Recently, I have found that basically every aspect of my life is touched by the written word, especially books. As a student in George Washington University’s master in professional studies program in publishing, the significance of this is becoming ever more clear. Not only do I love to read for pleasure, and am a member of two book clubs, but also every job that really meant something to me has revolved around publishing. I am sure that these aspects are shared with many of my fellow classmates, and even my professors, which is why I am so glad to be a part of the GWU publishing program.
What I didn’t realize before starting the program is that the mystique of reading a book and wondering just how it came into being would remain. In elementary school, I skipped recess to stay inside and read J.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series long before the movies came out. My version of the Ents (talking trees) was way better than the movie could ever portray, and the songs that the elves sang were pretty much incomprehensible, but they were magical in that way. How the author came up with those stories, and why his publishing company took a chance with them, I still can’t say.
Another thing that has struck me is the great upheaval in technologies shaping how we read. To be honest, I love holding books and flipping through their pages. I even admit to putting one under my pillow during college to absorb more content while I slept. But seriously, why go through the arcane killing of trees, mixing their pulp with dangerous chemicals, and printing their pages with more chemical inks to be able to read? Does this seem silly to anyone else, when we can easily read books on a screen?
And then there’s the idea that publishing as a profession may be dying. I have the feeling that we are the only graduate program in the country wrestling with the idea that our metier could be on the verge of extinction. The widespread use of the Internet as a public publishing tool has definitely changed the way that we share and consume information. We may see publication of the last paper books in our lifetime, and as it stands one company has a monopoly on the sale of ebooks, but that only means that we must find a better way to publish.
Going back to the mystique of publishing — you really don’t know where the next Harry Potter series is going to come from, but I think you can learn how to recognize a good book, study how to successfully take that book to market, and change the world with new ideas. A lofty mission indeed, but well worth the effort.