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The Stanford Professional Publishing Course: For Mid-Career Professionals


The Stanford Professional Publishing Course is an intensive nine-day program for mid-career professionals in book and magazine publishing, taught by luminaries in the U.S. publishing industry. Paula Shackleton, founder of BookBuffet attended the 2004 course held in July.


August 08, 2004

This is an anecdotal account of the course which we hope will be of interest to BookBuffet visitors and reading group members. So much in the publishing world is exploding with change. Here is a look at professionals in the field leading the way. Links to resources are provided thoughout, as well as a bibliography at the end of the article.

Upon registration each participant must prepare a case-study for the course encapsulating a particular challenge faced in our respective business, to be submitted in advance electronically. They next bring ten print copies for the peer-review focus group.  The operative word is prepare before you come, as they warn, “there will be no time once you arrive”—they were right. 

From the moment of arrival on the beautiful Stanford campus, attendees exchange a deposit for the dorm room key, pick up a rental bike, and drop their things off before rushing over to the auditorium for the commencement speech; there isn’t a spare moment thereafter where you are not meeting, greeting, discussing, critiquing or learning from your classmates and the round-up of “who’s who” in the publishing world here to lecture.

Holly Brady, Academic Director of the SPPC developed the program 20 years ago and has been adapting and honing it to its current reputation and worldwide draw.  This 2004 class had participants from 39 countries, and 22 states across the continental US.


Dorothy Kalins, Executive Editor of Newsweek, New York gave the opening address.  Her message was an optimistic forecast of a tech rebound that is producing 164,609 new books this year and will launch 949 new magazines—referred to as Web 2.0.

She warned with a quote that this increase in printed matter may be reduced to mere information, intrinsically of temporary value: not a source of knowledge but, “a great fluid pudding of information, continuously pouring over us with the intention of prompting in the reader not salvation but salivation, not thought, that difficult thing, but the desire to seize and mindlessly engorge and consume and then cast aside.”  


We essentially have this unparalleled freedom to print whatever catches our fancy and in attempts to satisfy the consumer imperative we need to somehow come up with something at the end of the day of value, work we can be proud of.

Kalins noted that everyone in the room had the power to effect change. 


The ensuing hit-parade of speakers ranged from the incredible forward-thinking guru, Paul Saffo, Director of the Institute for the Future speaking of the large-scale changes affecting the publishing industry with the S curve on a paperless future, to the transition from the information age to the media age with mass emails, blogging and peer to peer (think Napster) exchanges of information, to RFID’s (the sophisticated sensors with built in intelligence) that are appearing in everything from books to fridges; to Tom Ryder, Chairman and CEO The Reader’s Digest Association whose ten best lessons learned are encapsulated with the advice: “Work harder than everyone else; smile more genuinely than everyone else; do the dirty stuff that no one else wants to do; know your competition; study their strategy…”  


David Brown (along with Richard Zanuck, produced Jaws, The Sting, The Verdict, Cocoon and helped to launch the careers of people like Steven Spielberg) did a session on “The Hollywood Connection” with screenwriters, Janet and David Peoples, and his wife Helen Gurly-Brown spoke about international publishing from her career vantage point as former editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan which now influences and empowers women world-wide.

Richard Stolley, Senior Editor Adviser, Time INC hosted a special evening session on “Spectacular Cases of Malfeasance” with a viewing of the movie Shattered Glass and discussion centered around the ramifications to the industry of these spectacular lapses in journalistic misrepresentation and the effect on professional credibility and standards of responsibility.

The rest of the course was divided into: business, design, marketing and advertising categories, with stellar speakers in each field. Examples of their books and magazines are linked at the end of this article.

Final class presentations were the culmination of intensive “after hours” (lunch, dinner and sessions at the Palo Alto watering hole) collaborative work projects by 20 groups assigned to conceptualize and design “launch publications” in either the magazine or book tract, whose categories were drawn out-of-the-hat. The fusion of expertise in the backgrounds of the participants ranged from editorial and marketing, to design and sales, ensurring that each team come up with a concept, a design, business, marketing and advertising campaigns and realistic mock-ups of the magazine (or book) cover, table of contents and feature articles.

The results were amazing, considering we only had four days to accomplish them.  Our own groups’ effort in the magazine track category of “career and finance”, targeted the emerging professional cube dweller market. Our multimedia presentation started with a film clip from the cult office classic, Office Space.  Fair warning of its irreverent content (designed to entertain 200 adult attendees who had been cooped-up in dormitories for nine previous days) Dick Stolley awarded "The sexiest magazine cover that will never be printed." Well, Dick—check this out:

The winning magazine called “Click”, was a sophisticated concept directed towards women and technology.  The winning book presentation was a product line and non-profit organization spin-off concept for literacy; a comprehensive and viable project. 

New magazines, book concepts and career paths have emerged from past SPPC collaborations on these projects.  Look for a new controlled circulation magazine publication directed at infertile couples and distributed in doctors offices some time next year, possibly called “Stork” that one of the members of that group intends to pursue in Canada.  


For any mid-career professionals in the publishing industry, the SPPC is a valuable experience; from the knowledge and perspective you gain, to the friends and connections you make, and the satisfaction and rewards you reap. 


Feed back and encouragement for our company and concept,, was affirming and rewarding.  Our readers and members, can look forward to valuable enhancements to the website. We welcome partnering opportunities to broaden our reach and services to this unique community of readers presently in (or desiring to start), discussion groups everywhere. We value our current relationships with authors, educators and publishers. 


Interested in working with Subscribing to Submitting feature articles? Developing corporate relations or media collaborations? Please do not hesitate to contact us!


Further Links

Books by SPPC Speakers/Faculty


Magazines of SPPC Speakers/Faculty

Photo Credits:

Stanford - Stanford Website

SPPC Classroom - BookBuffet

Dorothy Kalins - SPPC Website

Helen Gurley-Brown - Author's Website

Nolo Social - BookBuffet

Magazine Panel Judges - BookBuffet

Office Space Magazine Cover - (Collaborative Effort) Anne Laurent, Josh Adams Jo-Ann Maglipon-Marcelo, Adrian Saravia, Paula Shackleton, Boris Skvortsov, George Stavri, Neal Tritton 













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