Heidi Waechtler was once an MPub student—and now she’s the Executive Director of the Association of Book Publishers of BC (or ABPBC, which being able to say quickly and correctly is almost a right of passage for Master of Publishing students).
She sat down to answer the questions we all have as we’re nervously researching, applying, and starting the degree: why did you choose this program? What doors did it open for you? And was it worth it?
Check out her responses below:
“My decision to apply to the MPub program began with what you would now call FOMO, or ‘fear of missing out.’ (Okay, I didn’t enter the program that long ago.) I had friends who were completing the program or had recently finished, and even though I already held a certificate in editing from SFU, was working in a publishing-related job (as the project coordinator for the Magazine Association of British Columbia), and had begun building a professional network, I realized from hearing about the assignments my friends were working on that there was still a lot I didn’t know about the actual business of publishing. The program made sense to me as a way to ground what I knew in a combination of academic study and practical training, and to receive feedback from working industry professionals along the way.
After completing the coursework, I ended up doing my internship in the editorial department at McClelland & Stewart in Toronto, and eventually became the managing editor at Coach House Books, where I worked for four years. In both roles I had the opportunity to work with and learn from some of the country’s top publishing professionals and authors. Two years ago, I moved back to Vancouver to take on the position of executive director of the Association of Book Publishers of British Columbia – bringing me back almost full circle to an industry-facing role where I now draw on my experience to work on policy, marketing, and business development initiatives on behalf of the province’s book publishers.
Looking back on the late nights spent in the MPub project rooms with my colleagues, I realize the most important thing I took away from the program – besides how to do a P&L or write an effective call to action – was the knowledge that if I were capable of managing the complex, open-ended assignments in a condensed timeframe, I could manage whatever challenges the real publishing world would present me with. Write snappy yet intelligent sales copy for a book that wasn’t yet completed? I’d done it before. Come up with an idea for out-of-the-box promotional swag to include with a review copy? I had a couple of vendors in mind already. Proofread a manuscript overnight so we could rush it off to press? Hand me a coffee, and consider it done.
There are realities about the industry I could have only learned on the job, but the MPub program helped me become more confident in my own ability to see a project through to completion and also – thanks to the aforementioned project-room time – more humble about the value of collaboration.”
The Digital Humanities Innovation Lab (DHIL) invites applications for the DH Fellow program for the Fall 2018 semester. DH Fellows are graduate student positions that support the research, training, and outreach mandates of the DHIL.
Working in collaboration with the DHIL planning committee, the DH Fellow will contribute to the technical development of lab-associated digital research projects, provide training on digital tools via workshops and consultations, and participate in lab hosted events and programming.
A few days ago, the MPubbers who remain in Vancouver completingtheir professional placements got together after work to have dinner. They took a group photo and hashtagged it “CheckInTuesday.”
And I missed them so much.
Throughout the year, our class, at first led by some of our thoughtful instructors, would have biweekly check-ins. As class began, we would go around the room and talk about how we were doing—not just about what was stressing people out in school, but also about what was going on in our personal and professional lives. From exciting trips to dogs dying, we made it through the year in a large part because we learned how to listen and support each other.
After the check-in practice was modelled for us in class, we began to do it ourselves throughout intensive projects and continue to do it today in our private Facebook group. We may be spread out across the country now, moving in different directions as we tackle new projects, but my fifteen classmates are still the people that get it. Our program is unique and challenging, and I so appreciate having people to talk to and share with.
Grad school can take a serious toll on your mental health, and there are plenty of other articles on that that I’ll leave to the experts. But I did want to share this one simple thing that our class did and that I continue to deeply appreciate.
Remember to check in with your people—it can go a long way.
Like nearly everyone in the publishing industry these days, the publishing professors at SFU have plenty going on. For example, take Dr. Juan Pablo Alperin, who teaches PUB802: Technology & Evolving Forms of Publishing, is the Public Knowledge Project’s Associate Faculty Director of Research, is the recent recipient of the Open Scholarship Award from the Canadian Social Knowledge Institute, and on top of all of that is also the man behind many research projects at the Scholarly Communications Lab, which he co-directs.
While not all of them are directly related to the trade industry, almost everything they do is about scholarly publishing. We wanted to highlight some of the interesting things he and his team have been working on lately.
Cancer in the News
Alperin’s team is looking at news coverage of government-funded papers in biomedical research (specifically cancer) by analyzing how many times each study is mentioned in the news, and where. More specifically, they are looking at how the news is shared based on the 4 tiers of news coverage in both traditional and non-traditional outlets—a hierarchy that editors often use when determining the value of a story.
Open Source Altmetrics
They’re also working on building a tool for academic journals to have article-level metrics. Altmetrics are alternative ways of measuring scholarly impact, such as references in online news media and social media, as opposed to more traditional measures that identify things such as number of citations.
RPT (Review, Promotion, and Tenure) Project
Alperin and his team investigated the review, promotion, and tenure (RPT) process in the U.S. and Canada. Their goal was to deliver recommendations to universities and colleges that would encourage behavioural change towards a greater opening of access to research results.
They began by collecting RPT guidelines from over 100 institutions and assessed the degree to which they included Open Access (OA) recommendations.
“Despite countless policies and mandates promoting open access, as well as the development of tools and resources that facilitate it, and despite years of advocacy work, the majority of researchers are still not compelled to make their research outputs publicly available because the incentive structures that drive faculty’s research dissemination strategies remain unchanged,” says the team.
They found that only five (1%) of the RPT guidelines they studied explicitly mentioned OA, and in four of the five cases it was only “done to call attention to the potential problematic nature of these journals (which are seen as potentially of lower quality than subscription journals).”
The team is continuing on to Phase II of the project, where they will be studying faculty perceptions and beliefs regarding the RPT process, how RPT documents influence perceptions of the process, and the factors outside of RPT guidelines that influence how faculty disseminate their research.
Social Media Use by Researchers
In April, the team hosted a roundtable discussion about using social media to share science stories. Invited were: a YouTuber, an Instagram biologist, a traditional science journalist turned freelancer, and a journalist from Hakai Magazine (which specializes in citizen science).
Science Writers and Communicators of Canada
Similar to the roundtable discussion on how scientists are sharing science stories via social media, this project also looks at how science communicators are using untraditional methods to share their message (such as vlogging, instagramming, etc.).
As Science Writers and Communicators of Canada recently added “communicators” to their focus, Alperin’s team wanted to look at who and where these communicators are and how to best support them. They also wanted to look at how they differ from conventional science communicators in terms of standard ethics, accuracy, and practice; how they see themselves, and how they reach their audiences.
The findings will help identify the goals and challenges of science communication in Canada, and how to best support, train, and create outreach activities that will improve the quality of public engagement with science.
The team combed the social web to identify public concerns about diabetes to direct academic research on the disease. This method of harnessing public engagement to directly impact research helps connect and involve the general public in academia, and vice versa.
Measuring Facebook Engagement
Many people share things over social media privately, such as through direct message or email. This sharing, known as dark social, currently cannot be accurately tracked. So the team looked at how altmetrics measure dark social, and found that there is a considerable amount of sharing done out of the public sphere that is captured by altmetrics.
And some of their work has been recently published in papers:
Zika and Language Use on Social Media
In this paper, they looked at how during the Zika virus outbreak there was an uptick in Zika research. Although the purpose of sharing research was to communicate with and inform the general public, the team used a language detection algorithm and “found that up to 90% of Twitter and 76% of Facebook posts are in English” despite English not being the first language of those at the centre of the epidemic.
Among other things, their paper says, “Our results suggest that Facebook is a more effective channel than Twitter, if communication is desired to be in the native language of the affected country.” They also explain that altmetrics favour English-language communication, large Western publications, and Twitter, meaning we need to build nationally relevant metrics in order to more accurately measure social impact.
Looking at Networks on Twitter
This paper looks at how primary research literature affects the public’s understanding and engagement with science; and how knowledge diffuses using social media. In their small case study, they found that Open Access articles shared tended to stay within small communities comprised of mainly researchers and did not generally reach the outside community.
It’s been around a month now since the classwork portion of our Master of Publishing degree wrapped up, and now that I’ve had some time away from the intensiveness that was the last few weeks of school it seems like a good time to talk about the Media/Tech Project.
In the fall semester we devoted six weeks of our lives to starting fictitious publishing companies complete with a detailed list of books. But what to do in the second semester of a publishing degree?
In the spring, the program moved away from books to focus on media and technology (in the past, the program focused more heavily on magazines). As the publishing industry changes, it has become clear that in order to for publishers to remain relevant, they must understand how technology impacts all aspects of their business. It’s not enough to focus on print and traditional forms of publishing. We have to look ahead to what publishing could become. And so, our class became Media/Tech Project guinea pigs.
While we started off the semester working on the Media project and finished with the Tech project, for all intents and purposes they were the same thing—the second was simply an extension of the first, which meant the project ran the entire course of the semester.
On the second day of class after the holiday break, we were divided into our groups and told to form media companies based on direction we pulled out of a hat. One group was assigned B2B (they pivoted and become NFP2NFP instead), another group got arts and crafts, and the final group pulled politics. From there, the groups were tasked with building a media entity from the ground up.
How do you build a brand? How do you become financially viable? How do you grow sustainably? What gap in the market are you meeting? What will your product be?
In our groups, we began to answer these questions and sketch out our business plans. Nearly every week, groups met with instructors to pitch their updated businesses, which evolved as we completed more research and received more feedback. At the beginning of the project, it was stressed that our start-ups would need to be agile, and that became our mantra as the semester progressed and the work piled up.
And every week, we were given additional pieces to complete. Brand guidelines. Marketing and advertising plans. Financials. Websites. Podcasts. The list went on.
Halfway through the project we were divided into additional groups with specific skills (this is where the Tech project came in). The Web Development, Analytics, Media Production, and Ebook teams provided focused support to their media entities following a series of mini lectures aimed at providing them with hands-on skills. Of course, all students were invited to attend the other teams’ lessons.
And just like the fall book project, we made it through to the end of the semester, presenting our launch-ready companies to panels of industry guests. Some of the most rewarding feedback we received was that our final companies were even pitch-worthy to potential buyers. And some of the best presentations I’ve ever seen were on that final day as well: one group even “recorded” the beginning of a podcast as part of their presentation.
While the Media/Tech project will undoubtedly look very different by next spring as our field continues to evolve and the skills that are in demand change, what I hope future classes also take away from the project is the importance of being flexible and ability to find creative solutions.
I’ve talked to a handful of Master of Publishing alumni lately, and somewhere in the conversation I always ask what advice these accomplished, successful women have for the next generation of publishing professionals. Their answers have been strikingly similar: work hard, accept opportunities, ask questions, and seek out mentorship.
And it’s that last point that I want to focus on today, both from the perspective of the mentees (Shirarose Wilensky from Arsenal Pulp Press and Paula Ayer from Greystone Books), and a mentor whose name has come up again and again (Nancy Flight from Greystone Books).
Ayer and Wilensky’s stories are similar in a lot of ways. They both completed the Master of Publishing program at SFU around 10 years ago; they have both done freelance work and have worked for independent publishers in Vancouver; and they are both local editors who have recently transitioned into roles with substantial responsibility.
Wilensky just took on the position of Editor at Arsenal Pulp Press after freelancing for the past few years; while Ayer became Editor at Greystone Books in the fall after spending nearly a decade working at Annick Press. As a current student in the MPub program, it’s been both reassuring and exciting to get a glimpse of where my career could also take me within the next decade when I talk to alumni.
“Take every opportunity that might be offered to you, talk to as many people as you can, go to events, and volunteer at the Writer’s Fest,” Wilensky suggests when I ask about nurturing your career path. Ayer lists all of the same things, and adds that you should also showcase your special skills.
And of course, they both speak to the value of mentorship, and cite the value of the connections they made in the MPub program.
“I can’t overstate the importance of mentorship. If there is a specific person you really admire, approach them,” Wilensky encourages, saying that a good way to find a mentor is to find someone who is doing what you’d love to be doing in the future. “Recognize and appreciate how important, valuable, and rare these relationships are.”
She highlights how mentors can share both professional and personal advice, and can give you those always important job recommendations. In return, she says, make sure show your appreciation for your mentor, who is likely very busy with their own career.
Ayer echoes her advice. “Use the connections you make—don’t be shy to send them an email, go to industry events, keep nurturing those relationships, and show people you can do good work.”
The editors are quick to highlight the mentors who have played significant roles in their careers. Ayer thanks long-term MPub instructor Mary Schendlinger from Geist Magazine and Colleen MacMillan from Annick Press who she says gave her opportunities, believed in her, and were brilliant teachers. Wilensky mentions Nancy Flight, also a past MPub instructor and current Editor Emerita at Greystone Books, whom many other alumni, Greystone employees, and MPub faculty have highlighted as being a VIP in the Vancouver publishing industry.
After hearing so many great things about Nancy Flight, I wanted to talk to her about the essential role she has played so many people’s careers over her own 45-year career in publishing (around 24 of those years were spent at Greystone).
“I love doing what I can to help foster their skills,” she explains, adding that it is always exciting to meet others who are passionate about publishing and show aptitude in the industry, pointing out the that the MPub program is ripe with talent. “And it’s wonderful to see people blossom, and see where they’ve gone with their careers.”
“It’s really important to me to encourage woman that they can do both [have a successful career and fulfilling home life],” Flight continues. “It’s wonderful to think that there are all of these young people who are more than ready to take on the challenges [in publishing].”
As a mentor, Flight notes the importance of mentees making their goals and interests known so that the mentor can tailor their advice to the individual relationship. However, she is quick to clarify that mentorships can be as formal or informal as you’d like—there is no one right way for the relationship to work.
Mentorships are a win-win for both parties: people like Wilensky receive great advice that helps them advance in their careers; while people like Flight are able to cultivate talent that they can later hire or recommend to another publisher.
Reflecting on the BC publishing industry, Flight confirms what we’ve been hearing from our many guest speakers all year: that the publishing community is very welcoming and friendly. “There is a feeling like we’re all in this together and we want to help each other.”