And First There Were Three – The Inaugural Cohort

AND FIRST THERE WERE THREE – THE INAUGURAL COHORT

MELISSA SWANN & MAHIMA BHAGWAT 
MPUB 2019/20

As two of the most recent MPubbers—though we’re not quite done yet—we’ve experienced the program in a unique light. It’s not an editing class if you’re not deciphering Scott’s cryptic handwritten feedback. Hypothes.is annotations are forever sprinkled across all your readings for the week (and maybe someone’s dropped in a funny GIF to break up the heavy discourse). Book project crunch-time panic comes bundled with the small joy of making your own promotional buttons on Mauve’s brand new button press. Afternoon classes are sometimes infused with a sugar rush as a box of Timbits makes its way around the desks. These are all the little things that made up the MPub experience for us.

But it is certainly a long road from the beginnings of MPub to where we find ourselves today. While the program is, relatively speaking, a fairly young addition to SFU, 25 years kicking around the Vancouver campus is certainly a substantial milestone—one we would like to stand atop and look back on the road that brings us here. In the spirit of retrospection and reminiscing, we spoke with the first ever students (or guinea pigs, as they sometimes thought of themselves) of the Master of Publishing to find out more about the earliest days of the program and how much things have changed since then.

26 years ago, the MPub we know and love didn’t exist. Rowly Lorimer had to make very special arrangements with SFU in order to enrol students into a program that wasn’t actually official. These students would prove to the senate that a full-scale publishing program was worthwhile for scholarly inquiry and practice. So, in its conception, MPub consisted of only three students—Bette Laughy, Michael Hayward, and Nancy Duxbury. As Nancy put it,

“It was kind of a mutually beneficial arrangement. So the three of us were, I think, really eager to start a program which didn’t properly exist yet.”

In the time before the book project, magazine/media project, and tech project, the original MPubbers relied on quite a bit of independent study, individually taking the courses they needed to from professors borrowed from the Communication and Business departments. But as any graduate will tell you now, there’s no way to avoid group work in MPub. While sometimes it can lead to hilarious bonding moments (picking up a fake, smelly potted plant off the street to use as your fake company’s mascot for instance), other times it can lead to a fistfight outside the project rooms. For better or worse, group projects are a staple of the current MPub experience.

As we talked to the first graduates about the differences between then and now, Michael was quick to express:

“The one thing I missed—and I’m sure we’d all feel much the same—by going through as guinea pigs or pioneers we didn’t have the opportunity to work in a cohort, in groups, and I’ve always enjoyed group work so I kind of wish we’d had a chance to do the book projects, the magazine projects that current MPub students work on collaboratively.”

Like the joys and trials of group work, all MPubbers have experienced the long list of publishers, publicists, editors, designers, and sales reps that file through our two short semesters of classes—in fact, many graduates become those guests, returning to the program to share their worldly wisdom or commiserate with current students in the thick of book project revisions. John would even sometimes excitedly tout our graduate guests as ‘proof of life after MPub!’ The initial test program, with its nascent curriculum, no official department, and no real textbooks, relied heavily on instruction from publishing professionals.

“That was certainly one of the key components of the MPub program, what made it so unique and so interesting to people like us is that it had backing from industry and key people from the Canadian publishing industry were participating as instructors.”
–Michael Hayward

MPub does equip us with the knowledge we need to undertake the business of publishing, but having access to such practical expertise from industry professionals, having this unique mix of theory and practice, has always been one of the program’s hallmarks, which we know hasn’t changed over two decades later. Even today we would agree with Nancy that our “best source of knowledge [is] the publishers.”

And to publishers is where most students go for their internships. Curiously, we learned that 25 years ago, when email was still a novelty, all three of the initial graduates each used their internships to work in electronic publishing. Bette helped create a computer-based curriculum for public safety officials with Kwantlen University College (now Kwantlen Polytechnic University), Michael worked in Yaletown on an early online magazine, and Nancy, after missing her first choice due to a snail mail application arriving too late, ended up working on a Gopher site for UBC Press—one of only seven presses in North America that had an online presence at the time. The internship and project writing semesters were a cornerstone of the prototype MPub program just as they are today and it’s where MPubbers like us get the chance to be part of the ever evolving, innovative world of publishing.

Certainly, the technical ‘how’ of publishing has changed over the years with ebooks and audiobooks, accessibility technologies, the growing influence of online retailers and the importance of SEO and discoverability in an ever-saturated market. But the ‘why’ of publishing, which all MPubbers are taught, remains largely unchanged; As we, and the first graduates, were repeatedly told, both the definition of and reason for publishing is “to make public.”

“We were exposed to a lot of the debates about who owns what and who controls what and how information circulates and how people can get into that game. You realised that the definition of publishing is to make public, which was told to us a number of times, in that it was a cultural matter and it was a political matter and it was really important and that this power could be a small little entrepreneurial business.”
–Nancy Duxbury

Yes, it is a business that must be profitable but it is also a cultural responsibility, a ‘power’ that can equalize knowledge, representation, and society. This is the dependable throughline we’ve observed while investigating the course of MPub’s tenure.

Publishing, and learning its history, has changed the lens through which we view the world. The progression from oral to scribal histories, from print book to electronic—these are sentiments that our cohort raised during our History of Publishing seminars with Dr. Hannah McGregor. And 25 years later, Bette also still vividly remembers the impact that The Printing Press as an Agent of Change by Elizabeth Eisenstein had during her time in the program. She considers the philosophy fascinating and insightful and recalls the similarities drawn between the hierarchy of the print book—in titles and chapters and subjects and headings—and our society’s own organizational structures.

“It just absolutely fascinated me, that was probably the highlight for me even though I loved every bit of it, but that was just such a worldview.”
–Bette Laughy

Much like the publishing industry itself, MPub will probably never have the luxury of standing still. Right now, we’re bookending these last 25 years of Publishing at SFU, but after 25 more years of MPub our perspective will only mark the halfway point. Students in 2094 might be taught how to format entire libraries in brain implants or design integrated holograms for their made up book project titles, but even 100 years down the road, why we publish will be the same.

Storytime With Jo-Anne Ray

STORYTIME WITH JO-ANNE RAY

Every MPubber, and every member of  Publishing@SFU knows Jo-Anne. She’s been involved with MPub since it’s inception and the program has, in multiple ways, been built into what it is now through her consistent efforts.

We wouldn’t be here if not for Jo-Anne and no MPub anniversary is complete without her and her hilarious stories. So we took an afternoon to chat and have immortalized some of her terrific tales for you here.

Highlights include the horrific mismatching of attire, some unjust manhandling, a CCTV’d party, and six layers of American jeans.

A transcript of these stories is available here.

Program manager Jo-Anne Ray

Some adventures with Canadian Border Services before coming to SFU.

The road that led to working in the SFU publishing department.

How does beer end up in a filing cabinet, forgotten for months?

You can bet on Jo-Anne to know these things.

Sometimes, sweaty feet are a sacrifice you have to make for fashion.

Let’s reminisce about publishing parties until we can have another!

There are no rules if Jo-Anne says it’s okay.

Jo-Anne exercises her newfound security know-how.

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