Alumni Profiles

Meet Lauren Dembicky-Polivka – MPub Alumni

Lauren Dembicky-Polivka is an MPub’18 Alumni who is currently working as the Development Manager at the Vancouver Writers Fest. We sat down to ask her some questions about the upcoming festival and how her Master of Publishing (MPub) degree has helped shape her career.

1.How has the MPub degree helped you with your career and role as the Development Manager at the Vancouver Writers Fest?

The MPub program gave me a solid understanding about the different aspects of publishing and allowed me to build valuable connections with industry professionals. Since the program gives such a broad overview of the publishing industry and allows you to work with different students on many projects, I felt well informed and prepared to work upon graduating. As an MPUB student, I had the opportunity to attend events like the Vancouver Writers Fest, where I learned more about the organization, built meaningful connections, and eventually ended up working there!

As the Development Manager, my tasks include overseeing the fundraising, getting sponsorships, working with community partners, and managing donors and grants. Although this role is different from my initial role as a marketing and development coordinator, the MPub program allowed me to understand the different aspects of publishing and develop a diverse set of skills that has helped me with my career.

2.There are a few MPub alumni working at the Vancouver Writers Fest. What makes this organization such a good fit for our alumni and co-op students?

What makes the Vancouver Writers Fest so fascinating is that you get to work in such a broad and special space where everything is always changing. There are always new programs, different authors, and exciting events throughout the year. For co-op students, you get the opportunity to work on many different tasks and talk to a wide range of teams such as marketing, administration, etc. This is a space where everyone’s opinions from the team are valued and so many unique voices can be heard.

3.How has the Vancouver Writers Fest evolved since you joined in 2018?

Since I joined in 2018, we have added many events such as Books and Brunch and Free Saturday. I especially love Free Saturday, because it allows those with financial barriers to attend events at a pay-what-you-can rate. This is especially important as a non-profit organization because we want to be more inclusive and allow as many people to attend as possible. With that in mind, we made many of our programs such as the Youth Education Program more accessible during covid-19 by transitioning them from in-person to virtual spaces. Every year, we continue to evolve and ask ourselves what role we want to play in the publishing industry, while keeping our values of accessibility and inclusivity in mind to best serve all members of our community.

4.What will this year’s annual Festival look like?

This year we are hoping to have a hybrid Festival with more international authors holding events online and domestic authors in-person on Granville Island. We are currently planning some very exciting events for attendees.

Stay tuned to our website for more updates on the upcoming events and the annual Vancouver Writers Fest happening from October 18-October 24, 2021!

5.Who do you think should attend this year’s Festival and how can they make the most out of it?

Since the Festival has a wide range of authors and events, I recommend anyone who would like to engage in meaningful conversations and hear about important dialogues of today to attend the Festival. Regardless of what you are interested in, the Writers Fest has so many different opportunities for you to explore and discover what you could potentially like. To make the most out of your experience, try attending an event that you normally would not think of attending.

6.What advice do you have for MPub students interested in working for an organization such as the Vancouver Writers Fest?

My main advice is to be open-minded and explore different areas that you can work in. Many of the MPub students that I graduated with ended up in a different career than they had originally envisioned. Try gaining a deeper understanding of the different aspects of publishing by attending events and building connections with members of the industry. You never know until you try!


Meet Craig Riggs — MPub Alumni

Craig Riggs

This interview is part of our “3 Questions” series with Publishing Minor students, Master of Publishing candidates, and MPub alumni.

Meet Craig Riggs, partner at Turner-Riggs and founder of ReaderBound.

Twitter: @craigriggs
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/craig-riggs-6b74831/

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

As part of the duo behind Turner-Riggs, Craig has contributed to many notable projects, including 49thShelf.com, which brings together more Canadian books than any other source in the world, and Reading Canada: A Literary Tour in Seven Parts, which was an early initiative of Canada’s Guest of Honour program at the 2020 Frankfurt Book Fair.

Turner-Riggs have also conducted several major national studies on the Canadian publishing industry, including:

  1. The Book Retail Sector in Canada, Department of Canadian Heritage, 2007
  2. Book Distribution in Canada’s English-Language Market, Department of Canadian Heritage, 2008
  3. Audiobook and eBook Publishing in Canada, Library and Archives Canada, 2009
  4. A Study of Canada’s Book Import Regulations, Department of Canadian Heritage, 2012
  5. Current and Future Reading Technologies Used by People with Disabilities, Human Resource Development Canada, 2012
  6. Book Discovery and Book Marketing in Canada’s English-Language Market, Department of Canadian Heritage, 2013

Craig Riggs, and his partner Kiley Turner (@kileyturner), were both part of the 1998/99 MPub cohort.

Learn more about Canada’s only Master of Publishing program. Application deadline each year is February 1st.


Meet Gerilee McBride — MPub Alumni

Gerilee McBride

This interview is part of our “3 Questions” series with Publishing Minor students, Master of Publishing candidates, and MPub alumni.

Meet Gerilee McBride, Advertising and Promotion Manager at UBC Press.

Instagram: @talkandnottalk
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/gerilee-mcbride-92ab917/

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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. 

Gerilee McBride’s graduate report is available online from the SFU library:
Warp & weft: the future of the publication program at the Crafts Association of British Columbia.

Learn more about Canada’s only Master of Publishing program. Application deadline each year is February 1st.


Meet Paschal Ssemaganda — MPub Alumni

Paschal Ssemaganda

This interview is part of our “3 Questions” series with Publishing Minor students, Master of Publishing candidates, and MPub alumni.

Meet Paschal Ssemaganda, Publishing Officer at the World Bank Group. His primary responsibility is to lead the product development and maintenance of the World Bank eLibrary, a subscription-based website used by top academic institutions, government agencies, think tanks, and other institutions.

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/paschalssemaganda

1. 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.

2. 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. 

3. 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. 

Paschal Ssemaganda’s graduate report is available online from the SFU library: Sustaining the midlist book: an analysis of the online marketing campaign for Trading in Memories

Learn more about Canada’s only Master of Publishing program. Application deadline each year is February 1st.


Meet Ala Serafin—MPub Alumni

This interview is part of our “3 Questions” series with Publishing Minor students, Master of Publishing candidates, and MPub alumni.

Meet Ala Serafin, wordsmith, editor, designer, marketer, travel addict + SFU MPub graduate.

Portfolio: www.alaserafin.com
LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/alaserafin
Twitter: @alaserafin

What was something you wish you had done differently while in school?
AS: 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?
AS: 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?
AS: Consider a future in content marketing. (I honestly love my job!)

Ala Serafin’s graduate report is available online from the SFU library: Getting to WL: A Look at the Visual Evolution and 2015 Redesign of Western Living Magazine http://summit.sfu.ca/item/17175

Learn more about Canada’s only Master of Publishing program. Application deadline each year is February 1st.


Alumni Profile: Michael Despotovic, BC Book Marketer and Digital Marketing Data Analyst

Before I Was a Student of SFU’s Master of Publishing Program,

I was doing my undergraduate degree, also at Simon Fraser University. I majored in World Literature and did a double-minor in Publishing as well as Interactive Arts & Technology. Originally, I thought I was going to be a fiction writer, but a funny encounter with local author, Douglas Coupland, made me rethink my plans. After a Vancouver Writers Fest event, I asked him if I should become a writer. His answer was a simple, and curt, “no”. When I stared blankly, he followed up by saying, “go live your life, do something else, become old…and then you can write.” While his advice may not have made sense to many others, it entirely made sense to me.

And given that I had to do something after my undergraduate degree, you know, while I waited for a story (or stories) to find me in life, I reasoned that helping writers get published would be just as meaningful as being published myself.

While I Was a Student of SFU’s Master of Publishing Program,

I thoroughly enjoyed every moment and every aspect of my education. I was in the 2013/2014 cohort and both the faculty and my colleagues were uniquely aware that the rise of social media, Web 2.0, and other new, digital technologies were going to have a lasting impact on the publishing industry. So, in addition to learning all the foundational—and by definition, “traditional”—components to book and magazine publishing, we were also schooled in things like online marketing, the emerging ebook market, and digital means of production and dissemination.

It was specifically because of my high aptitude for digital technologies that I was recommended for an internship with Penguin Random House Canada’s digital department, which would serve as my third, “professional placement” semester for the MPub program. I wasn’t “handed” the internship, by any means, as I still had to interview and otherwise qualify for the position. But it certainly helped that my then, soon-to-be-manager/mentor was an MPub alumna herself, and knew the benefits and expectations of this program.

Soon After I Was a Student of SFU’s Master of Publishing Program,

I either freelanced or worked for various local companies that were in the Canadian publishing landscape, such as ZG Communications, Page Two Strategies, and Clevers Media, before finding a special place at Caitlin Press, a general trade book published located on the Sunshine Coast. Although I worked remotely, from Vancouver, I often would visit headquarters for a week, perhaps every month or so. My role was to market, do publicity, and manage author events for approximately 20 new books a year, in addition to the backlist, which I proudly accomplished for three years. During this time, I also helped launch a new imprint dedicated solely to queer women’s voices, called Dagger Editions.

Each season, I experienced “favourite” moments, but perhaps the most notable one was when Caitlin Press published Gently to Nagasaki, the one-and-only memoir by Joy Kogawa, one of Canada’s most celebrated authors. It was an honour to serve such a powerful voice of peace and truth, and in the context of Douglas Coupland’s advice to me, I felt like I was part of the success of a truly great writer with an incredibly important story to tell.

Now, as an Alumnus of SFU’s Master of Publishing Program,

I have one foot in and one foot out of Canada’s publishing scene. Since moving on from Caitlin Press, I’ve started a marketing and analytics agency called Apples & Oranges. We help to grow small to medium size organizations that express culture, which includes publishers such as UBC Press and others like the Association of Book Publishers of BC. Our portfolio also includes businesses rooted in social value, such as end-of-life planning, diversity and inclusion training, and bicycles for those with mobility challenges.

Much of my career path is similar to the alumni and the faculty of SFU Publishing. I can never pass up an opportunity to give thanks to instructor Monique Sherrett, who runs Boxcar Marketing, for demonstrating the career path of someone who bridges traditional and digital modes of marketing in Canada’s publishing industry. Nowadays, I can call her my peer and am very fortunate to have her support in helping Apples & Oranges succeed. Thank you, Monique!

If you’re interested in getting the kind of education in publishing that allows for entrepreneurship, innovation, data-driven decision making, and elevating author success, consider applying for the Master of Publishing Program at Simon Fraser University before February 1st.


Meet Jazmin Welch — MPub Candidate

This interview is part of our “3 Questions” series with Publishing Minor students, Master of Publishing candidates, and MPub alumni.

Meet Jazmin Welch, Production Manager/Designer at Arsenal Pulp Press & owner of Fleck Creative, where she does freelance book design projects!

Instagram: @fleckcreative
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jazmin-welch-411b0345/

What was something you wish you had done differently while in school?

JW: I really wish that I didn’t work so much outside of school. As much as I am very grateful for having my freelance business to work on the side and pay my way through school, I know that I wasn’t always as invested in the schoolwork with my mind elsewhere. School is what you make it, and the more involved you get, the more you will learn and get out of the experience. 

What was the most valuable skill you took away from your time in the MPub program?

JW: I think part of the puzzle was just coming to understand that to work in publishing you will likely be a jack of all trades, doing a little bit of everything. The MPub gave me foundational knowledge of the entire publishing process, so that wherever I go in my career, I will be able to speak the language of each department and understand what’s going on. This, I believe, is something that really sets out an MPub candidate from other job applicants who may not get the whole picture that we are exposed to!

What is 1 piece of advice you would give to current publishing students?

JW: Experiment! A masters isn’t the place to be perfect at everything and get perfect grades (although getting scholarships is nice). It’s a time to try new things. Sometimes I could kick myself for making projects more difficult than they needed to be because I wanted to teach myself a new skill, such as a new piece of design software, but looking back on those choices I know I’m a better designer for it. The overall experience fuelled me to be a problem solver, get curious, and continue to try new things. It’s great to be able to experiment within the walls of a university with faculty who support you. It’s much easier to do it now, rather than when you’re on the job or off the side of your desk.

Learn more about Canada’s only Master of Publishing program. Applications for Fall are accepted until February 1st.


Meet Katie Shamash—MPub candidate

This interview is part of our “3 Questions” series with Publishing Minor students, Master of Publishing candidates, and MPub alumni.

Meet Katie Shamash, Data Scientist at Digital Science

Twitter: @katieshamash
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/katie-shamash-4b34a8171/

What was something you wish you had done differently while in school?

KS: I started my degree studying English Literature and Creative Writing. When I was about to graduate, I realized how hard it would be to find a job, and I decided at the last minute to add a minor in Computer Science. I loved it more than I could ever have imagined! I have no regrets about studying English Lit – I loved it, and I use skills from that degree every day, both in my job and in my life. But I wish I had built more hard skills into my degree from the beginning. Those skills have been invaluable in finding job. They’ve also been a lot of fun to learn!

What was the most valuable skill you took away from your time in the MPub program?

KS: I loved how practical and hands-on the degree was. When I was looking for a job after completing the program, I had a ton of relevant, concrete examples I could show. That was really valuable!

What is 1 piece of advice you would give to current publishing students?

KS:  Find something you can do that no one else can. This might not be relevant advice for everyone, but it’s been really helpful for me in my professional career. In my case, being able to combine tech skills with experience in publishing has allowed me to push myself faster in both areas than I would have been able to with just one.

Learn more about Canada’s only Master of Publishing program. Applications for Fall are accepted until February 1st.


Illustrious Alumni: Heidi Waechtler on how her career has come full-circle

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.”


Illustrious Alumni: Shirarose Wilensky & Paula Ayer Talk Mentorship

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.”

So don’t be shy, and reach out.


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