Publishing MA: Is it really worth it?

The Looking Glass’ Head of Publicity, Emma, debates the merits of further study for a career in the publishing industry.

I’m in my 3rd year now, and if I had to choose one thing that scares me the most about graduation, it would be the thought of leaving university with no idea what to do next. I know I want to work in publishing when I graduate but very few publishing houses offer graduate schemes (Harper Collins is the only one I’ve come across) and employers normally only recruit about 4-6 weeks in advance for entry-level publishing jobs.

So, it seems like, whilst my friends all around me are busy writing CVS and filling out long, laborious graduate scheme applications, I’m busy working on my degree… but not making any plans for the future. I can’t even begin the applications for the jobs, internships and summer programs I’m really interested in until Spring, or even later! So recently, I started to look at the alternatives that I can be applying for right now: for instance, the publishing MA.

One thing to note about an MA in publishing, and something which I’ve been told over and over, is that it is not a prerequisite for a job in publishing. It won’t guarantee me a job, and it certainly won’t get me a higher starting salary; the courses themselves came about due to a high demand from students, not employers. And with the publishing industry moving at the pace it is – forced to accommodate for the self-publishing movement, not to mention eBooks,  apps, social media – there is always the risk that I could end up studying a course that is already out of date!

Moreover, an MA isn’t cheap. The tuition fees alone at somewhere like UCL are £8000 for a full-time course, and that’s not even taking into consideration London prices for accommodation, travel, food & drink, and entertainment. So why would I even begin to think about an MA, with all of this stacked against it? (This is a question I know my parents would love to know the answer to as well!)

With this in mind, here are my top four reasons why I (and maybe you too) might want to seriously consider an MA in publishing:

1.Networking Opportunities 

According to the saying, it’s not about what you know but who you know. I didn’t know anyone when I got my first publishing work experience placement, so I guess it shows that isn’t always true. However, once your get a foot in the door, it’s important to keep in contact with the professionals you know. That way, you have a whole network of people you can use for advice and work experience and – if you’re really outstanding – they might even think of you if any job opportunities crop up.

One of the best things about doing an MA in publishing is that the universities running the courses host a whole bunch of networking events, making one of the trickiest aspects of starting a career in the industry – getting some contacts – much less painful and daunting.

2. City Living2012-London-Students-1

I live too far out of London to commute regularly without breaking the bank, so I have always been limited  in how frequently I can apply for work experience placements. Saving up enough to pay big-city prices for food, travel and accommodation takes a considerable amount of hours at a part-time job. But, most Masters in publishing are in London, Oxford and other key cities in the industry. So, if you are already based where the action happens, the opportunities for you to attend events and conferences, intern and even simple things like go to interviews increase massively.

3. Some skills are never out of date.

It’s true that the publishing industry is moving at a rapid rate, but there are some skills which will always be valuable. A year’s Masters course would give you the opportunity to spend some focused time brushing up on your copyediting and proofreading, figuring out the best ways to balance an author’s needs with that of a publishing company’s, and learning about the current strategies in sales and marketing.

Well, you might argue, you can learn all these things on the job – you don’t need a degree. The whole point of an entry-level role is to give you chance to observe and practice exactly these kinds of skills. This is true, and rather compelling, but the MA also exposes you to aspects of the industry that you might never have considered. Sales, production and the legal side are often overlooked by interested graduates. Moreover, many look for jobs in trade publishing houses, not realising there are a vast number of jobs offered by, for instance, academic publishing. Having a broader understanding of publishing through studying an MA provides a more rounded appreciation of the industry, and would allow you to do your job more efficiently, being mindful of the wider implications of your work

 4. Further Studykeep-calm-and-enjoy-student-life-3
I love being a student. Not only do I love the student lifestyle, but I also love the freedom to explore my own, individual academic interests in as much detail as I want. As an undergrad you work alongside some of the top academics in their field. (It’s totally nerdy, but I find it fascinating to learn from them, and ask any questions I have!) You also have access to a whole network of academic databases and libraries for your studies, which, quite frankly, is awesome.
Maybe you don’t use these resources as much as you want to or feel you should. But they are there, and if you did an MA in any subject, you’d have one more year (at least) to make the most of the incredible facilities at your fingertips. So, if what you’re interested in is publishing – why not study what you love?
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