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Publishing 101

It’s the end of a busy week of lineups, schedule changes, bookstore browsing, and discussions about writing, publications and design. It’s the end of the first week of Centennial College’s Book and Magazine Publishing program, which will probably  take over my life for the next eight months.

Before entering the program, I had many conversations with well-meaning friends, family and acquaintances that went something like this:

“So, what are you studying in Toronto?”
“I’m doing a publishing program at Centennial.”
“Wow, that’s really interesting! Hm, but…isn’t publishing, like, dying??”

(side note: if you think you may have been one of those people, don’t worry – no offense taken!)

These kinds of conversations didn’t deter me from enrolling, obviously, but they did make me think a lot about what I was choosing to do. Some days I felt confident, but on other days I found myself questioning if I would find myself jobless in a year, or working somewhere other than the industry I’d aimed for. Is this an idealistic dream that I have, or a viable career path? It’s hard to say at this early stage, though a few  hopeful themes appear to be establishing themselves across our various classes and discussions.

1. Publishing, as an industry, is not disappearing, though it is drastically changing. This goes far deeper than the common “electronic vs. print” conversations that seem to keep cropping up. The emergence of ebooks doesn’t mean that publishing doesn’t happen; it just happens in a different manner. The industry is actually changing in bigger ways. Editors are increasingly becoming freelance, and the timeframe in which a book gets edited, revised, edited again and sent to press is shrinking. Not only that, but marketing may soon overtake editing as the biggest role-player in the whole  process. And self-publishing will probably show itself to be a huge revolution in terms of how people access, create and value books. All of this means a new set of conditions that publishers will have to learn to navigate, and possibly even the growth of new types of jobs.

2. No matter how good you are with words, you will still make mistakes. This should be self-evident, of course. Almost every time I write a post, I come back later to correct the typos that I was previously unable to spot. The more eyes on the page to catch mistakes, the better. This means that, no matter how jobs change and shift, the skill of editing will never become irrelevant.

3. Design Matters. This has little to do with whether or not I’ll be able to find a job in the future, but is something I thought I’d mention as I’m definitely more interested in this aspect of publishing than I thought I’d be. In terms of book selling, visuals play a key role. It’s not just about words. Loving books and being able to shape words is a good place to start in publishing, but someone has to design those book covers, too. And choose the typeface. And get the spacing between the lines just right. The visuals should tell a story, just as the words do. Truly, my favourite books in my personal collection are not only fantastic stories but also beautiful, beautiful things. This is an area where, in my opinion, ebooks have a long way to go. Perhaps there are future jobs to be created in this area?

Finally, I may have fallen in love with the idea of design just a little more while listening to this hilarious and eccentric talk by Chipp Kidd, designer of many famous book covers, such as Jurassic Park and IQ84.

“Much is to be gained by ebooks….But something is definitely lost.”
“I am all for the iPad. But trust me. Smelling it will get you nowhere.”

This is why I love books – paper-ink-and-binding books: There is more than just a story there. It’s a whole sensory experience.

“Try experiencing that on a kindle!”

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