The MPub Experience: Student to Staff

MPub Faculty – Leanne Johnson, Mauve Pagé, Hannah McGregor, and John Maxwell

THE MPUB EXPERIENCE: STUDENT TO STAFF

John Maxwell
1995/96
Roberto Dosil
1996/97
Monique Sherrett
1998/99
Suzanne Norman
1999/00
Mauve Pagé
2006/07
Leanne Johnson
2008/09

Beware—even if you finish MPub, MPub may not be quite finished with you. Sometimes, you might be called back as an industry guest to talk to bright-eyed publishing students; but for some, the call is much more insistent.

Many of the publishing staff at SFU are former MPub graduates, so we thought we’d investigate further and ask them about their MPub experience from both sides of the program.

What was your career before you came to MPub as a student?
John Maxwell (Director)—I was an early web developer; it was the early 90s; there wasn’t that much going on, and so I lived from small contract to small contract.

Why did you choose to enroll in the MPub program?
Suzanne Norman (Publishing Workshops)—I had a young family and knew journalism (investigative) was not the greatest fit with family life. It is very time intensive, random hours, and too much travelling.

How was your career affected after you graduated?
Roberto Dosil (Design)—There were no immediate effects, however, it gave me the impetus to develop a book project that became the foundation of Stanton Atkins & Dosil (SA&D) a small house dedicated to publishing Canadian history.

What led you to return to Publishing at SFU in a teaching role?
Mauve Pagé (Design)—I love publication design and there are not many design programs that teach book design specifically. I like working with young designers and getting students that initially didn’t think they had any design skills to see the potential of using design in their work (even if it isn’t specifically design-related).

How does being an MPub alum affect the way you teach MPub cohorts/publishing students?
John Maxwell (Director)—Mostly sympathy for those in the midst of the Book Project experience, I think 🙂 More broadly, I think those of us who have been on the student side have a bit of built-in context about who we are and what we’re doing. This goes as well for the many industry guests who are also MPub alumni… they know who they’re talking to when they come in.

Besides being part of the Publishing faculty at SFU, how else are you involved in the publishing industry?
Leanne Johnson (Management and Marketing)—I am an art-book publisher. My small press is called Gave and Took Ink and we produce art books. In the past 6 or 7 years, I have become fascinated with the process of creating electronic literature, which has become a central focus of my art. So I am still working at it!

What would you say to incoming students is the best way to approach the MPub program?
Monique Sherrett (Online Marketing)—Be open to experiencing and understanding all facets of the industry before committing to only one discipline. I came to the program as an editor, looking to be a publisher. I left with design and management skills, and ended up working in marketing and sales. Then I became an entrepreneur.

3 Questions with MPub Alumni

3 QUESTIONS FOR MPUB ALUMNI

CRAIG RIGGS

partner at Turner-Riggs and founder of ReaderBound
MPub 1998/99

What was something you wish you had done differently while in school?
Take more courses outside of my focus area. Both of my degrees are very much in the “applied studies” vein (Bach Commerce, MPub). In hindsight, I wish I had explored more liberal arts or classical subjects during my undergrad program in particular. I have a lot of interests—in music, philosophy, even religious studies—that I missed the chance to explore during that time.

What was the most valuable skill you took away from your time in the MPub program?
An openness to – in fact, a keen interest in – critical feedback on my work.

What is 1 piece of advice you would give to current publishing students (this could be advice for publishing minors or MPub)?
Be passionately curious outside of your primary interests in publishing. If you are an editor, make friends with spreadsheets. If you are more marketing-inclined, learn how to really work with a manuscript. You will never regret it and the empathy and insights you’ll develop for other aspects of the publishing process will serve you extremely well.

GERILEE MCBRIDE

Advertising and Promotion Manager at UBC Press
Mpub 2006/07

What was something you wish you had done differently while in school?
I treated the MPub as an incubator environment and let myself be free to ask all the questions and participate in all the conversations. Regret is fantasy—this is a phrase I learned from my mentor, Margaret Reynolds (retired Executive Director of the ABPBC), and one that I’ve embraced wholeheartedly. You can always keep going forward, learning and improving, but you can never go back in time. Not yet anyway.

What was the most valuable skill you took away from your time in the MPub program?
Learning to view the publishing process through the many different lenses (design, editorial, production, acquisitions, business development, marketing, etc.) made me realize that publishing only happens with the understanding that every person/position is an important part of the whole. Oh, and make editors your best friends. I cannot recommend this enough. They almost always have the answers you need.

What is 1 piece of advice you would give to current publishing students (this could be advice for publishing minors or MPub)?
Ask all the questions, all the time. School is your opportunity to explore and experiment so don’t hold yourself back—it’s one of the few opportunities you get to be 100 percent optimistic.

PASCHAL SSEMAGANDA

Publishing Officer at the World Bank Group 
MPub 2006/07

What was something you wish you had done differently while in school?
One thing I wish I had done while at university is go on exchange, particularly during my undergrad. That is a great time to travel, meet new people, to grow in terms of cultural awareness and exposure. I’ve had some opportunities to travel personally and for work since school, but I think I would have matured faster had I done so back then.

What was the most valuable skill you took away from your time in the MPub program?
I learnt a great deal during my time in the MPub program. I learnt how to create and evaluate design for books, magazines, and the web, to edit, to create videos. But I think the most valuable skill I acquired was the ability to make compelling presentations. Those presentations in the first semester to industry leaders were more significant than I realized. Whether you stay in publishing or go into another industry, the ability to speak about your work in front of a group of strangers is an important skill. I recently had to make a presentation to our sales agents at the Frankfurt Book Fair, and I was at ease through the entire process. That would not have happened if I had not learnt how to present during the MPub.

What is 1 piece of advice you would give to current publishing students (this could be advice for publishing minors or MPub)?
As an international student I was already comfortable communicating with people of different backgrounds. However, the intensive group work in the MPub taught me how to work quickly and effectively with people from different backgrounds. I’d advise anyone taking the program to really pay attention to that aspect of the program and take that opportunity to truly understand how to work collaboratively. Since I graduated I have spent the majority of my career working with groups of people, some of whom are sometimes scattered around the world. I now understand that the best employees and team members are not always the most technically advanced. Most of the time, they tend to be the ones who know how to collaborate.

ALA SERAFIN

Editor, Digital Services at Canada Life
Mpub 2014/15

What was something you wish you had done differently while in school?
I wish I had taken more marketing classes in university, since I see now that sponsored content is the future of publishing (or at least I think so). There are an increasing number of lucrative opportunities in content marketing these days. I’ve experienced this first-hand as I transitioned my publishing career from editorial to marketing.

What was the most valuable skill you took away from your time in the MPub program?
For me, it was a tie between marketing and digital design skills (e.g. using Adobe CC, coding, branding, etc.). These were my greatest areas of development, since I entered the MPub program with years of editorial writing and editing experience.

What is 1 piece of advice you would give to current publishing students (this could be advice for publishing minors or MPub)?
Consider a future in content marketing. (I honestly love my job!)

The ‘3 Questions’ series was originally developed by MPub staff and alumni Monique Sherrett and published on the Publishing@SFU blog

My MPub Days Were Never Like This

Close up of artist signature and woman in sun hat. Robert Michener painting 'The Good Old Days Were Never Like This'

MY MPUB DAYS WERE NEVER LIKE THIS

Heidi Waechtler
MPub 2011/12
PUB800 2020

Robert Michener painting 'The Good Old Days Were Never Like This'

Robert Michener, The Good Old Days Were Never Like This, 1976, oil on linen. SFU Art Collection. Gift of the artist, 2000. Photo: SFU Galleries

Most memories I have of MPub are fond: late nights in the project rooms, debating typefaces while drinking smuggled wine out of plastic goblets, sharing snacks over the transom of the unfinished divider walls. But one in particular has both haunted and perplexed me: The Painting. If you did the program in the last twenty years, you know which one I mean.

A silver-haired character (Triton? Poseidon? Zeus himself?) in a colourful Speedo runs after a bikinied woman across a beach, his arms outstretched as if to capture her. The woman looks back at him, her hair windswept around a playful expression masking, I imagine, sheer terror. Another man in the foreground in repose underneath an umbrella, his reading material— a copy of Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer—cast aside so he can leer at the woman walking past in a hat and sunglasses (perhaps her attempt to enjoy the beach unmolested). Signs of decadence—animal-print swimwear, wine, a baguette—dot the shore. Two figures hoist a canoe above their heads, off to sea to escape all of this. A range of skin tones are on display, but it’s unclear if this is diversity or just a bunch of white people who like to tan.

What does it all mean? I’m no art historian—I’m still working in book publishing, ten years after the program—but this kitschy tableau, juxtaposed with the work’s title, The Good Old Days Were Never Like This, suggests a false nostalgia for a time that never really existed. If it’s intended as a riff on the saying, “The good old days were never really that good,” are the painting’s forced perspectives a reminder that the male gaze is an equally forced cultural perspective? I wonder.

What intrigues me most, though, is how the painting found its way to the third floor of Harbour Centre in the first place. Who decided it should hang in the north student lounge populated mostly by MPub students, serving as the backdrop for many a group photo or as a conversation starter at the many receptions held in that space? (The plaque states that it was donated to the SFU Art Collection in 2000 by the artist, Robert Michener. SFU Galleries tells me no one on staff was around when the painting was donated, so I guess we’ll have to let the mystery be.)

Close up of artist signature and woman in sun hat. Robert Michener painting 'The Good Old Days Were Never Like This'

Still, it leaves me wondering: is its location a coded message intended for the program’s aspiring publishers? “Treasure your salad days, with your made-up P&Ls and your PubFight, before you’re publishing for keeps”? Patronizing. “Uphold the freedom to read at all costs, as Grove Press did through the Miller obscenity trials”? That’s a bit of a stretch. “Keep your eye on the prize”? Gross.

And when the painting was relocated from the lounge where it loomed large in the MPub imagination to a more neutral space next to the elevators in 2018, what did that say about the state of publishing and campus culture? Did someone decide enough was enough – that the largely women-dominated cohorts didn’t need to be bear witness to a #MeToo moment in the making while they were just trying to learn about Canadian cultural policy or code some CSS?

One of my MPub colleagues remarked recently that she thought of the male pursuer as her project report, prodding her to get it done. Another commented that the image would make for a good “tag yourself” meme. (I’m the starfish.) But maybe a friend/alum/former third floor employee, put it best: “I’ve always disregarded this painting, but I’ve never not noticed it.”

She’s right: it’s the most forgettable yet indelible piece of corporate art I’ve ever encountered. I hope The Painting lives within range of the Publishing offices for at least another twenty-five years, when books are files beamed into our brains. And I hope it becomes a pentimento, its casual summer misogyny gradually overwritten by accomplishments of future cohorts—students who I have faith will build a more equitable publishing industry.

#tagyourself

Robert Michener painting 'The Good Old Days Were Never Like This' hung in SFU Harbour Centre hallway

On the Scale of Paper Cranes

Two paper cranes

ON THE SCALE OF PAPER CRANES

Leena Desai
MPub 2017/18

The 2017/18 MPub cohort poses in front of the welcome figure (carved by Musqueam artist Brent Sparrow) in the Harbour Centre foyer.
MPub 2017/18 cohort –– courtesy of Leena Desai

Intense. And short. That’s what MPub is. It’s like going down a roller coaster; one moment you’re screaming and crying and the next moment it’s over. Or like taking a flu shot; it will pain and sting you for a minute and then it’s done. Anyone who has been through it probably knows what I mean… You end up spending eight months with the program and then we birds fly the coop, you know, for the co-op? I feel like my thoughts on MPub run the risk of turning into a series of dad jokes that I can’t stop myself from writing even though I’m clearly not a dad. But in all seriousness, I was lucky to spend my time with some really awesome people. Sure, we had our disagreements, fights even, and several glum moments, but MPub wouldn’t be MPub without those now, would it?

I was in the 2017-2018 cohort and I like to think of us as special, maybe every cohort does. The ’17-’18 MPubbers were 14 women and 2 men and between us we represented Asian, Black, Hispanic, and Indigenous cultures and perspectives and that made for a really diverse and lively group. We were also the lucky ones to witness Harbour Centre in the throes of renovation when we joined. It wasn’t Scott’s editing class, or a book project group meeting, if it wasn’t accompanied by the soundtrack of drilling and hammering. In the second semester we were moved to the 7th floor, but it didn’t matter, because by that time, our sense of hearing had been rendered numb; our ears mere accessories for our heads. Also, the 7th floor was full of snoots; but we soon learned to walk in their rarefied air, with the same sense of ownership and snobbery as the PhD candidates there.

It was a fun year, even if it got a little too real towards the end. If I were to choose a unit of measurement for the level of MPub intensity and fatigue we experienced, that unit would be paper cranes. My friend and fellow MPubber, Ashley, is skilled in origami, a craft she practices to calm herself. On any given day, our level of stress could be gleaned from taking one look at Ashley’s desk. One crane and it was a swim in a placid lake, when John was like, thumbs up, you’re doing great! 50 cranes meant that we had hit the rapids, when John was like, your business model is shit and you’re not gonna make any money! Clarification: John, obviously, didn’t use those words; he used some other words that sent my group hyperventilating back up to Snootsland, where we huddled together and solemnly declared that the end was nigh. You get the gist… the year, in total, could be summed up on a scale of 1 to 138475619125 cranes. Let’s just say that towards the end, we had been smacked bang in the face with a tsunami.

Thankfully, it wasn’t always all work and no play. I had rented the basement of an empty house in Burnaby—reportedly worth a few mil—with two of my classmates. When Anumeha, Taylor and I weren’t setting off the motion-sensitive burglar alarm by, basically, er… moving, we were throwing some memorable cohort parties and get-togethers: toasting marshmallows over fire, throwing a Thanksgiving potluck and an elaborate Indian food night, turning the common area into an impromptu dance club, touring the fancy digs upstairs and wishing we could afford them… We had some good times at that place and as a cohort.

MPub is a unique program; I met amazing people, learned a lot and made some good memories. Looking back, I wish it had lasted just a little bit longer. Like I said, it’s short and it’s intense. Blink and it’s over.

Past Projects – PUB606 Media Project

PUB606 – MAGAZINE/MEDIA PROJECT

In its conception, PUB606 had MPubbers developing a magazine concept and creating a business plan – complete with cost projections and audience insights – to pitch to a panel of industry ‘investors.’ Over the years, the project has evolved to adapt to the amorphous nature of today’s media. PUB606 projects now include everything from experimental ‘un-magazines’ to podcasts, or even subscription boxes. With an iterative process similar to the book project, student enterprises have needed to be ready to pivot at a moment’s notice, but the intensity of the magazine/media project has always produced interesting and innovative media endeavours.

2012/13

TETHER – ‘TYING YOU TO AFFORDABLE, OFFBEAT EVENTS IN VANCOUVER'

Lauren Cheal
MacKenzie Hamon
Natalie Hawryshkewich
Elena Mickic
Kimberly Swetland

An online-first ‘un-magazine’ promoting local events and businesses/organisations in Vancouver, Tether encouraged readers to Explore, Meetup, Engage, and Workshop. The primary publication was followed up by their secondary subscription-based monthly print component, Tether Toolkit, including a mini magazine, local coupons, music downloads, recipe cards, art prints, and other assorted ephemera. The team utilised events as a uniquely independent content stream, with their Tether Presents and Tether Connects events.

FOLD – 'SLOW THE FUCK DOWN'

2012/13

Fold, a quarterly mindfulness and slow living magazine, was pitched to inspire an audience of ‘younger aesthetes’ to slow down and appreciate the beauty of the everyday. Truly a coffee-table artifact with a lush 120 pages of content to peruse at your own leisure. The publication also boasted a secondary online component to keep up with the digital interests of their primary audience, as well as biannual themed digital guides as supplemental content.

Braden Alexander
Laura Pastore
Angelina Tagliafierro
Lee Wyndham

2015/16

PAPER PLANE – 'THE DIY MAG FOR KIDS'

Kathleen Burckhardt
Monica Miller
Natalie Hamilton
Alison Strobel
Aniela Ciuca
Alice Fleerackers
Zoe Tustin

A weekly digital-first magazine for creative families, specifically targeting the west coast of Canada, Paper Plane aims to inspire children aged 6-11 through art, creative projects and activities. The quarterly print edition of the magazine is themed and features reader-submitted highlights of completed artworks and projects.

BROOD – ‘WELCOME TO THE PARENT HOOD’

2012/13

Published six times a year, Brood is not only a parenting magazine but also a website and an online community. With everything from lighthearted anecdotes to thought-provoking features on the state of parenting in the 21st century, Brood can find a place on the cluttered coffee tables of any parent.

Katherine Hutton
Mike Leyne
Duany Diaz
Jaspring Xie
Sophie Blom

2015/16

PALATE – 'THE ART OF TASTE'

Katherine Brenders
Josh Oliveria
Ali O’Neill
Sarah Corsie
Daryn Wright
David Ly
Ames Bourdeau

 A quarterly artistic food magazine, conceived as a larger, more substantial standalone spin-off of Montecristo’s ‘Palate’ section. Focusing on Vancouver food and drink, Palate is an image/art based publication with a supplementary online component to keep up with current food trends between their print issues. Cohesively themed and designed, each issue features a prominent feature colour and the very best of Vancouver’s culinary gems.