July 12, 2022

SPI 2022: Come for the Books, Stay for the People

By Bridget Sjoberg

After spending two weeks delving into the world of digital media, New York University’s Summer Publishing Institute (SPI) transitioned into a focus on book publishing. The variety of speakers that we heard from over the past two weeks covered a wide range of careers within the book publishing industry, including editorial work, marketing, sales, subsidiary rights, contracts, finance, production, agenting, and more. Daniela Pierre-Bravo, author of upcoming book The Other, instructed us to “claim and amplify our power” and find a “creative, strategic way to tell people our narratives.” As we strengthened our knowledge and training in book publishing during the second half of the program, we began to turn this advice into our reality.   

To kick off our foray into book publishing, we heard from a top expert in the field— none other than Penguin Random House CEO Madeline McIntosh. McIntosh introduced us to current topics being discussed in the industry, including diversity, equity and inclusion, along with book discoverability, supply chain issues, and the future of work culture after COVID-19. She encouraged us to stay curious and motivated us to think in terms of solutions. Life disruptions impact everything, except the need for books. 

Mad Macs

Madeline McIntosh, CEO of Penguin Random House

We heard from industry experts who spoke about how they started out and grew in their careers, and what types of tasks they complete for their jobs on a day-to-day basis. A highlight from the book session was how much we were able to individually interact with the speakers. For example, after listening to a panel of editors, we were split into groups with each panelist to discuss and evaluate the manuscripts we had been assigned for our graded reader’s report. We also attended lunch sessions where we were able to ask questions and interact with recent SPI alumni, who are currently working within the book publishing industry. 

While taking in knowledge from speakers who have built careers in book publishing, we heard not only from Pierre-Bravo, but from Black Buck author Mateo Askaripour. He discussed the acquisition and editing process of his novel from an author’s perspective, potential adaptations for his book, and the writing process. He also generously provided us all with a free copy of Black Buck.

In addition to the incredible speakers and panelists that we listened to, a memorable part of the book publishing session was the industry visits. During the first week, we went in groups to three independent bookstores in New York City— Greenlight Books, Lit Bar, and Book Culture. As a participant of the Book Culture visit, I loved exploring Morningside Heights and hearing about how the store acquires titles and plans events.


Best-selling authors Mateo Askaripour (left) and Daneila Pierre-Bravo (right) signing books for SPI students

The following week, we visited publishing companies and literary agencies. In groups, we attended sessions at Little Brown, Dey Street Books, Atria Books, and a virtual visit at Writers House. I visited Dey Street and had a great time learning about the non-fiction titles they publish from “experts in their fields,” such as Dave Grohl, Amy Poehler, and others. 

Before wrapping up the book session (and SPI as a whole) with a career fair and graduation luncheon, we presented our final projects to an esteemed panel of judges, who all hold senior positions within book publishing. For this project, which we began on the first day of the Book Session and continued to work on throughout the course, each group was tasked with pitching an idea for a new imprint. This included editorial titles, marketing and sales plans, and design and branding ideas. Although “Parasol Press,” a children’s publisher, took home the prize for best imprint from the judges, “Gibbous Books,” “Pyxis Press,” and my team, “Scope Books,” were all acknowledged by the judges for their contributions in different areas. 

And with that, our four weeks at SPI sadly came to a close. Considering the close bonds we formed both within the program and with industry professionals, McIntosh’s advice to “come for the books, stay for the people” couldn’t have been more true. 

Bridget Sjoberg is an SPI 2022 graduate and English Literature MA student at NYU. Currently, she works for a social media marketing agency and is looking to transition into a marketing role within book publishing. Bridget lives in New York City and loves reading thriller, mystery, and suspense novels.

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