My last lecture in my last course – Intro to Book Design – finished the evening before, so I’ve had about a day to bask in the glory of being an official graduate of the publishing program.
In response to a blog post by my Book Design classmate Lisa-Marie that summarizes Ryerson’s publishing program, I’ve decided to record my own thoughts about each course. However, while her interests lie in marketing and publicity, mine lie in editing and production. They’re very different parts of the publishing machine, though obviously interconnected.
Because it’s late and I’m tired, I’ll just talk about the first half of my courses and continue the review in a second post later on this week. Without further ado:
Unlike most other publishing students, I took this class first even though it’s not an introductory course – when I registered, the Trade Overview course was full and this was the only one that still had spots available. While it provided a very good crash course in editing full-length manuscripts, the Ryerson journey would have been much smoother overall had I taken the Overview course first and this one second.
The best thing about this course in the long run was the textbook. If you can find a copy of Betsey Lerner’s Forest for the Trees, I beg you, do not let it escape your clutches. Writers will find it useful to understand editors. Editors will find it useful to understand writers. The book is win-win, really.
(Note: This course was taught online by Joy Gugeler. I took it during the summer of 2008.)
Publishing Overview: Trade
Although this is normally the introductory course for most publishing program students, this was the second one I took. This course was also required to complete the program (and still is), so I took it as soon as I was able to get it out of the way. It focused on the economics and psychology of the publishing industry – the nitty-gritty of how advances and royalties work, the way books are marketed, and how books can both conform to, and subvert, our expectations.
However, learning about the economics of publishing dampened my resolve to complete the program because the industry resembles nothing so much as tightrope-walking. Here are some statistics, courtesy of my instructor, Sam Hiyate, co-founder of The Rights Factory.
- A book needs to sell only 5,000 copies to be considered a best-seller in Canada, a country of over 30 million people.
- Out of every 100 books published in Canada:
- 85 books will lose money for the publisher
- 10 books will break even
- 4 books will be moderate sellers
- only 1 book will be a bestseller (and remember, this means only 5,000 copies sold)
The course taught me a lot, but I consider the most valuable lesson to be one I discovered on my own once statistics like these were made clear to me: publishing depends on a constant churn of under-paid labour (aka: internships).
I suppose that this is a topic that deserves its own post, but learning about the money behind the publishing industry (constant government grants and constant reliance on interns) subconsciously contributed to my decision to freelance instead of work in-house.
(Note: I took this course on campus during the winter of 2009.)
Copy Editing for Books, Journals, and Reports
In contrast to Lisa-Marie”s experience, I really enjoyed this course and, in hindsight, I consider it to be the key to understanding what I wanted to do, and why I wanted to do it.
The answer is so obvious now: I love words. I find it akin to pain when they are misused. I enjoy finding the patterns behind them, and this course helped me to understand those patterns more thoroughly.
Often, the day after each copy editing class, I would come to work and babble to my then-coworkers about grammar issues that I found exciting – things like the spellbinding importance of choosing “that” for restrictive clauses and “which” for non-restrictive clauses, or the evil of misplacing your modifiers.
This course had more homework than most of the others, but I don’t regret it; I still keep the textbooks handy on my reference shelf at home.
In retrospect, this course was my favourite in the program. It taught me a lot of things, and not just about grammar. Most importantly, it helped me realize that there are viable career paths available to editors even if the economics behind the publishing industry look doubtful, because lots of other industries rely on well-written and well-formatted content.
I really can’t stress this enough: there is a lot more text available to edit outside of the traditional confines of the publishing industry. So even if I considered the economic foundation of the publishing industry to be tenuous (and with eBooks, this has become even more of an issue), this course made a strong argument for the relevancy of the entire program, because the skills taught in it can be applied across multiple industries.
(Note: My instructor for this course was Camilla Blakeley. I took this course on campus during the summer of 2009.)
Publishing Overview: Education
The main thing that I remember about this course is that I did a tremendous disservice to it by not organizing my notes regularly. To this day, those notes are sitting at the bottom of my bookshelf in a disheveled pile inside a soft orange binder. However, I did learn a number of things from this course about the creation and editing of textbooks, chief among them being that creating textbooks is a lot harder than it looks.
The Education course is required to pass the program. Unfair as this sounds, I took this course during the first half of my program so I could complete the requirement and focus my time and effort on the electives that really piqued my interest.
(Note: This course was taught by Tony Luengo and Cara Yarzab. I took this course on campus during the fall of 2009.)
Update: Check out part 2 of this series!
Further update: Check out part 3!