Working in Publishing: Hannah Macready Interviews MagsBC Executive Director Sylvia Skene
Since 2011 Sylvia Skene has been the Magazine Association of BC’s Executive Director. Skene has also worked as Project Coordinator for the association and as Interim Executive Director for the Western Magazine Awards Foundation.
Hannah Macready: Sylvia! Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us at EVENT. You have had quite the career, working not only for MagsBC but also the Western Magazine Awards, SAD Mag, British Columbia History magazine, and Langara College. How did you start off your career in the magazine industry?
Sylvia Skene: It was actually a career change. I had been working as a library technician at a provincial media service at Langara, and when the contract for the service ended after many years, I took some time to figure out whether I wanted to continue in libraries or look for something else.
I realized that a lot of the activities I had been doing, most of it on the side—writing editorials and columns for a few years, sitting on Langara’s Board of Governors and Foundation Committee, volunteering with the Library Technicians and Assistants Interest Group, taking project management courses, working on events, on and on—added up to quite a large transferable skill set, which I considered when planning what to do next.
I found out about the Magazine Association of BC’s executive director position from the previous ED when I was volunteering at the Western Magazine Awards, and as I felt it was a great fit for my skill set and was very keen to get the job, did a lot of preparation and research before the interview, which impressed the board interviewers, even though my background wasn’t in magazines.
HM: It must be so exciting to get to apply and weave your skills into new positions. That leads me into my next question: what is the best way to start off a career in the publishing/magazine sector? What kind of skills do you think people who work in this industry need?
SS: There are a lot of different ways, but I’d say the primary way would be to get some volunteer experience at a magazine you like (or two) while you’re still in school or at another job. There are opportunities at a number of small arts and literary magazines especially, which will also get you contacts and references within the industry.
I also recommend people check company/employer reviews on websites like Glassdoor.ca before volunteering or applying for a job, as a few publishers do unfortunately exploit their staff members and volunteers, and can turn eager new professionals into burnt-out cynics who leave the industry.
If you’re interested in creating content, whether writing, poetry, photography, illustration or whatever, and you haven’t already done so, you should create a blog/portfolio/zine and—even more important—post on/publish it regularly. You can also submit to magazines, but this is the best way to show people your work. There are a lot of wannabe creators who have little creative output, and potential employers will wonder if they’re really suited to the industry if they don’t have the drive and enthusiasm to produce on a regular basis.
MagsBC also has a couple of member categories for individuals. Associate membership includes a listing on our webpage, which, when combined with links to your own website/blog, would be good for newer professionals looking for a better chance to be found online. Benefits also include a day pass to our conference, which gives new professionals a chance to network with others.
You can also ask for informational interviews with people you admire. Be prepared with questions, buy them a beverage and take up no more than half an hour of their time. Bring an up-to-date resume, but don’t give it to them unless they ask. Make sure your resume reflects your skills, e.g. don’t submit a resume with just text if you’re applying for a design position.
Regarding skills, here are the top skills and abilities that past internship hosts told us they look for, with similar skills grouped together:
- Independent (self-starter, takes initiative, self-reliant, proactive, self-managing, go-getter, confident)
- Passionate (driven, enthusiastic, eager, genuinely interested in publishing, motivated, ambitious)
- Good to great communication and writing skills (also: has public speaking skills, can connect with readers)
- Willing to learn (values feedback, strives to improve, doesn’t take personally; also: isn’t afraid to ask questions)
- Strong interpersonal skills (listens well, gets along well with others, fits into the culture of the company, can deal well with a variety of people, is respectful/patient/easygoing, participates in discussions, etc.)
- Has strong work ethic and skills (get things done, organized, meets deadlines, positive attitude, mature, dependable, trustworthy, has integrity, responsible, capable, great time manager)
Other skills/abilities mentioned: resourceful, curious, flexible, creative/talented/has ingenuity/quick to learn, objective, good researcher, good attention to detail, some relevant tech/software skills/knowledge/abilities)
HM: I’m glad that you mentioned the MagsBC website, because it is full of great resources (marketing, grant writing, business tips, and more!) that are helpful for all artists, not just those working in magazines/publishing. On that note, can you tell us a bit about the kinds of internship programs that MagsBC offers, and who is eligible to apply?
SS: MagsBC coordinates a federally-funded internship subsidy program (thanks, Canada Periodical Fund!). Publishers and editors from member magazines can apply for up to an 80% subsidy for an internship of at least 20 hours a week for a minimum of 16 weeks.
Interns must either be students at or recent graduates (within 3 years) of an accredited post-secondary institution.
As this program is quite popular, we now call for applications only once a year, in January or February for the coming year, although occasionally an approved internship falls through and we go looking for a new host to offer an internship.
I encourage students and recent graduates to check out our members page and look for a few magazines they would like to intern with, or, if they’re volunteering already at a member magazine, to propose an internship to their supervisor. There may be an opportunity to create your own internship for April 2020 or later if both you and the publisher feel you would be a good match for their magazine and its needs. Contact information is on each member webpage on our site.
HM: Those are great tips, and I will definitely co-sign the impact that internships and volunteer work can have. I was a volunteer at EVENT for three years before starting my current role, and getting to know the magazine from the inside really helped nurture my passion for small-press publications. Does MagsBC have any upcoming events that we should add to our calendars?
SS: We will be planning a “How To Pitch to Magazines” workshop and Pitchfest, as well as other professional development and our conference, in fall 2019 and winter 2020. Follow our Facebook page or subscribe to our occasional newsletter to receive notifications of upcoming events and professional development opportunities.
HM: Thank you so much for your time! We appreciate all the work that MagsBC does for the literary community. As a small press we are thankful for organizations such as this that help us connect with our communities and subscribers. To all of our readers make sure to check out the MagsBC website for resources and tips.
Hannah Macready lives in Vancouver, BC.