Every year, WUD Publications Committee takes a two day trip to Chicago for some good-old professional development. This year, we visited with three companies and attended two workshops. And, as is tradition, we bought chocolate cake from Portillos, stuffed our faces without plates, and proceeded to spend our evening in Chicago watching YouTube videos in a hotel room. I call the trip a success.
826 Chicago is a non-profit community organization that teaches and promotes creative writing in inter-city Chicago schools. They are an off-shoot of an organization of a similar name based in San Francisco, and they have various sister branches in New York City, Los Angeles, Seattle, Ann Arbor, and other cities. Each branch has a store front that helps bring in profits for the organization and adds a bit of fun to the experience. 826 Chicago is in a spy shop called The Boring Store, their mother branch sells pirate gear, the New York branch is a superhero store, Ann Arbor has a robot repair shop, and so on.
826 Chicago has several workshops for children in grades K-12. When we arrived, a class of third graders was hard at work creating 25 stories for Admiral Moody, a mysterious publisher who doesn’t show his face and hates kids (so the children have to talk in deep voices to pretend they’re adults). When the children arrive, they are told that their teacher for the period has to write one story for Admiral Moody, but shortly after, Admiral Moody comes on te speakers to say he needs 25 stories instead or their teacher will lose her job! Coincidentally, there are 25 kids in the class. So the children have to finish the story their teacher started if they want her to keep their job.
I seriously wish I had something that fun when I was a kid. 826 Chicago offers three other workshops for children and teenagers to encourage and improve their writing. They strive to make writing as fun as possible, and they do so in really creative ways. Patrick, the man we spoke with (that’s his real name), was really enthusiastic about the program and about talking with us. He told us how the program received its funding (donations and store sales), how workshops are booked a year in advance for classes, how they can’t accommodate all their requests and are working on expanding (either to a second building or extending their current location). He also showed us several books they publish and sell. All their books are written by children and teens that went through their program. I took a small chapbook full of poetry, and I really like what I read so far! This program is great, and I am definitely getting involved in the future.
Academy Chicago is a small publisher that shares an office with an architect, a real estate agent, and one or two other companies. Such a small company offers plenty of opportunities for interns to gain valuable experience, such as editing, copyediting, sales, and marketing. To the public, Academy Chicago puts out about eight books a year. These books vary from non-fiction to fiction, but all are set in the real world.
We spoke with the entire company when we arrived (excluding one intern and the president, both of whom weren’t feeling well). The office reminded me of my time at Black Dog Publishing except with fiction and half as many people. They don’t do everything a big name publisher is able to do within the company, but they do complain about the slush pile (both in quality and how long it sits around). While they complained about six month-old manuscripts, I found myself reflecting on my own Editor-the-Boss who still has manuscripts from 2002. It’s actually quite refreshing knowing other slush piles are much smaller than his. They also talked about the editing process and how it varies with each manuscript. Not all manuscripts are the same and some require more work and time than others. Regardless, they are edited at least once before being sent to the printer.
With such a small company, they outsource some skills, such as graphic design, typesetting, and printing. But the majority of the editorial and marketing are done within the company itself. You could count their hired employees with one hand, and the other half of the staff were interns who did similar work. Interning with such a small company offers great experience since interns are expected to do actual work rather than get coffee and collate papers. I learned that if I want to start a career in publishing, starting with a small company like this is the way to go. The responsibilities are impressive on a resume and you learn a lot more than you would with a big name publisher.
Discussion Question: If you were only allowed 24 hours in Chicago, what would you do?