Life in Publishing After Graduating As an English/History Major

Graduates of Linguistics may find work in translation, applied research, [insert nine abstruse positions/term I never understood the meaning of] lexicography, and copyediting…

That was the extent of the comprehensible career prospects accruing to four years of study that awaited me and one hundred and fifty linguistics grads at York University. God knows how many there were at U of T. Perhaps a couple of dozen pursued graduate studies (not for me–language puzzles are not my real forte). Where the rest of them went, I have no idea. Perhaps they took on more study, or perhaps they found the decent route that I did–a community college and a post-diploma program focussed on skills training for a specific industry. Publishing, in my case.

Near as I can tell, the community college route is the only institutional solid foundation for employment for those with liberal arts BAs.

York U is the supreme example of a BA factory. I was stamped in 1996 and left with no support, no guidance I could see, no real alumnus support that did you any good. Don’t mean to be negative, but facts are facts. You are forgotten once you graduate.  Four years spent becoming a well-educated albeit inexperienced apprentice of … nothing at all. I’d switched to linguistics from English because by the summer after my first year of univeristy I was already worried about post-university employment. Linguistics at least promised you were qualified for copyediting and lexicography work. English had made no such vouchsafes.

I actually did get a really shitty job proofreading legal textbooks (though it paid $14/hr–not too bad for entry level in 1996) before deciding to save my creative soul through a leap to Now Magazine telemarketing advertising space in the mag and finally getting a real job–bar backing at an Irish pub. Every resume I sent to a real publisher failed to get me an interview. The reason is simple: the publishing industry hires fully trained grads from publishing school, not newly minted BAs without the industry training. I didn’t realize this for another three years.

At the Irish Pub, I’d arrived at a kind of bedrock. Purely physical work with no support for delusions of creativity, other than my hope of writing fiction during the day and working at night. But that was no career, just a vanity supported by a social, but ultimately menial, job. Finally, a friend’s girlfriend who worked at McGraw-Hill suggested getting a job like hers, editing textbooks for 50K a year. That sounded amazing, so I applied to one of my local publishing programs in Toronto and eased into publishing.

Not only do I have something like a life now, I fell in love with book editing and love to do it. If I weren’t being paid to do it, I’d volunteer to do it. I work at Centennial College Press as publisher and editor. Not a bad gig to get when I got it at age 33.

There’s hope, people. Really. You don’t have to do grad school and then a PhD. to enter publishing. But you do need to do a BA and get some publishing training. Our series of really cheap ebooks are for you guys. They’ll let you try out the work that editors and publicists and production people do and help you decide if the industry is worth the effort for you. Read them. This blog is here for us to answer questions from specific people about their situation–you readers. We’ll help you.

The first one is here. It’s a 27-page history of publishing in English; it’ll help you talk intelligently about publishing to anyone in the industry you may wish to contact, including any of us here at this blog.

The next book’s for people who may want to edit books; after you read it, you’ll know if you do or you don’t. Promise.

I’ll be writing more about BAs, a favourite topic of mine, shortly.


Take care,