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Five Surprising Things I learned on Kingston's MA Publishing Course

Student Blog: Jose Sedgwick

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12th November 2015

This blog was originally featured on the Kingston University blog.

MA Publishing student Joe Sedgwick, who is working as an Editorial and Marketing Assistant at The Literary Consultancy, shares five surprising discoveries he made while studying at Kingston.

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then I would like to heap praise on my colleague Naomi Peel and her recent Five Reasons to Choose Kingston’s MA Publishing Course post by copying her approach. However, rather than simply list another five things from the long list of reasons why you should take the leap and enrol on this course, I thought I would share five things that I not only learned at Kingston, but that also surprised me.

I enrolled on the course just two weeks before it began, not because I’m disorganised(!), but because I was unhappy in my previous job and wanted to effect a swift career change. After doing some research, it seemed that Kingston fitted the bill,  though it’s fair to say I didn’t realise at the time quite how well the programme suited my needs. I was totally unprepared for the wealth of positives I would take from my time here and I was also surprised by things I thought I already knew about the industry. So below are five things I learned from the Kingston University MA Publishing course. Each is also something I hadn’t expected at the start of the year.

1. The (Generally) Good Nature of the of the Industry   

It may seem negative to start by saying that I was ‘surprised’ by how nice everyone in the industry is, but truth be told, I did have some reservations about the nature of the publishing industry. I had heard horror stories of ‘evil’ editors sitting behind oak desks, blowing their nose on the slush pile while sniggering at carefully constructed children’s manuscripts about bunny rabbits – but, in reality, these are just stories and nothing more. There are obviously ruthless players in the industry (every industry has them) but, in general, publishers from all levels rub shoulders with one other both in and out of their offices. More importantly, rival publishers are willing to collaborate with each other. This is one area where Kingston’s Publishing MA really excels. Naomi praises the masterclasses in her post, but these sessions (and the networking pub evenings afterwards) epitomise this willingness to share ideas and collaborate. As a student, you are afforded the opportunity to hustle with big players, who you quickly realise are actually just people like you − they love reading and want to keep creating and reading quality books themselves. When I enrolled on the course, I never thought I would even have the chance to talk to the editors, agents and cover designers behind some of my favourite books, let alone buy them a pint and discuss the peculiar talents of Grimsby Town with them, far into the night.

2. The Power of Digital Skills 

I was lucky enough to have gained some experience learning digital skills in the past. However, the MA course made me realise just how important using digital tools can be in our modern world. Digital is something every publisher embraces now and Anna Faherty, Judith Watts and Alison Baverstock spend a great deal of the course helping you develop basic digital skills, while also providing more advanced material for you to experiment with should you feel brave. Digital is not the be all and end all: you can still publish a good old-fashioned paper book (something  students on the course’s MAKE module do), but, increasingly, having a grasp of the intricacies of digital tools like social media and InDesign is extremely valuable.

3. Self Publishing and Other

When I enrolled on the course, all I wanted to learn about was how traditional publishing houses work and how I could get myself a job in one. This was before I encountered the growing world of self-publishing and other developing areas within the industry. Self-publishing is not just the reserve of Twilight fan-fiction writers – it’s one of the fastest growing areas of the industry. Alison Baverstock is one of the most well-known advocates for self-publishing in the world, which makes her a pretty strong authority for learning about this area. Many people on the course will go on to produce valuable self-published content – in fact, several are already working on self-publishing projects as their final piece of coursework this year and, from September 2015, the University will also be offering a dedicated self-publishing module.

Similarly, the course shines light on other parts of the industry that don’t cross most people’s minds at the beginning of the year. There is much more to publishing than editorial, with roles in rights, sales and design offering a wealth of opportunities to enter, and contribute to, the industry. I, myself, am working for a company that provides author services – something that is now an established branch of the traditional publishing tree. With such a diverse range of opportunities on offer, going into the course with an open mind will ensure you don’t write off what could end up being the perfect fit for you and your interests.

4. conference Connections 

While this isn’t exactly a direct selling point of the course, the access you receive to conferences and organisations associated with the wider industry is a valuable part of the student experience. I was surprised at just how many opportunities were available to me as a result of being an MA Publishing student. You receive discounted entrance to the Society of Young Publishers and Society for Editors and Proofreaders, as well as regular invites to events run by organisations such as BookMachine and Byte the Book. Given that these are external events, you might ask, “couldn’t I get this at any other university?” Again, this is something that Naomi has already touched on, but the Kingston lecturers are so well connected that the University is building a reputation for injecting some of the brightest new faces into the industry (if we don’t say so ourselves!). You will feel proud walking around the London Book Fair (which you can also attend for free) as a Kingston student.

5. The People - Peer Support

It shames me to say that interacting with other people on the course almost came as an afterthought. When I enrolled, my main priority was gaining a qualification in order to enhance my CV. Yet, as is often the way, the quality of the MA experience is only as good as the people undertaking it. I was fortunate, then, to meet fellow students who made me look at the world in a different, more positive, way. I remember writing in my application letter that Kingston appealed to me as a university because of its ability to attract students from all over the world – I couldn’t have been more right. Working on live projects with students from a dozen countries has been an absolute pleasure, and one that I wish to carry on into my working life. Even if you’re anxious about meeting new people, the passionate working atmosphere is so infectious that you can’t help but be swept into lasting and supportive friendships.

I will separate this blog from Naomi’s in one other way, by saying something that isprobably sentimental and clichéd: choosing to study for the MA Publishing at Kingston University was one of the best decisions of my life. Then again, something isn’t sentimental or cliché if it’s the truth. I would thoroughly encourage anyone else who is thinking about enrolling on the course to do so. It could change your life, and in ways you may not – at this stage – even be able to imagine.

Joe Sedgwick recently fought off competition from 120 other applicants to gain a year-long position as The Literary Consultancy’s (TLC) first ever paid intern. TLC’s Editorial Services Manager Aki Schilz described Joe as having “real knowledge, insight and passion, and also a practical skillset… We needed someone with a sense of what it means to be a writer in the digital age and a sense of the history of publishing (something the MA gave him instruction in), someone able to manipulate spreadsheets as well as speak with writers, and who wouldn’t mind poring over analytics one moment and posting the week’s manuscripts to our editors the next.” Well done, Joe!