How to Get Ahead Over Summer Vacation

I realize it snowed just a few weeks ago, but for grad students, the spring semester is nearly finished. I have a stack of theses more than 18 inches high on my desk. For those of you who are halfway through your studies, it’s time to think about summer vacation. While most of us want lazy days at the beach or to sip lemonade under a wispy willow tree, grad students should be thinking about how they can better position themselves for their careers.

Grad students (and undergraduates, too) should be planning and securing internships for the months between the spring and fall semesters. Whether or not it is paid or unpaid, an internship will provide you with marketable skills and experience to add to your resume. Building your resume over the summer is crucial to securing a job come next spring.

Keep in mind employers in the publishing industry are looking for well-rounded individuals. Jack Farrell, Managing Director of Jack Farrell & Associates, recruiters for educational, professional, and trade publishing, visited the Acquisitions Editing class last week. He told students to get multiple internships, because it makes them more attractive to potential employers. He also said, “get digital” experience as soon as possible.

What exactly does well-rounded mean? It means that students who concentrate on editorial need to get experience in marketing and visa-versa. We are no longer in a world or industry where jobs are so narrowly focused. An editor needs to understand how a marketer thinks. The cover designer needs to understand what is trending. Marketing personnel need to know what constitutes a “good story.”

Well-rounded also means embracing technology. The summer is a great time for you to “get digital,” if you aren’t already. I would recommend that you start a blog (WordPress is free) and create profiles on social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Tumblr, and Instagram. You don’t have to post everyday, but you should keep up an active presence online.

This summer, go out into the world of publishing and secure an internship, work as hard as you can, learn as much as you can, build your resume, and enhance your digital footprint. Come back in the fall ready to discuss your experiences in the classroom with your professors and your peers.

Have a fun, productive summer!

Anne Converse Willkomm, MFA,
Director, Graduate Publishing Program

A Career in Publishing: Is Grad School the Right Option?

Students from across the country, some seniors in college, others recent grads, are wondering if they can turn their love of books into a career with an undergraduate degree or is graduate school necessary to move forward?

While virtually all entry-level positions in the publishing industry do not require an advanced degree, it is nearly impossible for students with only an undergraduate degree to get publishing jobs. Last year, I sat on a Publisher’s Weekly panel at Random House on the job market. There were a number of undergrad students in the audience who asked the same question. These were not English majors who were nearing graduation and hadn’t thought about jobs; many of them had several publishing internships on their resumes.

So what do I tell students? I tell them that a graduate degree will be beneficial in two ways: it opens doors (practical knowledge learned & networking) and, from my experience, students get promoted sooner.

If you’re still reading, you are likely wondering about choosing a school. The simple response – there aren’t but a handful, so you won’t have to whittle down a list of 50. So how to choose the right school for you? Grad school isn’t quite like undergrad. I think there are different criteria that come into play when choosing the right program. Let’s start with the word “program” – the program is more important than the school, .so focus on the program and what it offers versus what the college or university as a whole offers. While the general focus of each program is similar, there are differences. There are some clear and rather obvious criteria perspective students should explore: location, size, availability to internships, professors, course offerings, cost, etc., but I think the not-so-obvious criteria are equally as important.

I tell perspective students that grad school is a gift to themselves and it is the opportunity to forge life-long friendships and connections that will one day be beneficial in their career. These types of relationships are forged out of the community built around the program. Thus, it is important to ask about the community: is it an active community, who is involved, is it welcoming, how do people know about it, get involved, etc. Students excel when they are part of a greater community.

Community is just one of the not-so-common criteria. There are a host of others such as where do the other graduate students come from, are there related graduate programs on campus, how involved is the program in the greater community, what type of support is available to graduate students (this could include the counseling center, academic support, etc.), how accessible is the director, are there opportunities to mentor undergraduates, are their volunteer opportunities, and how active is the program in regional and national conferences.

I wish any of you who choose to pursue grad school the very best as you embark upon your journey. I challenge you to think about the standard questions, but also think about how the program will shape you as an editor, designer, content developer, marketer, etc. Who will help you achieve your goals – certainly your professors, but what about your peers? Think about the not-so-common questions as you progress in your search and no doubt – you will make the right decision for you!

Good luck!

Anne Converse Willkomm MFA ’10
Director of the Graduate Publishing Programs
Rosemont College

Director’s Post: eBooks on the Move

by Anne Converse Willkomm

While on Twitter today I came across an article on Digital Book World on the top selling ebooks of 2013.  As I scanned the list, it brought me back to one of my first Push-to-Publish conferences about 5 years ago. Self-published authors were scarcely considered human. They kept to themselves, and the traditionallypublished authors made little effort to engage. The boundary between these two camps was not nearly as defined a year later, and even less loosely defined the following year. In 2012 and again last fall, no real line existed in the sand.

According to Digital Book World’s article, numbers 7, 10, and 17 in the top 20 of the 2013 bestselling ebook list were self-published. That’s 15% of the list – pretty impressive, given there were no self-published titles on the 2012 list. According to an article written by Jeremy Greenfield on Digital Book World, self-published books took the No. 1 spot on the Amazon ebook list four times in the first quarter of 2013. As the first quarter of 2014 winds down, it will be interesting to see if this pattern holds true. It appears that it will, as Amazon reports an increase in self-published ebook titles. However, it is important to note that from self-published titles in Amazon’s eBook genre best-sellers list, the self-published titles represent only 3% of the total daily revenue.

What does this mean?

Self-published authors are forces to be reckoned with, and the E.L. James and Hugh Howeys of the world are not merely statistical exceptions. It might indicate that self-published authors are putting in the time and effort they were once accused of bypassing, i.e. to write and create the best book possible versus writing and uploading with little to no editing. It also means that self-published authors are becoming savvy. They are learning how to market themselves and their books. Self-published authors are taking advantage of price shifting and manipulation to get their books into the hands of readers and reviewers. During 48-hour ebook giveaways, self-published authors can get their books onto readers’ phones, tablets, and ereaders. Some of those readers will write reviews, which will further promote the book. Traditional publishers do not practice this. They release a book and maintain a consistently higher price than most self-published authors. But are the traditional publishers making lots of money on ebook sales? Not yet.

 

Director’s Post: Content, the New Buzz Word

by Anne Converse Willkomm

What is content? Content is anything and everything we read and listen to online or in print. Content is the expression of thoughts, ideas, and data presented through various mediums, such as text, audio, video, animation, and graphic images. Content is created, curated, and managed. In today’s digital world, content is everything!

content blog post

Before the digital wave, content existed as text and images on a printed page. There was only one time-tested way to create the words, ideas, and images: through the author’s imagination and contribution. An author came up with an idea, an author wrote the words on the page, the words were edited into a meaningful and functional form, an author sold it to a publisher, and a publisher published it for a consumer to purchase.

Today, however, content is created and used across mediums we couldn’t conceive of 20 years ago. Sure, there are still printed books – and in my opinion, print books aren’t going away (as Stephen Fry said, “The book is no more threatened by a Kindle than stairs are threatened by an escalator.”). But today there are ebooks, websites, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, podcasts, webinars, blogs, and so much more. Every word, image, audio clip, graphic, and video is content.

In this digital age, it is incredibly easy to create content. I can set up a website in a matter of minutes. What I put on that website is content. I can upload a novella and create an ebook in minutes, too. The ability to get content into the world for the consumer – or the “target audience” – is quick and easy. However, do not confuse ability with quality, creativity, or accuracy.

Whether creating a website to promote an author or a car, those who create the content must strive for the three goals mentioned above. The creator must understand the target audience, the product/company mission, market, etc. And that content cannot be left to stagnate. Content must be continually updated so the consumer (a reader, a viewer, a listener, or an actual purchaser) has something fresh and new to consider on a regular basis.

Authors, publishers, and other companies often have dedicated content curators who gather and cultivate content that others create. This can, and often does, create authenticity. Content curation is what content managers do to drive and enhance SEO (Search Engine Optimization), which ultimately makes it easier for consumers to find a website. Managers work closely with marketing and sales teams to develop the appropriate balance of free content versus paid content. Newspaper companies forced to go digital have struggled with this dilemma.

The ease of creating content has formed new job positions and will likely create more. New issues and questions will arise: Who owns the content? Who should receive monetary compensation? Companies, such as Google, MySpace, and Sony, struggle with these legal issues. I am certain there will be more concerns regarding intellectual property and liability laws as we all struggle to define, understand, and manage content.

Director’s Post: Exciting News for Rosemont!

Greetings from Seattle, Washington! Today will be close to 60 degrees, far warmer than the “Polar Vortex” temperatures we have been enduring in the Philadelphia area.

I am in Seattle for the annual Association of Writers and Writing Programs’ annual conference. The folks at AWP anticipate more than 11,000 attendees. Last year’s conference, in Boston, surpassed 10,000. What does this mean? It means that books, writing, reading, etc., are not dead! The written word is more alive than ever before. What makes this even more fascinating is that the written word has so many different pathways to make it into the hands of the reader. Today, that written word is known as “content.”

I am excited about AWP because the College has a booth, I am presenting with other program directors on publishing programs, there are engaging panels to attend, and it is always a great opportunity to network. This year we have 10 students joining us!

I am also excited because I am unveiling a new double degree and a completely revised certificate:

  1. MFA in Creative Writing and MA in Publishing
  2. Certificate in Digital Content and eLearning for Publishing

The double degree program will allow creative writers to gain practical skills to enter publishing as a career and it will allow closet writer publishing students to pursue their creative sides. The certificate program is also quite exciting! This certificate is designed for the publishing professionals who are looking to move forward, break out of the print paradigm, and mid- to senior-level acquisitions editors and marketing & sales managers who know the landscape is evolving, but lack the necessary skills. It is also for mid-level professionals who work in complimentary industries, who serve publishers, or who are looking to make a move into digital publishing. I have also added one additional class: Digital Publishing for Authors & Entrepreneurs. This class is specifically designed for those individuals who want to self-publish their book.

There is a great deal to look forward to this year! Keep following us on Facebook, Twitter, and via the College website for more information about the Graduate Publishing Programs.

Best,
Anne Converse Willkomm

From the Director: The Importance of Attending Conferences

by Anne Converse Willkomm, Director of the Graduate Publishing Programs

I think back to my first literary conference. It was in Winston Salem, North Carolina – the Annual Conference for the North Carolina Writers’ Network. I went with a couple of writer friends, and honestly, went more to see them than to take advantage of all the conference had to offer.

I quickly adjusted my faulty thinking as I sat in my master class with Ron Rash. For any of you who haven’t had the pleasure of meeting this acclaimed novelist, he’s fabulous. He taught me about voice, specifically the Southern voice. The keynote speaker that year was Jill McCorkle. She read “Cuss Time” from a collection of short stories and I laughed until I felt as if I had done a hundred crunches. I met the new Executive Director, Ed Southern, and pleaded with him to keep the week-long Writer’s Retreat (it had been condensed to 3 days and moved to Charlotte). I met a host of fellow writers, a group of fabulous small presses, but more than that, I was, for 48 hours, immersed in something I am completely and utterly passionate about – writing, books, authors, and publishing.

As writers and publishers we can’t attend every conference, but some of the biggies are a must, such as BEA (Book Expo America), AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs), SCBWI (Society of Book Writers and Illustrators), ALA (American Library Association) to name a few. If your budget allows, attend other conferences as well. The benefits are enormous. You never know whom you will meet and what kinds of positive impact that relationship might have on your career.

When I attended the Winter SCBWI conference in New York last February, I had the lovely pleasure of meeting and chatting with author/actress Julie Andrews and her daughter/author Emma Walton Hamilton after they spoke about their new title, The Very Fairy Princess Follows Her Heart. They were both lovely women, so willing to talk about their craft and encourage other writers to follow their hearts.

So look at the conferences in your region and sign up. Where will you be this weekend? I will be at Push to Publish sponsored by Philadelphia Stories, held on the campus of Rosemont College. I will meet new writers, re-connect with others, moderate a panel on trends in the publishing industry, and I will enjoy every minute of it!

Reflections from the Harry Potter Panel Discussion

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From left to right: Elizabeth Mosier, Heather Hebert, Anne Converse Willkomm, Anne Layman Horn, Amy Skelding

“Why Was Harry Potter so Successful?” 

Muggles, wizards, and a few other creatures spent a recent Saturday afternoon at Rosemont to hear a panel of Harry Potter, dare I say, scholars…okay, I can at least refer to them as – enthusiasts, talk about the $27 billion+ series. Elizabeth Mosier, who teaches writing for young adults at Bryn Mawr College and is the author of The Playgroup and My Life as a Girl (YA novel) said, “Above all, J.K. Rowling wrote a good story.” Amy Skelding, who attended the first Harry Potter Conference in England, also a YA writer, and a well-read YA reader, agreed and added, “It’s also a ‘well-told’ story.” She went on to stress the importance of this idea when she stated, “Twilight, for example is a good story, I mean who doesn’t want to know more about a vampire who falls in love with a human, but unlike Harry Potter, it is not a well-told story.”

Anne Layman Horn, who teaches children’s and YA literature at Temple University and is a YA “Chick Lit” writer talked about the characters. “We connect with Harry.” She added that we connect with many of the characters and noted, “This is one of the first books in which people often identify with the ancillary characters.” She said Professor Lupin is one of her favorite characters.

When asked to state the reason for the success of this series, Heather Hebert, the manager of Children’s Book World – one of the last independent bookstores on the Main Line – said, “Scholastic.” She added, “Since Scholastic is solely a children’s publisher, I think they had the foresight to really see the potential for this series.” She went on to tell the audience about the day her mother, Hannah Schwartz, the owner of the bookstore, handed her the photocopied manuscript and said, “You have to read this.”

Roman Colombo, a 2010 graduate from the Rosemont MFA program, asked how Rowling compared to Tolkien. Amy Skelding and Anne Layman Horn both addressed this agreeing that Rowling can absolutely be compared to Tolkien in terms of her world building. “Rowling took great care to create a believable world.” Horn added, “Kids loved getting caught up in the world.” Kids and adults have, and continue, to painstakingly examine every nook and cranny of Diagon Alley, the Gryffindor Common Room, the Forbidden Forest, Hagrid’s hut, and every other place Harry, Hermione, and Ron haunt.

Finally, Elizabeth Mosier raised a great point – Harry Potter created a sense of community. She said young and old read Harry Potter and then talked about it, debated it, worried about characters, etc. Skelding added that while her mother was in the hospital, three generations read the series, discussed characters, grieved the death of characters, including Hedwig, and compared thoughts about plot points.

The discussion ensued for more than 90 minutes. We donned our wands, hats, Gryffindor scarves, and I even wore a cloak. While some of us are still waiting to receive our Hogwarts letters, we all smile at the thought of the new generations of children and adults who will pick up Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and learn about the boy who lived in a cupboard under the stairs. There is a part of each of us who wishes we could, once again, read the book for the first time.

Anne Converse Willkomm, MFA

Director

Note: Some of the quotes are paraphrased.