As the new cohort of Kingston University MA Publishing students come up for air during ‘enhancement week’, we asked 2010/11 student Neha Matkar to reflect on her own learning over the past year. In this insightful guest post, Neha shares her personal experiences – and what she wished she’d known at the outset.
One of the best things about the Kingston MA is the evening Masterclass sessions, which run in the first semester. I found the presentations interesting, but what really fascinated me was looking at the personalities of the guest speakers. Without exception, they all came across as bright, funny and intelligent, with a real passion for what they do. However, because it wasn’t immediately obvious which chapters of our set book (Giles Clark and Angus Phillips’ Inside Book Publishing) accompanied them, I didn’t do any reading at first. I asked around and found some of the other students were not reading either – so I fell into the trap of convincing myself I was not responsible for my own actions and went along with the crowd.
Midway through the course I asked our lecturer about the reading. Armed with clearly defined instructions, I then began consulting Inside Book Publishing and found it accessible and full of useful information for all my other module assignments. I was fascinated by facts like ‘around a third of adults do not buy a book at all’, or that the top four publishing houses in the country have 50% market share. This encouraged me to learn more. I read Diana Athill’s Stet, which is interesting, not just in terms of how the industry once operated, but also in terms of how women were treated at the time. I also read The Life and Times of Allen Lane by Jeremy Lewis, which is a brilliant portrait of an amazing man. It inspired me to write an essay on Penguin for my Evolution of Publishing module assignment.
I started watching The Book Show on Sky Arts with Mariella Frostrup, which is really good on industry developments. I also listened to the Open Book podcast. They do a book review show every month with James Naughtie. I listened to the programme about Woman at Point Zero by Nawal El Saadawi, which is a fascinating account of a woman on death row in Egypt. The book is published by Zed Books and was the reason I chose to apply for a placement with the organisation, as I really liked their list and company values.
I learned about the Richard and Judy Book Club, which I (snobbishly) assumed was a silly gimmick, and I guessed that publishers paid to get their books featured. But when I looked into it, I realised that I had read a few of the titles before and enjoyed them. I came to appreciate that the club made reading accessible for a large market of people who might never choose to read otherwise. It also increased use of local libraries, which is a great thing.
Our team project assignment in the first semester was another surprise. I was startled not to immediately engage with the brief. I assumed that changing career to one I really wanted would mean that I would always be happy and fulfilled, like the Masterclass speakers seemed to be. I now see how naive and unrealistic I was. The key is to make sure that I have the professionalism to make ideas work, even if I don’t always totally agree with them. Looking back I have learned not to just go along with what everyone else is doing, but to speak up when I have concerns, and to trust my opinions and instincts. I achieved so much when I took responsibility for my own learning, and pushing myself to do the team project presentation really boosted my confidence.
One thing that I wish I’d been prepared for before starting this course is the perseverance and tenacity required to make it in the publishing industry. The number of people who have told us to ‘keep trying’ and to be prepared for how little publishing jobs pay, coupled with horror stories of e-books spelling the end for print publishing, can make you feel disheartened. But, as we have seen with the brilliant Masterclass speakers and previous students, it is possible – if you keep at it and always keep in mind what you are working towards. Being involved in the dissemination of new and exciting ideas and endless entertainment on such a huge scale is definitely worth the hard work.
Neha Matkar wrote this post just after delivering the final, practical, component of her MA Publishing, a suite of case studies promoting and supporting the Six Book Challenge on behalf of The Reading Agency. After graduating from Kingston Neha held Events and Communications roles at the Society of Authors. She now works as a Communications Assistant for The Culture Capital Exchange.
[Post updated to remove broken links and provide Neha’s post-graduation info, 2015]