Though the percentage of students taking gap years between their senior year of high school and freshman year of college is still low, conversations about gap years or taking a year “off” have become more and more commonplace as people have begun leaning further toward non-traditional schooling. But how can a gap year boost your influence in writing circles and help establish you in the publishing industry?
Pete Ford, a 20-year-old freshman at Calvin College pursuing a degree in Literature, decided to embark on a journey to answer that question. After graduating from high school a year early, Ford set aside two years “to see how far [he] could go before [he] needed to get a college degree.” In these two years, Ford spent his time working to establish himself both in the adult world (getting a job and moving out) and in the publishing world (making contacts and learning more about the industry).
During his high school years, one of Ford’s mentors enlisted him to help format a self-published book. From that connection, Ford was asked to take part in multiple website projects. He says, “I kept saying ‘yes’ to each opportunity and did the work. He introduced me to some people who he knew, who introduced me to other people.” Ford kept creating and accepting opportunities like volunteering at the Breathe Christian Writers Conference, auditing a college class on editing, and building a relationship with the professor of that course. He summarizes his experiences by saying, “I guess it was a mixture of opportunities that came to me and my own initiative.”
Networking is a crucial yet often difficult step for writers and artists alike. Ford states it “is as important as creating your content because, without marketing, no one will read your work.” He confides he found the hardest thing about it was recognizing the “fine line between networking and using people for their connections.” He learned this at a writers’ conference when a literary agent and freelance writer expressed how frustrating it was to her when people asked to meet with her to get information and did not even offer to pay for the meal or coffee. A keen student, Ford remembered her comments and when he met with her about a month later paid for their lunch at Panera. “Since then, when I have had frequent opportunities to interact with her, I have been able to face her honestly because I didn’t just use her for her information.” Ford stresses that authors should “make sure you genuinely want to get to know [the people you’re meeting with]” and not just use them as stepping stones to something greater.
Looking back, Ford was most surprised by how people reacted to his taking two years “off”- some were hostile about it while others supported the idea- and just how important the gap was for him. However, after two years of networking, working, and forming valuable connections and relationships to establish himself in the publishing industry, Ford realized that he will still need “a little piece of paper I could only get at a college,” so he enrolled in the fall of 2016 at Calvin College and has now successfully completed his first year of university. Some might see going back to school as a setback, but Ford has no regrets. He explains, “I wanted to have some sort of idea [of] what I wanted to study before I started college. I have friends who are paying the big bucks for college when they might find joy in being an electrician or another tradesperson. I wanted to be sure I had a direction before forking over the cash.” Now, Ford is better equipped than he would have been if he had enrolled two years ago. He has connections, experience, and a clear idea of what he wants to accomplish, not to mention the motivation to see it through. “I waited to continue my schooling until I wanted to learn. I’m glad I did because now I go to school because I want to.”
Author: Sarah Hope Carlson, June 20, 2017