chelsea hanna cohen

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

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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A Scandal in Bohemia: Can You Solve the Case? For Sale!

I realized that the new page I created wouldn’t show up in my blog feed, so I wanted to post that you can now download my interactive choose-your-own-adventure version of A Scandal in Bohemia from my website for whatever price you think it’s worth 🙂 Just go here: and select the version you want! Click the Paypal button to decide how much you want to pay. 

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The Directed Study is Finished!

Last week, I finished my EPUB3, interactive, choose-your-own-adventure version of A Scandal in Bohemia. Cool things I did include:

-Several choices throughout the story – which choices you make determine which ending you reach. I wrote new portions of the story to facilitate these choices. 

-The option to see how Holmes did it, where each choice that makes up the original text is highlighted as you go through the story. 

-A plain text version, if you just want to read it straight through. 

-An interactive cluepad at the end of many sections, which utilizes drag-and-drop jQuery. You’re presented with four possible clues and can drag each of them onto the cluepad. If the clue is true, it’ll stick. If not, it’ll bounce back. 

-The use of media queries for the cluepad so that it looks great on both iPads and iPhones in landscape and portrait. 

-An embedded font for handwritten notes

-It validates as EPUB3

I spent all semester working on this and am hoping to have it for sale on my website soon, as soon as I figure out pricing. I’ll be doing more specialized blog posts soon on the technical aspects (especially how I got drag-and-drop to work), so be on the lookout for those!

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JQuery and Javascript

I’ve been attempting to teach myself JQuery and Javascript lately, for use in my directed study., and, although it’s different from anything I’ve done before, it’s very interesting. I’ve been using’s online courses, and while I’m learning a lot, I sometimes have to do the exercises three or four times before I can fully grasp what it is I’m doing and what the proper way to do it is. 

It’s funny to reflect on this because, if you’d told me two years ago that I would be coming to this program and doing a project that involved Javascript by the end of it, I’d have thought you were crazy. How would that fit into a publishing program? And I wanted to be a fiction editor. Crazy to think how my career path has changed since then. 

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Ebooks vs. Print Books – Why You Can Have Both

I have this conversation with a lot of people. I tell them I work with ebooks, that I enjoy making them and even reading them, too. “But what about print?” they ask. “How can you be a part of the demise of print publishing as we know it and the collapse of the industry?” (That last part may be a dramatization). 

But those people have it all wrong. I love print. I have a tiny bedroom in an apartment in Boston that is positively overflowing with books – I’ve filled more than two bookshelves, and the ones that won’t fit on the shelves are currently organized two deep on a small table. And yet I also have a Kindle Fire, an iPad Mini, and an iPhone with four different e-reader apps downloaded onto it. It’s not a case of either/or – just because I love ebooks and think they have their place in publishing doesn’t mean I think print should die. I love to read my print books when I’m relaxing at home. When I’m just looking to browse for books, I’ll stop by a bookstore to see what they have to offer – and then actually buy the books there, not on Amazon later that day. 

But when I’m taking the subway during rush hour, crushed up against numerous other people, my personal bubble completely and utterly collapsed, I love the fact that I can pull out my iPhone, open an ebook, and read. I love the fact that I don’t have to dig through my backpack for a paperback I don’t have the room to hold out in front of me. When I’m at the gym, I love that I can just put my iPhone on the shelf on the machine and not have to worry about the pages staying open. My iPhone is always with me, which means my ebooks are always with me as well. 

The bottom line: when it comes down to it, I would prefer owning a print copy to an ebook copy. To me, the substance of a print copy, the way it lines up on my bookshelf, and the fact that I can do with it whatever I please are things that an ebook currently can’t provide. But the absolute convenience of my ebooks outweighs many of their downsides, and, in the end, as long as people are reading, isn’t that enough? Print books will be around for the foreseeable future, but so will ebooks – people just need to realize that they can coexist and that they both have their time and their place in publishing. It’s not an “or” – as in, “Do you prefer print books or ebooks?” It’s an “and.”

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The content is finished!

Last week, I finished all of the content for my Sherlock Holmes Choose-Your-Own-Adventure project. There are 16 different ways to go through the story, with six different endings which range from solving the case to Sherlock being escorted away by the police. It’s based on A Scandal in Bohemia, so the decision to have one of the endings be solving this case was actually one I wrestled with since the central theme of A Scandal in Bohemia is that Holes is bested by Irene Adler. But in the end, I decided that this was my project and that I would allow the reader to solve the case – if they make the right decisions, of course. 

So now I get to start making it into an interactive ebook. Features I’m planning on including include a cluepad to help you solve the case, a map of major locations in the story, and an option once you finish to go back to the beginning and see how Holmes did it, which highlights the choices that lead to the actual story as written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. 

I’m excited about where this is heading! Now I get to play and see what I can do. 


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AWP 2013

Luckily for me, this year’s AWP conference was in Boston, so, although I was working on Thursday and Friday, I headed over on Saturday for the chance at buying more books than I have money and/or time for. I came away with 22 new books/literary journals/magazines, some free, some not. Getting to walk the bookfair (all three, huge exhibition halls of it) was awesome, and I also got to go to a great panel on Ray Bradbury by the editors and three of the authors of
Shadow Show
. Now all I want to do is read and write, and, of course, I have time to do neither. Maybe after I graduate…

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Choosing Your Own Adventure – Keeping It All Straight

As I get deeper into my Sherlock Holmes directed study, I actually found it incredibly tricky to keep all the paths I was mapping out through the choices straight. How much do I have to write? How does it branch off from the original material? How can I even begin to keep what I still need to do straight and the paths and consequences of each choice together? How do you organize a non-linear story?

Perhaps somewhat ironically for an ebook project, I didn’t find a good way to keep it all together until I drew it out using that old-fashioned tool of pen and paper. Still working out the final kinks so I can start the Javascript ASAP, but so far, this part has been more challenging than I thought it would be. That’s all right, though – all part of the fun 🙂

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So, as you can probably tell, my first post didn’t lead to more posts, as I feel is often the case with blogs. But I’m going to try and bring this back to life, to actually post blog entries, thoughts, life updates here. So here’s where my life is now since I created this back in October:

–I have a new job! I’m still at Pearson, with Pearson Learning Solutions (custom publishing), but I’ve worked my way up from proofreader to Media Project Manager. I’m on the ebook team, so I deal with ebooks for third-party platforms. I started last Monday, so it’s still ramping up, but I think I’m really going to enjoy it. 

–New classes! I’m taking a digital publishing class this semester, where we’re learning about apps and enhanced magazines. I’m also doing a directed study where I’m creating an interactive ebook Choose-Your-Own-Adventure version of Sherlock Holmes and an internship where I’m converting print titles to ebooks. So it’s a very ebook/technology intensive semester – just the way I like it. I’m graduating in May – exciting!

So that’s where my life is now, what it’s become. Be on the lookout for more thoughts and ideas shortly 🙂

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