The Publishing Certificate Program at the City College of New York was founded in 1998 with the help of novelist Walter Mosley, with the goal of training those seeking careers in book publishing. The program aims to help minority students, in particular, find work in the industry, which is struggling to diversify. While it welcomes students of all backgrounds, PCP is able to attract students of color due to the nature of the CCNY student body.
PCP students take courses in the editorial process, marketing, and design (in print and digital publishing) taught by veteran publishing professionals. And to graduate and receive certification, each student must complete an internship at a publishing house or book-related business.
In the 2018–2019 academic year, 24 students completed the PCP course work and had paid or unpaid/credit internships at such houses as Hachette, Norton, Open Road, Penguin Random House, and Scholastic, as well as at the Ayesha Pande, Curtis Brown, and MacIntosh & Otis literary agencies. The 2019–2020 academic program expects to have 30 students matriculating—a record number. In light of the coronavirus outbreak, all current classes are being conducted virtually, and the PCP faculty has revised its syllabi for online teaching.
PCP assistant director Retha Powers said that 175 graduates have gone on to work in publishing for at least a year since the program was founded. She added that while the program receives varying levels of financial support from the major publishers, paid internships are the most critical support it can get. “They’re a game changer. Our students don’t usually have a personal entryway into the industry. We, the PCP, are a stand-in for that industry person.”
Powers said all of the Big Five publishers offer paid internships, but not enough to go around. And while unpaid interns receive college credits, she noted that it’s often not possible for PCP students to take that route, meaning that some students are forced to skip a graduation cycle until they get paid positions. Others take unpaid positions and, she said, “wait tables or do other work at night. That’s how passionate our students are.”
PCP director David Unger also emphasized the need for paid internships. “Competition is intense,” he said. “And though we believe corporate heads and human resources people are committed to diversity, it doesn’t always carry over when senior editors, publicists, and production managers make their summer hires.”
PCP also receives support from the Association of Authors Representatives, which provides two annual grants of $2,500 to students, and the nonprofit Women’s Media Group, which has provided grants that supported 16 female PCP grads since 2009. In addition, Unger said, the program receives funding for the Bernard Mazel Opportunity Scholarships it awards to students in financial need.
PCP’s faculty, Powers said, includes former PRH editor Carol Taylor, literary agent and editor Tanya McKinnon, and former One World senior editor Melody Guy, among others. “Our students understand the industry and how it works, and they know where they want to work, more so than most college students,” she added.
Indeed Jennifer Baker, managing editor at Random House Children’s Books and the 2019 PW Star Watch Superstar, is a PCP graduate. Daniel Vazquez, another PCP graduate, is now an assistant editor at Farrar, Straus and Giroux after interning at Sterling Publishing and Spiegel & Grau. “The program prepared me with a thorough understanding of the various departments and how they work with each other, giving me the confidence to speak to my desire to become an editor,” Vazquez said.
Kristoff Ramsamujh, who graduated from PCP in 2019, interned at PW and was later hired as an administrative assistant at the magazine. He said he is troubled by the lack of diversity in the industry and was inspired by studying the issue while in the program. He believes that unless publishers recruit genuinely diverse staffs, it’s unlikely that they will attract diverse authors or serve diverse readerships. “I looked at myself, a queer South Asian kid, and thought about the stories I write,” Ramsamujh said. “Then I looked at my class of mostly black and brown kids and thought about the stories they write, and I realized I didn’t trust the publishing world enough to believe they would give our stories the care and recognition they deserved.”
Looking ahead, Powers said the program plans to work with the CCNY MFA program to launch an “Introduction to Publishing” course for graduate students. But the program must first deal with the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic on its graduates and their job prospects.
Unger said PRH is suspending its 2020 summer internship program, noting that it “will deeply hurt” PCP’s students. He expects that several students slated to intern at Hachette will be able to do so remotely. But he also hopes to be able to place students at Princeton University Press, Simon & Schuster, and several literary agencies, including WME and Ayesha Pande.
“The coronavirus pandemic is obviously a big blow to anyone involved in the book publishing supply chain,” Unger said. “But the greatest danger is to those individuals most recently hired, who will be the first to lose their jobs. This could have a negative impact on the issue of diversity, which is of crucial concern to the PCP.”