MPub Alumni not forgotten by the SFU Library

If you’ve graduated from SFU (congratulations!) and are living in the Lower Mainland, do hang on to your student card, because you can continue to take out books at SFU Library — for free.*  You can also access databases and other electronic resources from within the three SFU libraries. Details are available at the SFU guide Services to Alumni.

Alumni who are now outside the Lower Mainland have more limited access, but everyone can access a couple of dozen SFU databases, as listed in the section Electronic Resources Available to SFU Alumni Off-Campus.  Probably the most useful is Project Muse, with its Book History and Print Culture collection of ebooks and ejournals. If you have any questions, do let me know,

Nina Smart, Belzberg Library

*Unlike some other university libraries we could mention…



My Content Machine is Broken

I’ve never ‘required’ a textbook for my classes; given that I’m usually on about digital media, my classes are usually based on online resources. However, this past year, Michael Bhaskar published an excellent book on his theoretical model for understanding publishing, The Content Machine, and I thought this would make an excellent required reading for our grad students.

So I ordered a class set through the campus bookstore, and of course they were late arriving, but by the second week of class, everybody had a shiny red copy of The Content Machine — except two students, who came to me, puzzled, saying that something wasn’t right. Inside the red cover of their books was something else: Broken, by Traci L Slatton.

My Content Machine is (literally) Broken

Broken, on closer inspection, is a ‘paranormal romance’ involving angels, set in Nazi Germany (which explained the swastika on the title page). A little more digging showed that Broken is published by Parvati Press, which turns out to be an imprint created by Ms Slatton herself, for this and nine other books. You couldn’t have asked for a better setup: Inside my publishing textbook is a self-published paranormal erotica story. There’s the contemporary publishing landscape in one perfect image. Or, as I like to say, my Content Machine is Broken.

I wrote to Michael Bhaskar, who expressed considerable shock at the story. He wrote to Anthem Press, his publisher, who wrote me immediately, apologizing profusely and offering replacement copies. According to Tej Sood at Anthem, they inquired at the North American printer (Lightning Source, apparently), who pulled all copies of The Content Machine, but found no broken ones. As far as I can tell these were the only two of their kind… an easy enough mistake between the printing and binding machines, the two books almost exactly the same length, and evidently, working through the same short-run printing service.

No, I protested, I didn’t need replacements (we had enough to go around); we’re a publishing studies program and this was a perfect teachable moment. I just wanted to share the wonderful irony. Indeed, we’d spent a good amount of time talking about the episode in class, and investigating Broken and Parvati Press.

So I wrote next to Traci L Slatton, as she deserved to hear about this too. So I wrote her the whole story, saying, “Isn’t this rich? What wonderful irony…” and so forth. Ms Slatton, whose eyes are firmly on the ball, was unmoved by all that. She replied very simply, “Would your students like more copies of my book?”

I replied, yes, there is interest in your book here. She promptly sent me a box of ten — free of charge — and I distributed them (with their proper covers) to my students. Traci also suggested, in one of our exchanges, that the students might be interested to hear more about Parvati Press. At this point, I would be a fool to say no to all the riches that had fallen from the heavens on us, so I arranged her to join us in by Skype (she is in NYC) in early December.

Traci turned out to be a fascinating and engaging speaker. She told us of her route to being a publisher, which began with an expensively produced coffee-table book by her husband, who is a sculptor of note. She also spoke of her frustration with what she calls “legacy publishing” and her her belief that indies can do a better job of what was traditionally known as the midlist. She told us that she takes production values, cover design, editorial development, and such traditional concerns very seriously — that this is what separates “indie publishers” from the “self publishers” who don’t care about quality. And she told us that she currently had a number of authors in the pipeline, that now that she knows the ropes and how to put books together and bring them to market, she was in a position to provide this service to others.

In short, she rather perfectly embodied the values and virtues of publishing that have animated publishers through the ages; there’s no difference between Traci Slatton and the founders of the houses we now think of as “traditional” publishing — from Random House to ECW Press. Nothing, that is, except a much shorter path to market than the old guys had to contend with — and, maybe, less of a sense of entitlement?

In Canada especially, we like to celebrate our indie publishers. Many of the houses that make up this sector of the industry were founded in the 60s and 70s. Today, lots of people look with scorn upon the ‘self-publishers’ who flood Amazon with poor-quality books. I would remind them to look carefully, for along with the lemons you will find an indie publishing renaissance, featuring innumerable people who deeply care about the values and virtues of publishing, and who are animated by that same tradition. I for one welcome our new indie overlords.

BTW, I am in possession of two copies of My Content Machine is Broken (I had to wrestle one of them back from the SFU bookstore, who tried to return it). So far Bhaskar is the highest bidder. :-)

Call for Submissions: FCAT Undergraduate Conference 2015

Innovation, Composition, Engagement: Celebrating 5 Years of FCAT 

Call for Submissions is Open for the FCAT Undergraduate Conference on March 18, 2015

Location is Surrey City Hall: 13450 104 Avenue, Surrey BC (Adjacent to Surrey Central Skytrain Station)
Conference: 12:30pm to 5:30pm
Reception: 5:30pm to 7:00pm

For more information about the conference or to submit your work to showcase at the conference, please visit http://www.sfu.ca/fcat/ugc/

FCAT Undergraduate Conference 2015. March 18.
FCAT Undergraduate Conference 2015. March 18.

Ambit Publishing [Student Report]


Envisioning the Future of Publishing—Ambit Publishing, a student project from Pub401, taught by Juan Pablo Alperin—guest post by Holly Vestad, English major, publishing minor at SFU

It seems all student papers and year-end projects in publishing courses have a common theme: envision the future of publishing.

It’s not difficult to understand why the industry is going through significant change, and the Internet certainly needs no introduction. The future of print may remain a mystery, yet one group of students, when assigned the task to envision the future of publishing in Juan Pablo’s course Technology and the Evolving Book, ran with the assumption that print will hold an important place for decades to come.

Although the rest of our classmates designed elaborate and impressive business structures and new mediums that align with an increasingly techno-centric world, Karen La, Lauren Madsen, Alison Roach, Caili Bell and I (Holly Vestad) stuck with something perhaps seemingly more simple, yet infinitely more complex; a viable business plan for a print-only publisher.

ambit-publishingThe result of our research was Ambit Publishing, a theoretical publishing house whose central objective was to create brand loyalty.

Establishing brand loyalty was the most basic aspect of our thesis for the project, which sprang from our own noticeable lack of loyalty to any one specific publisher. As self-proclaimed bibliophiles and publishing students, we found ourselves to be the perfect market for publishers to reach out to in order to increase loyalty, and yet we felt unmoved by their efforts.

In order to establish loyalty for Ambit, we knew we needed to know our market inside and out. With research we discovered a niche market in Vancouver of affluent book lovers. From the information we knew about this market, we designed the company; our logo, clean aesthetic, mandate, book cover template and book synopses were all designed with these readers in mind. (Our full report can be seen here.)

To increase our brand recognition we decided all of our books would have the same cover, with only a central image that would change from title to title. We hoped this design repetition could work to increase tribe mentality amongst readers by helping them feel connected to Ambit’s aesthetic.

Ambit-bagIn addition, we created Ambit merchandise in the form of book totes and stickers with the intention of handing them out for free to our readers in the early stages of the company’s growth to help spread the word and gain that loyalty we were after. And we knew that if we could establish this loyal tribe, then authors would be attracted to the opportunity to promote and sell their book through the network of loyal Ambit readers.

Another significant aspect of Ambit’s business structure was that it explicitly positioned itself against Amazon. Ambit books would only be available through ambitpublishing.ca, our shop front or local retailers—no copies would be available for purchase on Amazon.

Ambit was designed with a specific hyper-local niche in mind; the global coverage that Amazon provides was not necessary. Our goal was to stay simple by tackling a local market and thriving within it. We also knew that explicitly defining an enemy would help to build tribe mentality. The very public battle between Hachette and Amazon only helped our case; Amazon’s true ugly and powerful colours really blossomed in 2014. Ambit positioned itself as a way for readers to stand against Amazon by supporting writers and a small, independent local publisher.

The financial aspect of Ambit is the area we think still needs the most help; although we created profit and loss statements, a financial statement and advertising budgets (as seen in our final report), we were worried of the projections for the second year. Regardless, we truly believe the structure behind Ambit provides a successful model for reader, author and publisher alike.

Related Links:

Ambit Publishing: http://ambitpublishing.ca/
Syllabus for Pub 401: http://tkbr.ccsp.sfu.ca/pub401/
Instructor Juan Pablo Alperin

Shed Simas Founds Onça Publishing


SFU Master of Publishing candidate Shed Simas is running a crowdfunding campaign to launch a Literary Speculative Fiction publishing house. 

Onça Publishing, BC’s newest literary speculative fiction publisher, has launched a crowdfunding campaign to fund the release of its first title, a special limited edition of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The campaign will help establish the company in the market, secure its financial future—and create one beautiful book. The Indiegogo campaign can be found at http://igg.me/at/onca-classics and will run until December 3.


Onça Publishing’s edition of Stevenson’s classic gothic novella, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, will be a collector’s item printed to the highest quality standards, and the publisher aims to raise $11,000 for the book’s release. Successfully meeting the campaign goal will mean Onça can cover the cost of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’s production and move into publishing new fiction starting in Fall 2015. Campaign benefits include copies of the book itself, exclusive artwork and even a permanent discount on the Onça Classics series, which will feature other classic books like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde that bridge the literary/speculative genre divide.

Onça Publishing was recently founded by Shed Simas, a graduate candidate in Simon Fraser University’s Master of Publishing program who has worked for a multitude of BC publishers, including Ronsdale Press, Tradewind Books, Douglas & McIntyre and Harbour Publishing. Simas is branching out and starting his own company in order to expand the market presence of literary science fiction and fantasy in BC while promoting high quality printed books.

For more information, please visit the Onça Publishing website: http://oncapublishing.com

To support the Indiegogo campaign visit http://igg.me/at/onca-classics before December 3.

RAW Content Earns Decisive Victory: Pubfight by the Numbers

RAW for the Win.

Fantasy league publishing got serious this semester with 4 teams competing for bragging rights.

From the beginning RAW Content led the pack with defensive title selections and print runs. Pubfight rookie Monique Sherrett of Mind over Matter Media (M/M) got a late start but swept to second place Nov 16 and held strong against the rest of the pack but was unable to gain on the runaway sales of RAW Content.

RAW’s $900,000 victory over M/M was a clear victory. Superstar and veteran Pubfighter Paulina said “show me the money!”

Vortext Press and Corbeau Press, both grossing under $1M, surrended, citing challenges getting into the game. “Our top titles just didn’t do it for us this season,” said Vortext Press in post-game analysis.

On the win, Vortext Poet Molly quipped, “the problem is theoretical, the stress is real.”


To be sure, RAW benefited from an unusually weak bid auction and game-play schedule, but their win is still a remarkable accomplishment in a fantasy publishing league where initial printruns and ongoing inventory management can make a considerable difference. Vortext’s staff deserve plenty of credit for publishing the right titles, at the right time, with the right print runs.



5 Tips for Nailing Your Book Pitch

It probably wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that at some point in time, each and every one of us has thought, “I should write a book”. Maybe it comes from a place of creativity, or from a deep-seated desire to share your ideas with the world, or even a dying wish to leave a legacy through written word.

Whatever the case, the reality is that not every book idea comes to fruition. So before you set off on your quest to become the next J.K. Rowling or Stephen King, you might want to run your idea by a few experts.

That is exactly what happened Saturday, Nov 8 at Canzine West 2014′s 1-2 Punch Book Pitch session. Hopeful authors stood up in front of an audience of peers and a panel of experts and pitched their book ideas. Through panel feedback the authors gained helpful insights to help them achieve their publishing dreams.

Panel of experts (left to right): Carrellin Brooks, TImothy Taylor, and Alison Lang

Offering up their advice were Alison Lang, writer, and editor for Broken Pencil; Timothy Taylor, novelist, journalist, and Assistant Professor at the UBC Creative Writing Program; and Carrellin Brooks, author and editor, and the BC/Yukon representative on the National Council of the Writers’ Union of Canada.

The audience heard pitches from multiple authors on books ranging from a political science fiction novel, to a graphic novel on the topic of environmental awareness, to a non-fiction exploration of entrepreneurship’s growing role in modern society. While each book received specific feedback there were many comments and points made that can be applied to every book pitch.

Here is a list of the top 5 tips for pitching a book:

  1. Don’t get caught up in the details.
    Your protagonist happens to have a tattoo of Tinkerbelle on his right bicep; he’s allergic to dogs and drinks 5 cups of coffee every day. Are any of these details relevant to the story? If the answer is no, then don’t mention them during the pitch. Stick to the main points of your book giving a high-level overview of its narrative. Offer hooks and suspenseful or intriguing details to leave your audience wanting to know more.
  1. Be clear about what kind of book it is.
    Is it fiction or non-fiction? A memoir? A thriller? A children’s book? Stating the format and genre of the book clearly and concisely in the opening of your pitch helps your audience get into the right mindset for your book and will help your ideas come across more clearly.
  1. Practice makes perfect.
    You never know when your 30 seconds in an elevator with a publisher might come along, so you’ll want to be prepared. Practise your pitch over and over again, in front of friends and family, fellow writers and anyone in the industry who you can get to listen. The more you practice, the easier it will become, so when you do bump into that editor or publisher you can wow them in 30 seconds flat.
  1. Be confident.
    You’re trying to sell your idea here, so cut out words like “kind of”, “maybe”, “sort of”, and “almost” whenever possible. You want to paint as clear a picture as possible for your audience, and saying, “It’s kind of a romance but also sort of science fiction” is nowhere near as clear as “It’s a sci-fi romance”.
  1. Be prepared to answer tough questions.
    Book pitches might seem like a one-sided conversation, but really they’re not. If you capture the interest of an editor or publisher, they’ll likely have some tough questions for you about the book, your background and platform as an author, any previous books you’ve published. Be prepared to answer these questions confidently, they could make or break your book’s chances of being published

Want more tips?

Meet Zinemaker Jillian Barthold — Canzine West

Jillian Barthold, right, made the trip to Canzine from Portland to showcase her handmade wares.

Canzine, presented by Broken Pencil, is underway at the Goldcorp Centre for the Arts in downtown Vancouver today from 1-7pm. As a celebration of zines, their makers, and the ideas they give life to, the festival has drawn makers from all over the Pacific Northwest. This is the story of Portland-based zinemaker Jillian Barthold’s story as told in her own words.

I actually just moved to the Pacific Northwest from Chicago, and I was researching zine fests that were over here and I saw Canzine. I was like, “Well I’ve never been to Canada.” I love to travel so I thought I might as well go.

Earlier a couple of really young girls came by, and they liked something so I just gave it to them. Their mom was saying, Zine culture is really important because you should get paid for your artwork but also be willing to give it away. She was like now you have to make something and give forward to someone else. I think that’s a really important thing for us to do as humans.

Jillian Barthold's handmade goods range from beer cozies to colouring books.
Jillian Barthold’s handmade goods range from beer cozies to colouring books.

I used to make zines when I was little, but I didn’t know they were zines obviously. I would just draw and then staple things together because I liked books and magazines.

There is a really big zine community in Chicago, which is where I went to college. So I got into it there.

Pity Party, Micheal Heck—his work is really awesome. I think we have very similar styles and when I see him do something awesome I want to do something similar but different.

I do a lot of illustrative stuff….I’m not always drawn to the long writing.

I really love the folding and the cutting and the putting together of it. I find it therapeutic to make something from start to finish.

A sampling of Jillian Barthold's postcards and zines.
A sampling of Jillian Barthold’s postcards and zines.


There’s Still Time to Make It to Canzine West 
Saturday November 8, 2014, 1-7pm
Goldcorp Centre for the Arts
149 West Hastings St.
Admission: $5 (includes the latest issue of Broken Pencil magazine)

For more info, see the Website

Can’t make it? Follow the fun on social media.

Twitter: @brokenpencilmag
Facebook: facebook.com/brokenpencilmag
Instagram: @brokenpencilmag
Hashtags: #canzine #canzinewest

4 Reasons You Need to Attend Canzine West


Canzine 2014: Festival of zine culture and independent arts is Saturday, November 8th, 1-7 pm, at Goldcorp Centre for the Arts, 149 West Hastings St. Vancouver. brokenpencil.com/canzine

1) Meet some cool people
With over 200 zinemakers, comic book artists and small presses represented, the Giant Zine and Small Press Fair is the place to talk to a variety of artists and writers from around the world about DIY. The booths will be open from 1-7 pm, so you have plenty of time to chat with local zinesters. If you need a break, check out cartoonist Mimi Pond at 4 pm.

A writer for The Simpsons with over three decades of cartooning under her belt, Mimi Pond has a lot of wisdom to share. Her new book and New York Times bestseller, Over Easy, is a memoir-ish account of working as a dishwasher in coke-addled, disco era Oakland. It has been called, “As funny and warm-hearted as a memoir about a bunch of punks, drug dealers, hippies, and art school dropouts screwing in the 1970s can get.” Stop by for a chat with a comic industry legend.

2) Improve your craft

Mimeograph machine on the fritz? Stop by the panel “From Print to Pixel: Zines as Political Tools in the Digital Age” at 2 pm. Three zine makers and bloggers—Melissa Fong, Ho Tam and fiona fruitfly—talk about what it means to go digital, and how the medium they choose affects the message they try to convey.

Or relax into the Radical Reading Series at 5 pm with Leanne Prain and Meredith Quartermain. Leanne Prain writes about textiles, yarnbombing, and art. Meredith Quartermain writes fiction about Canadian issues. Both are represented by independent presses, and will read from their newest books.

3) Be humiliated in public
Think you have the next great book lurking inside you? Save yourself hours in front of a word processor and find out if you can get it published. The 1-2 Punch Book Pitch at 3pm is like Dragon’s Den for books. You have two minutes to present your book idea to a panel of judges. If they like it, you can win bragging rights, a Broken Pencil Prize Pack worth $200, plus the chance to submit your manuscript. If they don’t like it, they’ll rip your inner muse to shreds in front of a live audience.

4) Pick up awesome stuff

Your $5 ticket does more than get you the latest issue of Broken Pencil magazine and admission to all the fun events. It also gives you access to the best pop-up zine distro in Vancouver. Get hot-off-the-presses chapbooks, hand-illustrated posters, unique buttons, stickers, and more. Here’s what $10 got one shopper at Canzine Toronto:

Screenshot from 2014-11-02 16:31:58

Don’t Miss Canzine West 
Saturday November 8, 2014, 1-7pm
Goldcorp Centre for the Arts
149 West Hastings St.
Admission: $5 (includes the latest issue of Broken Pencil magazine)

For more info, see the Website or follow the fun on social media.

Twitter: @brokenpencilmag
Facebook: facebook.com/brokenpencilmag
Instagram: @brokenpencilmag
Hashtags: #canzine #canzinewest