The year 2020 will long be remembered for the global Covid 19 pandemic. Lockdowns impacted work spaces as people scrambled to reorganize their work and home lives.
The whole world suddenly seemed to be online and publishers and retailers had to quickly up their game in the virtual space. Ironically, demand for books skyrocketed. Everyone was stuck at home and desperate for ways to pass the time. The 2021 Emerging Leaders in Publishing Summit reflects this changed world by going virtual and through discussing the many ways book publishing led innovation and embraced entrepreneurship, as well as the many challenges still left to meet.
As the Master of Publication application deadline fast approaches, we had the chance to interview Olivia Johnson, who is part of this year’s 2020/2021 cohort. Learn more about Olivia Johnson’s publishing experience and don’t forget to apply by February 1!
1) What was your background before applying to SFU’s Master of Publishing Program?
Before I was a student of SFU’s Master of Publishing Program, I majored in English literature at UBC. After graduating, I thought I was going to go into journalism and got accepted into the Ryerson School of Journalism. After one class, I realized that journalism was not a good fit for me. Instead, I switched to the publishing program at Ryerson because I was more interested in the editorial and marketing aspects of publishing. After completing the publishing program at Ryerson, I applied to the Master of Publishing Program at SFU.
2) Why did you choose to apply to SFU’s Master of Publishing Program?
I chose to apply to SFU’s Master of Publishing Program because it is Canada’s only master’s program for publishing. The publishing program at Ryerson was highly informative and interesting, but I wanted a more hands-on publishing experience. SFU’s Master of Publishing Program offers exactly that, where you get the opportunity to go more in-depth and have the chance to do an internship and more collaborative work. Also, SFU’s Master of Publishing Program was back in Vancouver, my home city.
3) What is the most valuable experience from SFU’s Master of Publishing Program so far?
I think the group projects are valuable because you get to take everything you learned in class and create something from start to finish. For example, in one of our projects, we created a business from scratch and learned about all the steps to develop and make the idea tangible.
One of the projects that Olivia worked on with her group was a catalogue for the Fall 2020 Book Project. Olivia’s group was an imprint company of Greystone Books, calling themselves Judith Press. Their catalogue includes all non-fiction titles they came up with and had to sell for their project.
4) What are some skills you have learned from SFU’s Master of Publishing Program so far?
I learned a lot about hands-on design and working with different software such as Adobe to create those designs. I also learned a lot about the different stages such as editing, designing, and business to create the final publication. For each of these stages, it is very in-depth, so you get a chance to figure out what you like. I also find that you can really have your own input in the program. You are definitely not lectured at but taught how to do things and be hands-on. The more effort you put in, the more you learn and take from the program.
5) Upon obtaining your Master’s in publishing, what do you aspire your future career to look like?
SFU’s Master of Publishing Program does a great job at allowing everyone to explore lots of different categories, so you know where your interests lie. For me, since completing the publishing program at Ryerson, I knew that I wanted to work in publishing. Upon obtaining my Master’s in publishing, I can see myself pursuing a career in a marketing or publicity position in literary fiction or nonfiction books.
6) Who do you think should apply to the Master of Publishing Program program?
People who are looking to learn more and become more hands-on in publishing should definitely apply. Publishing is not just about books all the time. You get to learn so many skills that you take onto different careers such as marketing, freelance, editing, and more. If this is something that you want to do, I highly recommend applying.
7) What is your advice for people who are applying to the Master of Publishing Program or considering applying?
I think this is a valuable program because you get to interact with so many industry professionals and receive advice or feedback from them. As well it is such a small cohort, so you get to always work closely with the same people who share the same passion as you. I highly recommend reaching out to the publishing team to ask any questions or concerns you may have because they are super helpful and kind.
I’ve worked in publishing for about 15 years, but every year I’m caught off guard by the January phenomenon of aspiring authors who’ve resolved that this is the year they’re publishing a book. Manuscript submissions and calls about the publishing process become more frequent, as do inquiries about how to get into the industry itself. When we field these calls at the Association of Book Publishers of BC, we direct these individuals to various resources and wish them luck, but in 2021, I’d also suggest they pay close attention to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic when pitching themselves to the industry, whether as an author or a publishing professional.
The year 2020 was tough: at the end of it, BC book publishers were projecting a 30 to 40 per cent decline in their annual sales, in line with what was being reported across the country. While many bookstores were reporting strong sales leading into the holiday season, store closures through the first and second waves continue to impact publishers’ cash flow, forcing difficult decisions about acquisitions, printing, marketing and overall business operations. It’s too early to say if the fourth quarter results of 2020 will indicate a gradual return to normalcy.
Industry consolidation also presents challenges for independent publishers, who invest in new and diverse voices. The pending sale of Simon & Schuster, announced in November 2020, to Bertelsmann/Penguin Random House, will create a behemoth that dominates market share. Books written by established and bestselling authors, and published by well-capitalized multinational companies, have a competitive advantage in a changed marketplace, where booksellers and, in turn, consumers may gravitate toward safer bets. Authors will also find a narrower market for their work, which may mean lower advances.
So where are the opportunities for change in book publishing in 2021 and beyond? The pandemic hasn’t really highlighted how much is possible so much as it has underscored what should have been happening already.
Nothing will replace in-person book events. That said, online events have increased accessibility, and I expect these will continue in a hybrid capacity, even when social gathering restrictions are lifted. Some of the best virtual events I attended in 2020 were those in which the audience could interact via the chat or be present on-camera.
Publishers also got creative, reinvigorating their sales and marketing strategies. They offered higher discounts to independent bookstores, experimented with digital licensing for schools and libraries and creatively engaged readers online. In BC, Orca Book Publishers’ digital class sets, Rocky Mountain Books’ Think Outside podcast and Arsenal Pulp Press’s author Twitter takeovers and @arsenalpups Instagram account are examples of successful adaptations.
Publishers are well-equipped to work from home, and many are meeting their operational needs by hiring more remote staff. While these are still early days, we may observe that publishing begins to decentralize from major urban centres with higher costs of living, better positioning West Coast companies to compete for and retain talent.
I taught in the SFU Master of Publishing program last fall, working with a brilliant cohort of emerging publishing professionals. While they’re understandably anxious about their job prospects, they’ve recognized that their experiences working independently and resourcefully in a remote learning environment are an asset to prospective employers. Up-and-coming authors and publishers alike will need to be comfortable using collaboration tools (not just Zoom!) and to hone their skills as thoughtful and efficient communicators.
Finally, we can’t let the pandemic overshadow our need to grapple with the industry’s diversity problems. Just as the deeply rooted societal inequalities that were further exposed during the crisis will not be undone simply because anti-racist books sold well in 2020, neither will book publishing’s own lack of diversity. There are numerous initiatives underway in Canada to hold the industry accountable for its lack of diversity, and to change who and what gets published, including the BIPOC of Publishing in Canada collective. The pandemic presents a watershed moment for publishers to re-evaluate outdated practices and to expand their communities and their impact.
Whether you are hoping to get published for the first time, move into a career in the industry or stay the course, publishing in 2021 and beyond is going to require more of all of us. I hope we’ll answer the call.
When Vancouver’s public libraries abruptly closed their doors as part of March’s Covid lockdown, my book-addicted family was suddenly forced to go cold turkey. Hallelujah for Little Free Libraries, which have sprouted all over town in the last few years.
As the lockdown dragged on and we all got sick of hearing each other’s audiobooks playing in the next room — who is she talking to? Oh, it’s William Hurt reading Ernest Hemingway / Jack and Annie from the Magic Treehouse / the cats from Warriors — I began taking my kids out on bike tours of the neighbourhood, trawling for good reads.
We slowly learned which libraries had the best pickings and the fastest turnover. Now we have a circuit we follow, a looping trajectory that takes us to five rich reading sources in half an hour. We come home sweaty and elated, showing off the latest discoveries.
Entrepreneur Todd Bol created the first Little Free Library in Hudson, Wisconsin in 2009, to celebrate his book-loving mother, who had just died. He carved wood from an old garage door into a mini, one-room schoolhouse, then set it up on a pole in front of his house and filled it with books. Passersby were asked to “Take a book, leave a book,” and they did. The movement, which became a nonprofit in 2012, spread fast; Bol’s original aim was to create 2,510 libraries, more than Andrew Carnegie; there are now more than 100,000, in 91 countries.
One of the many joys of working in publishing is free books. The salaries are pitiful, the wait for that prized promotion eternal — but the people are great and you receive lots of free books, which I’ve always loved to pass on. My mother, an ardent reader like Todd Bol’s mother, has never complained of all the birthday and Christmas presents with “Advance Reading Copy — Not For Sale” stamped on the spine.
Like many book lovers, I grapple endlessly with all the books I haven’t read yet, piling up by my bed and crammed into the bookshelves in every nook of the house. So Covid seemed made for “Take a book, leave a book.” Time to clear out the shelves and give away some great books that I’ve already read, or will never read, or that aren’t, truly, quite as great as the gripping copy on the front flap (which I may have written) claims.
Except I almost always end up taking more books than I leave. And having to find more space in those crammed shelves for more volumes I’ll probably never read.
Little Free Libraries are a fascinating window into the reading habits of your neighbours. A lot of airport reads, naturally: romance, mystery, crime, mostly well-thumbed and ruthlessly discarded. Computer manuals, academic tomes, travel guides, all worth reading once, all surely doomed to
never be re-read. And a surprising amount of CanLit, oversized B-format paperbacks with worthy endorsements, often pristine, i.e., bought with good intentions but never cracked (I ask myself the same question; should I read last year’s Giller shortlist? Really?).
Every trip I stumble upon wonderful books. My first discovery was “The Sisters,” Mary S. Lovell’s fascinating joint biography of the six extraordinary Mitford sisters. Minor aristocrats, the sparkling siblings took 1930s’ British society by storm — until two of them fell in love with Hitler and became pariahs (Diane spent most of the war in prison; Unity shot herself when war was declared). Nancy wrote bestselling comedies of manners that seem Cretaceous today; thank god for Jessica, a lifelong leftie who satirized her adopted home in exposés like The American Way of Death. Six hundred gossipy pages got me through the first month of quarantine.
By the time May rolled around I was deep into Music: A Subversive History by Ted Gioia and re-reading Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals, with the ITV characters in my head. Marvelling that someone had left Vera Cacciatore’s The Swing — who doesn’t judge a book by its cover? — and trying to believe in Michael Ondaatje’s Warlight. Except that time was now passing very slowly, and I wasn’t finishing any books. Just refining my bookshelves, like that (apocryphal?) purser rearranging the deckchairs on The Titanic.
By the time I stumbled into July all I was good for was Louis L’Amour, “the world’s bestselling Western writer.” I won’t defend him — there’s a PhD on settler colonialism in every pulpy volume — but I do love his author bio, which mentions no awards but 40 million books sold and the fact that “since leaving his native Jamestown, North Dakota, at the age of fifteen, he’s been a longshoreman, lumberjack, elephant handler, hay shocker, flume builder, fruit picker, and an officer on tank destroyers during World War II.” Note to self: publish more ex-elephant handlers. And how do you shock hay — with an elephant?
To get better at something, one needs practice. I asked students to createan artifact every day for the duration of the Design Awareness in Publishing Process and Products. This course is all about challenging the students’ creative thinking and design practices (like wrestling with some of the dilemmas designers face and talking about our professional, social, and ethical responsibilities).
I did mean every day (well, kind of). Some days off or cheat days were okay (let’s be realistic). To make it easier to keep up the practice, students could spend as little as 5 minutes a day. And to keep everyone accountable to this daily practice (to avoid doing 30 mini art projects in one day), every student had to share their work with their classmates or make it public.
It could be messy, weird, and silly.
The goal of this project is not to create something pretty, amazing or flawless. Instead, it’s all about getting better at a creative practice and trying to push one’s creativity. It could be messy, weird, and silly. And I asked students to avoid selecting something they were already good at doing to explore something new.
The first task was to submit a creative brief, including what they wanted to learn and the scope of their project. Most students limited themselves to a medium (like calligraphy, photography, tea leaves, software, etc.), a subject matter (monsters, drop caps, logos, lyrics, etc.), and a time frame (ranging from 5 to 90 minutes). Second, was carving time out of every day for their daily creative practice. Third, was to submit a reflection on the process, discussing the evolution of their work. It was amazing how every student ended up with very different projects. Some explored particular skills in a familiar design world, others learnt new software from scratch, while others focused on gaining an entirely new art practice.
The instructor tries … ish
To support my students in this daily demand for work (it’s not easy), both our TA and I participated. My own goal was to learn a new application, focusing on drawing things from my garden in 30 minutes. Thinking back on my process and progress, the results of my daily illustrations were mixed.
I really liked focusing on one subject (my favourites being the slug and snail) and trying various methods to illustrate it. Since I was interested in learning a new tool and what it could offer, the drawings were very different from one another (I was using different brushes and blending tools). A few illustrations only took 5 minutes, while others took a couple of nights to complete. The time spent plus the tools selected dramatically impacted the level of detail in each post.
I go back and forth about which one I prefer or which one I would want to make “my” style. The more detailed illustrations felt satisfying and felt like “real” art. (Let’s not even get into what “real” art might mean!) But the looser (and quicker!) illustrations felt freeing and daring; a fantastic feeling! Strangely, the quick, fast, less perfect drawings were more challenging for me, not because they took more attempts to get the lines to work “perfectly,” but because they are rawer and made me feel more exposed.
Where all my students succeed, I failed terribly! I only did 15 of 30 posts! Many of us stopped posting for #blackouttuesday. Questioning what to post, if anything, was particularly important when, in class, we were talking about representation, cultural appropriation and decolonizing design practices. It felt important to talk about the impact our design artifacts have in our worlds. But without this project’s public accountability, I stopped my daily practice. Yet my students continued, some privately and some publicly, each at their own pace. Their thoughtfulness and their dedication humble me. So, I will keep doing this project, even though the class is done, and I’m submitting this assignment soooooo late.
Mauve Pagé is a Publication Design lecturer with Publishing @ SFU. She hopes to inspire students to find creative solutions through conceptual thinking, and get them excited about the unlimited potential to communicate ideas aesthetically.
As the industry standard for layout design, InDesign is tightly integrated with Photoshop, Illustrator, and Acrobat. Starting with an overview of the InDesign workspace and its relationship to the rest of Adobe’s Creative Suite, students will use instructor-led projects to learn how to set up publications, import graphics and text, and build pages and tables. At the conclusion of this two-day workshop, students will know the benefits of master pages, type style management and type-fitting techniques, and the use many time-saving shortcuts. Read more and to register.
There are a lot of good reasons to cycle: it’s good for the planet, it’s good for cities and their congestion problems, and it’s good for you. We thought to take a look at cycling in the MPub program: why we do it and how we do it, and maybe we’ll encourage you to do it too!
Half the Publishing faculty are regular cycle commuters, and a good (though variable) number of students are too. Those of us who do ride know that it’s the best way to get around, for a number of reasons.
Vancouver’s cycling infrastructure has developed hugely over the past half-dozen years,1 and there are good cycle routes through most of the city. The number of cyclists has grown accordingly, which is good not just for the planet, but also because more cyclists on the road makes cycling safer, as the people in Copenhagen and Amsterdam know well.
Commuting by bike is well established by research2 as one of the single best things you can do for your health. It also has the advantage of not taking up extra time in your day. You could take the bus and then take time to go to the gym; or you could just ride your bike!
Regular exercise is good for your heart and lungs of course, but it’s also very good for your head, which is especially helpful for students in the Vancouver winter—which tends to wet and dark as opposed to cold and snowy. Getting into a regular routine of riding every day gets your blood pumping, opens up your sinuses, and gives you an outlet for the stresses that otherwise pile up when we live and work indoors. Additionally, many of us find that commuting by bike gives a sense of agency and control that we miss when we’re dependent on transit schedules and crowds. Emma (MPub 2017) notes, “Have you ever been trapped on an overcrowded bus on a rainy day? Once you get your rain routine down, you will choose cycling over transit no matter the weather.”
Don’t I need special clothing?
You really don’t. While it sometimes seems like cyclists have to invest in a fluorescent lyrca outfit, this isn’t actually the case. You can totally commute in your regular clothes. Of course some clothes are going to be more comfortable than others, but you do not need fancy gear.
In Vancouver, you probably do need some waterproofing, at least if you’re going to ride on rainy days. You’ll need a good raincoat (one with pit-zips help with the internal humidity), a pair of waterproof rain pants, and a pair of gloves–the sum of which make you feel kind of invincible on a rainy day! But that’s about all you really need. And if it isn’t raining, you don’t even need those.
Won’t I get sweaty?
SFU’s Harbour Centre Campus is, as the name suggests, near the water downtown, so it’s downhill from almost everywhere – which means sweat likely isn’t a big problem on your way to school. Some of us like to bring a change of shirt and socks in our bags. Depending on where you live, you may have to go uphill to get home, so you’re more likely to sweat at the end of the day than the beginning. And if you want to get a little sweaty—and ride for the sake of it—SFU Harbour Centre has great access to the Stanley Park Seawall.
Everything inside the circle on this map is probably within a half-hour bike ride from Harbour Centre Campus. Plus, within this circle, you are almost certainly faster than buses and cars, which can’t get through traffic effectively. You can have a look at Vancouver’s cycle routes by turning on that layer on Google Maps, or by checking out the City of Vancouver’s website. We all like to share our tips about the best ways to get around the city: which routes are the flattest, quietest, prettiest… and so on.
I don’t even have a (good) bike!
This is solvable on a number of levels. First, Vancouver has, per capita, the most bike shops in Canada.3 Second, excellent community resources like Our Community Bikes and Kickstand offer really inexpensive, accessible refurbished bikes and repair service. There are also cheap bikes available on Craigslist, online marketplaces, or pawn shops. Vancouver has also implemented the Mobi bike rental system, where you can pickup and drop off bikes at convenient spots all over town. You’re never far from a shop or an available bike, really.
You don’t need a fancy bike; they’re theft targets anyway. What you need is a bike with at least three gears and working brakes. You do need a good lock, because university campuses are always bike theft magnets. At Harbour Centre there is also a bicycle lock-up room to which, with your student card, you can get a key.
But is it safe?
Yes, but you have to be thoughtful about it, and to know and anticipate the risks.
For starters you need lights! A good front light (white) and a red one for the rear help you see and be seen on the road after dark. Lights are an essential, mandatory bit of safety kit—and which go nicely with reflective strips, panels, and bits of clothing. A reflective safety vest can be had pretty cheaply and may make you feel a good deal more visible on a dark, wet evening.
By law you need a helmet, which, if nothing else, can also provide some protection from the rain. A ball cap under your helmet helps keep the rain off your glasses.
Vancouver’s bike lanes and paths—the fully separated ones and the painted-on ones—make cycling through the city much safer. But even the streets you share with cars are better now than they used to be, because the number of cyclists has risen, and so bikes are a normal part of everyday traffic in the city.
Knowing how to ride safely is important too. Using proper hand signals when turning, being visible, and being polite and clear when passing people makes a big difference. This is about co-existing with cars but also about co-existing with other cyclists, especially in the warmer months when bikes almost seem to outnumber cars at certain intersections.
And if you don’t feel like biking back home because you’re leaving campus really late at night after working on Book Project 😉 the bus or skytrain will allow you to bring your bike on board!
Learning more about cycling in Vancouver
There are a number of advocacy groups in the city, such as Hub Cycling, who organize the twice-annual bike-to-work-week events. The City itself is relatively pro-active. And of course every bike shop in town also advocates for cycling more generally.
Here in Publishing@SFU, we have a strong cycling culture of our own, which we like to promote (which is why you’re reading this now). We love to share our ideas about bikes and gear and riding, and our love for People’s Poncho cycling capes, Vessi waterproof footwear, Sidesaddle, a women-focused bike shop, and more. We like to trade info about bike routes and the best ways to get around. And we like to egg each other on to ride in wetter, darker weather each winter 🙂 Get in touch!
Thanks to Mauve Pagé, Avvai Ketheeswaran, Alice Fleerackers, Emma Walter. and Leanne Johnson for their input into this article!
4pm Thursday, November 14th, at Emily Carr University
Katy Keene Fandom: Zines and the Politics of Participation Reliance Theatre at Emily Carr University Thursday, November 14, 4 pm Followed by a reception at READ Books
Please join us at Emily Carr University in the Reliance Theatre for a talk by Dr Teal Triggs.
talk will present the comic book world of Katy Keene (1945-1961), a
unique American character created by Bill Woggon.
Keene made her debut in
1945, and today forms part of a history of comic strips written about
independent career women. Although drawn to reflect the fashionable
female image of America’s fifties post-war period – less exotic
‘pin-up’, rather ‘girl-next-door’ – this character
exhibited the ambition and drive to make it as a successful career
woman. As such, Katy
Keene became the focus
of a loyal fan club and pen pals, with merchandising to match, and
whose clothes, houses, and cars were created by the fans themselves.
will explore the resurgence of interest in the character in the
1980’s fueled by the creation of the fanzine Katy
Keene Fan Magazine by
Craig Leavitt and discuss the way in which her creator and the
fanzine editor, broke down the barriers between themselves and their
fans; a number of whom who went on to become successful illustrators,
designers, and writers in their own right.
Teal Triggs is Professor of Graphic Design in the School of Communication, Royal College of Art, London. As a graphic design historian, critic and educator her writings have appeared in numerous edited books and international design publications. Her research focuses primarily on design pedagogy, criticism, self-publishing. She is Associate Editor of Design Issues (MIT Press) and was founding Editor-in-Chief of Communication Design (Taylor & Francis/ico-D). Her recent books include: co-editor of The Graphic Design Reader (Bloomsbury), author of Fanzines (Thames & Hudson), and the children’s book The School of Art (Wide Eyed). She is a Fellow of the International Society of Typographic Designers, Royal College of Art and, Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce.
This event is presented by Publishing @ SFU in partnership with the Vancouver Art Book Fair, Graphic Research Group, READ Books and Emily Carr University of Art + Design. Thanks too for the support of SFU’s Faculty of Communication, Art, and Technology.