No—but there’s no denying it helps. What does a master’s degree in publishing teach you and how useful is it?
I was lucky enough to first experience the publishing industry at Pineapple Press, where I found that I wanted to learn more about it through a master’s degree in publishing. I ultimately decided to get my publishing degree at Oxford Brookes University in the United Kingdom, but no matter where you get your degree, the publishing industry is very similar on both sides of the Atlantic. (One of the big differences, though, is in production—paper is measured in grams and books in millimeters which, for this American, takes some getting used to!)
At Oxford Brookes, the publishing degree has four major courses:
The editing module covers the basics: learning the editing marks; learning how to edit on-screen; and the role of the editor in the publishing process. For me, our editing class wasn’t too useful as I already obtained many of the skills in my time at Pineapple Press and had no interest in becoming a full-time editor; for others, it may be among the most beneficial classes on a publishing course.
Design and Production
Design and production are a half-semester each, with the design half focusing on learning how to use Adobe InDesign through designing a cookbook. The production half covered how to put a book together—things like binding, paper weight, and a fair amount of math—and what’s suitable for certain situations, such as publishing academic monographs or trade paperbacks. I’ve been surprised by how helpful my production seminar has been; knowing how to correctly produce printed materials has been a very useful skill in my subsequent jobs.
The marketing module not only teaches marketing in publishing, but general marketing tips and tricks. For someone who majored in medieval history as an undergraduate, it’s been incredibly useful to know how to do a SWOT analysis, marketing plan, and how to identify a target market. This class, along with New Product Development, was the most beneficial class on the course for me.
New Product Development
This class was specific to my degree program; other publishing degrees don’t typically require it. We were assigned to teams of 7 or 8 students and were responsible for creating a publishing proposal which was presented to the entire course at the end of the semester. From accounting to website design, we had to learn it all and I think it’s a good thing that my program taught us the business side of publishing, as it’s a business just like any other.
We were also required to take two electives in our second semester: mine were Rights Management and Publishing & Language Issues. All of this coursework led to our master’s thesis or final project, which was the culmination of our degree. (By the way, if you need to know anything about state-sponsored publishing in endangered languages, I’m your girl.)
So, what did I do with my degree? I ended up working at Oxford University Press UK, helping to market their scholarly reference materials and online resources, which was a great experience. Though I’ve since moved back to the US and taken some time out of the industry, I would still say that the skills I learned while doing my publishing degree have been very helpful in my career. I met someone just the other day who also has a publishing degree; both of us agreed that many of the things you learn are easily transferable to other jobs and other industries, such as developing a product from the ground up, the new frontiers of digital media, or learning to think creatively in a creative industry.
If you’re thinking about a publishing career, look into some of the programs either state-side or further afield, like Columbia, University of Denver, or Rosemont. Networking is a skill you need in publishing and by getting a degree, you’ll learn the skills needed to get into the industry and meet some great, passionate people while doing it. And who knows where you can go from there?
Caitlyn Miller is a 2008 graduate of Oxford Brookes University’s publishing program. She is currently the Center for Career Education & Off-Campus Study Assistant at New College of Florida and a freelance writer and media strategist. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @NewCollegeCCE.