Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Do You Need a Master's Degree to Get a Publishing Job?

This question has come up more than once in my conversations with career seekers. I’m sure my answer confused them even further: “No…and yes.”

The truth is that you do not need a master’s degree to get your first job in publishing. Only a handful of people I know in the business have them. A random sampling of entry-level editorial jobs confirms this: Most specify a BA (usually in English) as the educational qualification. As further proof, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook also lists a bachelor’s degree as the required education for writers and editors.

However, in general, the minimum educational level for many jobs is creeping up. My parents didn’t have college degrees (until my mom went back recently and got hers). Now my generation considers a bachelor’s degree as the key to a professional career. But maybe for the millennial generation, a master’s will become de rigueur?

And here’s something else that will surprise you: If I got a master’s degree, it wouldn’t be in English. I never thought I’d hear myself say this, but an MBA would be more appropriate. Why? As you progress in your publishing career, you’ll become more aware of the bigger picture, which is this: Publishing is a business. To attain higher roles, you need to have a grasp of budgeting, forecasting, contract negotiation, sales, marketing, general economics, and other such skill areas.

And here’s a wonderful option for people in New York: NYU has a Master of Science in Publishing degree. The description of this program is very informative.

So, the bottom line? Go ahead and get your first job in publishing after you finish your BA (unless, of course, your parents are paying; in that case, go ahead and get the master’s degree). Then if you decide you want it, you can earn your master’s while you work. Some employers will even pay for it.

16 comments:

Leeann said...

I have a Master's degree in Journalism and it hasn't helped me get a job one bit! I was working at Wiley while I took classes, and no one there seemed to care once I got it. My Master's hasn't helped me get any job in publishing, unfortunately. It's all about experience; at least that's what I've found.

Anonymous said...

The publishing business is changing rapidly. Some magazines are moving to an online only format - such as PC Magazine. Many newspapers are being bought and sold and are reducing their editorial staff. Some papers are not laying off their editorial staff, but are having major buyouts and early retirements for the more established reporters (such as at the Star-Ledger in NJ).

armywife19k said...

Really? This post might just have answered a question I've been struggling with for months--ever since I earned my BA in English and have been researching grad programs that focus on publishing and editing, like the one at NYU mentioned above.

In your opinion, am I better off going to work for a publisher NOW and working my way up through levels of experience than I would be if earned, say, an MA in Publishing and Writing at Emerson College in Boston?? I really appreciate any insider advice!

Lori Cates Hand said...

Hi! I would say, yes, you are better off getting the job in publishing first--IF you can get one. If not (since the job market is so tight now), continuing on for the MA is also an OK option. But I would still say actual publishing experience will trump a graduate degree.

Gina Choe said...

@armywife19k

I earned my MA in Writing & Publishing at Emerson College and am now working at a children's book publisher in the sales/marketing department. The MA has certainly opened many doors for me than when I first graduated from college. I think the strength of the program are the numerous contacts you can make, whether with your fellow publishing students or your professors. It's also helped me get interviews with companies that never gave me the time of day. BUT the degree comes at a huge cost since the tuition is pretty high and the cost of living is not that great, especially with a publishing salary.

I do have to agree with Lori in trying to work in publishing before pursuing a masters in publishing. Since publishing is a field that relies on the apprenticeship process, the likelihood of your starting out in a position higher than an assistant in any department is fairly low. If possible, try to intern at a company where you want to work. I found my internships were far more useful, in future job interviews and experience-wise, than were the classes. I know I am contradicting myself a little....
One thing that I've been noticing that might give you an edge is if you have any experience with web design/social media/digital production. Since publishing is going through a huge transition, those are highly valuable skills/assets that not everyone has.
Hope this helped, and best of luck!

Kristan said...

What degree/s do you recommend having to acquire that first job in publishing?(if you CAN get the job)
Because I have a B.S. in business administration with a concentration in marketing but have only now realized that Publishing may be the field that my dream career lies in. I am considering going abroad to get my masters and would like advice from someone who's gotten the job I want(or something like it). Thank you!!

Lori Cates Hand said...

Hi Kristan!

It depends on what job you are looking at in publishing. If you might be interested in working in marketing within publishing (publicist, designer, social media specialist, product manager, etc.), you might not need additional education. If you could get an internship in publishing, it might be all you'd need to get your foot in the door. If you want to be an editor, though, it might help to have some extra classes in English, journalism, and editing. There are also a few interesting Publishing MBAs. Let me know if you need more ideas.

Amanda said...

I have a B.A. in English and was able to edit my university's art & lit. magazine for 2 years, but all I can get right now are Admin. jobs. What am I doing wrong?

I've had an internship with a "po-dunk" magazine and a non-profit, but no one will give me the time of day. I acutally was considering moving to Boston to go to Emerson since there's nothing in the Carolinas or really online. Any advice? Thanks.

Lori Cates Hand said...

Hi Amanda,

Keep in mind that the economy is still affecting job openings, so it's probably not what you're doing wrong. The key would be to get an admin job at a publisher and work your way up.

Also, you have the same problem we have here in Indiana: limited publishing opportunities. Moving north to Boston or NYC would help your chances--and you might not have to get a degree from Emerson to get your foot in the door. On the other hand, the networking that such a program offers could be invaluable.

Hope that helps. Let me know if you have anything else you want to bounce off of me. :)

Anonymous said...

I am currently going to Fairleigh Dickinson University to major in Creative Writing. I've always wanted to be a book editor and would love to work in a publishing company. I am thinking about double majoring, but I don't know which one to choose. I also want to get a master's degree, but don't know what to choose for that either. Any suggestions?

Anonymous said...

I have decided that I would like to get a Masters in Publishing, and I have recently been accepted into that program at both NYU and Pace U (both in Manhattan). NYU is the top name, but Pace U is significantly less expensive. As far as getting a job goes, will it matter which school I get the degree from?

shenanyginz said...

Hi all! All of your opinions and advice has been super enlightening!

@Gina Choe

Its funny you mention Emerson's publishing program it was the first graduate program I looked at. I asked my cw professor what she thought about publishing programs in general and she was concerned about how professionally limiting they were. But both Emerson's publishing and MFA programs are incredibly attractive they've moved to the top of my list of graduate programs though I'm still confused about which program is more effective. My dream is do some editorial work for either a publishing house or a literary magazine but choosing the safest program seems to be a more daunting task than getting there. Since graduation (BA in English at GWU) I've interned with a Scholastic magazine group for some months and was happy to see a lot of young faces and although people have told me the publishing industry is a "pay your dues" industry would a publishing program expedite the process?
Thoughts?

ejambu said...

Hi guys, I'll be graduating soon with a bachelor's in English literature and a bachelor's in mass communication-journalism. I've always planned on going to grad school for English, as I really want to work in publishing--particularly for a academic journal or indie press. I really love studying literary criticism and theory. I'm currently the assistant editor of LSU's undergrad literary journal and an editorial assistant at a local magazine. I've found that I really enjoy magazine work as well and I am kind of confused on what career path to take. Either way, I'm still planning on getting my masters. Does this seem like a good idea? I was looking at the Masters in English with a concentration in publishing from Portland State University (One of the few schools I've found with an english/publishing combo), the NYU program mentioned in the post, and a couple of other MA English programs. Any advice?

Lori Cates Hand said...

If you want to work for an academic journal, a master's is almost essential (if not a Ph.D., too). It couldn't hurt in a magazine career, either, so I think you should go for it. You can keep trying different internships to help you decide which you like better. Just be aware that the magazine industry is in flux just like newspapers and books. An academic journal is going to be a more stable path, I think. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Hi! I don't know if people are still looking at this thread, but I have an urgent dilemma: I recently got accepted to two different grad programs for writing and publishing: Emerson College in Boston and DePaul University in Chicago. I need to decide by the end of this weekend WHICH to go to. Would it be crazy if I didn't go to Emerson, since I evetually want to work in publishing. I didn't receive any scholarships and tuition is about $43,000 total. Is it worth it? DePaul is significantly cheaper, but doesn't offer anywhere near as current and pratical skills as Emerson. Help!

Lori Cates Hand said...

Hi! I saw your urgent message and had to jump back on and offer my advice. I honestly haven't looked at either of the programs to see whether DePaul's is anywhere close to Emerson's. But from a practical standpoint, it does not make sense to go that deeply in debt in this field. It would be many years before you could pay it back, and the debt would be a hindrance in your life. Look closer at DePaul. There are plenty of publishing opportunities in Chicago. If DePaul can help you make connections with those publishers, then it is a good choice. Have you also looked at University of Chicago?