About Kevin J. Anderson, MFA: Kevin J. Anderson is Director of the Master of Arts in Creative Writing, Publishing Concentration for Western Colorado University’s School of Graduate Studies. As Director, he teaches all the courses in the program along with his co-professor Allyson Longueira, and serves as students’ primary mentor throughout their enrollment. The Master of Arts in Creative Writing, Publishing Concentration is currently in its fourth year, and has recently expanded to hire an additional faculty member to support growing student interest and enrollment in the program.
Professor Anderson holds a Bachelor’s Degree from University of Wisconsin, Madison, and an MFA from Lindenwood University. In addition, he is a #1 international bestselling author with over 170 books published and 24 million copies in print. Notably, he coauthored fourteen books within the Dune saga, in collaboration with Brian Herbert, and has also written for numerous science fiction series, including those for Star Wars, X-Files, Star Trek, Batman, and Superman. Professor Anderson has run his own publishing house, WordFire Press, for fifteen years, with over 400 titles published by more than a hundred authors, and he carries this experience into his mentorship of the next generation of authors and publishers.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you elaborate on Western Colorado University’s Master of Arts in Creative Writing, Publishing Concentration, including its curriculum structure, and how it prepares students for careers in an ever-changing book publishing landscape?
[Professor Anderson] I developed this program five years ago to offer up-to-date practical knowledge of the rapidly changing publishing industry. Our program is unique in that it is evenly balanced between traditional publishing and indie/new-model publishing. Each semester has two courses, Traditional Publishing and Indie/New-Model Publishing, with lectures, readings, podcasts, and guest speakers on a variety of subjects.
Traditional publishing courses go over the “standard” model of publishing, usually centered in New York, and covers different types of editors, literary agents, publicists, design and publicity teams, contracts, printing and distribution in bookstores as well as libraries. This will prepare students for jobs in traditional publishing houses in New York and elsewhere. But more than a decade ago the field of indie publishing exploded with immediate hands-on technologies to produce and distribute ebooks and print-on-demand print books, sold directly online. Our indie publishing curriculum prepares students to produce and distribute their books directly via Amazon and other vendors and prepares them to form their own publishing companies as soon as they graduate from the program.
The core of the Publishing concentration is the hands-on work on actual projects. Each cohort of students creates an original anthology, writes the call for submissions, and then reads the slushpile stories. With funding from Draft2Digital, this anthology pays professional rates, and so we receive a lot of submissions. The students select the final stories, on a firm budget, then write rejections, write contracts, and over the course of the following semester work with the authors, edit the manuscripts, create the cover art, design, and layout of the book. They publish and market the book in hardcover, trade paperback, and ebook formats, and launch it in a gala book-signing event at the Gunnison Arts Center. Our very first anthology won the Colorado Book Award for best anthology. Students also do a solo thesis project, selecting a public-domain classic and producing a fine new edition, from start to finish, which is also published with their name as editor before they graduate. Thus, when students graduate, they leave the program with two significant works, with their name prominently featured, for their portfolio.
Our students have come from a diverse set of backgrounds in the publishing industry, from veterans of traditional publishing (including authors with many traditional works published) who want to learn the newly available skills of indie publishing, to already-successful indie authors who want to understand traditional publishing, to media specialists and marketers who want to understand the core industry, to writers who want to form their own presses, to complete neophytes who find the topic interesting. Some are young students moving immediately from their undergrad degrees, while others are military retirees or successful authors who want to become publishers. Most of our students come from the “trenches” rather than from academia.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Western Colorado University’s Master of Arts in Creative Writing, Publishing Concentration is delivered primarily online. What technologies and learning management system does the online program use to create an ideal learning environment for its students? Does the online program use synchronous instruction, asynchronous instruction, or both?
[Professor Anderson] We are a low-residency program, so most of the time students receive instruction via Canvas. Weekly assignments include written lectures and readings, with interactive discussions in Canvas. Because publishing is such a rapidly changing field, most of our materials are podcasts, Publishers Weekly, blogs. All of that instruction is asynchronous learning, which students can do on their own time.
We also have real-time Zoom discussions, formal as well as informal “hangouts,” and we have numerous guest speakers, including New York Times bestselling authors, the head of Audible, editors or publishers of major New York publishing houses, literary agents, award-winning cover artists, representatives from Amazon and major ebook platforms, and some of the most successful indie authors with seven-figure annual earnings. These speakers often remain in contact with the program and are available to interact with students outside of the lecture. We believe that the education in this ever-changing industry does not end with the receipt of a degree, and the growing community of students and alumni and guest speakers remains a vibrant ongoing resource for graduates and current students alike.
My co-professor and I also have one-on-one calls with every student each semester. In addition, I have remained in direct personal contact with about 75% of my students in the past three cohorts and actively give mentoring and advice. Many of them have founded their own publishing houses or published and distributed their own books, and they in turn have mentored current students.
[MastersinCommunications.com] To supplement the online courses, students of Western Colorado University’s Master of Arts in Creative Writing, Publishing Concentration attend two intensive summer residencies—one at the beginning of the program and one shortly before their graduation. Could you describe what these residencies entail, and how they enhance students’ learning outcomes in the program?
[Professor Anderson] The model changed post-Covid. Each summer we meet for an intensive week-long virtual residency where we do live real-time zoom classes, lectures, and guest speakers. As interns for WordFire Press, the new cohort acts as the proofing team on an actual book in production, and they also develop keywords.
After the week-long virtual residency, the students then meet in person on campus in Gunnison, Colorado. Here we have daily in-class sessions, sometimes a visiting guest speaker. In this interactive environment, the students develop the concept for their anthology and write up the call for submissions. This is the project they will work on over the course of their degree. They also learn about copyright and public-domain works, and choose their solo project to produce as their publishing thesis.
[MastersinCommunications.com] How is faculty mentorship integrated into Western Colorado University’s Master of Arts in Creative Writing, Publishing Concentration, and what advice do you have for students in terms of making the most of the mentorship opportunities and support systems available to them?
[Professor Anderson] Since we have only two professors running the program, we each advise every student and are available for personal consultations throughout the two semesters. I remain in close contact with my graduates and continue to mentor them after graduation. Graduates have gone on to work for a major traditional publishing house, a university press, book-marketing services, and many have founded their own presses; one has purchased an existing press and is now running it. All of the alumni, three cohorts now, maintain an active discussion group on which they share information, news, support, and marketing help. We also participate in numerous writing conferences such as Superstars Writing Seminars, LTUE, 20Booksto50K, and Writers of the Future, which are attended by graduates and current students.
[MastersinCommunications.com] How can students who are interested in Western Colorado University’s Master of Arts in Creative Writing, Publishing Concentration put forth a competitive application?
[Professor Anderson] We are looking for ambitious, passionate, hard-working students who are open-minded and flexible. Publishing is an industry in constant flux, and students need to stay on the leading edge, and must be willing to look realistically beyond old-school traditional publishing and be willing to consider alternative paths. Our past cohorts are made up of an ethnically diverse group of students, ranging in age from young post-undergrad students to senior citizens (including a 75 year old), and we have accommodated neurodiverse individuals and those who needed special changes to receive instruction.
We believe that publishing speaks to everyone, and that all stories by all types of individuals can be told … but they won’t be told without a publisher willing to publish them.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What makes Western Colorado University’s Master of Arts in Creative Writing, Publishing Concentration an excellent graduate degree option for students? How does this program prepare students particularly well for advanced, cutting-edge careers in today’s dynamic publishing industry?
[Professor Anderson] This is not an esoteric, academic-only program. Graduates of Western Colorado University’s Publishing MA program will actually know HOW to do what their industry and their career requires. They will produce books, every step of the way, and they will learn marketing, run their own Amazon and Facebook ads, and they will participate in their own book launch and signing event. Every graduate of this program emerges as an actual PUBLISHER, not just someone with a Publishing degree.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What further developments in the publishing industry do you anticipate happening in the next few years? What are some trends in the space that students and professionals alike should be aware of? For students seeking to break into or advance in the publishing industry, do you have any general advice?
[Professor Anderson] Learning doesn’t stop when you get your degree. To succeed in this field, you have to be aware of changing needs and developments, new technologies, new pricing structures. What worked best last year might not work best this year. The traditional publishing industry has had to adapt and make serious changes over the past ten years, from decentralizing offices in (expensive) New York, to shifting bookselling patterns from in-person bookstore sales to online sales, to changing book cover designs to focus on sales based on a thumbnail image online rather than full-size in front of a customer in real life. Indie publishing has experienced dramatic growth and any author or publisher who wants to be successful must work double-time just to stay ahead of the curve.
Programs like the Publishing Master’s degree at Western Colorado University provide students with the guidance and resources to stay ahead of others in the publishing industry.
Thank you, Professor Kevin J. Anderson, for your unique insight into Western Colorado University’s Master of Arts in Creative Writing, Publishing Concentration!