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October 25, 2022
By Jewel Blanchard, Senior English Major.
Pictured above: A building at Oxford College. Photo by Ashley Berry.
Many young adults have to learn to not just take advice from their professors, but also to learn from the wisdom and experiences of peers. This is the spot that Ashley Berry found herself in earlier this year. Ashley graduated from SOU in 2018 with a BA in English and an interest in publishing. After graduation she completed a course on proofreading from Knowadays. Her dream job was to work for one of the “Big Five” publishing houses (which include Penguin/Random House and Harper Collins), and she knew a fellow SOU graduate who already worked for one of them. Looking at her peer’s work history on LinkedIn one day, Ashley learned that this person’s “gateway into the industry” was the Columbia University Publishing Course. Ashley looked into the course, and learned that there were two ways to take it. The course was offered at Columbia University in New York, where it covers book and magazine publishing, as well as at Oxford University in England, where it exclusively focuses on book publishing. Because of her longtime interest in UK history and architecture, as well as a stronger interest in working with authors on books, Ashley chose to attend the Oxford course.
“Bonus that the course gets to take place in the university that authors like JRR Tolkien and Phillip Pullman attended!”
– Ashley Berry
Before Ashley could apply to the prestigious course, she had to arrange with her employer to take off four and a half weeks of work, and ensure she could afford to attend the course. When working through the application process, Ashley was faced with the age-old challenge of how to write about her passions in an engaging and unique way. She felt as though she couldn’t simply write that she has “loved reading since [she] was a little kid,” but had to be less cliche. After struggling with this, she was forced to “show and not tell” in her writing (another classic piece of scholarly advice). But Ashley found how to use this adage in a creative way in her admissions essay, writing instead about how she used to read so late into the night as a child that her parents had to take her nightlight away. Of course, there were other requirements to apply, including listing your recently-read books and subscriptions to books/magazines, submitting your resume, letters of recommendation, a two-page essay, and a short answer response. In spite of the myriad of requirements and assessments, Ashley was admitted!
Pictured Above: Ashley at Oxford.
The Columbia Publishing Course took place over a rigorous four weeks. It consisted of daily lectures given by publishing professionals who have recently worked on bestselling books. There was also a more hands-on portion of the course near the end, which gave the students the opportunity to practice part of the publishing process. The cohort of students was split up and sorted into groups to model a publishing house imprint. From there, each student created an idea for an original book, including the book’s description, marketing, publicity and rights plans, and a provisional cover.
Ashley reflects on this practical, collaborative portion of the course as her favorite memory. The time spent chatting with her group over coffee and advocating for each other’s book projects was rewarding. As far as extracurricular activities, Ashley mentioned how accessible the Oxford city sights and tours were from campus. And all of that isn’t even to mention the friendly campus cat, Walter, who would visit the publishing students at the Exeter College dorms, where they stayed.
Pictured Above: Ashley’s cohort of Columbia Publishing Course students.
Though this course was rigorous and demanded a lot from its students in such a short amount of time, Ashley says that her time at SOU, and specifically her English classes, thoroughly prepared her for it. For example, her time in college tutoring at the Writing Center and working at the Hannon Library front desk gave her tangential experience to inform her perspective on publishing and boost her resume. In particular, Ashley describes the literature classes she took at SOU, especially those taught by Dr. Alma Rosa Alvarez, which challenged her to think about books more deeply. This analytical approach gave her competency to “hone creative thinking skills in relation to stories,” something essential to a career in editing. Furthermore, specific classes like Young Adult Novel, Major Forces in Literature, and Studies in Autobiographical Writing gave her exposure to a range of literature from various genres, authors, and time periods that will benefit her career in publishing. Ashley also highlights the importance of competency in writing, mentioning the course Writing for Publication, as being helpful for “pursuing a career with words.” While all of these classes helped prepare Ashley for the Columbia Publishing Course and her career in general, she wishes she had taken classes like Multimedia Writing, Principles of English Grammar, and The History of Publishing, to further benefit her.
“With the focus on analyzing books and ideas, the [English] major helped me hone creative thinking skills in relation to stories, which can be very helpful in an editorial capacity.”
– Ashley Berry
Now, with her undergraduate degree behind her, and her recent completion of the prestigious Columbia Publishing Course, Ashley faces the future. As previously mentioned, her dream job is to work for one of the big five publishing houses, but she has more immediate goals. After a few years in the industry, Ashley has learned that it is difficult to get into an editorial position right away. That kind of ascension takes time; she advises students interested in becoming editors to keep an open mind for other entry-level positions, where you can work your way up. She recommends working with books, even freelance work, as a preliminary way to “immensely” assist in getting a job in publishing. She highlights interning as a way to gain experience, as internships will often “end in a job offer.”
Pictured Above: One of the many vistas from Oxford.
With all of these experiences behind her, Ashley is hoping to soon begin working for a small imprint in the Portland area to kickstart her career, then transition to a young adult novel-centered publishing team. She looks forward to testing the waters in different aspects of the publishing process before discovering which department she works best in, all before finding her home in a larger publishing house. With her rich experience and knowledge in multiple aspects of literature, writing and editing, and thanks to her time at SOU, Oxford, and beyond, the future looks bright for Ashley.
Interested in being featured on the English Program blog? Or know someone who is interested? Contact English Program blogger Jewel Blanchard at firstname.lastname@example.org .