dreaming the hardest

“I used to think as I looked out on the Hollywood night — there must be thousands of girls sitting alone like me, dreaming of becoming a movie star. But I’m not going to worry about them. I’m dreaming the hardest.”
― Marilyn Monroe

Goals–lofty goals–are a funny kind of encouragement. They elevate us and drive us to keep on. Life’s daily disappointments are nothing in the shadow of our dreams. Even if we began chasing them in doubt, after years of working with them in mind, we dare to believe we deserve to fulfill them.

Aspiration is constructive escapism.

When I started high school, I didn’t think of myself as particularly intelligent or ambitious. I hadn’t learned to value those things yet. I made mostly As, a few Bs (no hablo español), one C (DARN YOU CHEMISTRY!). I spent class flirting and writing notes, and I never opened a text book for independent study.

I didn’t get focused until the start of junior year (when everyone starts buzzing about college). My parents always told me that I could be anything and do anything I put my mind to. I took that literally. I may not have been as inherently intelligent as someone else, but I could out work anybody.

I kept my goals written down, taped to my mirror, and every morning I saw this:

1. Lose 15 pounds
2. 4.0 GPA
3. Oxford
4. Book Editor
5. Ranch

The longer and harder I focused on them and made decisions around them, the more those five points came to define me. I became a model (read: obsessive) student, I loved literature, and I dreamed of editing books in a sunny office in a ranch overlooking a lake. Plus there would be ponies. And puppies.

In college, the long term vision made space for  some more immediate plans, and up they went on the white board above my desk:

1. Lose 15 pounds (don’t even think about adding the freshman you-know-what!)
2. 4.0 GPA
3. summa cum laude
4. Honors Thesis
5. Columbia Publishing Institute
5. Oxford
6. Book Editor at Random House
7. Ranch
8. Publisher at own publishing house

…They seem a tad pretentious now that I’m throwing them out there for the world to see.

Snobby or not, I didn’t always hit the mark. But I tried. I tried like nobody’s business.

[ Except for #1…which never seems to fall from the list (I like ice cream. SorryI’mnotsorry). ]

And when one tier of goal wasn’t enough motivation to keep my nose to the grind, the next one usually was.

Example: It’s midnight, I’m exhausted, I have an exam in the morning and at least 4 hours of studying to do before I’m ready for it. If I call it a night, how bad would it be? Would it drop my grade? If it did, would I lose my 4.0? If that happened, would I lose my chance to go to Oxford? Would I then never get the chance to be a world renowned book editor? Would I be homeless and only admire beautiful ranches as I wandered aimless and barefoot along the dusty, rocky path–the path of the failure, the path of the useless? Would I die forgotten and alone but for the ghost of my unfulfilled potential?

You see how these things can escalate.

After I graduated from undergrad, my goals became:

1. Lose 15 pounds (really, girl, get your act to together.)
2. Columbia Publishing Institute
3. Internship at a Big 5 publisher
4. Editorial Assistant at Big 5 publisher
5. Book Editor at Big 5 publisher
6. Oxford
7. Ranch
8. Publisher at own house

If you’ve been keeping up with the Niki Chronicles, you know some of those things didn’t happen for me. But I also haven’t failed.

No, I didn’t go to Columbia, but I did go to NYU and DU. I didn’t get an internship with a Big 5 publisher, but that was because I realized New York wasn’t for me and I got two publishing internships in Atlanta. I’m not an Editorial Assistant, and I work for an indie house, but I’m learning a lot and I get to live in a city I really like in a giant apartment (compared to my NYC options) that’s all my own.

But all that meant deviation from the plan. And for a gal who’s had plans her whole life, it’s a little scary being out here without a road map.

So today, I’m writing my goals down again. I have two lists this time. One for this year with a focus on living in the present (and ACTUALLY doing #1), and one for long term goals.

goalsThis year:
1. Lose 15 pounds (but for real this time)
2. Learn to cook 5 basic vegetarian dishes
3. Learn to boulder
4. Get into running, yoga & tennis
5. Take on some editorial duties at work
6. Edit two books via Knippenberg Literary
7. Plan grad school
8. Sell one painting
9. Learn the basics of graphic design
10. Decorate my apartment

Long term:
1. Keep off 15 pounds (because you totally kicked it to the curb back in ’14. way to go!)
2. Run a half marathon
3. Successfully edit 2-3 books a year for Knippenberg Literary
4. MBA…from somewhere
5. PhD in English from Oxford
6. Book Editor (at large) for Knopf
7. Publisher at own house

There you have it!

Am I 100% content? Nope. That’s just a side effect of being goal-oriented. I will always want something bigger and better than where I am, but I’m learning to balance that with enjoying the present. I’m not content, but I am happy.

So, how about you? What are you working for?

dreaming the hardest

winners get wine

“The true New Yorker secretly believes that people living anywhere else have to be, in some sense, kidding.”
― John Updike

You’ll have to forgive the wait. Life here in ATL has been a little nutty. In fact, the first three weeks were nothing but nuts. Peanut butter sandwiches, actually. Because UN-FUN FACT, publishing interns DON’T GET PAID.

Before we get to the review, and because I’m sure you’re interested, here’s a taste of my current social condition:

  • I have officially dubbed my place of residence “Witch Mountain” for a myriad of reasons that are equal parts amusing and horrifying.
  • I have a part time job to support my eating habit (which is to say: I do it approximately 3 times a day, and thankfully, it no longer consists solely of PB on bread) that requires me to be up at 3 am on the weekends.
  • I may have unknowingly replaced my blood with sugar water. In the last two months, I’ve been bitten by at least a gajillion mosquitoes. I seriously look like a leper.
  • I’ve watched Zoolander, Taladega Nights, Step Brothers, and every episode of How I Met Your Mother (my cultural education continues…) and have thereby come to a disturbing realization: Every clever thing to come out of anyone’s mouth is a quote. Really, though. Think about it.
  • I am turning 23 on Tuesday and I haven’t even been asked to star in a movie yet. My clock is ticking, and there’s only so much makeup can do. (Psh. Yeah right. We all saw Benjamin Button.) (P.S. If you remember my Merely Players post about my pretend acting ambitions and my girl crush on Keira Knightley, here is the 35 second film that I’m sure you’ve just been dyyyyyying to see. Don’t blink or you’ll literally miss it.)
  • Also, other happy things, like loving my internships and quickly approaching the two year anniversary of dating my super studly boyfriend (who’s rocking law school) and being stoked for seeing the colors change in the South, but those aren’t nearly as fun to write about.

On to the important stuff. At long last, my review of the New York University Summer Publishing Institute.

NYU Location:

NYU, in case you don’t know, is not a campus in the traditional isolated, brick and ivy, Greek Row, football stadium, all-you-can-eat-waffles-at-2-am-dining-hall sense of the word. The university’s buildings and residence halls are scattered throughout Manhattan.

Now, some people love NYC. Some people hate it. I have no doubt that the following description will betray my feelings, but I will say this: if you’ve ever considered it (especially if you want to work in publishing), you should absolutely try living in New York once. Perhaps at a time when you still find living in a studio with four other people and no money exhilarating.

If you like nature, sunshine, cleanliness, or personal space, however, New York will feel a tad like torture.

Things to consider:

  1. You see very little sky due to that whole skyscraper thing, so every day looks like Eeyore tried his hand at impressionistic painting. By that I mean it’s gray. Soul-suckingly gray.
  2. You are constantly surrounded by people, and they are often touching you against your will.
  3. If you ever catch a breath of fresh air in New York, savor it. Put it in a mason jar, tie a ribbon around it, take a picture and immortalize it on Pinterest. More often than not, pee will be the most pleasant scent you smell all day.
  4. I am a Florida Girl, so believe me when I say, New York is HOT is the summer. It also rains. A lot.
  5. There is a lot of walking, which I enjoyed, and using public transportation can be an adventure unto itself. I made lots of pals on the subway, I found out what happens when you accidentally stay on the train too long (yes, “the end of the line” is an appropriately ominous name for it), and I even got to see some male pole dancers on the ride back from Brooklyn.

The NYU Publishing Institute was held in the historic Woolworth Building this year, and we were housed in Gramercy Green Residence Hall, which made for a 30 – 40 minute commute to and from class on the subway. Wear flip flops, bring your heels in your bags.

Gramercy has large suite-style dorm rooms—two rooms, two baths, two people to a room, and a shared kitchen and dining area (no living room). The rooms are reasonably spacious and furnished with the standard dorm stuff (dresser, closet, bed, desk, and chair). It was much better than I expected. I even had a view of the Empire State Building from my window. But if you choose SPI, LIVE IN THE DORM. You have late nights, group projects, and networking with your peers. Commuting would be painfully inconvenient. Also, we had the option to stay in the dorms for a month after the program while we job searched–this is a seriously great opportunity. If you plan to stay in NY, you should do this. Finding housing in NY is not the most pleasant experience, from what I’ve heard.

Woolworth is a gorgeous building…in all the places you never see. This isn’t a regular college lecture hall, so get that picture out of your head. It’s a business building, and SPI meets in a ballroom. You sit in a large room with no windows in those little chairs with the flip up desk tops, so it’s very difficult to see the lecturer unless you’re a giant or in the first few rows.

You basically go to class in an icy dungeon.

Price Tag:

The sticker price changes from year to year, and can be found on the NYU SPI website. The cost of living in the city, however, is absurdly high. Keep in mind that you will have to either pack your lunch or eat out every day, and eating out will run you about $10 per meal. As for grocery shopping, add a dollar or two to every individual item in your grocery cart—find yourself a Trader Joe’s ASAP.

If you haven’t done all the touristy New York stuff, you should! I didn’t because I’ve been there a few times, but that’s what makes the experience magical. Seriously. Have you seen An Affair to Remember? If you’ve checked all the boxes on your NYC bucket list, then you’ll probably find yourself out at the local bars. Listen kittens, if there was ever a time to bat those lashes and twirl that hair to get free stuff, going out in Manhattan is that time. Dudes, you might just want to give up on finding a classy dame at a bar because, believe me, you can’t afford the cocktail she’s sipping.

What’s worse is how incredibly GREAT everyone dresses. You’ll want to chuck those department store pumps in the Hudson and beg Kate Spade and Tory Burch to forgive you for daring to mar their great city.

So, things you might have to drop green for: pricey food, pricey alcohol, touristy outings, a 30 day MetroCard, two 7 day MetroCards, cab fare, and a Burberry coat.

Fine. You can obviously avoid a lot of that spending, but my point is that in Manhattan you will truly feel like a poor person, and still feel the pressure to spend money and “experience New York.” That’s totally cool if you are naturally frugal or can afford it, just know that’s what you’re in for–especially if you plan to stay in the city.

NYU Format/Lectures:

The NYU lecturers were impressive, to say the least. If you are at all interested in magazine publishing, NYU is the only choice. SPI is split into two separate three week sessions. Three weeks of magazines and three of books. The vast majority of students are there for the books, so if you think you’re the only kid on the playground who wants to be an acquisitions editor when she grows up, consider your optimistic bubble burst (which, yes, is actually the past tense of burst. Weird right?).

In both the book and magazine sessions, you will attend lectures from about 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. The lectures are taught by some incredible industry leaders.

Some of the highlights of the 2013 magazine session included: Brandon Holley, EIC of Lucky, Pilar Guzman, EIC of Martha Stewart Living, Michael Clinton, President of Hearst, Chris Guilfoyle, Publisher of Everyday with Rachael Ray, Nathalie Kirsheh, Design Director of Details, Lorin Stein, Editor of The Paris Review, Declan Moore, EVP of National Geographic Publishing, and David Granger, EIC of Esquire.

Impressed? So were we. When we weren’t hearing from really attractive, annoyingly young and well-dressed people about 360-degree brand engagement, the importance of social media, and the finer points of publicity, marketing, fact checking, apps, cover design, finance, and advertising, we were working in groups on our magazine brand launch project (more on this later).

For the book section, we heard from a panel of literary agents, cover designers, publicists, marketing people, metadata wizards, sales and contracts and sub rights folks, children’s books editors, copy editors, and more. It was all excellent information, but it was often too generic and skipped the fundamentals.

When we weren’t working on our projects, we had a few other cool things going on:

  • Brown Bag Lunches: Don’t let the name fool you, you still have to bring your own lunch. Yes, I’m bitter about it. You meet with an SPI grad who is working in the industry to chat about their post-SPI experience, job hunting, and their current job. It’s a good networking opportunity, and a great chance to hear what the job market is really like.
  • Editing Workshops: Part of your pre-program homework is editing the rough draft of a real magazine article. One evening during the magazine session, you’ll meet with the editor who bought and edited the article to talk about the piece, the editorial process, their job, and working with writers. During the book session, you will read a chapter or two of an unedited manuscript and then you’ll meet with the editor who acquired the full book. I met Jennifer Brehl who was Ray Bradbury’s editor and is currently Neil Gaimon’s. I got to read the first few chapters of The Curiosity, which I am oh-so-excited to get to finish.
  • Photoshop, InDesign, and HTML Workshops: On certain weekends, there are optional courses in the aforementioned programs. They offer intro and advanced versions of the classes. It’s tempting to skip because you are beyond exhausted by the weekend, but they’re totally worth it and a great resume builder.
  • Networking Events: The whole program is one gigantic networking event, but there are also a few evening events with the potential to make contacts (more later).
  • Field Trips: Who doesn’t love a good field trip? You get the chance to pay a visit to an actual magazine and book publishing house. So fancy, right? For the magazine tour, we got to choose from New York Magazine, Women’s Health, Bon Appetit, GQ, O, and the Daily Beast/Newsweek. For the book pub tour, we got to choose from HarperCollins, Macmillan, Open Road, Bloomsbury, and Perseus. We also went to see an indie book store (I went to Books of Wonder) and we met with two of the book buyers from B&N (They gave us bagels. Best day ever.).

Networking:

Ah, networking.

For those of you who have not yet had the pleasure of formally meeting the slinky creature that is networking, consider this your introduction.

What is networking? Basically, it’s faking your way through a conversation with a stranger and pretending that you don’t want her job and Tory Burch flats.

I’m afraid it’s just important as your prestigious degrees and awards and experience. If SPI taught me anything, it was “of my own insignificance,” as a certain Mr. Bennett would say. Everyone has studied abroad, everyone made at least a 3.5 GPA, everyone wrote an undergraduate thesis, and a bunch of your peers already went to grad school or had other careers. And you’re all competing for, like, seven jobs.

What gets your resume pulled out of the three foot tall stack of wanna-be editorial assistants? Someone who knows someone putting in a good word for you.

NYU’s career services professionals did an excellent job of preparing us for networking. We got a step-by-step guide from making initial contact through the first few emails and coffee dates. Plus, they forced us to put it into action. We went home and shot off emails, and then we went to a fancy media talk/cocktail hour where we met SPI grads and people like Joanna Coles, EIC of Cosmo and Chris Hughes, Facebook founder and EIC of The New Republic.

We also had the opportunity to meet with several HR reps from the Big 5 for resume reviews, and every speaker stuck around to answer questions and network.

The information and opportunity to practice were both excellent. That being said, I can’t say I got much out of the actual networking. Everyone who came to speak was just too important to be of much help to little ol’ me.

The main trouble with these institutes is that there is a fundamental disconnect between the speakers and students. We all want a job. All the speakers have jobs, and impressive ones at that, but they don’t necessarily have an extra hundred to spare. (Though we did kind of hope that if we went on the Oprah tour, we’d all get hired. Employment seems to be the only thing she doesn’t hand out willy-nilly.) That isn’t universally true, of course—I know quite a few people who’ve gotten jobs from connections they made at NYU. As with anything, it’s all about how hard you work and how badly you want it.

There is a pretty sweet job fair on the last day of the program. It’s an awesome opportunity to apply what you’ve learned—there are twenty or so publishers, agencies, and magazines at the fair, and they’re all lovely and willing to chat. Make sure you follow up!

Projects:

You didn’t think you could get away without doing any work, did you?

There’s pre-program homework. It’s pretty minimal, but, for your own sanity, get it done before you have to start packing. Depending on the instructor, the directions can be quite convoluted. It took me more time to figure out what they wanted from me than to actually do the assignments.

Once we arrived, we were split into groups of twelve, and each of us were assigned a role on a magazine staff.

The task: to, in three weeks, create the editorial concept for an original magazine brand and back it up with design, branding, social media, advertising, subscription and consumer marketing plans, and then present it to a board of real executives from leading national magazines.

The Thread
The Thread Girls after our presentation ❤

It’s crazy, it’s fun, it’s draining, it will feel like years’ worth of work, and it will be awesome. I was fortunate enough to be grouped  with some of the brightest, most talented, charming, and sweet girls in that program (Yes, we were a group of all ladies! Did I mention that this is NOT the place to go to find husbands?). I did not go into the program at all interested in magazine publishing. I can’t tell you the last time I’d picked up a magazine before the program, but the magazine section, insane as it was (and make no mistake, it was utter lunacy), was where I grew the most. Here’s a link to The Thread Prezi, if you’re curious about what the presentation you’ll have to make will look like.

The book section’s project was much more easy-going. It might be because it was the second two weeks and we were all far more interested in finding jobs at that point, or it might have been because the project itself just didn’t lend itself to the all-consuming dedication that the magazine project did, but the book project just sort of fell flat.

The task: to, in three weeks, create a concept for a small book press and a three title catalog with branding, web/social, marketing, publicity, etc. support. Again, each person in the group is assigned a role, and again there is a presentation for a panel of industry professionals.

This was my biggest disappointment. I loved the Book Program’s director, but I wanted more out of the curriculum. I already knew, like most people, the general role of an editor, but what do they do? The book section would have benefited from focusing on the acquisition, edit, design, and production of a single title, rather than worrying about creating an imprint, which doesn’t allow for the in-depth hands-on experience that we all wanted. If the project was focused in that direction, then there could be an agent, acquiring editor, assistant editor, publisher, art director, publicist, marketing guru, production manager, etc. That would be SO MUCH MORE FUN. The book session should be first too. We’re exhausted and snarky by the second three weeks.

Bee Tee Dubs, the presentations aren’t just for grades. They’re competitions for glory, superiority, and alcohol.

Winners get wine, ya’ll.

Attire:

Oh! What to wear?

You better be prepared to look SHARP. On the least dressy days, girls wore flats, nice jeans, and a nice blouse and blazer. Most days, ladies wore dresses and skirts. Bring something special for presentations, field trips, interviews, and the job fair.

Atmosphere:

To be fair, the following are the thoughts of one person. The other 130 students may have been better prepared and more emotionally stable than myself (Ha!), and my experience might have been the result of my personality type and tendency to stress. But this is my blog, so you get my side of the story. So there.

The atmosphere was intense, exhausting, and more than a little cut-throat. I cried more in that six weeks than I have in the rest of my life.

There is no real transition from real life into the world of the program. There’s no orientation, no “let’s get to know each other” time. You walk in, make about 130 enemies, and then hit the ground running with a 12 hour day.

On day one, they had us each stand up and declare to the world:

A) where we went to school, B) what we majored in, C) whether we prefer magazine or book publishing, D) what aspect of publishing we wanted to work in, and F) how much better we consider ourselves to be than every other person in the room.

Was that useful?

Maybe…in an inferiority complex-inducing sort of way. It was certainly a reality check. Probably 100 of the 130 said they wanted to be a book editor, so I went from not knowing a single person who shared my ambition, to being pitted against 100 of the top contenders. It also set the tone for the program…especially the magazine section. Those execs get hired and fired faster than you can spell “Cosmopolitan.” Brandon Holly, who spoke on the first day of the program as the EIC of Lucky, was unemployed and replaced by week 4. Yeah.

[Side note: there are ZERO old people working in magazines. What is that about? Where do they put them? Is there a ceremony where, on your 40th birthday, you’re thrown into a pit in the cellar with the rest of the bad ideas and last season’s fashions?]

Basically, you don’t dare spend an idle moment. Every second is dedicated to something productive—networking, job applications, resume revisions, or working on the projects. Because of the competitive nature, there isn’t much focus on getting chummy with your fellow SPIers.

Concluding Thoughts:

I know this review may have come across a little negative. I don’t want that to be the take-away.

My time in New York was colored by a lot of things and it made me face a lot of tough decisions. It was my first significant step into the real world, and its a harsh, scary place, reader. Taking that step in New York, in a highly competitive program with people who were just as (maybe even more) driven than me, was freaky. I’ve never felt so inferior in my life. And really, that took the passion out of it. I love books, I love editing, I love working with words and emotion and thoughts, but that’s not what this program was about. It wasn’t inspiring. It was, at least for me, debilitating. I was so scared that I wouldn’t “make it,” that I couldn’t even have a conversation about my love for literature. Plus, there was a lot of fear from the speakers about “the future of publishing” because of Amazon and the whole ebook thing.

The program is also VERY New York-centric.  Here’s the plan that you should go in with in order for it to not scare you to death: Save up a TON of money–enough for a few months rent in NY. Go to SPI. Start roommate and apartment and job hunting IMMEDIATELY. Plan to take unpaid internships, but hope to get a real job. Do NOT go home after. Throw everything you have into the job hunt and networking during the program. Stay in the dorm until you have to move out. Move into your apartment with 3 other SPI grads. Hopefully, in a few months, get a job making $30,000 a year. Forget any idea of living outside of New York ever again. Otherwise, forget any idea of working in publishing.

That’s a terrifying for someone who finds New York less than appealing, requires personal space, and has family and people she cares about elsewhere.

I wasn’t just having to choose whether I wanted it. I was having to choose if it was all I wanted.

For me, personally, that atmosphere wasn’t healthy. But I’m given to stress and being overly sensitive about such things. You may thrive on it.

 That being said, this was an invaluable experience both personally and professionally. I had opportunities there that could never happen at DU. After The Thread presentation, we were asked to come present our brand to Meredith Corporation, the publishers of Better Homes and Gardens, Every Day with Rachael Ray, Eating Well, etc. We got to get all dressed up and go to the Meredith building (which was GORGEOUS) and pitch our idea in front of about 10 executives. It was incredible.  And I will never, ever forget it.

The problem with finding out that I didn’t want to do New York, was that the program left me entirely unprepared for any alternative. I left the city sure that I was going to have to start over. That was horrible, and I have never felt more defeated and small.

Lucky for me, my summer of publishing wasn’t over. So, the day after the program ended, I hopped on a plane to Denver…but that’s next time’s story.

Publishing Certificate
Publishing Certificate
winners get wine

little scribbler’s heart

“Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”

Stephen King

Dear Curious Georges, future publishing students, and my SPI and DPI 2013 compatriots:

I promised I would draw up a comparison of the NYU and DU Publishing Institutes, and this is the preamble to that explanation. For those of you who were a little confused by my whirlwind summer, let me explain.

I’ve wanted to be a book editor since a certain AP Lit & Lang teacher told me I could. So, as a junior in high school, I traded in my life-long ambition of being a high powered attorney for the dream of working with words and bettering authors.

I admit it. I had quite a romanticized idea of the life of a book editor. I imagined I might have an antique wooden desk piled high with manuscripts, wear large, studious glasses, and have regular philosophical conversations over coffee with contemporary Hemingways by the stone fireplace in my office.

I kind of also imagined I would wear tweed jackets, smoke a pipe, and be balding, so obviously, there was bound to be a bit of dissonance between reality and my day dream.

Nonetheless, off I went to college, where I studied literature and creative writing in the hopes of understanding both the artistry of the classics and the craft of fiction. As I researched the industry, it became obvious that the publishing world was in New York.

That was fine, I figured. It couldn’t be that hard. I’d seen every episode of Gossip Girl, so I was fully prepared for NYC living.

New York was only the short term goal, anyway.

I was born in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, and I love that state more than I can properly communicate. As it turned out, Random House has an imprint in Colorado. That was it for me. Life plan set. I would go to NY for a while, stock up on my couture outfits and cultural experiences,  and as soon as I could, I would transfer out to the Rockies and marry a rancher and edit beautiful literature forever.

But how to get there?

The funny thing about this kind of job is that there’s no road map. It’s not like publishing houses recruit 25 new editorial assistants every August. Jobs are spotty and they become available as other people leave or are promoted. I find myself alternately rooting for people’s success and/or failure far more than I like.

I’d always planned to go to grad school, but I wasn’t sure what the best route for my job would be. Should I get an MBA? Should I get a PhD in English Lit? There were so many options, that I didn’t know how to make a choice.

Then I was a senior.

Being a senior changes everything, friends. The world is suddenly very, very large, and you are a speck of dirt in it. And I was exhausted. Ask any of my dear, sweet friends: by my senior year,  I had burned myself out and become a little bit of a neurotic freak. I couldn’t go to full-on grad school right away. I needed something that would help me move forward, but wouldn’t kill me. Moving to New York alone and without any prospects was too real and too scary, and therefore out of the question.

Que mid-life crisis #1 of the 49,385,573,984,539 that were to ensue.

Then I found the perfect solution: A Publishing Institute! Yes, dear reader, I’ve finally come to my point. There are three Summer Publishing Institutes that caught my attention:

1. University of Denver’s Publishing Institute (DPI)
2. Columbia’s Publishing Course (CPC)
3. New York University’s Summer Publishing Institute (SPI)

What, exactly, is a Publishing Institute?

They’re intensive programs with 8 hour days (at least) of lectures from publishing professionals, editing and marketing workshops, evening networking events, resume critiques, job search assistance, industry reading, free books, and group projects. All of them run 4-6 weeks in length, and are worth 3 credits toward a MS in Publishing.

Denver’s is the oldest (and where I wanted to live), Columbia’s is probably the most prestigious, and NYU’s is the second most prestigious and in the perfect location.

That’s all I knew when I applied, and that’s all I knew when I was trying to make my decisions.

I was accepted to Denver first, and I couldn’t have been more delighted. It was exactly what I needed. A summer of mountains and books—what could be better? When I was also accepted to NYU a few days later, I was torn. NYU was undoubtedly the better choice for my goals, but I wanted so badly to go to Denver. So I did what any rational person would do. I went to both.

I spent six weeks this summer in the heart of Manhattan, and four looking out at the Rocky Mountains. It was exactly what I needed. That’s not to say that it was always fun and carefree. In fact, much of it was the exact opposite. But it was the diving board I needed to get into this industry.

Am I gainfully employed?

I suppose that depends on your opinion of the word “gainfully.” I do have two internships. One is an editorial internship with an independent children’s book publisher, and the other is an editorial position with a lifestyle magazine. I also just started my own freelance editorial consultation business, which I’d love for you to take a look at. Neither internship is paid, which, I’m sorry to say, is par for the course in publishing. The freelance editing is freelance, so its not exactly lucrative, but I love it.

So to answer your question, yes, I am currently applying to Target and Bed, Bath, & Beyond so that I can eat.

Am I living in New York?

No. Alas, New York was not for me. It was crowded, smelly, and dark. I was beyond excited to leave.

Am I living in Denver? 

Again, no. I actually moved to Atlanta, Georgia. One of the fabulous things I learned in Denver is that there is publishing everywhere. Surprise!

Was it worth it?

Yes. One thousand percent, yes. The knowledge I have of the industry, the contacts I made, the networking experience, and being a part of the publishing world for ten weeks was absolutely invaluable. I learned about aspects of the industry I didn’t know existed, and I made professional and personal memories that I wouldn’t trade for anything. Perhaps most importantly, I figured out what I need to make me happy, and that is worth everything.

Tune in next time for my comparison of the NYU and DU programs!

little scribbler’s heart

a lesson from jane

“If you obey all the rules you miss all the fun.”

Katharine Hepburn

Image
Meet Jane.

This is a story about a girl named Jane who lived for the fun of it and regretted nothing. It is also the story of a girl named Niki who should take a lesson from Jane.

Once upon a time, almost exactly two weeks ago, I arrived at the Newark airport in New Jersey to the blaring of honks and a dystopian city-scape.

Yes, NJ, you are quite the ugly duck.

Where I come from, if someone honks it is because:

  1. You are lookin’ real good.
  2. You are lookin’ real trashy. Which is often mistaken for #1.
  3. You are digging for the chapstick you dropped on the floorboard and the light has been green for a solid 10 seconds.
  4. You are 94 years old  and you’re trying to turn into oncoming traffic.
  5. You are my mother and you’re trying to turn into oncoming traffic.
  6. You are a transplant from New Jersey or New York and you still haven’t learned to drive in civilized society.

 

These New Jersey honks were not meant for me. In this strange corner of America, it seems that brashness and abruptness don’t really have a purpose. Neither are they actually noticed except by visitors. There’s just so much of it that it cancels itself out.

As I was waiting for Jane (My cousin? Aunt? Hard to say.) on the curb outside the baggage claim, a police car drove by shouting over his loud speaker to “Keep moving! Don’t stop!” and then pulled right up behind this little car and shouted, “I MEAN  YOU, NISSAN. MOVE IT.”

Magazine Sad Face
How I feel about magazines.

I would have cried if I was Nissan, but like I said, Nissan barely noticed. Standing there in my Chaco and Norts combo, I suddenly felt very out of place, so I set about Instagraming a picture of my arrival to pretend like I was stoked and not terrified.

[Non-sponsored advertisement: If you’ve never worn Chacos, you must try them. Yes, you will look stupid. But I swear the spirit of Pocahontas will slip into your soul the second you put them on. You will have no choice but to go on adventures and save attractive Englishmen from the wrath of your tribe. Certain pairs also come with a beautiful singing voice and customize-able straps.]

Then all of a sudden, the honks were for me. I looked up from my super pro photo editing sesh to see someone parked in the middle of the street and waiving wildly at me. Was I supposed to run across the gap with my giant suitcase, duffle bag, and backpack, dodging these honking crazies and put myself at the mercy of the loud speaker cop?  The door of the car popped open. Yes. I was supposed to do those things.

It is a testament to my Frogger playing abilities that I was able to make it into that little car.

Then I met Jane.

I’d only spoken to her a few times on the phone, and I had based my mental picture of her on her voice. She is a true Jersey girl–thick accent, bluntness and all. Her face did not match her voice. She’s in her mid-sixties, but she’s beautiful. She’s also a firecracker.

Over the next few days with Jane I learned a lot. Jane has had A LOT of boyfriends. She was a singer, a guitar player, an actress, but most of all she loved to dance. She told me story after story of nights in dance clubs, of how boys would line up to dance with her, and how she could have her pick of partners. She drank for free because the club owners just liked having her there. She was the essence of carefree.

Image
Jane’s head shot card.

People loved Jane because she loved life. Every Friday, she headed to the shore. She took off for auditions in New York at the drop of a hat, and whenever she got the chance, she saw Elvis. (He actually kissed her, I’m told!)

She had a lot of jobs, but they were just jobs to her—a way to meet new people and pay for fun. She didn’t need other people or a job to affirm her importance. She knew she was a goddess.

Image
One of forty billion renderings of Elvis’ face in Jane’s house.

Jane said a lot of things that weekend, but I remember most clearly: “I always have fun, no matter what I’m doing.” It was like a refrain that ran through every conversation we had.

I always have fun, no matter what I’m doing.

Huh.

Jane isn’t rich. She didn’t make it big as a dancer. Elvis died without asking her to marry him. She lives alone with her little terrier, but she still has fun. She watches Lifetime movies, works out harder than Jane Fonda, calls her family every day, and sits on her front porch to gossip with her neighbors. She’s happy. She has no regrets.

She regrets nothing because she missed out on nothing.

And here I am, supposedly chasing my dream, going to NYU, meeting the Editors of every major magazine you can think of and spending my days working on a magazine launch with some of the most talented people I’ve ever met, and I’m miserable.

This is all I’ve wanted for years, but I can’t help wishing I was somewhere else, with someone else, doing something else.

Why?

Image

Yes, this program is intense, and it’s really scary to know that I will be actively looking for a job in a big scary city in a matter of weeks. Yes, I feel like the gimpiest, most minuscule  of fish in the publishing ocean. Yes, I miss my friends and my mom and my boyfriend. But letting fear and stress drive my life has become a nasty habit.

Jane wasn’t telling me about all of her crazy nights and boyfriends for my benefit. The refrain is never in the past tense. It is her mantra, her self-reminder that she is Jane: Elvis’ number one fan, a beautiful woman, dancer extraordinaire, life of the party.

There will always be somewhere else that seems better and brighter than where I am. There will always be people who I wish I could throw my arms around and waste time with. And there will always be a more inspiring and freeing career path.

Confesstion: Right now, I’m seriously considering becoming a professional book reader for a sweet old lady. That was an excellent career move for Amy March in Little Women. She snagged Christian Bale and got a trip to Paris out of the deal.

The thing is, that the stupid adage “the grass is always greener on the other side” is so stinking true. And so is this one: “the grass is always greener where you water it.”

So, thanks for schooling me Jane. Keep shining.

a lesson from jane

from distraction by distraction

“Distracted from distraction by distraction”
T.S. Eliot

One week from today, I will be writing from a dorm in New York City. On top of the stress of this move and leaving my sleepy little town and my steady little job and my friends and family, I have been forced to face one of my greatest foes: social media.

I pride myself on being a social media hermit, but part of my grad school pre-program homework is to “culture surf,” so I have undertaken to do just that. Over the last week, I have stepped into the overflow of publishing blogs and Pinterest and Facebook groups and ebooks and online magazines on top of my personal email and Facebook and phone calls and texting and Instagram and Pandora and Netflix.

This girl is ready to scream. In fact, you might want to cover your eyes because I’m about to visually throw a fit.

TWITTERFACEBOOKBLOGEBOOKPLATFORMPUBLISHINGNYUROOMMATESMOVINGOLDJOBNEWJOB-BOYFRIENDWRTIEREADEDITPUBLISHMONEYCREDITCARDSBESIGNIFICANTDOSOMETHING-MAKEADIFFERENCEBETHEBESTDONTFAILOVERWHELMEDOVERWHELMEDOVERWHELMED.

MY KINGDOM TO GET THE REST OF THE WORLD OUT OF MY FACE FOR FIVE MINUTES.

You can stop squinting now. I’m finished.

To say the least, the vast universe of social media is daunting. Sometimes it’s just downright annoying. As I “surf,” I find myself searching for something refreshing and real, but I have yet to find it. It all seems so shallow. The most infuriating branch is the home of the @ and # and the practically illegible, but apparently significant statements called “tweets.”

Twitter is mocking me.

Every time I work up the courage to open my twitter feed, that little blue bird reminds me of my social media ineptitude with the simple accusation: “You haven’t tweeted yet.”

Yes, twitter bird, you’re right. I, @NMKnippenberg, have yet to tweet.

But can you blame me?

Perhaps I’m a romantic, but I had hoped that when my brilliant thoughts are one day quoted in some equally romantic youngster’s graduation speech (because we all know you’re basically wisdom incarnate when you’re used at commencement) it would begin: “As the prolific N.M. Knippenberg once wrote…[INSERT BRILLIANT AND MOVING PEARL HERE].”

Somehow, “As @NMKnippenberg tweeted last night from her iPhone…[INSERT 140 CHARACTER VOWEL-LESS, CRAFT-LESS HALF-THOUGHT HERE]” just doesn’t have quite the same impact.

Despite my reservations, I am impressed with the branding of this corner of social media. Twitter’s trite and un-businesslike atmosphere was a bold and surprisingly successful choice. I can easily see how the clean little blue bird and the terms “tweet” and “twitter” would appeal to pink-nailed Abercrombie-wearing teens. I also understand why celebrities would take advantage of such an easy and seemingly personal connection with those pre-college prepsters. It is obviously an efficient mode of advertising and spreading awareness.

But you can’t tell me that hearing the words “Pope” and “tweeted” linked on the evening news–AS ACTUAL NEWS–doesn’t strike anachronistic discord.

The publishing program has made it clear that social media is vital to my success in publishing. I suppose to an extent they aren’t wrong. I’m sure it will be helpful to have my thumb on the pulse of my target audience. To see what’s “trending” and where public opinion lies will, of course, be useful, but I can’t help but think that an industry that surrenders its reigns to the whims of public taste has an exhausting and perhaps meaningless fight ahead.

I want to work in publishing because I want to help authors convey great and timeless thoughts to the people who need to hear them. I don’t want my writing, or the authors’ I someday publish, to be leashed to the fickle and fleeting interests of the general populace.

I understand that actually selling books is important. How else will I afford my materialistic habits? But if it was just about the money, I would have gone to law school, or I would have been a business major, or I would have gotten over my distaste for blood and become a plastic surgeon. But I didn’t. I need my work to have value and purpose beyond a dollar sign and entertainment.

Books should entertain and be relevant and well-marketed to get people to pick them up, but there has to be substance between the covers. Publishing teen vampire book after teen vampire book is not going to be enough for me.

So I guess what I’m saying, is that social media can be a useful tool to help market great work that might otherwise go undiscovered, but pleasing the world to turn a profit cannot be a publisher’s only aim.

At least not a publisher I work for.

The internet has made it easier than ever for artists to make a name for themselves, and that’s great. But for how long, and at what price? In a world that is so loud with media and trends and viral videos, I worry that the true original, the true genius, might get drowned out by the thoughtless twitter of a billion people saying the same things over and over and over.

So. There’s my rant for today. Guess I’ll go tweet about it.

from distraction by distraction

murder is always a mistake

“Words! Mere words! How terrible they were! How clear, and vivid, and cruel! One could not escape from them. And yet what a subtle magic there was in them! They seemed to be able to give a plastic form to formless things, and to have a music of their own as sweet as that of viol or of lute. Mere words! Was there anything so real as words?”

Oscar Wilde

I recently finished a beautiful masterpiece.

No, you flatterer, you, I don’t mean my own work. I mean The Picture of Dorian Gray by the one and only Oscar Wilde. If you haven’t cozied up with this classic yet, and worse, if you’ve never read anything by Wilde at all, the time for your education has come. So pour yourself a nice glass of wine, find a snuggley chair and a low light, and get ready to let Oscar’s deep purple, velvety prose caress your soul.

I’ve long been a fan of The Importance of being Earnest–the brilliance of the verisimilitude, the truth in the absurdity, the underlying complexity of the comedy–but I wanted more. I felt a tug of darkness in his light, snappy dialogue, but never saw its realization. So if comedy isn’t your thing, Dorian is a peek into the shadowy side of Mr. Wilde’s genius.

It is a perfect tragedy. At the novel’s opening, we hear of our Tragic Hero, a young man: youthful and innocent, through a painter named Basil Hallward.

Tangent: Wilde’s homoerotic description of the artist’s feelings for his sitter (which–fun fact–were used against him in his trials) are reminiscent of Shakespeare’s sonnets about the young boy, which people like to conveniently ignore. End tangent.

The artist’s admiration is not exclusively sexual. Hallward worships Dorian for his beauty and youth, of course, but also for his soul. He says countless times to his friend, Lord Henry, that it’s Dorian’s personality that so electrifies him. Dorian’s character is Basil’s muse, and his Adonis-like face is merely an external reflection of his internal perfection.

Hallward asks Dorian to sit for a portrait. Yes, you’ve guessed it! This is the picture from which the novel’s name is derived. Dun, dun, duuuuun.

Dorian agrees, but asks Lord Henry to stay and talk to him as Basil paints. Lord Henry obliges, eager to make himself acquainted with such a compelling person.

Henry, you see, is a bit like the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. As he speaks, he opens Dorian’s eyes to a world wherein morality and responsibility are the laughable fetters of simple minds and pleasure is the only call men need answer. With each new idea Henry introduces, Dorian is altered. As Hallward paints him, Henry is re-sculpting him.

When Basil finishes, he knows the portrait of Dorian is the best work of his life. He has captured the very moment of Dorian’s awakening, and has somehow also captured Dorian’s soul.

When Dorian sees the picture of himself, he learns of his own beauty, his own complexity, and his power over others. He falls in love with the painting and with his newly awakened worldly soul.

He has reached his apex, and in the great tradition of tragedy, he must fall.

I won’t spoil the rest, but I will say that Wilde’s novel discusses the idea of the soul, of humanity, of youth and beauty, and time and the links between people, and does so brilliantly.

While the plot is certainly dark and intriguing, it is the craft of the words themselves that constantly surprised and excited me. It’s the words that make Dorian a masterpiece.

THAT is what’s missing from books today. Yes, Wilde’s descriptions can be exhausting and Lord Henry’s constant flow of nonchalant theoretical profundities can be maddening, but his prose is art. 

So, here’s my quick and dirty guide to what separates writing from literature:

1. Is it the words and ideas that thrill, or the incessant action that keeps you reading?

2. Does it move you? Do you feel something more than mild, detatched amusement?

3. Does it challenge you? I don’t mean the vocabulary. Does it make you question yourself, your thoughts, your point of view?

Aren’t you tired of stagnation? Aren’t you bored of the same words and the same thoughts?

That’s why Lit matters, kittens. Now go read a book.

murder is always a mistake

schizophrenia beats dining alone

Schizophrenia beats dining alone.

Oscar Levant

One of my very best friends and I went out to “dinner” last night for her birthday.

This friend and I tend to find ourselves in rather ridiculous situations. She’s the type of friend who you turn and look at when an absurd (and possibly bad) idea has just been placed on the table. You look at her not to talk you out of it or remind you to be sensible, but to say, “I will if you will.”

Let’s call her M.

So, last night we got ourselves into a little bit of an awkward situation. We went to this place called JD’s to celebrate her 22nd year of existence. It’s this cool, upscale jazz restaurant. They have live jazz every night and the lighting is really low and the walls are wine colored. It’s wonderful–perfect for all this Fitzgerald fever going on right now.

Sidebar: I am thoroughly annoyed at how brilliant and deep everyone thinks they are for liking that book. If you look at anyone’s Facebook “favorite books” list, they have Harry Potter and The Great Gatsby. Newsflash: You are not special just because Gatsby is the only book of literary merit that you were ever able to choke down. It means that you probably attended your senior year high school English class, couldn’t grasp Hamlet, and haven’t bothered to read anything besides Fifty Shades or The Hunger Games since. Congrats. End of Sidebar.

So we go in, sit down at our table, and our waiter comes up, suave as can be. We asked what the soup of the day was and he brought us each this little sample. It was beef. I didn’t eat it. Meanwhile, we look over the menu and quickly come to the conclusion that we’ve made a rather large mi$take.

This place was hella expensive.

There wasn’t a single entree (INCLUDING SALAD) that was less than $20, and no drink less than $10. Yikes. Not so great for recent grads. So as we’re trying to figure out how to extricate ourselves, Mr. Suave comes back. He asks about our uneaten soup samples. I tell him I’m a vegetarian.

He asks if I eat fish.
I recognize an opportunity for escape.
I shake my lying head and act very sorry that I don’t eat fish.
He ponders this.
I wink at M.
He offers to have the chef whip up a special vegetarian menu.
I panic.
He’s totally on to me.
He knows I’m poor and just wants me to admit it. I can’t afford the regular food. How could I possibly afford something custom made?
He’s very good.
I quickly pick the most inexpensive appetizer on the menu and say “We’ll just start with the cheese platter.”
M and I discuss the possibility of running away and abandoning our $9 cheese platter.
We finally decide that we’ll just eat our cheese and leave after that. It’s totally normal to just get water and cheese at a restaurant, right? Totes.
After awkwardly avoiding eye contact with Mr. Suave the entire time we’re eating our cheese, we finally asked for our pitifully small check and waited for him to get it/slash my tires.
So he comes back with something that looks a little like origami. It was a rose. A black rose, made out of a napkin…and there was one for each of us. We thanked him, thinking we had somehow avoided his hate. He looked me right in the eyes and asked, “You know what they call black roses?”

I shook my head, a little afraid of the answer.

“The kiss of death,” he replied.

Then we ran away and never slept again.

schizophrenia beats dining alone