thoughts on publishing

Back in January 2019, I graduated and obtained my MA degree in Publishing at City, University of London, where the ceremony included deans and programme leaders dressed in colorful Tudor dress, the president of the university is an actual Lord, and there were two ceremonial scepters brought in and out mark the beginning and end of the ceremony.

I went into the degree program thinking that it would include classes that would include skills training that are pertinent in publishing, like editing and designing books. There’s less of that and more on learning about the publishing trade, business, and marketing of publishing, while also delving into revolutionary and disruptive fields that are happening or have happened in publishing, e.g. digital publishing, audiobooks, self-publishing on existing creative properties, and gamification.

Really cool stuff listening to visiting speakers and lecturers from Oxford University Press and Wonderbly, but you know having something that says “this person is a certified proofreader who definitely knows how to format and design a book” looks a lot better on a CV/Resume and cover letter than doing all those things self-taught. Which a lot of it is, and a lot of it is combining strengths utilized in our assigned groups to pull off different projects.

Some projects I actively enjoyed, such as during my second term my group was assigned our Kyle Books marketing strategy project where we create marketing and publicity schemes for how Octopus, an imprint of Hachette which holds many other imprentas usually pertaining to trade nonfiction on specific topics and interests (think cookery books, photography, and well-designed gift books), which newly acquired Kyle Books back in winter/spring of 2018. I helped designed some nice promotional materials for a plan that included an art gallery, recipe cards in collaboration with HelloFresh, backlist and acquisition planning and so on. Doing market research and planning was new territory for me, and so it was a very productive project.

Another was our children’s literature pitch project, where groups create an idea for a new children’s book property to pitch, which also includes knowing the audience to pitch for and why the concept would work. My group was really into a graphic novel scheme, where it’d be a monthly, high-quality graphic novel/comics endeavor around three kids of diverse backgrounds in a fantasy setting. It was flagrantly self-insert type of project, in which our protagonists were an Indonesian young girl, an ambitious Cuban slightly older girl, and a Chinese boy who go on after school adventures in a fantasy place that takes place in a city. Urban fantasy and adventures that are based on fairly serious topics were on the rise, which also coincides with the steady growth of graphic novels and comics geared towards children to a scale that surpasses even superhero comics, which is a somewhat stagnating market. I did a whole lot of background research to bolster our pitch, and it was a very nice project that was geared towards my interests in children’s lit and graphic novels. The energy from the group was consistently positive and productive, especially when we were looking at artists to look into for our aesthetic.

In doing these projects, I sometimes wonder how much of it translates into what I’ll hope to be doing in publishing. Because the actual business of publishing and working in a publishing house is different from doing projects because of the structure in which projects are taken on. I sometimes wonder if our children’s lit pitch would actually make it in a place like Penguin Random House or in Hachette because of how our team’s idea is based on three women of color whose tastes and ideas mesh well, but a whole idea team in a publishing house would be larger and ultimately, be mostly white. The ideas that came from our team come from full confidence that how we want to portray our characters and the vision held is taking inspiration from our lived experiences and hopes for what we want these characters to be like. It is an organic thought process that doesn’t step onto unknown waters of diverse portrayals, and through good faith efforts in how we want a piece of literature to showcase protagonists from diverse ethnic backgrounds and sexual identities.

Then you read articles like from the Bustle’s article “How 10 Women Of Color Actually Feel About Working In Book Publishing” where women of color working in publishing barely make up 10 percent of women working in publishing. Granted some of this data came from a 2015 research article from Lee and Low and three years have gone by since then, but it won’t be such a dramatic leap in difference from back then. However, reports like this are pretty bleak, and I’m not really looking forward to a career where microaggressions are rampant and I’d probably be asked questions like “is this ok?” where my answer is going to be like the deciding factor in whether a decision is “approved.” God knows what will happen if I really do say “yes, this idea is racist and bad for our (apparently homogenized) Asian audience.”

However, this report is specified for traditional publishing, and not really delving into other industries within publishing, although I don’t think trying to look for any other type of publishing would suddenly be more different than Bustle’s article. The exception is there to prove the rule, not discount it. Digital publishing would also look into problems that are associated with other digital/STEM companies. Like, if we’re looking at how diversity in publishing is lacking (although the industry is like, more than half women), let’s mix that up with the question of diversity in STEM/programming fields! This is a three-way Venn diagram where the intersection of “actual diverse workforce/traditional publishing/STEM fields” is going to a small bubble that must be protected at all costs.

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