During the Summer, Claire Cavanagh, a current MPub student moved from Vancouver to Newfoundland to complete her thirteen-week professional placement with Breakwater Books, a publishing company with a focus on trade and celebrating the unique stories of Newfoundland and Labrador. Claire has now completed her professional placement as a Foreign Rights Consultant and has transitioned to a full-time position as a sales coordinator.
For many students, one of the most challenging tasks in the MPub program is securing a professional placement.
One piece of advice that Claire gives is to research the company you are interested in and network with employees from there, even if there are no job postings online.
For Claire, that is exactly what she did. While doing her research, Claire found that Breakwater Books had an outstanding Foreign Rights Program. With guidance from the SFU Publishing Program, Claire was able to talk to Rebecca Rose, CEO of Breakwater Books. Although Claire had no prior experience with foreign rights, Rebecca was impressed with her interest and their conversation. Eventually, Claire was offered a professional placement as a Foreign Rights Consultant.
Initially, Rebecca never thought of reaching out to SFU Publishing for professional placements because it was very far from Newfoundland. One of the challenges at Breakwater Books was the difficulty of finding qualified trained publishing professionals in Newfoundland. Many departments required one person to do two roles. The Program’s industry liaison, Suzanne Norman, a native of Newfoundland, has long wanted to work with Breakwater Books and was overjoyed to finally work with the company.
Moving forward, Rebecca says that she would recommend and look into the professional placement program at SFU when hiring.
One of the things that Claire enjoys about Newfoundland is the beautiful scenery and culture of the city, which is similar to her home country of Ireland.
“There are so many artists, plays, authors, book readings, literary festivals and galleries that make the place so unique and special,” she says. In addition to this, Rebecca is also proud of their community and literary festivals that allow them to showcase their local authors.
One of the exciting initiatives they are working on is the preparation of the Frankfurt Book Fair, the world’s largest trade fair for books, which is happening in October 2021 in Frankfurt, Germany. Canada was the Guest of Honour at the fair in 2020, but due to Covid, the Honour continues into 2021.
Frankfurt is the premier industry event during which authors, agents, and publishers run through frantic days of selling and buying rights internationally. For Breakwater attracting interest in their titles can make a huge difference in yearly sales.
To prepare for the Frankfurt Book Fair, Claire’s tasks have ranged from contacting different agents, setting up pitch meetings, working on subsidiary rights (which can include translations, language, geographical among others), and preparing for non-stop meetings and networking. Although everything felt very new in the beginning, she honed many different skills such as pitching and navigating the international diversity of the publishing industry. In this role, Claire worked independently and developed deep and lasting connections within the industry.
Through her professional placement, Claire has realized that she loves working on deals and foreign rights, and this is now her career aspiration. As Claire digs into her first full year at Breakwater Books, she offers this advice to publishing students or even those who are just entering the industry:
“Consider jobs in smaller cities. There are great publishers all over Canada and taking the chance to do something different can be a fantastic opportunity for a person to grow professionally and personally.”
If you have an interest in hosting a Master of Publishing student for their professional placement, please contact Suzanne Norman at firstname.lastname@example.org
Established in 1973, Breakwater Books was founded on the principle of preserving the unique culture and stories of Newfoundland and Labrador and the Maritime provinces.
Since that time, Breakwater has developed into a high-quality trade publisher, releasing twelve to sixteen titles a year – including children’s picture books, young adult fiction, educational curricula, literary and commercial fiction, non-fiction, and poetry – while continuing to support its culturally significant backlist titles.
Breakwater takes pride in fostering the careers of emerging and established writers alike. Many authors and titles maintain strong links to Newfoundland and Labrador and the North Atlantic, while other Breakwater authors hail from all parts of Canada. A burgeoning translation and foreign rights program makes Breakwater’s list of both national and international interest.
We kicked off the day with introductions followed by “The Gift of Never Landing” conversation with Juliane Okot Bitek and Sophie McCall. In this conversation, Acholi Canadian poet Okot Bitek talks about her experience being a poet, finding her voice, writing and publishing on social platforms, her award-winning book 100 Days, navigating the publishing process, and working in collaboration with other Black and Indigenous artists.
Growing up, Bitek never came to know what it meant to come from a country and live in it. Most of her life, she lived away and struggled with the idea of belonging. Lately, she came to understand that it’s ok not to be from somewhere, and to never land. Thus, the name of the conversation “The Gift of Never Landing” was inspired by her experience growing up.
As an author and poet, Bitek has written many notable works such as Sublime: Lost Words, Gauntlet, and 100 Days. The process for writing 100 Days was quite different compared to her other works. Inspired by a photo posted on social media by Wangechi Mutu in memory of the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, Bitek decided to write a poem each day for 100 days and posted it on social media. These poems were written to commemorate the Rwandan genocide and drawn on her own family’s experience of displacement under the regime of Idi Amin. As a witness to genocide, Bitek felt a sense of responsibility to spark meaningful conversations and have others think about what happened in the past.
One way to remind others about the past and to learn and inspire others about important issues is to have the message conveyed through art. Recently, Bitek collaborated with Chantal Gibson to create the new street-facing art on the windows of the SFU Library called “un/settled.” Un/settled aims to centre Blackness and celebrate Black thought & creativity in a climate of systemic violence against Black, Indigenous, and people of colour.
The authors spoke about the importance of having a premise and a pitch when writing a story. Most importantly, the premise must be “sticky,” meaning that you must be passionate and invested in your story that you are willing to spend the next couple of years building the storyline. As Catherine notes, “If it’s not going to be sticky to you, it’s never going to be interesting or sticky to a reader.”
One concern that upcoming authors have is whether their story will be able to sell in the market. Samantha advises to “never write to a trend because the trend will be gone by the time you write half the book.” She also emphasizes on the significance of passion and how “it has to be the story that you would want to read, so others will read it.”
Another challenge in the writing process is having writer’s block. Amy suggests overcoming this challenge by understanding your capacity, writing in a shorter time period, and setting a goal. She adds that “If your capacity is 5 minutes, then figure out how to write for 5 minutes. Don’t think about the novel you haven’t written yet.”
Throughout the event, attendees were delighted to have their questions answered by their favorite authors, with topics ranging from their writing inspiration to their writing process.
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!
It is with great pride and pleasure that the SFU Publishing Program announces the establishment of The Greg Younging Publishing Award Endowment.
The endowment will create a fully funded opportunity for an Indigenous student to complete the Master of Publishing (MPub) degree at Simon Fraser University.
This award honours Dr. Gregory Younging, who was the first Indigenous graduate of the MPub. It was during his studies at SFU that Greg began his work on what would become the influential book, Elements of Indigenous Style: A Guidebook for Writing By and About Indigenous Peoples. The guide is fast becoming a staple for writers, editors, and publishers throughout North America.
“Greg was a huge presence in publishing in Canada. We worked very closely with him here at SFU and following his passing on May 3, 2019 we knew we wanted to establish something lasting that would further his life’s work, which was to build a stronger Indigenous publishing infrastructure in Canada. Greg was very aware of the opportunities that education can provide, and we hope this endowment will be one of those opportunities. Having the support of publishers from across the country has been affirming. We are thrilled to announce today our first multi-year commitment: a three-year, $45,000 donation from Penguin Random House of Canada,” said Suzanne Norman, industry liaison for the SFU Publishing Program.
The endowment will be built over the next three years, with the goal of welcoming the first award recipient in fall, 2025.
The Master of Publishing Program is an 18-month professional program comprising academic and professional experiential learning. It was founded 25 years ago in consultation with members of the Canadian publishing industry which continues to strongly support the program’s students through hosting professional placements and as new hires, as well as teaching as guest faculty and serving on advisory boards and funding projects.
Applications to the MPub close each Feb 1, with successful applicants beginning their studies that fall.
Dr. Greg Younging was a nationally and internationally renowned expert on Indigenous publishing and a tireless voice and advocate for raising Indigenous voices in Canada.
In celebration of his work and his life, the Canadian Institute for Studies in Publishing and the SFU School of Publishing are deeply honoured to launch The Greg Younging Conversation.
This annual event will celebrate all aspects of Greg’s work from poetry to music to building toward a robust and thriving Indigenous publishing industry in Canada.
Greg was a true bridge-maker and could bring together even the most disparate voices, even if just for a short conversation.
One of Greg’s earliest mentors was Jeannette Armstrong, founder of the renowned En’owkin Centre in Penticton. Jeannette is this year’s featured speaker and will talk about his work as a publisher, poet, scholar and advocate.
In true Greg style, this event will be a conversation and Jeannette will be joined by Deanna Reder, chair of Indigenous Studies at SFU. Time will be provided to open the conversation to all in attendance.
The Greg Younging Conversation will take place annually on the first Wednesday in May.
Jeannette Armstrong is Syilx Okanagan, a fluent speaker and teacher of the Nsyilxcn Okanagan language and a traditional knowledge keeper of the Okanagan Nation. She is a founder of En’owkin, the Okanagan Nsyilxcn language and knowledge institution of higher learning of the Syilx Okanagan Nation. She currently is Associate Professor and Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Okanagan Philosophy at UBC Okanagan. She has a Ph.D. in Environmental Ethics and Syilx Indigenous Literatures. She is the recipient of the Eco Trust Buffett Award for Indigenous Leadership and in 2016 the BC George Woodcock Lifetime Achievement Award. She is an author whose published works include poetry, prose and children’s literary titles and academic writing on a wide variety of Indigenous issues.
Deanna Reder (Cree-Métis) is an Associate Professor in the Departments of Indigenous Studies and the Department of English at Simon Fraser University. She is a founding member of the Indigenous Editors Association (see www.indigenouseditorsassociation.com); currently, she is co-chair, with Drs. Sophie McCall and Sarah Henzi, of the Indigenous Voices Awards. (see indigenousvoicesawards.org)
Greg Younging may best be known more broadly for his work as the author of “Elements of Indigenous Style: A Guidebook for Writing By and About Indigenous Peoples” a seminal work that began during his time as a Master of Publishing student at SFU. The guide is fast becoming a staple for writers, editors, and publishers throughout North America.
His reputation in Canada as a leading scholar in Indigenous Studies often led him to take on important but sometimes very difficult work, including as Assistant Director of Research for the Canadian federal government’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of Canada.
Greg’s passion for making more space for Indigenous writing and publishing led him to complete a PhD focusing on copyright and Indigenous stories and at the time of his death in May 2019, he was a professor and co-ordinator of the Indigenous Studies Program at the Irving K Barber School of Arts and Sciences at the University of British Columbia-Okanagan.
A member of the Opsakwayak Cree Nation, Greg was the managing editor of Theytus Books, Canada’s oldest fully owned Indigenous Publisher from 1990 to 2003, returning to the role in 2016 until his death in 2019.
The confluence of voices, languages, and poetic traditions in Otoniya Juliane Okot Bitek’s poetry reflects her sense of belonging and migration across many places. In this wide-ranging conversation, Acholi Canadian poet Okot Bitek will talk about her writing process as a poet, her experiences with publishing in Canada, her collaborative projects with poets and visual artists, and her practice of listening across histories, identities, continents.
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.
On Tuesday, February 9 at 2 pm, join psychological thriller authors Samantha Bailey (Woman on the Edge), Amy Stuart (Still Mine, Still Water, Still Here ), and Catherine McKenzie (I’ll Never Tell, Six Weeks to Live) with their editor, Nita Pronovost, for a spine-tingling panel discussion about their writing process.
This free virtual event is part of the Emerging Leaders in Publishing Summit and is open to the general public.
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.