SFU Master of Publishing: A Changing Program for a Changing Industry

The Master of Publishing program was ground breaking when it launched in 1995 at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver. Using recommendations by an industry advisory board, the University worked hard to create “ready-to-go” employees who would respond to the needs of the publishing industry long before anyone had dreamed of smart phones and e-books.

In the twenty-three years since the program began, the publishing industry has changed to the point of being almost unrecognizable. Magazines are as likely to launch online as on the newsstand, and books are promoted online with social media. The program had to change with the times.

John Maxwell, Director and Associate Professor of the Master of Publishing, appreciates the way the program has developed. In an interview at SFU’s iconic Harbour Centre, John said, “We are more willing to take risks than we were, and to seed new ideas with publishers. Our students are on the cutting edge of publishing.”

The program has certainly moved into the twenty-first century with a true technology focus, including sessions on book meta-data, e-books, social media marketing, and more. A great example of this new way of thinking is demonstrated when students practise pitching new media ideas. Previous cohorts would develop a print magazine, decide and market test a title, create a vision and design, and present a hypothetical pitch to investors. In 2018, the cohort has moved to a model where students create and pitch a media property, designing a lean mixed media model and creating a sustainable start-up.

The full-time, two-year program consists of two semesters of classes, a third semester with a professional placement, and a fourth semester capstone project. “It used to be English majors who didn’t know what they wanted to do next,” John said. “But now we’re getting more and more people who have discovered their vocational identity in their love of books. They aren’t simply looking for work as literary editors, but looking at the other vocations in the scope of publishing.”

Students tend to be in their mid- to late twenties and early thirties, with many of them making a career change. When SFU launched the Master of Publishing, it tended to attract a very BC-based audience, but now its cohorts are more diverse, with students from across Canada and around the world.

Sarah Pruys
Sarah Pruys

Sarah Pruys, a current student in the program, said it is like an MBA for publishing. Sarah, who works for the South Slave Divisional Education Council in the Northwest Territories, was involved in publishing Indigenous children’s books with her school board before starting her master’s.

“The program really supports the many different interests of the students, including editing, sales, design, starting your own business or working for a big press,” she says. “I have taken business management courses in university, and all the work we do is grounded in realistic models.”

While the program doesn’t collect detailed data after graduation, current statistics indicate that 95 per cent of graduates are engaged in publishing, mostly in books and mostly in Canada. You may have heard of some of them, including Jennifer Croll, the new Editorial Director at Greystone Books; Iva Cheung, 2012 recipient of the Editors Canada Tom Fairley Award for Editorial Excellence, who is now doing doctoral work on plain language; and Kathy Sinclair, Executive Director of the Kamloops Arts Council and a Kamloops City Councillor. As the program approaches its twenty-fifth anniversary, great students will no doubt continue to join the publishing world with the skills to succeed.

Holly Munn (photo by Steveston Village Photography)

Holly Munn is a partner in BrandFreek Communications, a consultancy providing corporate writing and editing to municipalities and other large organizations.

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