Mădălina și Edward

Mădălina Marinache and Edward Vasile. Student Life and MA in The Theory and Practice of Publishing

Mădălina Marinache and Edward Vasile are students at the MA of The Theory and Practice of Publishing at the Faculty of Letters, University of Bucharest. Mădălina graduated the Faculty of Letters, she works as a copyeditor at a publishing house and she loves contemporary Romanian poetry. Edward graduated the Faculty of History, he plays the guitar and he’s started to like contemporary Romanian poetry.

When and how did you start your reading adventure?

Edward: I remember the first "books" I read were some Winnie the Pooh illustrations, somewhere around age 3. After that, when I went to school, my grandmother kept buying me encyclopedias and children's books and I don't think I've ever really stopped reading since. 

Mădălina: In the true sense of the word, the beginnings of my adventure as a reader follow the classic story in which the student receives a pack of books that includes Nobody’s Boyfrom the teacher, towards the end of the fourth grade. That student reads it in a few days, cries when she finishes it and never manages to reread it again, no matter how many times she tries. But when I think back to the beginnings of my relationship with reading in general, I actually remember my mother calling me, as early as when I was three or four years old, "to get into bed and read." And I find it very strange that I have no idea what she was reading to me anymore (I had to ask her: Creangă, fairy tales by Petre Ispirescu, The Brothers Grimm, etc.), but I remember very well that she did it almost every night until I fell asleep, and that I often tried to pretend I wasn't tired, to get her to continue.

I think my mother’s involuntary involvement has been more significant to my reading journey than my early reading itself, and I'm grateful to her for that. She helped me understand that I need to find a place for reading in my daily routine (and I feel guilty when I fail to do so), and because of her I still find a comfort zone in books on evenings when I feel restless or want to distract myself from things. And now, when she barely has time to read, I'm happy that somehow, I pay her back atunci când mă lasă să-i vorbesc despre lecturile mele sau când se întâmplă să vin acasă cu o carte pe care ea imediat să mi-o „fure”. Așa se face că mama a citit-o înaintea mea pe Lavinia Braniște. J

When did you realise that you wanted to add your superpower as a book maker, choosing the Master's degree in The Theory and Practice of Publishing at the Faculty of Letters of the University of Bucharest?

Edward: The story begins after the Baccalaureate, when I had to choose between applying to the Faculty of History and the Faculty of Letters. In the end I chose the former, but the attraction for literature remained perpetual. When it was time for my Master's degree and I again had a choice, I decided to "transfer", even though I didn't take this decision lightly. I felt the need for a change of direction and I do not regret the choice I made in any way.

Mădălina: I can't remember where it all started - again, something I find very strange - but at some point, somewhere between middle school and high school, I started telling anyone who asked that "I want to be a book editor". I think that, in my child/teenage mind, the job perfectly blended my love of literature and the little obsession I had developed for grammar rules... because, yep, I used to be that pedantic friend who interrupts you to correct your phrasing and likes to check your commas in a text. And to all of that I guess I added the idea of quietness that I associated with the act of reading, but my first year of MA shattered, God help me, any romanticized notions I had that an editor would read all day with/for pleasure and launch the writers they wanted to launch without much trouble.

In 11th grade, I gave my Romanian teacher a somewhat more complex answer, "I want to become a book editor, but I don't know how," and she first told me about Literature in general and the MA in The Theory and Practice of Publishing in particular. I've spent the rest of my high school and three years of BA, by and large, with the same thought that I'd eventually get admitted here, and I've only occasionally considered other options (I considered the MA in Literary Studies after I'd defended my BA). When I participated in the "Masters Marathon" in my third year, I did it to find out how the exams would be run and, more importantly, to reinforce some of my convictions, knowing anyway that professors I'd met during my BA were teaching here.

What were the selection criteria for admission and how did it go?

Edward: The admission criteria were the usual ones for the University of Bucharest. We had to prepare an admission file, including the necessary documents, and the actual test consisted of an interview with the professors of our Master's programme, whom, if we did well, we would meet later in autumn. I have to admit that I was nervous for that interview, especially coming from another academic field, but I managed to control them and perform well. I recommend everyone who is interested in this field to attend the interview and admission, it's a nice experience to learn from, even if the Faculty of Letters is not the final choice.

Mădălina: In the initial phase, the admission process involved going through a selected bibliography (which included, among others, Alberto Manguel's A History of Reading and Frédéric Rouvillois' A History of the Bestseller ) and an oral exam in the form of a "book-centered" interview. A few evenings before the exam we all received an email with the timetable, various other details and, more importantly, a request to have a book with us on the day of the exam. I think I spent the entire next day inspecting my book shelves, but in the end, I set myself a few conditions to narrow down my options and I realised I wanted to introduce myself with something from contemporary Romanian literature. So, I chose Adrian Schiop's The Soldiers , the 2017 edition, which has polaroid photos from the film adaptation on the cover.

Admiterea propriu-zisă s-a desfășurat în trei etape – țin minte că, după ce mi-am motivat alegerea de a mă înscrie la Teoria și Practica Editării, a trebuit să aleg un număr dintr-o serie care conținea tot felul de întrebări legate de industria editorială. Când mi-a extras bilețelul, doamna profesoară Ioana Pârvulescu mi-a spus ceva de genul „E o întrebare dificilă, să vedem ce ne poți spune”, iar întrebarea era „Ce ne facem cu debutanții?” și eu cumva am reușit să mă pierd, deși problema debutului începuse să mă preocupe din ce în ce mai mult pe atunci. Să spunem doar că acum aș putea da un răspuns mult mai elaborat J. Ultimul pas a fost să descriu The Soldiers from the perspective of the "book as an object", and there I think I did much better. I compared the covers of the editions a bit and I talked about how the novel and the film in general enhance each other, with a brief reference to Frédéric Rouvillois' book.

I've had people text me this year, wanting to know how the Theory and Practice of Publishing admissions go. Now that I've been through it, beyond anything else, I think the most important criterion remains how you use the three questions from the panel to demonstrate your passion for literature, your enthusiasm for promoting books and especially reading, and your respect for “the book as an object”. And I don't think it hurts to either make a list in your head of recent reads or favourite books belonging to various genres before admission, considering that we tend to forget everything we've ever read anyway just when we need it most, and I was clearly no exception.

How important were your BA majors, and how much have the things you learned there helped you so far?

Edward: My BA was in International Relations and European Studies at the Faculty of History. So, I didn't have a direct connection with the philological field. But my high school Romanian language and literature (and World literature) teacher helped me develop a healthy reading base. Then, the Faculty of History helped me develop analytical thinking, make connections between concepts and information and place them in an appropriate time/space. These qualities helped me adapt more easily to the demands of the new Master's degree.

Mădălina: I graduated from The Faculty of Letters, English and Romanian, so I worked exclusively on English translations for the workshop assignments. Now that I think about it, I realise that the Writing, Ethics and Academic Integrity or Morphologycourses/seminars helped me a lot, because we would inevitably end up discussing norm and deviation, types of mistakes such as contamination or hypercorrectness, along with explanations and examples. Likewise, in English, at almost every seminar we did translations and attention was drawn to linguistic misprints or other mistakes that occur in the translation of negatives, modals and so on. These are things that, even if they have been updated and completed in the meantime in the Master's course, proved useful from the very beginning in the workshop exercises, because I was already familiar with those common mistakes and I knew how to find my way through the text and identify them quickly, I knew where in the text I should come back to several times.

When it comes to the relationship with literature, I can say that the experience was a bit different and more intense, in the sense that in the MA it happens that certain works or topics of discussion are recontextualized, because I was no longer studying Don Quixote in a Theory of Literature course about the boundaries between fact and fiction, but in a course on the Dynamics of Cultural Institutions from the perspective of copyright and bestseller status. Or we studied James Joyce and Gabriel García Márquez, only in the context of the marketability of certain titles or the definitions of the cult book and so on. And at times like these I really did get nostalgic, but at the same time I was also excited about new ways of approaching authors and literary texts for which I had a minimal background of knowledge from my undergraduate years.

However, I feel that my previous major has helped me to maintain a sustained reading practice so far, because now, in the MA, we are indeed given reading recommendations, but we no longer receive extensive lists of compulsory bibliography, probably also with the idea that as future professionals in the publishing industry we should read as much and as diversely as possible anyway. And the years of Letters, where we ended up having four literature courses in a single semester (if I count the electives), taught me how to integrate three or four books in parallel into my schedule and, later, after graduation, how to read with pen in hand, how to manage on my own to select my books and stick to them without exam pressure. Perhaps without those required readings in college I would not now know how to manage my "autonomy" as a reader received in my Master's degree. And instead, the first year of my Master's degree helped me remove some preconceptions formed in college and get back to reading for pleasure without feeling bad about keeping a modern classic and a volume of poetry, a bestseller or a YA novel on my desk.

How much did you know about how to make, promote and sell a book before you started your Masters?

Edward: By the time I got to this MA I had a fairly simple route mapped out in my head: manuscript - publisher - press - book. Everything that happens before, between and after these stages was unknown to me and I had no idea how many details and aspects the publishing process includes. I knew you had to pay attention to details, but I imagined it was pretty easy. But I didn't know what the actual role of the translator, the editor, the publisher or the marketing and promotion people was.

Mădălina: During university, I had the opportunity to learn a little about the construction of the editorial flow in a practice module that started in the first year. I had enrolled in the course of Professor Delia Ungureanu, called Little Secrets of Great Ideas, who in the second part of the module organized a series of meetings with several professionals in the literary field, including Bogdan-Alexandru Stănescu and Professor Mircea Martin. Then we discovered how a copyright department works, how an auction works, what the copyeditorthe DTP editorthe proofreaderdo. I remember that we also got to talk about the problems of Mircea Ivănescu's translation of Ulysses and how to intervene on a text - all this in broad terms, for reasons of time, but also because the purpose of these meetings was broader.

It wasn't until the first few weeks of the master's degree that I really learned the jargon of the job, how editors' goals differ, how a book gets permission to print, and more. Added to that were numerous other courses in which we were made aware that, by tradition, a book's failure rate is higher than its success rate, while offset by many other courses on strategies by which we could make each book's route to market a little more predictable.


What is the theory/practice weighting in the first two semesters' courses and how much has this ratio helped you understand how a publishing house works so far?

Edward: Personally, I think it's pretty balanced. We didn't have an exam that focused exclusively on theoretical concepts, and most of the time the assessment was based on a practical aspect (either writing the actual text or doing an interview or reading files). I still don't fully understand how a publishing house works, but that's also because of the pandemic, which prevented me and my colleagues from getting to a publishing house, to understand exactly how things work in this field. I hope this doesn't stop us in the new academic year.

Mădălina: After the first two semesters, I, at least, was left with the pleasant feeling that each professor, male or female, tried to find a balance between theory and practice in his or her own subject, regardless of whether it stood under the name of lecture, seminar or workshop. One day, Professor Ioana Pârvulescu was talking to us about the diplomacy that an editor has to show. Then she asked two colleagues to simulate a discussion in which the editor rejects the author's manuscript, an exercise that turned out to be very funny and successful. In another course, Cultural Press, Professor Mircea Vasilescu said he wanted to teach us how to cut a text and, after sharing some tips & trickswith us, he sent us articles to shorten by 500-1000 signs or to give a new title to, and we discovered that these tasks are harder than they look.

Beyond the theory segments and the exercises that we were doing, I think what stuck with me the most and I appreciated those practical tips or helpful insightwe got from the professors, i.e. those times when they spoke from their own experience as book industry professionals. For example, in the workshop on The Translation and Editing of Literary Texts, Professor Magda Răduță insisted on the ways to show professionalism in an editing test or in the negotiations between translator and editor, where "gut feelingdoesn't work" and where we must always be ready to justify our choice for a certain stylistic variant. And the examples could go on, but my point is that I couldn't have learnt these things from books, and I certainly couldn't have learnt them from my office chair, where the pandemic context kept me, if it weren't for these professors.

Either way, if I were to put things in balance and draw a line, there are two or three courses out of the six semester courses that are predominantly focused on the practical component, but that as a whole, have helped me understand how a publishing house works in an almost exhaustive and decidedly unidealised way - what responsibility each actor in the publishing chain has, what stages a manuscript goes through to get to the bookstores, what kind of decisions (where both principles and economic factors come into play) need to be made in a publishing house for it to survive. At the same time, I think we were all left with the regret that the practice classes were done remotely, rather than in the editorial offices of publishing houses or cultural magazines. It felt like we were missing something, especially since it was explained to us quite often that we were training for jobs that you learn in the right places, that you only really learn to be an editor (literary agent, bookseller, etc.) in an editorial office (literary agency, bookstore, etc.).

How up-to-date do you find the information in the courses?

Edward: For a History student, of course they are up-to-date! All joking aside, I found most of the courses to be "connected" to the reality of today, especially those on the editorial process, cultural press, or editing and writing techniques. We also had courses dedicated to the history of great books and publishing, but even there we were constantly invited to come up with our own examples, which were often much closer to the present day. 

Mădălina: The information taught is certainly up-to-date, but more than that, it is adapted to the contemporary Romanian context and to the profile of our Master's degree. When I say that I am also thinking of a course such as Rhetoric and Argumentation, which was not necessarily a course specific to our specialization, but where we had to do argumentation exercises that often targeted the publishing field, we analyzed book reviews, we studied types of prefaces and their rhetoric. Or in other courses where, inevitably, we had to work with foreign bibliography, this was always complemented by equivalences or examples from the Romanian field. So yes, the information in the courses is related to the present - even when their purpose is to trace the history of a profession, a consumer practice or a Romanian formula, they always culminate in discussions of their contemporary metamorphoses.

Which of the courses you have taken so far have you found most interesting?

Edward: I was afraid of this question. I can't really choose, because being a new field for me, I was attracted to a lot of courses that I wanted to learn as much as possible. But I can say that I was much more attracted to courses that had a high degree of student-teacher interaction and those that also made connections to other humanities fields such as history, philosophy and sociology. 

Mădălina: I'll take them in the order I took them throughout the semesters, because I found them all very interesting. So it would be Book Publishing, where we always had to have a new book next to us in order to respond on the spot to various requirements related to the layout of the book or the text of the fourth cover, where a small tour of bookstores was also organized, which involved meetings with booksellers (passing through Humanitas Kretzulescu, Cărturești & friends, Cărturești Carusel), where I learned how to do proofreading and other matters of nuance related to the search for the naturalness of language.

Then there would be The Translation and Editing of Literary Texts, where I had, in turn, workshops on Editing 1, Editing 2 and Paratext Editing, which also included discussions about translation schools or practices and decisions in the publishing chain that vary from one publisher to another. From here I know that I can check the fluency of a sentence by whispering it, or that there are no instances of value in a footnote, but more important, here I was imparted with an editor's ethos that I will always hold close to me and which I hope I have already internalised to some extent.

And alongside these are The Sociology of Books and Publishing and The Great Books. A Short Guide to Recognition and Use, which were very well structured and got me excited from the start. The first took us through three lectures on Pierre Bourdieu and literary field theory, then broadly through the paths of professionalization in the book industry (writer, literary agent, bookseller, etc.), without neglecting the reader. In the second we had two lectures on the literary canon, then we started discussing perceptions of world literature as banquet/sabbatical and the status of the bestseller, the cult book, the Great Book, plus case studies. I really enjoyed both and they helped me see literature differently.


If the first semester was exclusively online, in the second semester you managed to get a hybrid form and you were even in the classroom with some of the professors. How did you make that transition, how did you feel about it and how did the teaching/learning dynamic change from your point of view?

Edward: For me the transition was more than expected, I considered it necessary. Given that the epidemiological situation had improved in the spring, I couldn't bear the thought of waiting until autumn to go back to university. Talking to my colleague with whom I had gone hybrid last semester, I noticed at the end that time had passed much faster and I had already reached the end of my first year. I for one didn't feel mentally tired after classes and my ability to concentrate was much better. It was more physically tiring, admittedly, because I was caught between college, my driver’s licence and other extracurricular activities, but I managed to do them all at a level I was happy with myself. I think even the teachers I got to see face-to-face with were happy with the interaction we had. 

Mădălina: The first month of the second semester was also online, except that at that time people started talking about a possible return to university, there were also counsels and we, the masters students, were asked for our opinion, but for most of us the transition was too sudden, so we preferred the hybrid form for those who wanted it. But just before this general decision, Professor Oana Fotache told us that she would start teaching in the Literary Studies Department Hall to encourage this return. Then professor Magda Răduță told us that she was "hybridizing", and Edward started to suggest the same thing to other professors, because we saw it working.

I admit that initially I was a bit hesitant, I mean I was determined to come, but at the same time I had this worry, typical for our generation, of "I hope it's not awkward". But Edward's determination, who always said "I don't know, Mădă, I for one am tired of logging into classes from my room, it'll be okay", also gave me more confidence. I'm glad I took this step, the experience made me feel closer to the teachers and I realised that we can adapt quickly to any situation, because after only a few weeks, in a strange way, this hybrid format started to feel absolutely natural to me, as if it had always been that way. I was left with good memories. I sometimes sat with professors during breaks, I gave a short tour of the faculty to a colleague who had finished Philosophy and had never been to Letters before, we did a few lectures in small secretarial rooms that I had never been in before, because the rest were occupied. And I made a new friend along the way. J

Nu știu cât de mult s-a schimbat dinamica predării/învățării între timp, pe mine m-a ajutat să mă concentrez mai bine la cursuri și să-mi restabilesc o rutină, dar cred că în rest cursurile au rămas la fel de reușite pentru toate părțile, pentru că modul lor de desfășurare a rămas fundamental același. Cu micile excepții în care trebuia să ne asigurăm că noi, cei din sală, suntem auziți de cei de acasă, pentru că doar profesorii își țineau microfonul deschis J. Cred că schimbarea a fost mai semnificativă la nivel mental și emoțional, s-a simțit bine să ieșim mai mult din casă, să interacționăm propriu-zis, să reluăm acel du-te-vino între sălile de curs sau să ieșim la cafea în ferestre.

How much did the courses you took, the skills you learnt in your first year of your Master's degree meet your expectations?

Edward: For the first year I am satisfied. I came out of the first half of the master's program with a pretty clear picture of what book writing is all about, I met dedicated and professional professors, and I feel like I started to form a clear picture of what I like to do, what I'm better at doing, and what I don't like/can't see myself doing, which I think is an important thing for someone who is just starting out.

Mădălina: When I chose this Master's degree, I did it with the idea that the university had already given me the basic knowledge and tools to delve deeper into a subject in linguistics or literary history, and I wanted, on top of all that, to be able to move towards "learning a job" before I had even finished my academic career. And I can say that the MA in The Theory and Practice of Publishing has fulfilled my expectations in this respect, because now I can do a careful proofreading on the text, I know what the steps and techniques of editing are, what a properly done dossier or interview looks like, among other things. And I can also say that the master's degree has exceeded my expectations when I think that yes, it has indeed helped me learn some skills, either from the home office or from the desk, but more importantly, it has given me the confidence that I can apply them to a job, that the simulations we do here remain just as valid in the "real world".

What are your expectations from the second year?

Edward: I hope it will continue in the same direction, which I generally think is good. I hope that this academic year we can return to the faculty, that we can do our practice at a publishing house, not exclusively online, and that we can form a close bond between us students and between us and the professors. 

Mădălina: I can't wait for the Book Graphics and The Translation and Editing of Non-literary Textscourses, because I imagine them as sequels to the homologous courses of the first year, which were also among my favourites. They always made me think that, beyond any fear of the future or insecurity of mine, I like what I do, that's why I'm here, I made the right choice. And I'd like that feeling to continue.

I also expect to resume, in the current context, actual practice in publishing. And I'd really like us all to get together for classes this year - depending on how each colleague manages, of course, because I'm aware that it's more difficult for some people to always physically get to classes.

And what are your post-master's goals?

Edward: Personally, I really want to stay in academia and become a professor at the University, which is why I will continue my studies and do a PhD. I also want to work in the book industry, especially as the place where I am currently doing my internship has shown me that the book industry is very broad and has many professions included in it. I love the field too much to give it up after my studies.

Mădălina: My first step after my dissertation will be to get a job. I'd most like to work as a copyeditor, but lately I've also started to be interested in organising literature festivals and other cultural events. I realise, however, that they will remain rather long-term plans and that I will have to be patient, gain experience and expand my reading baggage. What is certain is that I want the job to be, however tangentially, related to publishing, because in the last year I have become even more attached to everything that involves it and I have decided to postpone the idea of a PhD. I'd like to break this safety net that the purely academic space represents for me, through which I've been self-validating for so long, and use the things I've learned in all the years I've been here to define myself differently and "become an adult", even if I don't really know what that would mean yet.

If you had to read one book, and only one, on repeat, what would it be?

Edward: I've never really considered reading a book like that, but if I had to choose, I think I'd go for Marin Sorescu’s Trei dinți din față (Three Front Teeth) ) or Ana Blandiana’s Integrala poemelor (Complete Poems) . Both feel like they have something endless in them that is universally valid, regardless of age. I can see myself reading them when I'm 80.

MădălinaI don't really have this practice of re-reading, I don't know why, but I think I would pick a book I first read as a teenager, most likely Jeni Acterian's Diary .

[The photos are part of Mădălina and Edward's archive.] [Translated into English by Oana Dragomir.]

Of the same category

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *