Jul
21
2014

The Denver Publishing Institute

A year ago at this time I took the month off to attend the Denver Publishing Institute (yeah, class of 2013!!), one of the very few courses devoted to book publishing in the country. It has been run by Joyce Meskis (who is also the owner of the local and legendary Tattered Cover book store) for the past several years, and is held on the DU campus.

Anybody looking to break into the book publishing business should look into it. The people who run it are fantastic, and all of the guest speakers are stellar. It is an intense program – 9 to 5pm every day, with a few after class picnics and trips. The bulk of the workload is done before you even set foot in the classroom but even so, they keep you busy throughout the course. The book publishing business is big and complex, and constantly evolving, and so four weeks is only enough to get a broad overview of how it all works. But when you hear from and talk to serious industry professionals, you can be confident that you’ll get an honest and accurate overview of the book publishing business, and that is worth much.

(Last year the big hubbub was all about the merging of Random House and Penguin. This year I’m betting there’s a lot of talk and speculation over the Amazon/Hachette dispute.)

Some of the aspects of publishing discussed include: literary agency, the process of how a book is chosen to be published, pitching a book idea, working as an editor (either freelance or for a publisher), designing a book, the process of cover design, marketing (a big one), film and other subsidiary rights, e-books, textbooks, some of the different specific markets such as children’s books, religious books and romance, novelty books, and independent publishing (I was particularly pleased to meet Gary Groth, the force behind Fantagraphics Books). I’m sure I’m forgetting at least a few things. Of course – the last few days were almost solely devoted to networking and finding and applying for jobs (with both mock and real interviews).

The other big aspect of the program is meeting people – the industry insiders as well as your fellow classmates, many of whom will become industry insiders and valuable contacts. That’s one thing about the people who attend DPI – everybody is super enthusiastic. For me, it helped that a full ~90% of them were female (out of 100 students). I don’t understand why there is that enormous disparity, and I should say that the handful of guys who attended were absolute gents. The age range was 21 or 22 to maybe late 50s, but mostly recent college graduates. Diverse in age and background (there were even a few international students), if not in gender.

After the course ended, everybody dispersed to the four winds. Some back to their home towns, some stuck around Colorado, some actually already had publishing jobs that they went back to, and many have successfully made the move to New York to start their careers by working for the big publishers. One classmate has since jumped ship and started The Mizuba Tea Company. Another writes for BookRiot.com. Everybody is still able to keep in touch through our Facebook page, if we can’t always keep in touch face-to-face.

Personally, I haven’t yet made the jump into that side of the book business. Selling used books is basically dealing with the “after life” of a book as far as publishers are concerned. Unlike most of the people who attended DPI, I was not an English major, and I am not super interested in becoming an editor, which is what most people aim for. I’m more interested in the design aspect of books, which seems to be something of a dying art in many ways. In any case, that aspect of the business is even more difficult to break into unless you’re already an established designer, otherwise much of it is either automated or based on templates. But I like the used book business. (One of my classmates is determined to open a bookstore/speak-easy, another is working in town at The BookBar). I like the old, forgotten books, discovering the odd treasures. Even handling books that are really marked up or falling apart has its fascination, because these books have a unique, personal history.

So that’s my spiel, my plug, for the program. I didn’t really intend it that way but it’s been on my mind recently, and this seemed as good a place as any to express my appreciation and enthusiasm for the Denver Publishing Institute, for everything I learned there, and not least of all, for everyone I’ve met because of it.

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