I recently discovered that my alma mater, Southern Vermont College in Bennington, VT, has cooked up a new angle to their creative writing program, one that I’m really excited about even though I haven’t stepped foot in a classroom at SVC in over ten years. (Wait, am I really that old?!) SVC has teamed up with Northshire Bookstore to create The Shire Press Series (see the press release below with my quote included). This is an opportunity for SVC students to learn how a real indie book press works, and not only get their hands dirty with submissions, editing, production, and marketing, but each student comes out of the process with their own published book to sell in the bookstore or elsewhere. Cool, right?
One of the things I felt was lacking from my own college experience was an understanding about how the publishing world works. I wanted to know how to properly submit work to magazines, publishers, agents, how to understand what they’re looking for, how to keep in touch with industry trends, how book publishing worked on a production level, and how to market my work to a wider audience. We discussed none of that in my college years, but maybe for a very good reason.
My professors back then really wanted us to focus on the craft aspect of writing, first and foremost. I’m glad they did, in a way. Looking back, my writing was not what anyone (myself most of all) would call “publishable.” The fiction was aimless and went for easy laughs, the essays were bland, and I hardly even tried my hand at poetry, something I now consider my truest love. I had a couple pieces I am still marginally proud of, but I can see why my profs were so concerned about teaching us too much about putting our work out into the world. Few of us had something truly original to say, but we were getting there, we were on the path, and they wanted us to walk a few more miles down that road before we jumped into submissions.
And yet learning a little about how the world of publishing works outside of classroom and workshop critiques would have been useful…maybe not at that exact moment, but down the line. It would have shortened the learning curve I’m sure many of us had. I didn’t start sending work to magazines until 2-3 years after college, and even then it took a year or so before acceptances came at a steady enough rate to make it feel worth my while. Maybe because my writing needed to develop, or maybe because I had no real idea where to begin. Probably both.
Hopefully this new opportunity with The Shire Press Series balances all of a young writer’s needs: learning the crafting of writing, developing a unique voice and finding something new to say, and understanding how publishing works and how editors and booksellers see the writing world. Being able to meld all of those things can only enrich a writer’s knowledge about themselves, their audience, and everyone in between. I’m sure it will be a great success for SVC, Northshire Bookstore, and the students.
There is also the possibility that I’ll be able to help by developing a couple of workshops or lectures for the students that will work in conjunction with this new writing/publishing hybrid, and that’s really exciting. I’d love to be able to get back up to SVC and share some of the knowledge I’ve gained over the years, both in my own creative writing efforts and while working at publishing houses and magazines like Writer’s Digest. The program sounds very cool and I’d be thrilled to be an active part of it. My fingers are crossed that it works out. Take a look at the full press release below if you have the chance. And if you know students who might be interested in such a program, tell them to get in touch with the school! Thanks.