It happens, from time to time, that an email from an earnest publishing student detaches itself from the mysterious ether of cyberspace and shows up in my inbox, professing a staunch admiration for the press and a desire to know more about the company. I always bask in the glow of that first sentence because the next invariably admits that the inquiry was prompted by a school project. But though the interest isn’t necessarily organic, it’s still flattering, I suppose, to know that at least the student’s valiant instructor values our humble press enough to ask young, impressionable students to report on the inner workings of the Porcupine’s Quill.
Just a few weeks ago, an enterprising student from my alma mater contacted PQL with several good questions about the operation of the press. She was compiling information for an assignment on small presses, and wanted to know more about ours. I was tickled—mostly because I had done a similar assignment a few years prior at the behest of the same professor. It made me remember what it was like to be a student, completely baffled by the disconnect between my life and the buzzing offices of Canadian publishing.
I have to hand it to these students—it’s not always easy to venture beyond the corporate website and talk to a real live, honest-to-goodness human being at a publishing company. There’s always that slight uneasiness, that feeling that you, a lowly student and life-long book lover, ought not to bother the literary gods on high. After all, these titans of literary industry are the very people from whose infinite and wonderful powers spring works of art—those beloved and handsome hardcover comrades, those dog-eared and bedraggled paperback friends that have become the constant, faithful companions of your day-to-day life. These people have probably met Jane Urquhart and Carol Shields and Miriam Toews, possibly had a few drinks with Michael Ondaatje and Douglas Coupland and Yann Martel, and maybe even—gasp!—dared to shake the hand of Canada Reads host Jian Ghomeshi. A small part of your brain concludes that there’s no way that the undoubtedly busy representative of your duly chosen publisher will get back to you before your assignment is due.
But people in publishing are friendly. They genuinely love books as much as the passionate English majors and publishing students do, and when a keen young student shows an interest in the literary arts—particularly in an age of iPad, iPhone, iEverything digital media—it’s impossible not to feel gratified.
The best emails are the ones in which it is clear that the student has taken the time to think of some good, focused questions. Unfortunately, the more general “tell me all about your marketing” still tends to be a favourite of some, which always results in me writing a short essay about our various marketing activities, wondering a) if it is even remotely related to the assignment at hand and b) whether I’ve just unwittingly written the assignment for a scruple-less student who need only slap on a name before printing, stapling and submitting. Regardless of the outcome, the students are uniformly grateful.
I must admit, though, that I sincerely enjoy these emails. After all, they offer an opportunity to keep asking questions, to do a little digging and to immerse myself a little more into the rich history of the press. But more, they remind me that I was once that bright-eyed-and-bushy-tailed young student, and that I have since gained a wealth of experience, and learned more in a short period of time than I ever thought possible. It reminds me that though I am now the one answering those tentative requests for information, I’m still almost as much a student as I ever was, and that I’m still seeking a few of my own exciting stories about Canadian literary giants.
Who knows? Someday I might even shake the hand of Jian Ghomeshi.