My Path to Publishing: A Publishing Intern’s Thoughts on Background and Industry Education
My journey starts with linguistics. Linguistics, loosely defined, is the study of language as a science (ironically, linguistics was the only degree that you could not get as a bachelor’s of science at my university). Linguists want to understand how language works at all levels. Where does it come from and how do we acquire it as children? What role has it played in the evolution of human beings, and how is it used today? How is it represented in our brains? What are the fundamental structures of language, and are there basic attributes that apply to all the world’s languages? The questions go on.
A linguistics degree is pretty general. Not only does language constitute everything we do, but it’s also a complex system. Thinking and analyzing language in the way that linguists are trained to can give you a perspective of how other complex systems work too. The skills you gain as a linguistics graduate can be applied to nearly any field. So why is it that as a student, it seemed the only path after a linguistics degree was “English as a foreign language teacher,” or “English as a second language teacher”?
Several reasons, most of which are unimportant in the scope of this post. But I never learned about the publishing world as a linguistics student. And I doubt many students outside of English programs get to learn about publishing.
I was lucky to be going to school at Portland State University, where they allow undergraduate students to take courses in graduate programs. That’s how I found the Ooligan Press program, and how I found my way into the publishing industry.
The Ooligan program at PSU is a two-year, graduate-level program that grants a master’s degree in book publishing. It has two sides: one is the press itself, and the other is an educational foundation. The educational side of the program offers courses about the publishing world in general as well as technical courses to train students in necessary skills (for example, Book Design Software teaches students how to use industry-standard programs, like Adobe InDesign; Copyediting teaches students how to use the Chicago Manual of Style; etc.). The press side of the program is where it gets really exciting, though. Although the role of “publisher” is granted to one of the publishing professors, every other role in the press is run by students. Senior (read: second-year) students in the program are given managerial roles, whether on one of the three-to-four books in production at the time, or as department heads (of acquisitions, editorial, design, marketing, social media, and digital). New students in the program are assigned to a book team, but are also allowed to volunteer for tasks in the various departments to gain experience in different areas. The students do everything, every step of the way. They read through submissions, make pitches, vote on manuscripts, edit manuscripts, design the covers and book interiors, market the books, and organize the program’s yearly conference, “Write to Publish.” As an undergraduate student, I took a handful of the formal education courses and only spent two terms helping out at the press, so I’m no expert. To learn more about Ooligan, you can read about it on their website, or on the PSU graduate program page.
Ooligan is primarily a fiction publisher (although they have come out with some nonfiction; check out their list of books if you’re curious). So once I graduated, I wanted to branch out a bit and see the other areas of publishing. Which is how I found my internship with PageMill Press, LLC.
Like everything else happening right now, managing a remote internship has been a learning curve. It requires a lot of internal motivation, as I’m sure like many people, it’s been difficult to transform my home into a workplace. Despite the limitations of not being able to work with everyone at PageMill in-person, I’ve been able to learn a lot so far. I’m able to take on tasks in different areas of publishing, which fills in gaps in my knowledge that I wasn’t able to learn in college. And I love that I get to learn in an independent, more self-guided way!
All of this is to say that publishing is a broad field, and there are many ways of finding your way into the industry. Wherever you are coming from, you certainly have skills that would benefit the publishing industry—an industry that is in desperate need for more diverse groups! Many publishers don’t ask that their intern applicants have the industry knowledge of the sort that I did when I applied to PageMill, as much of it can be learned on the job. I’ve found that there are many similarities between the Ooligan program and my internship—there’s elements of education, and also elements of real-world practice, with real-world impacts on to-be-published manuscripts. So if you’re interested in pursuing a career in publishing, there are many routes you can take. And diverse backgrounds are what make a diverse field.