by Ronnie Morris & Samantha Rohrig
Published at 2021-06-02
Ryerson University’s Publishing Program is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year!
Founded in 1990, the Certificate in Publishing is the largest and most successful professional training program for the publishing industry in Canada. Our graduates thrive in book publishing and related industries, and in corporate, non-profit, and government communications. (Ryerson Publishing)
We wanted to celebrate this milestone by sharing some insights and inspirations from two of the program’s current students who just happen to be members of our TEC editing team.
For the last few years, I’ve been recovering from an illness; I haven’t been able to work for more than a few hours at a time before I would feel mentally exhausted. Some days are better than others, and certain hours of the day are better than others, but I found I had very little control over exactly which hours those would be. Although I was determined to do something productive during my recovery, the constraints of a lot of programs make it difficult to take courses. They might require application the year before studies begin, for example, or they might have requirements that students physically be on campus and take classes in person.
The publishing program at Ryerson University’s Chang School of Continuing Education, however, allowed me to enroll right away, with the flexibility to complete my coursework online, wherever I happened to be and at any time, day or night. Even better, I could limit the size of the course load I assumed each semester, taking on only as much as I felt comfortable with. Because learning wasn’t conducted in person, moreover, I was able to continue my studies through the pandemic, without the obstacles the lockdown created.
Since I began the program, I’ve taken classes in proofreading, copyediting, and indexing, and these courses have all been taught by respected professionals whose work I see in publishing every day. I found they provided a sound basis, teaching me more about the industry and the way it works. One of the most memorable for me, however, was “Visual Skills in Publishing,” taught by Gary and Camilla Blakeley. The course looked at things like the history of photography; image research and editing; typography; and the design of tables, graphs, diagrams, and maps. Even though I have a background in Fine Arts and already felt I had a degree of familiarity with some of the concepts and software used in the course, I found things were actually very different with the pace of technological change. In fact, things had changed so much that I discovered my trusty laptop, which was once top-of-the-line, was incapable of running most of the software for the course. Determined that the age of my hardware wouldn’t stop me from taking part in his course, Gary actually tracked down a loan of an adequate computer from the staff at the Ryerson Library, who shipped it to me since the lockdown prevented me from visiting in person.
Through the course, my eyes were constantly opened to things that I hadn’t considered before because I was approaching the material from a different perspective. I realized, for example, the value of simplicity in visual communication, because so much depends on comprehensibility. One of the most eye-opening aspects of the course was copyright and permissions, since I’ve seen first-hand on social media how regional differences in the law can make the topic so confusing to people; a definitive take on the situation as it stands in Canada has been invaluable.
While I had considered my life in the arts and my life in publishing to be two separate things, I have come to realize that visual communication is an important element of all aspects of publishing. Although I still have a few more credits left before I’ve earned my certificate, I already feel like a solid foundation has been laid for my career, and I’ve been able to start building on it at my own speed.
To say I knew nothing of the world of publishing before starting courses at Ryerson last fall is not the hyperbolic overstatement you might think. I knew reading. I knew academic writing. I knew academic editing, to a degree. I knew nothing, however, of style sheets or proofreaders’ marks, nothing of the “language” of typography or the standard publishing workflow that sees a writing project from beginning to end, from its initial development through to acquisition, editing, design, production, printing, and even sales and marketing—all things (and much more) that I would come to learn over the course of my first two semesters at Ryerson.
When I started in the publishing program in September 2020, the idea of changing gears to pursue a career in editing had already been at the back of my mind for some time, but I had been afraid to take the leap and to give up my graduate studies for a field that, as I’ve said, I really knew nothing about. I didn’t know anyone who had ever worked in publishing in any capacity, and aside from a few basic Google searches about the business and about “What Editors Actually Do,” the extent of my knowledge was essentially limited to the various depictions I had seen over the years in film and on television (Seinfeld’s Elaine and her many mishaps working as an editor at “Pendant Publishing” immediately comes to mind…).
When the pandemic hit, however, it weirdly felt like the right time to stop spinning my wheels and finally jump in with both feet. This was made possible, of course, by the entirely online format of Ryerson’s publishing program. From what I understand, one could, in years past, take certain publishing courses at Ryerson in person in a traditional classroom setting, but the program as a whole has for some time now been largely designed for the online classroom.
While many academic programs across the country struggled this past year to quickly adapt their programs to our current COVID-19 reality, the Ryerson publishing program appeared to continue on without a hitch. Business as usual. This was the first thing that made the transition into unfamiliar territory a relatively painless experience for me.
The second was quickly realizing that the majority of my peers were coming into the program with academic and working backgrounds as diverse and varied as my own. Sure, there were a few English and creative writing majors, and even one or two people who had gone through the process of publishing a book of their own. But there were also film and theatre majors, classically trained musicians, former government employees, secondary school teachers, artists and photographers, at least one professional chef, and several (former) students of the humanities, like me.
It soon became clear that our instructors—all well-established and experienced professionals in the field—had likewise come to publishing from a variety of backgrounds and had since developed extremely varied and inspiring careers working both in-house at trade and educational publishing firms, and as freelancer editors, book designers, and professional proofreaders.
Even before I really knew “What Editors Actually Do,” it was the general sense I had that editing would afford me the opportunity to work on a variety of projects, constantly introducing me to new authors and genres and topics, that drew me to the field and to the Ryerson publishing program. I shouldn’t have been so surprised to learn that editors themselves (would-be, new, or experienced) would similarly hail from so many diverse and interesting backgrounds.
I shouldn’t have been so initially hesitant to wade out into unfamiliar waters. My experience with the Ryerson publishing program has been nothing but positive so far—from the flexible format and online delivery of the courses to the lively and insightful discussion board conversations with my classmates to the enthusiasm of the instructors and the thoughtful feedback and professional advice they provide.
The courses I have taken so far have made me confident in my position here at TEC working as a copy editor and proofreader for academic publications, and looking ahead to the offerings for Fall 2021, I am excited to expand my professional repertoire by learning about different publishing “niches” I hadn’t thought to consider before—indexing and permissions, for example.
My only regret is that I didn’t take the plunge sooner.
The Ryerson Publishing Program’s website offers a full listing of its courses as well as information about a career in publishing, the instructors teaching the courses, and more!