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Why the NYU Summer Publishing Institute?

As we talk about all the things that can prepare you for the professional world of publishing and what are the best things for you, it seemed fitting to have our newest team member, Julia Nollen, tell us why she chose do to NYU’s Summer Publishing Institute Certificate program. Is it really worth the time and money, we wondered?

As a recent college graduate and MPI‘s newest intern, I want to pursue a career in publishing because I enjoy every step of the process. Write, read, revise, design, discuss, repeat. Publishing is the one industry where I am constantly inspired by the product and its environment.


Last year, I set my sights high in hopes of breaking into the industry by applying for New York University’s prestigious Summer Publishing Institute Certificate Program. SPI (as it’s regularly referred to) annually accepts about 100 applicants worldwide to its 6-week-long intensive course, which is comprised of lectures and tutorials from some of the most influential and innovative members of the industry. From designing magazine feature spreads to drafting profit and loss statements, students are given a crash course in all things publishing.

While at the University of Delaware, I learned the importance of effective written and visual communication through studying English and Film, and several extra-curricular opportunities contributed to my passion for reading and editing (I blame fifteen years of ballet and Ph.D.-educated parents for my unrelenting attention to detail). However, it wasn’t until week two at SPI that I can truly say I found and focused my professional passions. Up to my elbows in InDesign files and portfolios, I realized I wanted to work in digital publishing and design, and wouldn’t stop until I got there.

What I found most appealing about SPI was its focus on the current and future state of the publishing industry.  Print runs are shrinking, and unit costs are growing, we’re told. Texts are now tweets, and looking over your shoulder no longer reveals the identities of those “following” you. But publishing houses are using the web’s unprecedented reach to enhance product discoverability and to expand existing audiences.  By offering weekly web design workshops and tutorials for both print and digital platforms, SPI’s lectures embrace this change and cover all avenues of publishing. Students are asked to analyze current trends and consider future solutions.

Though many consider a graduate certificate unnecessary due to the industry’s apprenticeship nature, attending the SPI program has been worth its (rather hefty) weight in gold. I have made invaluable contacts through the wide breadth of resources NYU eagerly extends its attendees, and have secured three internships for the fall season. Other students were offered full-time positions because of their time at NYU. And, if building lasting relationships with HR managers from the Big Six isn’t enough incentive, consider the valuable feedback you’re guaranteed to receive on your résumé, interview performance, and overall contribution to both magazine and book groups. There is nothing like nervously sliding one’s magazine designs across a table, only to be critiqued and commended by the Art Director of Esquire. Though our conversation was followed by a few residual heart palpitations, Mr. Curcurito‘s advice left a lasting impression and inspired me to radically reconsider my professional goals.

While every person’s experience at SPI is unique, most alumni (including me) would enthusiastically recommend the program to others. Ultimately, there’s nothing like learning about the industry in its epicenter locale of New York City, alongside other like-minded bibliophiles and aspiring publishing professionals.



  1. Tess Mize says:

    I agree wholeheartedly with this recommendation of SPI. I attended SPI the summer of 2010, and while subsequent life events have led me out of New York (clear across the country, in fact), SPI prepared me with ways to take what I learned there and turn it into a portable career. As a new military wife, portability is key in any career I choose to develop. While only a short amount of time in SPI was devoted to learning about freelance work, they showed that any writer or editor can make freelancing into as much (or as little) of a career as they choose. When I approached the program directors with my interest in learning more, I received wonderful personal attention and advice, tailored to my unique circumstances.
    Living in New York for a summer was an experience in itself. Another useful aspect of the program was learning that life in the city really isn’t for everyone. I had always dreamed of moving to New York and “making it big,” but living there for 6 weeks (long enough for the initial charm to fully wear off) helped me realize aspects of my personality that I had either not noticed previously–or that I had actively ignored, hoping they would change when I got to New York. Attending this program for 6 weeks allowed me to “sample” New York before I moved there on a whim. While I surely could have made the best of things had that been the case, I’m glad I had the opportunity to experience the city firsthand for longer than a short weekend visit.
    Overall, SPI is an amazing program, perfect for anyone with an interest in the publishing industry, regardless of anyone’s specific career goals. Not only do the program directors do a wonderful job of immersing the students in the processes of the industry, but they also take the time, if asked, to give each student personal attention and advice. I recommend the program to anyone I know with an interest in publishing. It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

  2. That’s such a wonderful story, Tess, about how you were able to find a way to make SPI fit your needs and lead to the professional future that you wanted for yourself. And I think it’s a very interesting point that freelancing can offer so much and yet “newer” professionals don’t think of it as often.

    I’m curious: what did you do to convince clients that you’re the right free-lancer to work with, even though you haven’t had years and years experience in-house? And what would you tell other young publishing professionals interested in freelancing? Thanks so much for reading and sharing your thoughts!

    Elisabeth Watson

  3. […] can read the full post here: SPI 2011 students attend a seminar on magazine […]

  4. Kayla says:

    I’ve known this is what I want to do for a while and I’m excited about it, but I have a question. As a gradutate to an undergraduate, what should I major in? I’m most interested in the design aspect of publishing, I’m proficient with indesign and I love it, but what exactly do you recommend? Like most, my univeristy does not offer a major in publishing, so what courses should I be taking, and would experiences should I be obtaing?

  5. Julia Nollen says:

    Hi, Kayla. Thanks for your comment. As far as advice goes, I can only really draw on my own college experience. Although I majored in English and Film studies, I ended up adding an Interactive Media minor later on in my college career. This minor involved taking classes in Art, Communications, Computer Science, and English, and really helped me gain a comprehensive knowledge of the latest software applications. I would check and see what similar minors your university offers. The key to standing out in this overcrowded industry is the willingness and ability to wear multiple hats. Having even a vague understanding of HTML, social media, and Photoshop will really set you apart.

    Another avenue I explored was gaining hands-on experience via internships. I spent a summer interning at a web design studio and a couple of semesters each at a niche publishing house and a freelance columnist’s home office. I only really learned how to use InDesign while interning, so I commend you for already having this knowledge. The last piece of advice I can give you is to apply your newly-learned skills in the real world. Make an e-portfolio of a few writing samples, designs, etc., and HR reps will truly be impressed. Good luck with everything, Kayla, and I hope this helped.

  6. Hello, Kayla! I thought I’d add my two cents because I come from a slightly different direction than Julia, but have had a rich experience in publishing nonetheless.

    It didn’t occur to me I might want to go into publishing until my junior year of college. I’d been working at a wonderful bookstore for several years, and then took on event planning for them and started working with authors–which was one of the most rewarding things I’d ever done. All said and done, I didn’t have time to do everything that a lot of people did, but I did quality things, and I think that counts for a lot, both for your future and your present.

    * I majored in the Philosophy of Religion, (not English.) I studied what I loved, and what I knew I could devote myself to doing well. I like to think it made me stand out from the crowd of English majors–it certainly instigated great conversations with interviewers.

    * I worked, as I said, in a bookstore. Publishers really appreciate that, more than you might guess..

    * I had only one internship, but it was incredible and changed my life. I was with a really small publisher few have ever heard of, working under a wonderfully supportive supervisor with a true talent for mentorship. He trusted me, and ended up hiring me for freelance work as time passed. In that small environment, I also got to see–and have a hand in–all “departments,” which I believe has served me better than a Big Name House on my resume alone ever could have.

    * and take Julia’s advice on the digital media stuff; I wish I’d done more of it. The trend I’m seeing now: high demand for basic film and video editing skills within traditional publishing.

    Thank you so much for your question, and we hope you’ll speak up again whenever you have a question or a piece of sound advice you think we could use!

    Editorially yours,

  7. christine says:

    Hi Julia,

    Great story, the SPI sounds amazing! I’m interested in applying but am curious about the placement rates for international students. Do you have any friends who were international students? Was it much harder for them to secure a job after school’s out?

    Thanks for your time!

    • Christine,

      Thanks so much for sharing your question! I’m sure Julia will have lots of great thoughts and tips of her own, but I did want to share a possible resource I know of. One of my good friends is an international student in the NYU M.S. in Publishing program. Naturally, the implications of the Masters program are a bit different, but she networks very closely with all the international publishing students at NYU, and has a lot of detailed thoughts about the job-prospects after completion. May I give her your email address (as it shows up for me on the back-end here) to my friend to contact you? I know she can put you in touch with lots of other folks, too.

      The very best of luck,
      Elisabeth (Editor-in-Chief)

      • Sylvia says:

        Hi Elisabeth,

        You can’t imagine how excited I am after seeing this comment. I am about to apply for NYU’s M.S. in Publising too, and I’ll face the same challenge after graduation – being an International student/employee. Honestly I knew I loved books, magazines, and publishing in general since childhood, but have taken so many detours growing up, just for earning a living. Now finally I am ready to go after my dream (and I know I will work so hard for it), but I’d really appreciate more tips regarding employment (to at least convince my parents that giving up a business consulting job isn’t that crazy). Could you please give my email address to your friend too? I can’t wait to apply for this program and even if I fail, I know I will try and try again until I get there.

        Additionally, bravo for this great website. You truly inspired me and made me believe I can do it.


        • Dear Sylvia,

          This enthusiastic message was one of the nicest ways I’ve ever started a Monday–thank you so much! The thrill of of diving into a new career after experiences in other areas must be terrifying–it is a terror I have never experienced–but making that choice with your skills and abilities is, I think, still one of the best choices you can make. And obviously talking to as many people as you can and finding as many perspectives as possible is the best way to go. I’ll email you my friend’s email, and wish you all the best. We hope you’ll keep reading and tell us what you like and want to read more of!


          • erika says:

            Hi Elizabeth,

            I am a student from Malta studying accounts and banking and i’ll be graduating with a BA degree in a year. I’d like to go into publishing and at the moment i’m looking at NYU summer publishing institute versus their MS program. I am worried about job opportunities, as you might know as an international student I’d be there on a visa and that worries me that employers might not want to higher someone like that. Could you please give my email address to your friend too? And do you think that since my degree is in accounting and banking going for the summer program would be enough? And since I’ll only have an undergrad degree, do you think that will work against me when if I apply to the summer program?

            Thank you for your time.

  8. christine says:

    Hi Elizabeth,

    Thanks! That would be great 🙂


  9. Kyle says:

    Hi Elizabeth,
    I am a junior in college right now hoping to break into the publishing industry. I have applied for a few internships for this summer, but I really do not know what my chances are. I have considered SPI, but I am concerned with the expenses. Is it difficult to get accepted? Do you have any tips for someone just starting out?

  10. […] vetted clue when you march into your first interview gives no small leg up. You might remember what a positive boost Julia, our Fall 2011 intern, said she got from NYU’s certificate program. It’s hard to gauge whether it’s more the connection-making (at Career Fairs or just in […]

  11. Marnise says:

    Hello Elizabeth and Julia,

    I have been interested in becoming a Literary Agent and attending SPI for sometime now. Now that I am in my senior year I have begun to worry if SPI is the right choice. I have read a lot about the program but nothing I have read tells me if it will help gear me towards eventually becoming an agent. I have had some remote internships but being a CT resident has kept me from interning at any Literary Agencies or Small Publishers. What is your advise on the matter. Do you know if SPI is a good stepping stone for becoming a Lit. Agent?


    • Thanks so much for this really smart question, Marnise. I’m actually getting in touch with our NYU-SPI contacts to find out what kind of feedback we can get–both from the organizers and from past participants who have gone on into agenting. We’ll get back to you as soon as we have some answers! I could make educated generalizations myself, but would rather get you something with a little more practical application.

      Glad you’re reading, and I’ll check back in soon.

      • Marnise says:

        Thanks so much for going the extra mile! I await your reply.


        • And here we have it, graciously submitted to us by Andrea Chambers, Executive Director of the NYU Center for Publishing. It’s especially helpful, I would say, for all its specifics.

          You are entirely correct that our goal is to give our students a very broad exposure to the publishing industry and all its components. We do indeed teach our students about literary agencies and their integral role in the publishing process. Each summer we have a panel of top agents who discuss issues such: as how to become an agent; a day in the life of an agent; the agent-editor relationship; how agents select/accept clients; the expanding role of the literary agency to include editing and marketing services and speaker bureaus; the financial aspects of the agency contract with a publisher and with a client; how children’s agents work, and much more. In addition, we invite literary agencies such as ICM, Writers House, Inkwell, Janklow and Nesbit and others to attend our annual Career Fair. A number of our students have indeed gone on to positions in literary agencies.

          Let us know if this helps!

  12. Sarah McCabe says:

    Hi Elisabeth and Julia,

    Thank you so much for the interesting article and responses. I am a senior English and journalism double major, and I’ve been interested in applying to SPI for years. I’ve had several internships in the publishing field, and I’m definitely smitten, but I would really love to talk to someone who went to NYU’s SPI and who now works in New York City. I’m most interested in editorial work, but I’m still open to a wide range of careers in the field. Do you happen to know anyone I could email and ask a few questions?


    • Liz Janetschek ljanetschek says:

      Hi Sarah,
      Thanks so much for your interest! You could always speak with Julia ([email protected]), who is now an editorial assistant at John Wiley & Sons in Hoboken, NJ. Another SPI graduate we know that you may want to speak to is Laura Laffoon, who is an editorial assistant at a Big Six publishing house and the author of an inspiring article published here on Publishing Trendsetter entitled, ‘6 Lessons Learned After My First Year in Publishing’. Her contact information is listed on her blog, Good luck to you!

  13. Philip says:

    So, out of all of the reviews and information I have found on this program, this article and the responses to it have been the most helpful. Thank you for do this.

    I do have a question, though. Elizabeth, you mentioned that you did an internship with a “really small publisher.” I recently have been looking into a few different opportunities and found a digital publisher, who asked me to come in for a meeting immediately after I asked about possible internships. Evidently, this publisher does not have a physical office, but runs out of the homes of the various 10-15 staff members.

    Here is my question, just offhand, does this sound like a good option? Or should I look for other opportunities?

    I appreciate any insight.

    • Firstly, it’s wonderful to hear that you’ve found this post so helpful out of all the buzz that’s out there. Thank you for letting us know–it really helps a lot.

      Secondly, your question opens a very important can of worms, and from an angle I hadn’t seen before. There are several known factors you and everyone else are dealing with: 1) Internships are an almost non-negotiable step between you and a job in publishing. 2) The digital publishing revolution has allowed for an explosion of new start-up companies, many doing new creative things you wouldn’t get a chance to see elsewhere. 3) This ease of set-up has allowed a lot more inexperienced people through the gate, many of whom are desperate to utilize interns (for understandable reasons), but who have very little to offer you in return.

      What’s a person to do? This is not the space for me to argue whether the internship-industrial-complex is good or bad, but I think we can all agree it’s ugly. This makes it all the more important to negotiate with what’s available to you. Here are some of the things you DO get to choose to work with:

      Not every internship can offer everything. Since most people these days do more than one, you probably want to articulate something different you need from each one. I did my internship at a “very small publisher”, yes, but the publisher to whom I reported had both a big-name past and decades of experience. His name helped get me in a few doors, and the meticulous hours of instruction and mentorship he lavished on me helped me stay inside. As we’ve mentioned before, some benefits of interning with a small press can be:
      **a lot of facetime with a seasoned professional
      **exposure to a wide range of departments
      **a more personalized experience
      **exposure to something new and exciting that no one else is doing

      Some benefits from an internship at a larger house (full disclosure: I never had such an internship)
      **Name recognition on your resume
      **Exposure to a wider range of mentors and approaches to to book business
      **A deeper immersion in one specialty
      **More room for possibly entering the company as an employee later on

      So when faced with this particular offer from a new digital publisher with no office, you should consider what blanks you want most to fill on your resume: Name-recognition? Cultivating a long-term mentorship relationship? Learning a new niche skill?

      I of course can’t advise your taking one course or another, but my own feeling is that you should always make sure that the specific shortcomings of an internship balance out with specific benefits that are what YOU need and want. If this is a “remote internship” offer, that holds the drawback of not offering exposure to unintentionally educational experiences and moments of mentorship that can only happen in person. But, as a digital publisher, they may be offering you exposure to something that really excites you and that no one else can offer.

      Also, if a place jumps quite so eagerly to hire (without a formalized application process) that doesn’t have to be a bad thing, and there’s no need for anyone to snob-out about having achieved a “highly selective” internship. The only thing to make sure of is that the company knows very specifically what IT is looking for, just as much as you do on your end. Knee-jerk intern hiring could lead to unhappiness if they gradually realize you’re not what they want, but they never even told you what it was they DID want.

      In his book Adapt, which I reviewed for Publishing Trends last month, Tim Harford shares the interesting statistic that the most vibrant and growing sectors of an industry are also the places where rates of failure are highest (be sure to check out the fascinating story of the printing and book industry in 15th c. Venice in the review). This is a time of brilliant new growth in the book industry, as you hear all the time, and it is therefore also a time of MANY duds. When going into any start-up, you don’t get to evaluate the place on anything it’s proven, but you can trace all the more carefully what it does offer: staff experience, innovativeness of approach, etc. And honestly, if you think a start-up does offer enough of what you need, you could see an internship as the perfect low-risk exposure to a high-risk environment.

      I hope this helps–I think I’m going to expand and make it a post for Monday, so do let me know what I’ve overlooked or maybe gotten backwards!

      With thanks for your readership,

  14. Cynthia Rodriguez says:

    I’m currently in the Army, based in Germany. I’m interested in a career in publishing. I’ve always loved to read and my current “job” in the military is in Human Resources, so I’m sure I could handle the work load as well as the clients.
    My question would be, how do I break in? I’m eager to join the field almost as soon as my military contract ends. If SPI is an amazing program, I’m interested in that as well. Any ideas? Advice?
    Thank you in advance.

  15. DT says:

    This is a great article and the comments have really been helpful,

    I am in the process of applying to graduate School for an M.A. in English Lit. I have been out of school for about two years ( Working in teaching and nonprofits) However, I want to go into publishing. I am planning to seek out internship and job opportunities that revolve around books during my graduate study.

    Would it be useful to plan to apply to NY’s summer program the summer after I finish my M.A.? So I would be in school from 2013-2015 and would want to apply for the summer of 2015.

    I guess I am asking what I can do now to increase my chances of getting into a summer publishing program and what I can do to up my chances of breaking into publishing.

  16. Amanda says:

    I’ve been accepted to SPI2013 and I cannot wait. Thank you everyone for your comments they really helped solidify my desire to enter the program/field. I’m excited to start June 3rd!


    • Congratulations, Amanda! So glad to hear you’ve decided what your next step will be, and we wish you the best of luck. We’d also love to hear how it goes and what exciting things it leads to next!

      • Hi Elizabeth,

        This is one of the most informative articles that I have found on NYU’s SPI course, while I was doing my research on the course. I have a similar question to one of the questions placed above. How the course is for international students and also how the placements are for them? Do international students find it hard to get internships and placements after completing the course?

        Hope to hear from you soon.


  17. Heather Sieve says:

    Hi Elizabeth,

    I, also, have recently been accepted into SPI 2013 and am excited to start. I have a friend in NY who owns a coffee shop, and he’s hoping that I’ll be able to help him out a bit on the weekends. Can you tell me more about the average time commitment for SPI? Do you estimate I’ll have much free time in the evenings or on the weekends?

  18. Staci says:

    I really like what you guys are up too. This kind of clever work and reporting!
    Keep up the amazing works guys I’ve included you guys to my own blogroll.

  19. Rosie says:

    Hi Elisabeth!

    I have some more hands-on questions about publishing experience and the application itself that I would appreciate getting some advice on from an SPI graduate! Currently I am halfway through my masters in English at the University of South Dakota and plan to apply for SPI this upcoming semester (for the summer 2016 term). I have been an intern for South Dakota Review, which runs through USD, and this upcoming semester I plan to help out with starting another journal here at USD as part of a semester-long workshop course. Is there anything else I can do during grad school to give me more experience in the publishing world?

    As far as the application itself is concerned, I am curious about the personal statement and what publishing institutes/workshops like SPI are looking for when they ask about books, magazines, and websites in which we are most interested. Are they curious about what draws us to those mediums? How we would improve or sell them? Does it matter what the specific book/magazine/website we talk about is? (i.e. Does it look more impressive to discuss academic books over romance novels, or “The New Yorker” over “People” magazine?)

    Finally, are there any other forums through which to reach SPI graduates or those connected with SPI/other publishing workshops for more advice over the application process? Since I don’t live in the northeast and will have to see about attending information sessions electronically, I would appreciate any and all other ways to connect with those who know the ins and outs of applying for these publishing workshops.

    Thank so much you for all your help!

3 Trackbacks

  1. By 2011 SPI Alumna Reflects « NYU Pub Posts on August 29, 2011 at 4:39 pm

    […] can read the full post here: SPI 2011 students attend a seminar on magazine […]

  2. […] vetted clue when you march into your first interview gives no small leg up. You might remember what a positive boost Julia, our Fall 2011 intern, said she got from NYU’s certificate program. It’s hard to gauge whether it’s more the connection-making (at Career Fairs or just in […]

  3. […] Why the NYU Summer Publishing Institute? […]

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