June 26, 2023

The Publishing Pipeline: 4 Weeks in the City That Never Sleeps

By Ryan Byrnes

As this year’s batch of Summer Publishing Institute students filed into the classroom at the NYU School of Professional Studies, chatter ran rapidly. “I can’t believe this is actually happening,” one student grinned to her neighbor. After many months of applying and planning, they finally sat across from the publishing legends who produced their favorite books. Undergraduates, budding professionals, and mid-career changeovers who have called many states and countries home, were now gathered in a single room in midtown. The Summer Publishing Institute had begun.

The first two weeks of the program consisted of the Book Publishing Session. In a sleek building neighboring the New York Public Library, professionals from all levels of the publishing industry, from presidents and publishers, to agents and assistants, from HarperCollins and Penguin Random House, to Hachette and Catapult, delivered informative panels and lectures, elucidating every aspect of the publishing process, from acquisition rights to cover design.


On Wednesday, June 7th, two veteran book cover designers, James Iacobelli (Simon & Schuster) and Anne Twomey (Macmillan/Celadon), visited the program to walk students through the design process. They described the sometimes challenging process of winning approval from all stakeholders, and the many iterations a single book cover may go through before a successful design is accepted.  They used Kashana Cauley’s 2023 novel The Survivalists as a specific example.

“If you have a cover you don’t like, don’t show it to the team because they will vote for that,” they joked. 

On Friday, author and Instagram personality Chrissy King discussed The Body Liberation Project, her new title from Tiny Reparations Books, which “unpacks societal repression of bodies that are ‘different’ and offers a solution in body liberation.” Chrissy’s editor Jill Schwartzman also chimed in, providing valuable insight on the special relationship between an author and an editor. Chrissy even provided everyone with signed copies of her book! 

The Book Publishing Session culminated with the most anticipated event—the publishing house site visits. Students had the option to visit HarperCollins’ Dey Street imprint, Hachette’s Little, Brown Books for Young Readers imprint, or Writers House Literary Agency. One student who visited Little, Brown said, “We learned about the life cycle of a book from the author and agent queries to the publication date.” Visitors to Dey Street heard from Publisher Carrie Thornton about building an imprint centered on cultural touchpoints.

While some students visited Little, Brown, and HarperCollins, another dozen rode the subway downtown to visit Writers House, a top literary agency  representing authors such as  Tom Clancy, Nora Roberts, and Amanda Gorman. The office was located in a high-rise which overlooked Wall Street and the historic Trinity Church. Upon entering, the students cheerfully snapped selfies with the posters. “They made that book?” the students said, incredulous, staring at the posters on the wall of their most successful titles like Twilight and Eragon.


SPI Students presenting their Final Projects for the Book Session

Our first contact at Writers House, Senior Agent Allie Levick (a graduate of the NYU MS in Publishing program), spoke enthusiastically about how she started at Writers House as an intern and worked her way up to the position of senior agent. She emphasized the many highs and lows of her job, particularly her first book deal and what she looks for in a novel. Simon Lipskar, president of the agency, took a more serious tone, emphasizing the often-unrecognized importance of economics in publishing. An agent has to understand economic incentives, he explained. An author’s interest is to maximize sales of their current book, while a publisher’s interest is to build a reliable backlist. Understanding this difference in incentives is key to the job of a literary agent.

By the end of the second week, spirits were high. Word spread that some students already scored job interviews, while others discovered a new passions and curiosities. They had figured out the subway stops, and the smoke from the Canadian wildfires had cleared, giving way to a bright sun. For the first time, the students saw their goals of working in publishing within reach.

Ryan Byrnes is currently enrolled in the NYU Summer Publishing Institute 2023 class. He is a graduate of Iowa State University and has worked at several independent publishers. His novel Royal Beauty Bright (2019) is available on Amazon, and his upcoming novel My Dear Antonio, is set to release in 2024. More information can be found on his website: ryanbyrneswrites.com

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