During the Christmas holidays, in between tearing out my hair over looming essay deadlines and furtively stalking my favourite publishing companies on the job boards, I was reminded why I initially applied for the UCL publishing MA.
The reminder came wrapped in tartan paper at the bottom of my stocking, the only item on my Christmas wish-list: a copy of S by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst (Canongate).
Sliding my nail along the seal to release Ship of Theseus, the book at the centre of S, from its cardboard case was just the first of many pleasures I experienced reading this tour-de-force of a novel. Holding the weighty hardback in my hands, picking at the tatty library sticker on the spine, opening it to find newspaper articles, postcards and even a napkin placed carefully between the pages, I resolved to give this book as a gift to the next person who asked me “What do publishers actually do?”.
The UCL course begins with a week-long module entitled "Publishing Contexts", which encompasses talks from an astounding number of guest speakers many of whom, this year, seemed to be saying the same thing: no-one knows anything about the future of publishing and, if they do, they’re lying.
Digitalisation is no longer the elephant in the room – in fact, it’s all people seem to talk about – but we still don’t fully understand how it will shape our industry’s future, we just know that it will. Some people believe digitalisation is the end of physical books and even of publishers themselves, but holding my copy of S I disagree. Despite the uncertainty, I think that this is a fantastic time to be entering the publishing industry.
When I first applied for the MA, a number of people warned me off, suggesting that I commit to a career with more of a future, but the one thing I’ve learnt so far on this course is that publishing definitely has a future – and it’s an exciting one.
The potential death of the paperback is sad, and I will mourn if it ever comes to that, but I can’t help thinking that digitalisation has actually made publishing come alive in the past few years. Beautifully crafted physical books like S prove just this: that we are being pushed. Pushed by competition from other forms of entertainment, pushed by readers demanding more for their money, pushed by commentators who state that publishing is “just a button”. And we are pushing back, showing off, demonstrating the value that we have by producing quality books, in both physical and digital forms, and refusing to lie down and play dead.
This industry is stubborn and it’s brilliant and it’s exciting. To me, S represents all of this and unwrapping it on Christmas morning, seeing the looks of intrigue on my family’s faces, I couldn’t wait to get back to UCL for another term to learn more about the industry that could produce such a creative, clever, wonderful experience.
Molly Slight is studying for an MA in publishing at UCL
This is the first in a series of monthly blogs written by students on publishing courses, coordinated by Samantha Rayner, director of the Centre for Publishing at UCL