Since completing her SFU Editing Certificate in 2006, Michelle van der Merwe has worked on a variety of print, web and social media projects. As editor of the Royal BC Museum’s anthology, Language of Family: Stories of Bonds and Belonging, Michelle was a finalist for the 2018 Tom Fairley Award.
What were you doing before joining the Editing program at SFU Continuing Studies?
I’d recently returned to Canada after four years working abroad in hotel food and beverage management, where I was involved with high-level international events and met interesting people such as Stevie Wonder and Queen Elizabeth II. I enjoyed it but I knew it was not a long-term career choice for me. I’d previously studied graphic design and journalism and had known for some time that I wanted to become an editor.
How did you hear about our Editing program? Why did you choose SFU?
I initially learned about it when I was researching editing programs online. I also attended an orientation seminar led by editors who were SFU instructors—it provided a great overview of the program and the editing profession. Hearing from people who were working in the industry was both inspiring and reassuring, and I walked away knowing this was the path I wanted to travel. The program was not fully online yet, but the evening and weekend classes at the downtown Vancouver campus were easy to access and schedule around full-time work. That flexibility, coupled with the respect the program garners from across the country, convinced me the SFU program was for me.
What was your goal in studying editing?
My goal was to work as an in-house editor for an established book publisher, which tends to be considered the glamour job of the industry. At least it was at the time. With all the changes in traditional publishing over the past 10 to 15 years, I feel like editors are now thinking more broadly about where they’ll find work, and there are so many niche areas—some of which may not have existed a decade ago. My path wasn’t as straightforward as I thought it would be because I entered the industry as it was transitioning. But, in retrospect, it gave me a much broader skillset and experience base. And I still achieved my goal and got to work on books, eventually.
What class did you find the most beneficial and why?
What I found most beneficial was not a class per se, but the final project. It required me to use everything I’d learned in the program and work through the editing process from start to finish, including author communication—such an integral part of what we do as editors.
Overall, what was the most valuable aspect of the Editing program for you?
In addition to all the knowledge and skills that I acquired, it was the connections I made with other up-and-coming editors and established publishing professionals—many of whom were program instructors. To this day I’m still in contact with many of them and they’ve been invaluable resources, supports and friends over the years.
How prepared were you for a future in Editing after completing the program?
The program gave me a fantastic foundation of knowledge and skills, and the Editing Certificate gave me the confidence to get out there, start gaining real-world editing experience and show everyone—including myself—what I was capable of and how far I could go.
How did the Editing Certificate assist with your future career plans?
I’d been working as a technical writer while angling to move into an editor’s role with the same employer. Within six months of completing my certificate, the managing editor hired me as a full-time editor based on work produced with my new skills and knowledge.
What advice would you share with future students considering taking our Editing program?
Stop thinking about it and do it! If you’re interested in editing content of any sort—magazine, corporate, digital, book—the knowledge, skills and contacts you’ll gain from this program will be invaluable in your future career.