Every year, I think, hey, I should post something about the Denver Publishing Institute, also known as DPI. And every year, I forget to publish this post until after the deadline to apply…including this year. This is endlessly amusing to me, because I remember finding out about DPI right after the deadline, and then, the next year, when I thought about it again, the deadline was the next day, and then, the next year, the people I requested letters of recommendation from were met with misfortune, and then…
At any rate, I’ve been meaning to post something about DPI simply because there isn’t much online about it, and that–I think–causes people to dismiss it. There are reasons you can’t find much about it on the internet. One reason is that the program administrators ask participants not to post about it online, and this isn’t a bad reason; many of the participants are just coming out of college, and haven’t had to sort through what is or isn’t good to put online (in ways related to finding and keeping jobs). And–ha ha!–I graduated long enough ago no one can tell ME what to do any longer. More seriously, I think I can tell you about DPI without compromising their ability to do what they do best.
Another reason you can’t find much about DPI online is that the program includes some annual surprises, and DPI doesn’t want people to spoil them. Yet another is that the course includes (a wealth of!) proprietary information that professionals share under the condition that participants will hold that information in confidence. And, too, the course is demanding, so once things get underway, there isn’t much time to do anything other than enjoy the intense immersion in the publishing course (and do your homework)!
But let me back up a little. You don’t have to enroll in a summer publishing course–or a degree, or workshop, or even necessarily have an internship–to find a job in publishing. (You may or may not ever find a job in publishing, and that’s completely unrelated to taking a summer course! Alas.) There are many paths to take, and while this gets glossed over all the time, publishing happens in all corners of the country, and involves many different functions. A summer publishing course can be a good way of exploring whether or not pursuing publishing is the right career choice, and of jump-starting your job search and connections through the purveyance of a great deal of information. It can, also, be the prompt that, no, what you really want to do is something, anything else.
There are three major summer publishing institutes that I’m aware of. They’re all about a month to a month and a half long, all connected to graduate education, and while they cover slightly different ground, they’re part of the same ecosystem. There’s DPI, Columbia, and NYU. DPI was the only summer course I considered; it was close enough that I could live at home and thus didn’t have to pay for room and board. I also was interested in the particular bent of this program, which I’ll write about below.
You can find information about Columbia and NYU elsewhere; I didn’t attend either, so my opinion is no more useful than any other (though I did go to NYU for graduate study). But I will tell you about DPI.
What Is It, Really?
The way I think of DPI is this: It’s the summer course for people who know they’re really interested in books, and aren’t/aren’t quite as interested in exploring other areas (newspapers, magazines, digital, etc.). It was established by people in the NY book industry, and many of its instructors work in publishing in New York. It also addresses and includes lots of other kinds of publishing, from university presses to regional presses to packagers, and speakers come from all across the country. Essentially, publishing that happens outside NYC is valued and respected, and it’s understood that it’s just as valid of an option as working in NYC. For me, this was a big selling point.
There are introductory/informational mini-workshops that happen throughout the institute. These might go on all day, or be an hourlong lecture on law, or finance, or sales, or distribution, or running a bookstore, or literary agencies, or something else. All of these provide opportunities to ask questions and get real insight into the vast–if still relatively small–publishing industry. Beyond that, the institute is split roughly in two halves: the editing workshop and the marketing workshop.
The editing workshop begins with instruction on the structure and function of the reader/readers/reader’s (choose your style guide adventure) report. (Fun fact: While I sometimes use the structure and approach I learned there, I have never been asked to write a report in exactly that fashion, presented as the standard, outside of the course! Mileage varies.) You then work through substantive/content and line edits, and you’re graded on your edits. At the same time, you’re taking a copyediting (copy-editing, copy editing) workshop, so you’re functioning both as “regular” editor and managing/production editor (depending on the terminology used at any given company). This is tough. A lot of people get very frustrated; they think they know how language works. They think they know grammar and spelling and punctuation. They think they know how to give appropriate feedback. And…it’s harder than it looks. Most people come out of this part of the course deciding they don’t want to work in editorial, perhaps even feeling freed from editorial (the one job they’ve heard of) and I think that’s part of the point–your passion for books, your skills, and your education are needed and useful and a fit for lots of career paths. Somewhat unfortunately, this part of the course made me more sure that I did really want to work in editorial!
The other “half” is a marketing and publicity workshop. You’ll write press releases, come up with marketing plans, design book covers (what, you didn’t know that was really a marketing piece?), and present ideas. Marketing, like writing well, is embedded into nearly every function in the publishing industry, and this workshop is vital. If you were the kid in school who always chose to make a TV or radio commercial for a project instead of writing a paper, you will thrive in this part of the course.
I never, ever, ever willingly made a commercial, so by the end of this unit, I knew that I wouldn’t want to work in publicity or marketing, so that information was incredibly useful. Instead, I was able to identify better fits for my personality and interests. The conventional wisdom is that you should take on any publishing job to get in the door and that you should do it well, and then, if it’s not a fit, transfer to another function. This is both good and bad advice. If you’re at the start of your career and just out of college, or if you are pretty open to any role, yes! Use this strategy. If you’re switching careers, like I was, I think you have to have some direction and focus and reasoning, and be pursuing something other than job, any job, to be taken seriously. I also think that if you have some reason that you really don’t want to work in a certain area, and you know that you’d be really bad at working in that area, it’s fine to not pursue jobs in that area.
Don’t quote me on this, but I think that both NYU and Columbia include large-group projects, where you’re assigned a role at a publishing company, and then you come up with an imprint or company. DPI doesn’t do this. I think the upside of not doing this is that the focus becomes more about trying lots of different things and evaluating your skills and proclivities as an individual through your assignments (group projects do exist, but they’re at a minimum). I have mixed feelings and other educator-y thoughts on this, but they’re kind of unimportant. I just include this detail in case it’s a dealmaker or dealbreaker for you.
Finally, there is a career workshop, where you hear from graduates and employers, get resume help, and participate in mock and real interviews. Alas, I can’t tell you too much about this, because the year I attended DPI was the nadir of the depression, and publishing was pretty much only laying people off, not hiring them. The relatively light opportunities the year I attended were not at all the fault of DPI. Typically, publishers and publishing-related companies seek out students for interviews and positions at the end of DPI, despite rumors to the contrary. (I think some of those rumors stem from a misunderstanding of DPI as a whole–it’s not that people don’t have the opportunity to go to NYC, it’s that not everybody wants to, and that there are publishing-related opportunities in the west. It’s a little bit of a challenge that you’re not in NYC if you decide you want to be in NYC, but it’s not going to completely ruin your chances, either.)
I did have an interview with a major publisher and some other interview opportunities, and even in the troubled times, there were people who were hired right out of the program. Some folks banded together and moved to New York and began applying for jobs. Some accepted opportunities closer to home, or enrolled in graduate school, or studied something like copy editing or design so that they could freelance, or became teachers or journalists. Some people took their newfound knowledge back to their employers and used that to strengthen university departments, or online initiatives, or church communications. I went back to work full time at the position I’d held before the recession ($ needed desperately), since the nearest publishing opportunities were two hours to the north or south of where I lived and–to be honest–I wasn’t particularly interested in either, and definitely not interested enough to move or commute. I looked for, and found, three online internships, as well as one “job” that I count as an internship because I was never paid. There are many more online internships now, but you have to be quick and prepared to apply whenever they appear–people have found out that they exist! I have had a really unconventional career path; may yours be more usual, if that’s what you want.
People just out of college. Librarians. Teachers. Career changers. The majority of people have just finished undergrad, but there will likely be a group of nontraditional students. Some know they want to go into publishing; some do not. Some are sent by their employers. Some live nearby; some are international students.
Why attend–or why not?
I think the best reason to attend is that you are interested. Maybe you’re not sure if publishing is where you will, or want to, end up, but you’re seriously considering it. DPI–and any of the summer courses–is an opportunity to network, to learn about the industry so that you can go into interviews (and informational interviews, and internships) with some knowledge and confidence, and to get a feel for the industry and lingo so that you’re not learning everything on day one. This can definitely help make those first few months of work easier–you won’t have to ask what every single term means!
One day, toward the end of the course, a classmate told me that she felt like her brain was so full, expanded, overflowing. That was at the point that I realized my experience was completely different. I’d been reading books and articles and following publishing for years at that point, so most of the information was familiar; what I didn’t know was how to see the big picture. I was creating connections between all of the separate pieces–I was building a neural network, so to speak. I was understanding the how and the why. I got synthesis.
But why not attend? Money; all the courses are expensive. Maybe you’re burned out on school and need a break and now is not the time to go back. Maybe you want to do something like legal, design, copy editing, fact-checking, indexing, educational/subject matter consultation, or writing, and more focused coursework would be more useful (and except for legal, these are often freelance positions, so the only boss you need to impress to get hired is you). You don’t need a summer course to get an internship, and you don’t need a course to get a job. Do they help? Sometimes. But so does proximity and networking, and maybe you’d be better off working all summer and saving money so that you can move where the opportunities take you. You can get a lot of information by reading industry publications like Publishers Weekly and free newsletters from Publishers Marketplace and elsewhere. And, in the end, having a summer course won’t help you skip any steps on your career path.
Apply for scholarships from the course you attend! I wouldn’t have been able to go otherwise.
Think carefully about what you want to get out of DPI, or any other course–networking, course credit, knowledge, synthesis, career change…and weigh the pros and cons of going this direction.
Do your homework early and often. By this, I mean read everything you get, order your books, and, yes, do your assignments before you arrive. Once you’re there, you might throw out 95% of what you had–because the assignment got revamped or because you got smarter–but it’s going to be much easier to revisit your work than to start from scratch, especially when you will have Assignments and Projects Not Previously Mentioned to take care of. Okay, maybe this is just me, because I have pulled one all-nighter in my life and vowed to never do that again; I don’t work that way! But seriously, it’s going to be demanding, and you’re going to want to…
Enjoy your free time! Do get to know people and explore wherever you end up going. I didn’t stay on campus, so it was harder to connect with my classmates, and I knew the area well, but I know that others loved the opportunity to go hiking in the mountains or to explore Denver. I’m sure that exploration holds true anywhere. Essentially, take all the good you can from your experiences, and you’ll come out all right.