A Publishing Education

May 14, 2013 by Thad McIlroy

The courses that convey traditional publishing knowledge are well-established. They’re mainly the Masters of Publishing courses at various universities around the U.S., Canada and the U.K. They’ve been turning out employable graduates for years now, women and men well-versed in publishing as we’ve understood it in the modern era. With the pace of change now so rapid it’s a great challenge for the educators responsible for these courses. In getting to know some of them I see their constant concern with keeping their curriculum up to date.

bookofmpubcoverLast fall I interviewed John Maxwell, Associate Professor in the Publishing Program at Simon Fraser University (SFU) in Vancouver, BC. As John pointed out, SFU offers the only masters program in Canada, and they graduate some very bright and capable students. The Master of Publishing program was set up in the early 1990s at a time when the Canadian publishing industry was stable and profitable. The program was immediately successful because it invited participation from a wide variety of people in the industry. “At that time we saw the purpose of the program as training people into the existing industry,” says Maxwell. “We took direct input from the industry as to what they needed in new personnel.”

The other force at work is the students and their view of the kind of education that will provide maximum value (the courses are not inexpensive: over $14,000 for 4 semesters at SFU). “Over half of the students want to be literary editors when they first join the program,” Maxwell points out. “But then they get hired for marketing jobs or to solve data problems because that’s where the demand is. The publishers don’t know exactly what they need. They hire someone to solve an immediate problem, and that person may go on to play many different roles.”

Digital is changing publishing and the MPub course is responding. “We’ve been through the early days of digital publishing, where things look awful compared to printed books and magazines, but I think that’s starting to change,” Maxwell says. “As my colleague Roberto Dosil likes to point out, right now we’re in a period where technology is moving ahead and it’s outpacing craft. We’ve seen this happen before. Eventually craft catches up again. I think we’re trying to help pull the fine craft tradition of publishing forward into the new technological environment.”

The goals of the program have changed. As Maxwell sees it “our original dream in the program was that the graduates would rise to the top of major publishing houses. These days our target is to help them see themselves as self-sufficient agents — perhaps as employees, or as freelancers, or as entrepreneurs — in a rapidly changing world.”

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  • Roy M Carlisle

    May 22nd, 2013 : 9:03 AM

    so is there a listing of ALL M.A. in publishing programs somewhere?? Certainly no list just pops up on Google. Thanks if you can guide me, Roy

  • Thad McIlroy

    May 22nd, 2013 : 9:00 PM

    Excellent question Roy. I’ll compile a list from my files and post it in the next few days.

  • Thad McIlroy

    May 24th, 2013 : 1:08 PM

    Appropriately, Simon Fraser University has a very comprehensive listing of “Publishing Programs Around the World,” with links:

    GradSchools.com offers a directory of Publishing Graduate Programs:

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  • Meg North

    May 30th, 2013 : 11:12 AM

    Hi Thad, back in 2000 looking at colleges, my two options were creative writing programs (which don’t teach a writer how to sell) or to go into publishing (which wouldn’t help my craft). I’d like to see in the future a blend of the two. This was an interesting interview, since so much as changed since 13 years ago. I”m fully on the digital self-published bandwagon, and enjoying the ride. 🙂 ~ Meg North, http://www.megnorth.com

  • Thad McIlroy

    Jun 5th, 2013 : 12:22 PM

    Meg North

    VERY interesting notion: blending writing skills w. self-publishing skills. I think you’re really onto something because self-publishing is best-suited to authors creating work that’s tailored to a specific self-publishing readership (the most obvious aspect being titles written as part of a series; certain subjects more interesting than others; more freedom to have explicit sex scenes, etc.)

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