Summer Publishing Courses Compared

For an abridged version of this post, scroll to the bottom.

As an undergrad studying comparative literature, I frequently received this question regarding my choice of major: “And what do you want to do with that?” (English majors, you know what I’m talking about too.) For a long time, my answer was always “teach.” But then I realized books, not children, were my passion (when they age they don’t smell quite as nice as books do, I’m afraid).

I had decided on a career path, but I faced a dilemma. How could I, a born and bred California girl, land a job in publishing, an industry centered clear on the other side of the country? By attending a summer publishing course, of course!

What are they?

As far as I know, there are three such programs: the Columbia Publishing Course (CPC), NYU’s Summer Publishing Institute (NYU-SPI), and the Publishing Institute at the University of Denver (DU). I was fortunate enough to attend the Columbia Publishing Course, and so I will state right here that I am a bit biased toward it. However, before I received my acceptance letter, I did a fair amount of research on the other two, and I seriously considered applying to both. Below are some questions I found myself asking, and some that you might be asking too. I hope my experiences can provide some guidance.

Which one should I attend?

The CPC prides itself on being a publishing boot camp, a six-week long intensive program on all aspects of book, magazine, and digital media publishing. NYU-SPI and CPC follow similar schedules, both including lectures by publishing professionals, book and magazine workshops, opportunities for networking, and a career fair at the end of both programs. The greatest difference between the two is that CPC is more known for focusing on book publishing while NYU-SPI focuses more on magazines.  It’s a little-spoken about agreement among publishing professionals that CPC is more prestigious and produces better employees than NYU-SPI, but I’m of the opinion that both provide you with an invaluable publishing education.

NYU-SPI starts a few weeks earlier than the CPC (and thus ends a little earlier too, meaning that those grads are on the job market a bit before the CPCers), so that’s something to keep in mind if you are graduating mid-June as I did. NYU-SPI can also earn you graduate school credits if you decide to pursue NYU’s M.S. in publishing. I can’t see that earning a master’s really helps you in publishing since work experience seems to be king wherever you go in the industry, but if you think you might want to put off entering the workforce for just a bit longer, this program might be a better choice.

The Summer Publishing Institute at the University of Denver (DU) is the wild card of the three. It’s several thousand dollars cheaper (around $5,000, compared to the $8,000 tuition and room and board fee of the other two). Most of my classmates I spoke to at CPC had heard of the program, and many, as I did, had also applied. However, most of my classmates didn’t know why you would choose to attend it if you were accepted to either of the New York programs. However, now that I am a CPC graduate, I can see why some people might benefit from attending the DU course. The program is only four weeks long, and it focuses only on books. If you are 100 percent sure that you only want to work in book publishing (i.e., you never read magazines and have little interests in websites), and you have a special interest in independent publishing, or Christian publishing (there are several Christian publishing houses in Colorado and the course includes a lecture on religious publishing), then the DU course might be the way to go. Also of interest, DU includes a course or two on copyediting, which the other courses don’t. I wish I would have known that (although I don’t regret attending CPC)!

But if you have your heart set on working for one of the Big Five, CPC and NYU-SPI, which are well known in the publishing mecca of New York City are your best bet. The programs’ location in New York allows for more big-name lecturers to come in for panels and workshops. Plus, you have a better chance of landing a job interview at a New York house if you have a New York address on your résumé—even a temporary one you gain by living in the university’s dormitory.

Is it worth it?

As I said, I don’t regret attending CPC. While I was in the midst of the course, I had my fair share of waxing philosophic, wondering if it would all be worth it in the end. When asked by a publishing professional at one of the course’s “sherry hour” networking events if attending the course had been worth it, my classmate responded, “If it gets me a job, then yes.” And really, that’s the true test. You’re paying for contacts. If you don’t have prior publishing experience (an internship—especially one inside the New York publishing scene), landing a job in the field there will be pretty difficult. But the contacts you gain from these courses can lead you to jobs immediately after the programs and even twenty years down the line. The classmates you meet will become a network that grows professionally with you as you build your career. And even after you graduate, the programs update you with job postings that are sent out exclusively to the program alums. It might seem a little unfair, but really, it’s part of what you pay for, so enjoy it.

To help you out

To close I want to leave you with some more sites to check out before you make your decision to attend, or even take the first steps in applying to one of these courses. When I was trying to decide which program to attend, I obsessively searched the internet for program reviews, blogs of previous students, anything that would give me a glimpse into the four to six weeks that I was preparing to drop several thousand dollars on. I hope to save you some of those hours:

Programs compared by another CPCer

A week-by-week blog on the CPC experience, including tips for your application

Blogs on NYU-SPI

A nitty-gritty look at NYU-SPI

A glimpse at NYU-SPI and also a summer in the City

Blogs on DU

A lecture-by-lecture review of the Publishing Institute

A short discussion of the Publishing Institute by a former student

Abridged version

Summer publishing courses are worth it if you have little to no publishing experience or contacts in the industry. Attend CPC or DU if you want to work in book publishing; attend NYU-SPI if you want to work in magazines. Attend CPC or NYU-SPI if you want to land a job in New York. Attend a summer publishing course, get a job, feel good, and know that it was worth it.

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