly from the humanities.” She adds, “Occasionally some will have multiple degrees or even other graduate and postgraduate experience. They are drawn to our program for myriad reasons, including foremost a passion for the world of publishing.”
Having a passion for publishing does not mean that all of SFU’s students want to pursue careers in the industry; the program is designed to benefit those who decide to seek work elsewhere, as well. “In those cases, we look for research opportunities or other entrepreneurial ideas, from which they can develop a graduate thesis,” Norman says. She points out that although the master in publishing is a terminal degree, SFU has had a number of students who continue in the academy, and that the university has facilitated interdisciplinary PhDs for such students.
The master’s program is a blend of scholarship and practical experience that is balanced throughout the 18-month track, which Norman describes as a “rigorous academic course load that underpins project-based courses and eventually a three-month professional placement in industry.” It features an emphasis on design, public scholarship, community partnerships, entrepreneurship, innovation, and underrepresented publishing streams such as indigenous literatures. These areas of focus, along with the important role of research, distinguish SFU from other publishing programs, according to Norman.
This combination means that the jobs students land vary across a broad spectrum. “We have had students pursue academic studies and enter industry entry- and midlevel positions, and we have a fairly high number of entrepreneurial graduates who are creating their own opportunities,” Norman says. Among the varied endeavors created by former students are Engage Books, a traditional-style publishing house running Amazon-only sales and distribution; Page Two Strategies, an innovative hybrid publisher/agency; and Shelfie, subsequently bought by Kobo Rakuten.
Like the other programs, SFU’s applications are steady. “Surprisingly, given the doom and gloom about publishing we see in the media, we see much optimism and enthusiasm for forging new pathways in what it means to publish,” Norman says. She attributes the unwavering interest in the program to the faculty, who are “second to none in North America and, yes, in European publishing programs, as well.”
One thing that Norman would like to see is more American students in the program. “Our industries are similar, and our curriculum is very transportable into publishing houses globally,” she says. She also notes that the entrepreneurial components of their maker-focused curriculum provide students with many of the core tools they need to strike out on their own. Finally, she says she would love to work with more American companies to arrange professional placements for students (“Change your immigration laws!” she jokes.) “These placements are not internships in the common sense of the word,” she adds, “but more of a partnership between SFU, the student, and the industry host.”