A five-week summer program created by the L.A. Review of Books is currently underway at USC to help people break into the publishing industry. But that industry, despite having some local stars, is centered 3,000 miles away.
“We do want to make people job ready," said LARB publisher and editor in chief Tom Lutz, but “at least half, maybe more than half, [of students] in the program are not looking to move to New York to get into that kind of publishing job."
Instead, the LARB / USC Publishing Workshop emphasizes “entrepreneurial possibilities and innovation,” Lutz said. "What they're looking to do is join an entrepreneurial venture here or start their own.”
There are a number of other university-affiliated publishing programs, including the Columbia Publishing Course, the University of Denver’s Publishing Institute, the Summer Publishing Institute at New York University and the Yale Publishing Course. For more than 30 years, California was home to the Stanford Publishing Course for Professionals; Yale carries its torch.
As part of the Yale School of Management executive education program, the publishing course is taught by both faculty and industry insiders. “It’s a combination of business school theory and real world practitioners,” said director Tina C. Weiner. Her program caters to mid- and senior-level professionals, she explained, but “there are wonderful entry-level courses like Denver and Columbia and NYU, the whole host of them.”
LARB seeks to join their ranks — but with a bicoastal distinction. The USC program has tapped industry insiders from New York, including Lorin Stein, editor of the Paris Review; publisher and editor Richard Nash; and Sarita Varma, director of publicity at Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Lutz “tried to find people who were exemplars of their corner of this very complex world,” and pointed to Dennis Johnson, co-founder of the left-leaning independent publisher Melville House, as an “exemplar of how to build a press in bad circumstances and make it sustainable.”
The faculty includes local publishing professionals too, like Buzzfeed’s Karolina Waclawiak and the editors of two L.A.-based independent publishers, Chris Heiser of Unnamed Press and Tyson Cornell of Rare Bird. (L.A. Times Arts and Entertainment Editor Laurie Ochoa and Op-Ed and Sunday Opinion Editor Juliet Lapidos are also speakers.)
By insisting that L.A.-based publishing professionals are represented, Lutz hopes to “change the pipeline into the industry.”
There are also some L.A.-centric presentations, including a talk from Joel Goldberg, senior counsel at Netflix, on multiplatform contracts. LARB’s new program may be fostering Los Angeles’ presence in the publishing industry, but this is still an industry town.
However, bridging the gap between current New York practice and West Coast innovation may be a challenge. Lutz mentioned one student project, a translation website, as an example of an enterprise that would require some ingenuity. “This translation website, for instance, is not the kind of thing that’s going to make anybody a lot of money. It’s going to need funding from outside the commercial realm to survive, just as the Los Angeles Review of Books does.”
To that end, will the LARB / USC Workshop, which costs $4,500 before meals and housing, provide a new revenue stream for the independent book review website? “We get to inch our salaries up a little bit towards nonprofit market rates,” Lutz said. “We’re still a start-up. We’re still pushing the big boulder up the hill.”