chelsea hanna cohen

Why Getting a Master’s in Publishing Was Right For Me (But Why it Might Not Be For You)

on February 19, 2014

When I tell people that, after getting my BA in Creative Writing and Linguistics, I willingly went into more debt to get a master’s in publishing, I usually get a pretty weird look .”Why would you do that?” people ask me. “Does that actually HELP you?”

A master’s in publishing is a different kind of advanced degree in that you absolutely do not need one to get a job in publishing, and while it may raise me in the eyes of possible employers, there’s no guarantee of that even being the case. So why bother? Why was it still the right decision for me?

I graduated from the University of Arizona in May 2011. I knew I wanted to go into publishing – I’d always loved books, after all. Specifically, I wanted to be a fiction editor like Max Perkins, a dream I would later find out what seems like 95% of people looking to break into publishing shared. My admissions essay was full of comments about how I wanted to prove people wrong when they told me print publishing was dying and advised me to choose a different career path. On my 21st birthday, I received my acceptance letter from Emerson College in Boston and suddenly found myself faced with the biggest decision I’d had to make in my life so far.

It wasn’t an easy decision by any means, especially after I found out I wasn’t selected for one of the very few fellowships Emerson offered to incoming grad students. But I knew I wanted to go into publishing, and I also knew that I was not the kind of person who could have just up and moved to a new city without a plan, a job, or a reason for going, and staying home to apply to jobs and hope something worked out wasn’t appealing. So I made the leap, accepted the offer of admission, and moved across the country.

Emerson’s program is two years long and fairly self-directed, with three required classes in Book Publishing, Magazine Publishing, and Electronic Publishing, and seven electives of your choice. By the end of my first year, I knew that editing wasn’t for me after all. And I was introduced to an area of publishing I’d never previously considered – digital publishing and ebook production. After my first digital publishing class, I was hooked and knew that was really where I wanted to look for jobs. I took classes that taught me how to make .epub files and learned how to use popular Adobe programs in publishing such as InDesign, Photoshop, and Dreamweaver. I learned new skills to add to my resume wherever possible, and I was able to work on some projects that interested me and gave me results to show off to potential employers.

I think about where I would have ended up if I hadn’t gotten my MA in Publishing. I would probably have applied to highly competitive editorial assistant positions, would maybe have gotten one, and would have moved and become disillusioned when I realized it wasn’t for me and didn’t know where else to go. A lot of my friends and I came in wanting to be editors, but now we are project managers, marketers, publicists, digital production specialists, contracts and rights associates, and a whole other slew of things we may not have ended up in on our own. And for that, my degree was worth it – to me.

I’ve spent a lot of time talking about why getting your master’s degree in publishing is great. But what are some reasons you might decide against it? Like I said earlier, it’s certainly no guarantee of bettering your job prospects.

–If you have an undergraduate degree in publishing. Emerson has a Writing, Literature, and Publishing undergraduate major which teaches most if not all of the same skills as the graduate program, and if I’d gone to a school that offered that sort of program, I probably wouldn’t have needed grad school. Unfortunately, 17-year-old me didn’t quite know what she wanted to do with her life.

–If you already live in a big publishing city like New York or Boston, or if you’re willing to move to one on your own. Part of the reason my degree is so valuable to me is that it got me out of Arizona and into Boston, something I personally wouldn’t have been able to just do on my own.  Also note that publishing is everywhere these days! Research and see if there are any opportunities where you are if you want to stay local.

–If you want to be rich. Generally, starting salaries in publishing are terrible, and positions such as editorial assistants can be highly competitive.  You probably won’t make a lot of money, and if the idea of taking on more debt with that in mind scares you, seriously consider if it’s right for you. But also note that there are plenty of income-based repayment plans for student loans, so if you’re mulling it over, look at those and see how manageable your loan payments can be.

–If you can get publishing internships. If you aren’t quite sure if publishing is right for you, see if you can get an internship to get experience and find out. However, note that publishing cities like New York and Boston are very expensive to live in and most publishing internships are unpaid.

I hope this post is helpful, and if anyone out there has any questions, feel free to ask me 🙂


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