Five Unexpected Things You’ll Learn in Your Publishing Course

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This article was contributed by YPG member Danielle Rollins. If you are a YPG member and would like to contribute articles on publishing-related topics for our site, please contact Tara Powers at

Whenever June rolls around, I can’t help thinking back to my time in a publishing course here in New York: the late nights, the inspiring speakers, the cheap red wine. I blog a little about the course over at, and I’m happy to tell anyone who asks about how enrolling was one of the best decisions I made upon moving to the city three years ago. In honor of a new session starting up in just a few days, I thought I’d share some things I took away from my time in publishing boot camp.

So without further ado, here are five unexpected things I learned–and that you should expect to learn too:

1. Don’t take notes during lectures

I get it. You’ve just spent the last four years in a classroom, and now every time someone gets in front of you to speak you’re going to feel compelled to pull out your Five Star notebook and Sharpie and start jotting down bullet points.
But guess what—this isn’t school.

I know—the word “course” in the title threw me, too. But, no matter what the course’s website says, this isn’t graduate school. No one’s going to care about your “grades” (I’m emphatically using my air quotes here) and there aren’t going to be pop quizzes every week. In fact, this entire course is leading up to only one test. It’s called get a job.

Now, let me make something clear. I’m not saying you should be disrespectful to the speakers. They took time out of their exceedingly busy days to come talk to you about books so by all means, listen to what they have to say, ask meaningful questions, and applaud at the end of their lectures. And, hey, if they say something you think is wise or profound, sure, write it down. But don’t forget that in order to get a job you need to be looking for jobs, not copying down everything Megan Tingley says about discovering Twilight.

2. Don’t send thank you notes to the speakers

Before I explain why I’m not a fan of the thank you note, let me take you back in time.

Back in the days when I attended, the course administrators would print out the names and addresses of all the speakers and post them in the hall outside of the main conference room. Then, a Machiavellian crowd would break out in the halls as nearly a hundred type-A college grads clustered around two 8 ½-x-11 pieces of paper, hurriedly copying names and addresses into their notebooks.

This doesn’t exactly seem like the best use of your time. You’ve read enough books on how to get a job to learn that the thank you note is a tool. You use it to remind those with hiring power who you are, why you’re different, and why you’d be a good fit for their company. You can’t do that if you’re sending a thank you note to everyone. This course is about networking, making connections, and getting a job. But you can’t make a connection with every single important person who walks through the conference room doors, and if you try you’re going to miss out on the opportunity to make a real connection with the one or two people who can actually help you. So take a real look at that list hanging from the wall. Think about where you want to end up. Listen to the things the speakers are saying. If something resonates with you, email that person to thank them for their time. Who knows? Maybe you’ll get an informational interview. When that happens, send a thank you note—a handwritten one on a cute little card. It’ll mean more that way.

3. Go to the parties. Doesn’t matter which ones

Here’s a game I think you all should play. When lunchtime rolls around, walk through the cafeteria and listen to the conversations happening at the tables around you. There’ll be that table in the corner asking whether anyone’s read Fifty Shades of Grey, and another table talking about the last episode of Girls, and maybe someone will even mention that morning’s lecture and don’t you think this is all so inspiring?

Oh, yeah, and there’ll be at least one table talking about some party they heard about. Sit there.

Remember how this course is about networking? It’s not just about networking with the people who already work in publishing—it’s also about networking with your peers. The people in this course could become the future of publishing, and they aren’t going to remember your name just because you asked really neat questions after lectures. They will remember your name if you buy the next round at that bar that gives away free hot dogs (It’s called Rudy’s and it’s at 9th and 44th).

Wait—you aren’t really a social butterfly? Then maybe think twice about your path in publishing. The networking doesn’t stop when you leave your publishing course, friends. It goes on forever. Depending on your department, publishing can be an industry built around social engagements. You’re eventually going to need to learn to navigate a crowded bar and a cheese plate, so there’s no better time to learn than now.

4. Think outside the editorial assistant box

So, you want to be an editorial assistant at Knopf? Okay it doesn’t have to be Knopf, but you really want to work in literary fiction, right? And maybe you’d consider publicity. Maybe. As long as you got to work on fiction for one of the Big Six.

Think about that very carefully.

I’d say that a good 80 percent of the people in the course with you want to edit literary fiction. And that’s not your only competition—there are also last year’s graduates who’re still looking for their dream jobs, as well as hundreds of others, some of whom already have a year of assistant work under their belts.

Think long and hard about what you want to do. What exactly is it that you like about books? Do you like talking about them? Try publicity. Want to work with authors? There are a lot of assistant openings at literary agencies. Want to make your time as an assistant as short as possible? Both marketing and sales assistants tend to climb the ladder faster than editorial. Are you getting into publishing because maybe you want to be a writer someday? Trust me, you’ll probably be a lot happier working in a department where you don’t have to spend all your free time reading other people’s work.

5. Buy drinks for Workshop Week

According to their websites, the courses are split into two sections—book publishing and magazine and new media publishing. Each section then culminates in a week-long intensive workshop designed to give students real-world publishing experience. Every other week I get bombarded with questions about what these two week-long “workshops” are like.

I could go on and on telling you about the late nights and the fights over the best jobs, and how difficult it is to work with other people, but really, the most important advice I can give you is this: if you want to get through the workshops without losing your mind, buy a six-pack for the table. Repeat this step as often as necessary.

Danielle Rollins has won numerous awards for her fiction and nonfiction, and earned a 2009 Pushcart Prize nomination for her short story “Drive.” Her first novel, Zip, will be published this fall by Razorbill under the name Ellie Rollins. Danielle lives in New York City and works in the digital marketing department at a Random House. You can visit her at her website:

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