Ever since I graduated from Ryerson’s publishing program in 2011, I’ve been contacted by people asking for more information about it — about whether the program is worth their time, and whether it’s led to the kind of work I’ve expected.
These questions have been hard to answer; as I was going through the program, the publishing industry was dealing with the first real eBook boom. The pace of change in the industry has only sped up since then. It was still a novelty for me back in January 2011 to see a person reading from a Kindle on the subway — but then I bought my own Kobo less than a year later. Now I see eReaders and tablets almost everywhere I go when I’m on public transit. In fact, people openly talk about tablets replacing eReaders and have worried about the prospect for years.
Thus, a lot of my information about the program is out of date. I’ve been asked some of the same questions by different people multiple times, however, and I figure it’s about time for me to do a follow-up post.
Or rather, a series of them.
Although I’m happy that others have seen me as a go-to resource about Ryerson’s publishing program, I don’t want to imply that my experience is the standard one. As a result, I decided to get in touch with fellow Ryerson publishing students (some graduates, some not, some who are editors, some who are not) to get their takes on what effect, if any, the program had on their careers. Over the near future, I’ll write at least one post about their experiences. For this post, though, I’m going to focus on my own experiences as they relate to a few frequently asked questions. Here we go.
FAQ #1: Have you ever done an internship? Are internships worth it?
I haven’t done any internships. I’ve applied for them and even had a few interviews, but never been accepted for one. I know of many other graduates who have done internships, and I recognize their value in understanding the publishing industry, but I dislike the economics surrounding them. (Frankly, all of my internship applications in the past year were ones I sent just to prove that I wasn’t sitting on my ass while looking for work.)
An internship is not a guarantee that you will be hired by a publishing company. Some graduates I’ve been in contact with have talked about how they had to complete multiple internships before finding a paying position. If you take into account that book store revenues are declining and that eBook sales haven’t risen the same amount to compensate, as well as the rise of self-publishing, I honestly don’t know how long the current structure of publishing companies will last. I suspect that the chief benefit of internships is the networking opportunities they provide. But honestly, they haven’t made as much sense for my personal career path.
FAQ #2: Help! I’ve graduated from university and I don’t know what to do with my life! I love books, though, and I can spot typos — should I take the program?
Many people think that all it takes to be a good editor is to spot typos. I certainly thought this myself when I started. However, there are many more different types of editing out there than most people imagine, and being a good editor requires a deeper, more muscular level of thought than just catching a misplaced comma on a menu.
I don’t regret taking the program, as I do feel I’ve learned a lot from it — obviously, I wouldn’t be freelancing if I thought the program wasn’t worth it — but there are a number of things I think prospective students should keep in mind:
First, the popular conception of the publishing industry is full of romance. New York! Book tours! Liquor-filled lunches! However, the reality is much different. Big authors are getting bigger advances, smaller authors are often going the self-publishing route, hybrid authors are now officially A Thing, and the midlist is getting squeezed. Taking courses in publishing and learning about the true economics of the industry will at best make you more practically-minded and at worst shatter your dreams.
Second, don’t assume that you’ll work in the traditional publishing industry when you graduate. Some of the former students that I’ve spoken with do end up working for a publisher but others self-publish, while still others migrate into different industries. Like I mentioned above, I’ve never taken on an internship, and in fact do not do any editorial work with publishers at all. I instead focus my editorial services on small businesses and marketing companies.
Most importantly, the publishing industry has changed a lot in the past few years, and no one is still quite sure how things will shake out. If you do want to take part in the industry, you’ll have to work at it. Follow people on Twitter. Read all the blogs and resources you can to stay on top of things. Go to industry events. Learn more about self-publishing. Learn to promote yourself. This really isn’t a program you should choose just because you love books. It’s a good start — a vital start, even — but the industry demands more of its people than just that. Prospective students need to understand that publishing is a business as much as it’s a cultural pursuit.
FAQ #3: What are your thoughts on the online courses the Ryerson publishing program offers?
It really depends on your learning style. I am lucky enough that I live in the same city as Ryerson, and that Ryerson’s publishing program is very highly thought of. As a result, I took most of my classes on-campus, and only took courses online when it was necessary to. If you live outside of the GTA, however, online classes will probably be the most viable option.
The thing is that the atmosphere of an online class is very different from that of an in-person class. I feel like I’m being held more accountable when I have to shuffle downtown with my books and binders.
Do you have the mental fortitude to check in every week on an online class and hand in assignments on time when there’s no one looking over your shoulder? I find that really hard. Sitting in a class, listening to a teacher, raising my hand, and asking questions is a much better fit for my learning style because the effort involved in doing so makes me value the class more.
FAQ #4: Was the program worth it?
I think so. But I think that’s partly because I realized something very early on: the skills offered by the Ryerson program can be applied to multiple contexts outside of publishing. If there’s anything you take away from this post, it should be this.
Also, I took the effort to join organizations outside of Ryerson to learn more, did volunteer work elsewhere, and networked with a lot of people. For two years I had a job that involved online proofreading; when was there, I learned about other skills like content management and content strategy. When I applied to that job back in 2010, some of the things that helped me stand out from the other candidates were my Ryerson background and the fact that I knew how to code HTML — something I taught myself how to do before I even finished high school.
What matters isn’t that you take the program. It’s that the program becomes part of the totality of what you can offer to people. Can you write? Can you edit? Do you volunteer? Just how much effort do you expend into the world in general? Ryerson was a stepping stone for me — not the whole staircase.
FAQ#5: Where else should I go to learn more?
There are so many resources out there that it would take a lot of space to list them all. I’ll devote a future post just to useful links and resources. However, if you’re interested in editing in particular, I highly recommend the pamphlet So You Want to Be an Editor from the Editors’ Association of Canada.