A week ago, I was standing with fellow Whitireia graduate Sarah Yankelowitz at a Publishing Association of New Zealand networking drinks in Auckland. We were in our best dresses and only minutes away from heading to the 2017 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards, where our publishers, Victoria University Press and Penguin Random House, had books nominated across categories. I remember Sarah saying to me, ‘Who would’ve thought, two years ago, that we would be here now.’ Really, it was wild. By some stroke of fortune and a lot of hard work, our internships following the Whitireia publishing course had transformed into real editorial jobs.
I started the publishing course hoping I would learn practical skills to complement my degree in English Literature, and then I left with what I thought at the time were too many skills – surely there was no way I’d ever need to know all this? Every day on the course was packed with guest speakers, lessons and project work. The breadth and depth of course material was exhausting and exhilarating – and honestly, there is no one learnt a skill that I haven’t since used in my current job. Hearing from and being trained by experienced people from across the industry means the publishing course is always fresh, relevant and undiluted. On top of that, the hands-on, project-based aspect of the course, where you publish books under the Whitireia Publishing name, is such a vital part of the diploma. The crash-course lends you the chance to botch things up, grow from your mistakes, and graduate knowing more fully what to do next time.
Since completing the course, I’ve worked full-time as an assistant editor at Victoria University Press, which eventuated after I was paired with the press through the Whitireia end-of-year Creative New Zealand internship programme. The internship is another blessing of the course: over six months working for a publisher you learn the ropes, make mistakes, bounce back, and soon enough feel less of a gimp than when you started. In 2016, VUP published 36 books, more than in any previous year, and now in 2017, we’re doing 43 and counting. The output is visible in the Ockham Awards, which I attended last week, and where we won three of the four main categories and two of the best-first-book awards. It’s such an exciting time to be working at VUP, where we genuinely believe in the books we publish and their deservedness to be out in the world. Being in Auckland for the Writers Festival, around other booklovers and bookmakers, gave me a new appreciation for why we spend our day's nit-picking commas and mixed metaphors.
The best thing about working for a small publisher is that I get to do a little bit of everything. In any given week I’ll edit, typeset, do image work, read and assess manuscripts, reject submissions (not the most joyful task), proofread and keep my projects on track. Every so often while fact-checking an edit, I’ll find myself in the footnotes of a Wikipedia article on knitting techniques or two pages into a Google Image search for Weddell seals and will be reminded that holy hell, this is my job.
But you don’t have to end up working in publishing in order to publish something. Six months after completing the publishing course, I started a journal for emerging artists and writers, called Mimicry, and I know of other 2015 graduates who have started their own publishing ventures. The thing is, once you’ve published books under Whitireia Publishing, you realise what you’re capable of doing; it’s like you’ve learnt an instrument and now you get to play it, improving with each new song.