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.”
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.
It’s been just a few weeks since Jennifer Croll transitioned from her role as Managing Editor to Editorial Director at Greystone Books. And it’s been around 14 years since she was a grad student in Simon Fraser University’s (SFU) Master of Publishing (MPub) program.
Although she’s more than busy running Greystone’s editorial program and publishing a few of her own books on the side, Croll was happy to chat one rainy afternoon about the value she got from the MPub program and the path her career has taken.
Like many in people in publishing, Croll’s career path has been both meandering and unexpected. After completing her undergraduate degree in psychology, she decided to take a year and live abroad in London.
“I’ve always been very interested in books and in writing, and I wasn’t sure that it was something I could turn into a job,” she said. But she applied for an editorial assistant position anyways, and on day three in England she had a job.
Realizing that this was career she wanted to pursue, she returned to Canada to complete the MPub program.
“One of the things I found most valuable in the MPub was the people I met while doing it. The MPub provides many great contacts, and many of the people who were in my class I still know and they still work in publishing.”
She highlights Laraine Coates, the Marketing Manager at UBC Press. Then there’s Iva Cheung, who is now a doctoral student whose research centers on how plain language affects people’s health. And Kathy Sinclair, who went on to become both the Executive Director of the Kamloops Arts Council and a Kamloops City Councillor.
And Croll? After graduating from SFU, she spent six years working in the magazine industry and few years in online media before transitioning over to books.
When she interviewed for her first position at Greystone, the interviewer was none other than Nancy Flight, who was one of her instructors back in the MPub program (and the woman whose shoes she is now filling).
“A great thing about it being a small company is that you get to do bits and pieces of whatever you’re interested in,” Croll says of Greystone. “We’re very collaborative.”
Looking at her career, she is most excited about all of the books she has played a key role in publishing—like the authorized biography of Buffy Sainte-Marie she is currently editing (watch for it this fall). And of course, she’s proud of the books that she’s written—Bad Girls of Fashion: Style Rebels Through the Ages (Annick Press, 2016) and Fashion That Changed the World (Prestel Publishing, 2014).
She also has a couple of other books coming soon: Free the Tipple (Prestel Publishing, Fall 2018) and Bad Boys of Fashion (Annick Press, Spring 2019).
“I think a lot of people have an expectation that they will immediately have their dream job, but career paths can be winding and can take a little while to evolve,” Croll says. “Ten years when you look back, it can be amazing to see how far you’ve come and where you’ve ended up.”
You can find Croll on Twitter @jencroll.