Campus & Community

DU’s Publishing Institute kicks off 40th year July 12

In recent years, the once-stately book trade has reeled from one dramatic change to another — from the rise of powerful online retailers to the emergence of digital books and the downsizing of venerated publishing houses.

But one thing hasn’t changed. Hundreds of impassioned book lovers want to be part of the action.

Enter the Denver Publishing Institute, which turns 40 this year. Every summer, it runs a four-week program on the University of Denver campus, immersing about 95 students from all over the country in the nuts and bolts of publishing.

“We open their eyes to everything that goes into making a book,” says the institute’s director, Jill Smith (MBA ’07). Smith, who joined the institute in 2003, took over the directorship in early 2015, succeeding Joyce Meskis, founder of Denver’s much-beloved Tattered Cover Bookstore. (Meskis announced in March that she was retiring and selling the store.)

One of three intensive publishing programs in the country — and the only one outside New York — the DPI was the brainchild of the late Frederick Praeger, founder of Boulder-based Westview Press. He worked with Maurice Mitchell, DU’s chancellor at the time, to make the New York-centric world of North American publishing accessible to people outside the Big Apple.

The two recruited renowned publishing executive Elizabeth Geiser to direct the program, which she did until her 2007 retirement. Geiser developed a curriculum that, Smith says, has withstood the test of time while accommodating emerging developments in publishing practices.

During their four weeks at the DPI, students learn from some of the publishing realm’s top executives and editors. They discover:

  • how an acquisition editor secures books for a house
  • how a development editor works with the writer to improve a manuscript
  • how a copy editor attends — on paper and on screen — to the many details of grammar, spelling and punctuation
  • how to write a reader’s report with, as Smith puts it, “the fundamental goal of saying whether [a manuscript] should or should not be acquired by a particular publishing house.”


Students also explore the ins and outs of marketing everything from digital tomes to hardbound textbooks to trade paperbacks. They see how publishing houses interact with booksellers and how they brand themselves within a specialized marketplace.

And they occasionally get a behind-the-scenes scoop about a best-selling sensation. At one DPI event, Smith says, students heard from the publisher behind Emma Donoghue’s “Room,” which not only sold well but was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. The publisher described how, until “Room,” Donoghue had enjoyed modest sales with her original publisher. After he discussed just why his house took a chance on “Room,” another publisher spoke up: “We are the publishing company that passed on ‘Room.’”

The discussion that followed offered students a look at why companies choose — and reject — the books they do.

Because DPI offers both broad exposure to the publishing world and insider insight, students often discover just where, within publishing, they want to direct their talents. “For the most part, students come to us because they love books,” Smith says. “They come to us passionate about literature and the great works. They all want to edit the great American novel. But not everyone is cut out to be an editor.”

Some students find they have little appetite for the accountability demands facing an acquisitions editor. “When you purchase a manuscript, you can’t just purchase it because you love it,” Smith says. “You have to believe that the book will be a good investment, [that it will] make money or at least break even.”

Others discover that they have no appetite for debating the deployment of a comma or the splitting of an infinitive. And still others realize that what they really want to do is connect readers with books.

That was the case for Justin Goodfellow, who learned about the DPI while interning at Bailiwick Press in Fort Collins, Colo. He completed the program in 2014 and then landed a job as a sales manager at Penguin Random House.

He credits the DPI with showing him how flexible the industry must be to succeed in challenging times and with providing detailed information about how it operates on a daily basis.

“Most beneficial for me was learning about the ways different departments work together in-house. I learned about the place where marketing meets editorial, and this has been helpful to bear in mind with my current position,” Goodfellow says.

“This position definitely requires a passion for books. And when I say that, I mean that you have to love all books,” he explains — not just the books with personal appeal.

“I have to know about roughly 1,000 books to sell three times a year,” he says, noting that he represents genres and authors he doesn’t read. By understanding the editorial process and thinking behind these books, he’s better able to represent them to retailers.

Finally, Goodfellow adds, the DPI provides excellent opportunities to connect with future employers, who know that by the time the institute concludes, students have acquired a deep understanding of how the business works, making for a minimal learning curve when they secure their coveted jobs.

Because jobs in book publishing are famously hard to come by, Smith says, the DPI keeps the scarce number of openings in mind when it admits students. “Our applicant pool is of such high caliber that every year we have to turn people away who would be great in our program. But we do feel an obligation not to graduate students into a market that can’t hire them.”

Over the years, more than 3,000 students have completed the program, and today, publishing houses from all over the country employ DPI graduates.

“Hiring managers know that when they hire a graduate from our program, that individual has a fundamental understanding of the industry,” Smith says. “Our visiting speakers and alumni love to hire Denver grads. We have this wonderful little ecosystem of hiring that happens.”

The 2015 Denver Publishing Institute runs July 12 through Aug. 7. More information, including a tentative schedule, is available at the institute’s website.

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