Advice on the book publishing industry in Canada
March 24, 2010 4:41 AM   Subscribe

Should I try to move from the newspaper industry to the book publishing industry? Or is this just jumping from one sinking ship to another? Canada-specific advice appreciated.

I've worked for the past few years as a newspaper reporter, and have concluded that a) surprise! - my profession is in serious trouble, b) I'm not that keen on daily news reporting anyway, and c) I'm not passionate enough about this industry to spend my days as an overworked jack-of-all-trades whose job future is uncertain. So I'm weighing my options, and wondering if a career in publishing is one of them.

Publishing this question anonymously because I am (at least for the time being) still gainfully employed as a journalist. I have browsed some other MeFi threads, but didn't find they quite fit the bill - if I've missed a useful one, please let me know.

Potentially relevant background info:
- I've worked for an arts/culture/literary organization in the past, made positive connections with a decent number of authors in the local writing community, and learned a bit about the ins/outs of the industry (albeit from the author's perspective).
- I have some literary editing experience, though it's pretty humble. I'm optimistic that I could find some freelance editing work with local journals to bulk up my credentials, if that would help.
- I have a creative writing background, and was lucky enough to receive some writing grants in the past. (As I imagine plenty of publishing wannabes are also author wannabes, this strikes me as not useful, but who knows?)
- I'm kind of awful at remembering specific grammatical rules, and tend to edit my own work more intuitively. I think I do a reasonably good job, but my copy editor colleagues might disagree. I'd be more than willing to make a serious study of the nuts and bolts of editing if it were necessary (which I suspect it is).

So here are my questions - Canada-specific answers appreciated, though not necessary:
1) Is this an awful idea? Are book publishers as pessimistic about the future of their industry (in digital or print form) as journalists?
2) Assuming I attempted to make this happen, would I be starting from the ground up as a lowly intern, or is a somewhat lateral move possible? I'm not averse to the former, just wondering what's normal for the industry.
3) Would I need an MA in publishing? The programs I'm aware of are expensive, and I'm not so inclined to consider this route unless it would really give me a leg up.
4) Anything important that I haven't taken into account?

This is all a bit of a pipe dream at the moment, so please don't worry about crushing my hopes. (Also, I realize I could pose all these questions to the authors/publishing types I already know, and I might do so down the road. For now, I'm trying to keep my vague aspirations on the down low.)

posted by anonymous to Writing & Language (5 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Oops: that wasn't anonymous.

I work with the book publishing industry and the mood is currently very tense. Big changes are afoot and a lot of companies aren't going to survive them. It's the little publishers that can adapt quickly that will do the best, I think. Just like we might be seeing the end of the era of big record companies, big movie studios, and big newspapers, I think the big book publisher is also going the way of the dinosaur.

But there is also a lot of optimism about digital publishing over the web. A lot of us are anxious to see what's going to happen in the format war and if the iPad is going to make as big of a splash as Apple hopes. The DRM vs. no-DRM debate is in full swing, just like in the music world.

I don't think I can answer questions 2-4; I only work with publishers so I don't know how things work on the inside.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 5:59 AM on March 24, 2010

You've pretty much answered your own question. Both your current industry and your prospective industry are contracting and are going through historic structural changes.

Sure, there will always be some people working in publishing and journalism, but not as many as now, and certainly not as many as a decade or two ago.
posted by dfriedman at 6:09 AM on March 24, 2010

My degree is in journalism and I currently work in the book publishing industry. I can't be Canada-specific, but I can address a lot of your other questions!

In my experience, the mood in newspaper publishing is MUCH worse than in book publishing. Maybe it's only a matter of time for book publishers, but our audience is not defecting nearly as fast as newspaper readers, and in many cases will not ever entirely defect. Digital readers and online publishing are opening the world of fiction and non-fiction content, so while the landscape may change, it doesn't look like books (whether digital or physical) are actually going away any time soon.

Book publishing is a fairly hierarchical "apprenticeship" industry. It's really difficult to make a lateral move into it. When I entered from another industry with several years experience, I did have to start over at the bottom. I was willing to do so; you may not be. The biggest issue is that there aren't a lot of open jobs in book publishing at any level, so it will be tough on you either way. (It also depends on what you want to be doing in publishing; it's much easier to make a lateral move into sales or marketing or production than editorial, for example.)

I'm currently getting a master's in publishing; it's totally not necessary. It was a personal goal for me and I have found it extremely helpful in my understanding of the industry, and I've made a lot of really great contacts, but it wasn't at all necessary to get or keep my job and it won't necessarily help me move on up the corporate ladder. My company is paying for about half of it, and I'd do it over again given the chance, but it may not be something that really helps you get a leg up. I'd say less than 10% of the people I work with have this degree.

I work at a major trade house in the US, so nothing about my experience necessarily applies to smaller houses, specialty houses, or houses in Canada. I love book publishing and I've had a blast all the years I've been in this industry. I'm not sure as the industry changes that there will be room for me, and I'm ok with that--I took a risk leaving journalism and it paid off for me.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 6:47 AM on March 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Publishing in Canada is semi-subsidized like all the arts. But the field in general is facing the same problems the music industry did and film is facing now. There is no reason to get a book on paper when you can read a book on your Kindle or iPad.

That's fine if you're a creative, because the book is the same thing. And arguably people might read more books if they can download them the moment they want them. And there's no such thing as a used Kindle book, so that's a plus for publishers who are hurting from used books on Amazon.

But if people are willing to pirate movies and songs, are you sure they won't pirate books?

Moreover, the Internet is a huge competitor for books. How many books you can read when there are so many bite-sized things to read for free on the Net?

So I would hesitate to retool into publishing.

Speaking as a non-fiction author, by the way, publishing no longer seems to be about content. It's about platform. Publishers don't want good books, they want books that their authors will hawk relentlessly on their TV show.
posted by musofire at 8:06 AM on March 24, 2010

I agree with peanut_mcgillicuty about not needing an MA in publishing. What's a lot more common is a certificate in publishing (if you're in Ontario, see the programs at Centennial and Ryerson). At the very least, hiring editors like to see that you've at least taken a course in copy editing.

I've taken courses from Ryerson's pub program, feel free to MeMail me if you have any questions about it.
posted by Rora at 4:40 PM on March 24, 2010

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