Being a Publishing Student: a Brand New Course

Feb 25, 2024By Barnard Publishing
Barnard Publishing

Before I get into it, I need a disclaimer - I do not regret taking this course, and I would not change what I did or how I approached the situations given to me. That being said, complaining is good, and that is what I shall do. As an aside, I didn’t approach this course with the goal to run my own company; my passion for reading and writing simply worked alongside the existential dread of finishing an undergraduate degree and not knowing what to do with the rest of my life.

At the beginning of the course, there were three of us; a ‘friend’ and I had joined together, having the same media undergraduate background; and the other student came from the English department. By the end of the week, my friend had left for another course, leaving the other student - lets call them Alex - and I to complete the course alone. For the record, I don’t blame my friend for leaving; the first week was packed with publishing history and industry establishment, which would easily overwhelm anyone who was trying to enter the industry. I suppose some people aren’t cut out for this type of work.

No one to bounce ideas off or have discussions - I find discussing my ideas with other people crucial to bettering my understanding of a topic or improving my assignments. When I was doing my undergrad in Creative Studies (essentially general Media Studies), I was able to give my work to my friends who were doing other creative-based courses and have them understand my points and what needed to be added or changed in order for me to improve the quality of my assignments. But during this postgraduate course and due to the nature and complexity of the publishing industry, none of my friends were able to give me any effective notes on my work. I was on my own with it. I would argue that because of this, I pushed myself to produce better work overall, but my mental health suffered as a result. I believe that without discussion, an echochamber forms around us that provides confirmation bias that is difficult to escape - discussion provides alternative thinking that may not have occurred to me and allows me to produce a better endgame.

More engagement with lecturer - often, getting a one-on-one discussion with an industry profession is either a once-in-a-lifetime (or very expensive) opportunity. But being one of two students in a course (and often the only one to turn up to the lectures), I was rewarded with taking up all of my lecturers time for the whole lecture. I didn’t have to wait to ask a question, or worry that I wouldn’t get my notes down because he was moving on.

Felt responsible for other student - because it was just the two of us, I felt responsible for Alex’s presence and participation. For the first semester, I was reminding them of the deadlines and lecture times, and would message them when they didn’t turn up. It was draining, but I kept doing it; for my sake, and for the lecturer's sake. I felt like I had to make sure they were there, because if I didn’t, I thought I was going to fail. By the time the second semester rolled around, I was sick and tired of running two peoples lives. You’ll be glad to hear I refrained from checking up on them if they didn’t get in contact first.

Struggled to balance readings from 3 modules on top of assignments - in both semesters, we had three modules; two from the lecturer who was running the course, and one from an english lecturer about the history of books. All were immensely interesting, but there was a lack of communication between the two lecturers when it came to workloads. The English lecturer gave us one assignment due at the end of the semester, but had multiple readings each week to be discussed in the seminars; the course head gave us less in readings (although not an insignificant amount), but had us provide assignments fortnightly, if not weekly. The balance of reading to assignment may have made sense for the module, but we (Alex and I) suffered because of the clash between the two schools (we were not in the school of English, as far as I’m aware).

A MODULE IN A WEEK - the first module of the first semester was completed to almost completion within the first week of lectures. It was intense and quick-paced, and mid-way through we went from 3 students to 2. It was very industry heavy, and we learned about the various processes that a book must go through in order to be published, and about Gutenburg and the first printing presses. The first assignment was at the end of the first week, and we had to present a job advert for a position in a fictitious company that we had learned about not even a week prior. And thus began over a year of sleeplessness and stress!

Teamwork based assignments fell apart - the second module run by the course head in semester one was to produce a book. Thats right, two greenies who had learnt about the processes of book production a week ago had to produce a book together. It was at this point that the teamwork element of the course started to fall apart; I was putting in far more work and effort into the projects than Alex, despite us being in the same situation. We were learning how to use new software, and I was trying my best to become familiar with the features, but Alex signed themselves off as “not tech savey” and said they were done. I don’t want to relive every single issue that came up, so lets  leave it as ‘unbalanced’.

Course not made for 2 people - early on, from having discussions with my lecturer, I knew that this course was not designed for two people (as I’m sure you, dear reader, are also aware). The amount of discussion-based seminars were certainly a clue-in, but my lecturer illustrated how he was hoping for at least 5 students, if not more; the whole point was to establish a small publishing house, built out of students, in order to get a proper feel of what it would be like working in one. Needless to say that didn’t happen. This slight misfortune did prepare me for my current career path though!