I'm taking two publishing classes this semester at the City College of New York in order to obtain a publishing certificate. I think this option is more feasible than the one that I've been planning for a few years (to go to NYU's School of Continuing Professional Studies for an MS in publishing). Since I've been getting tired of formal education, which I think prepares few people for "real life", getting the certificate while earning a college degree kills two birds with one stone.
Here's an essay I wrote for the class Introduction to Publishing:
While reading this week’s assignment, I came upon this sentence: “However, no matter how great the risks, new publishers will be born as long as there are men and women devoted to the beauty and power of the book.” The beauty and power of the book -- what a great phrase! Of course book publishing is important, because words and the printed page belong together. Other forms of media either do not have to portability of the book (only one Mona Lisa exists, and it will not be visiting your city anytime soon) nor do they have the intimacy of the book (lots of thought had once been put into album covers, but I would not be surprised if cover artwork goes the way of the LP due to the popularity of Web-based music stores). Books have physicality to them on which paintings rely too much and that music lacks. Art is good to those who look at it and people appreciate music by listening to it, but books require participation with the text. Once you finish particularly good book, it becomes a part if your memory. A good CD is finished within an hour, but you can re-read a good book and have days of pleasure.
Luckily, books have been generally protected from the digitizing of media; though e-books exist, I do not know anyone who would prefer to download a book and read it on a PDA rather than buying bound pages. (Most of the e-books that my friends and I find most helpful are those of textbooks and journals, for the format is much easier to search electronically than to scan such physical texts with the eye.) Paper has many advantages over pixels; paper need not be electrically charged and cannot lose power in the middle of a sentence. Also, paper cannot malfunction -- the worst you can find is a typo -- and dropping a book a few times cannot result in a broken book.
Books have a very personal quality. I know of no parent that reads Word documents to a child at bedtime, so from a young age people are brought up to enjoy books. Books also heighten the senses; a book can smell fresh or musty, pages can feel worn or smooth, and the eye can appreciate illustrations or scoff at a coffee stain. Adding to the intimacy of books, if you find some quality wording, you can underline or highlight it. Anything electronic lacks these qualities, for you cannot save nor highlight the sound waves of a favorite lyric.
Therefore, book publishing remains important. They are portable works of art, including not only the manuscript but the cover. Which American child can imagine a Harry Potter book without a cover done by Mary GrandPré in pastels? What would Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park be without its cover of a Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton? One of my favorite authors, Neil Gaiman, has a short-story collection coming out soon called Fragile Things, and its cover has sketches of eggshells, butterfly wings, and a snowflake -- fragile things indeed. I doubt the coverless, black-and-while-only nature of electronic books could sell them as well as traditional books because much thought has been put into the aesthetics of a book, and it is sold as a whole product as well as the author’s text.
Books are also permanent. Finding a book from an ancient civilization tells scholars more about the culture than would another object, like a pot. Hypothetically, pretend that a thousand years from now, a CD is found. Would those who find it know that you need a CD player in order to interpret it? Literature is much easier to translate, since no language ever really dies (Latin has become the Romance languages, for example.) A magical feeling comes from holding and reading something that has survived the elements, which is why I think used books are popular. Not only are used books sold at a lower price than new ones, but the purchaser of a used book is also holding history.
Thanks to this publishing class, I'm beginning to think publishing's not the industry for me. This week's writing assignment was to write an agent's submission letter. "I got the perfect author for you because of this, that, and the other thing." Writing the letter was fun -- and a breeze -- so I'm thinking literary agent instead of editor. From what I hear, the pay's better too!
I'm also answering a few questions for my internship essay. (Though I interned for the summer, the credits are counting for the autumn semester.) My favorite sentence thus far is: "If this internship taught me one thing it’s how to use a fax machine!" which prompted me to think of this post's rather dismal title.