Season 2, Episode 3: Mastering the Art of Publishing with Jazmin Welch

January 10, 2024

Stacey Copeland: Welcome to FCAT after school, a podcast project from SFU's Faculty of Communication, Art and Technology. In each episode, we join student hosts in conversation with alumni as they explore career journeys since graduation and gather advice for the next generation. In this episode FCAT student Genevieve Cheng catches up with SFU Master of Publishing grad Jasmine Welch, the innovative mind behind book design company fleck creative studio and production manager for Arsenal Pulp Press. Jazmin, or Jaz, gives us an insider's look into her journey from the fashion world to landing her dream job in book design, and the role that SFU's Master in Publishing program played along the way. Here are FCAT's own Gen Cheng and Jazmin Welch.

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Genevieve Cheng: Hi everybody, my name is Gen and I will be your host for this episode of FCAT After School. I'm currently a fifth and final year communication major and publishing minor at SFU. For this episode, I spoke to Jazmin Welch, who was a part of the SFU Masters of Publishing from 2018 to 2020.

Jazmin Welch: Hi, I'm Jazmin Welch and I'm the owner of fleck creative studio and I'm the production manager at Arsenal Pulp Press.

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Genevieve Cheng: Just jumping right in, book design is something that people don't really understand outside of publishing. How did you come across like book design? What-what kind of led you to books?

Jazmin Welch: Yeah, so that was also a very, like natural progression. Not an obvious one, but it did happen naturally, because I initially did go to school for fashion design, which is the sewing aspect, and after sewing for the first year I switched over to the communication side which is where you do all of the other stuff, including marketing, um, graphic design, you do a bit of web and app design, typography, color theory... We had a course called typography, where we were doing page layout. And I loved that class, like love doing grid structure or type, like hierarchy, choosing fonts, all that stuff really appealed to me. So, once I knew that that was a thing that people did, I kind of structured the rest of my time at Ryerson towards that. So, in our final year we have a thesis or capstone project, and so for that I made a book that was printed as well as made into an eBook. I was researching the difference between print and digital publications, what really makes a satisfying reader experience in both, and so I was really studying the nitty gritty of reader retention, font sizes... That just really is where my love of layout began even more than covers. So, I thought I would maybe do editorial layout for that kind of world, but just didn't love the fashion world and was just really open to any experience to do more typography, typesetting. And then realized that cover design can also include illustrations. So, it was kind of like a nice merging of all of the things that I loved. And then I love reading too. And I've always loved paper goods. So, it just kind of melded so many things that I love doing.

Genevieve Cheng: It-It's crazy how like one class in undergrad or one project can really like redirect your whole career.

Jazmin Welch: Mhm. Totally.

Genevieve Cheng: Did you always have a dream about a business kind of like in the back of your head? Or was that just kind of... This is how it's gonna happen. This is how I'm gonna get where I want to be.

Jazmin Welch: Yeah, it's it's funny, because I don't think I did like I- I definitely always knew that I wanted to be in something creative, doing things with my hands. You know, when I initially went to Ryerson, I thought I was going to be a fashion illustrator doing like live runway sketching and stuff like that. And then realized that's like a very difficult thing to get into [laughing]. There's like one person at the end of the runway sketching.

Genevieve Cheng: That's very niche. Hahah. Super niche.

Jazmin Welch: It's because I met one. Yeah. And I was like, this is such a cool, like, such a cool job. I want to do that.

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Genevieve Cheng: What was the biggest takeaway from your undergraduate experience as a fashion student?

Jazmin Welch: As a fashion student, I learned just so much about so many different industries, I think the biggest takeaway was that you will go anywhere in your career and everything kind of leads to something else. A lot of people in that program don't actually end up working in fashion. But we all had such relevant skills to so many places that I think it didn't matter where we ended up because we just kind of all of us ended up just following different interests. And you know, the job market was really difficult when I ended up graduating and I applied for just so many jobs, didn't get anything at first. So, yeah, I ended up working in this lady's house. I would go over and like shoot hats all day with her. That was the first job that I got out of school. So, it felt super irrelevant, but then it just kept on leading to other things, because then I had photography experience and then started working in social media photography at agencies and doing marketing and it all kind of just kept snowballing from there.

Genevieve Cheng: So were you're just like taking photos of her hats? And then putting them somewhere?

[both laughing]

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Jazmin Welch: I worked with this woman who was doing the Ryerson Fashion Research Collectio. And that woman just knew this lady who had this wonderful collection that she just wanted to personally archive. So, she had me photograph all of her hats. And I have no idea what she actually did with the photos, but I would go over like three times a week in her house, set up my lights, take pictures, edit them, send them back to her, and she would like pay me in cash at the end of the week.

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Jazmin Welch: And I think I was really naive when I graduated thinking, "oh, everybody needs a graphic designer."

Genevieve Cheng: Mhm.

Jazmin Welch: Like, of course, every company needs one! And that's not to discourage grads at all, because I think, you know, you just kind of navigate what the market is telling you. And for me, what I was getting back from everybody was that they wanted web designers. So they'd be like, "oh, we want a graphic designer, but you need to be able to code..."

Genevieve Cheng: As much as I love - like, the tech business really fascinates me. And I think it's just such a secure job. But, I have no interest in coding.

Jazmin Welch: I know. Yeah. Hahaha.

Genevieve Cheng: But, 50 jobs... that's a lot. That's definitely daunting. I think undergraduate students in arts programs, especially, are always so scared of that kind of happening, where you just don't have the right experience or the right checkboxes for the market at the time.

Jazmin Welch: Totally. And I think- I think it's just so important to remember not to take it personally, because most of the time now when you're applying for a job, it's just all about keywords going into like a digital algorithm. That, you know, you're not- your resume is not even being seen by a person. So, it's not worth getting upset over, you just have to keep trying new things.

Genevieve Cheng: Tell me a little bit more about just kind of how you went from hats, haha, to photography to like project management and marketing. And then a business owner, it's a very quick and interesting path.

Jazmin Welch: It is odd because I, like, thinking about it. I don't really have any entrepreneurs in my family who would have inspired me to do that. But I think graphic design lends itself very well to freelance. So when I first graduated and I did that hat job, my next job after that was working at a really tiny company. From there, I really enjoyed the organizational aspect of project management. And I moved to a tech startup that needed a project manager that was doing creative for like Fortune 500 companies like Johnson and Johnson and all these big, big names. I loved working there, but then so quick after that I realized that I wasn't doing anything creative anymore. So, even though I love project management, I was like "oh, no, I've lost my career path, essentially, like, what am I doing?" And, so I was working with the freelancers, sending them projects, doing the QA of all their work, editing their work, and then I just was so jealous that I wasn't the one making it. Hahah.

Genevieve Cheng: You were like, you're doing what I want to do. Hahaha.

Jazmin Welch: Yeah, exactly! And they're all so sweet. I got to work with them directly. I really think it was that job that made me see that I could do it. Because I knew how to write really clear proposals and contracts. The scopes I think are so critical for starting your own business. Everyone needs to be crystal clear on what's happening so that when you deliver a client's not like "oh, that's not what I wanted," and then they don't pay you. Which is just, you know, when we avoid in freelance life. So, doing that I think was a huge, huge win in terms of feeling confident that I could start my own business. Since, at that point, I was still seeing a lot of jobs that needed web design stuff, and I just didn't actually see a good fit for myself at a place I kind of did that huge jump to starting my own business. I started to do like a little bit of freelance while I was at 5Crowd and I did some on the side random design stuff. I had internships in publication design and things like that, so it wasn't like new to me that I would be in graphic design, but it definitely was scary. Haha. I made sure I had a lot of money saved up in order to be able to do that. I also was able to position my marketing job into a contract where I was on- literally on the other side as a freelancer. But yeah, it was- it was, uh, a bold choice, but it was something that I needed to do because I was unhappy, not- not doing anything creative anymore.

Genevieve Cheng: I think with businesses, it's always kind of expected that the person was always so entrepreneurial. So it's really interesting that you kind of just saw the opportunity and kind of said, this is kind of where I need to go.

Jazmin Welch: Yeah... I think I knew inherently that I liked deciding what I got to do. I just wanted to be the one calling the shots and deciding what I'm working on. So, to your point, like, I don't think you actually need to have this overwhelming entrepreneurial spirit to decide to do it. And like I said, I think the backbone of what made it possible was all that, you know, the boring stuff that people don't think about, but the project management staff, like helped so much, because right off the bat, I was like "oh, I can send a scope of work that outlines my project description, the deliverables, the timeline and all that stuff." And yeah, that made it such an easy transition, just from a business perspective. Like, I've received comments before from potential clients who have been like "it was your proposal that persuaded me," it's like "your proposal looks so pretty that I knew that you could do the job." Pretty is not the right word... [bleep] That look well designed and sophisticated.


Genevieve Cheng: They're really aesthetic, but they don't get the message across.


Jazmin Welch: Yeah, hahaha. If anyone's looking to start their own business, I think that's a critical part that some people miss.

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Genevieve Cheng: After starting your business. What was your kind of, like, what were your goals and intentions going into the publishing program?

Jazmin Welch: I started my business and was just kind of running with it. And you know, taking any job I could get, cold calling and doing all sorts of design work. I had always loved publication design and editorial layout. So I was trying to gear my portfolio towards that. I did start doing some self published books and just absolutely love that, but knew that it was something that was hard to get into the trade publishing side of things, because I was only working in self publishing. And there's still quite a stigma towards that industry. Although I will say that working in self publishing, I think it actually really does help to go into the trade world with self publishing knowledge, because you have to do all of the steps yourself. But, I realized, yeah, it would be so hard to get into a trade role without further education.

Genevieve Cheng: Yeah.

Jazmin Welch: I really felt that I needed to take that step.

Genevieve Cheng: Were there any standout moments in the publishing program? Like, what were your favorite parts?

Jazmin Welch: I think, for me, like the classes that really pulled together concepts were my favorite. So, even- although they were the hardest, I think, also. Publishing, as you mentioned, is this very weird, opaque industry that nobody knows anything about. And yet, once you're in it, you realize that these things have been done for centuries, like the same way... You just want to like shake the people at the- at the head of the industry to be like "we need to, you know, shake things up, because there are things that are not working in the industry." So, those classes really talked more about where publishing fits within society, the societal pressures and cultural pressures that are pulling on publishing right now, all the mandates that have allowed publishing to thrive, and the reasons why it has thrived over the years. So, it does have this kind of terrible history as to why you know, when textbooks were first getting done in- in Canada, and things like that, and the things that they were pushing, and who's at the helm of these presses, and who gets to choose which stories are in and which voices are heard and all of that. So, it was good to get that side of things so that we have this larger knowledge of the industry. That's not just about how it operates, but what its limitations are, where it kind of falls short, so that hopefully, when we graduate, we're able to, you know, make some changes. I still don't know how to rock the industry and completely change it so that it's better for everybody, but that class definitely, you know, made us think about things more broadly, which was, I think, very helpful.

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Jazmin Welch: There's things that come up all the time that I'm like "why is this done this way?" Like, it's a big mess, but it's also a great, great industry, but it's a big mess of an industry.

[Both laughing]

Genevieve Cheng: Yeah, just in terms of other moments in the program... Were there any key takeaways, like lessons learned from different profs or projects that you did that you really kind of came away and said "that was- that made that program so worth it to me?"

Jazmin Welch: Yeah, there's definitely a few. Like, I think the book project is- it's what people will complain about the most I think about the program, but in a way that is most formative? Like, it's a very stressful project, because it's a group based project, which is always hard, because you know, you're in a high stress situation, and you're dealing with different personalities. And you, you know, you're all trying to produce great work. And it's just like, it's a very interesting, tricky environment. But, I think what was so cool about that was that you are essentially forming a mini press. So, from start to finish, you create the name of your press, a logo, your publishing mandate, a mission statement, and then you make up four books that suit that statement and you pretend that they were kind of pitched to you and you've acquired these manuscripts. And then we act as a publishing house and pitch them to these like marketing meetings, which are actually real life industry professionals who give you feedback. So, every once in a while, during those few months, you literally have people come in. Different people from different presses, who you're trying to impress. And then we did this big marketing conference at the end that essentially shows the cover and we talk about the book. And- so it was a very interesting little micro moment of what actually happens in the industry. And it was just really fun to get to create covers for random books also, and like work collaboratively that way, because that's something that happens in the industry too. It's not just- no one is ever doing their job in a silo. So, I think that was really helpful. And for anyone who's going into that program, I think it's so important to remember that the Masters is really what you make of it. So, you can- you like- you're gonna get out of it exactly what you put into it. So if you're, you know, if you're just trying to get it done, you can just sit in class, go home, and then you know, do your work, and that's that. But, if you're trying to get into a certain area in the industry or you just you know, are want to explore certain things, definitely talk to the professors because they're able to kind of shape the courses to suit you. So, I at some point was in the design class. I was a bit frustrated at first because I was like "oh, I don't want to take a design class." Because, not that I think I'm the greatest designer in the world, but I had already done design for four years and had started my business at that point. So, I was- I was very confident in the- in my ability to use the software, and that was more what the program was geared towards. So, I- I talked to the design professor about kind of restructuring that class so that I could learn something else. And that's when I took a bit of my interest from my undergrad in figuring out digital publications to kind of update it to the present day eBook landscape and trying to make an eBook that was accessible, but also still pretty. And that's something that I've- I had struggled with for years is how do we make accessible eBooks that can be done affordably by a press, that also look great. [Laughing]. I don't think I solved that or crack that code. Because I think at the end of the day, if it looks great, there's probably some accessible flaws in there. But, it was still good to teach myself how to like get into the code and formally create project around it, because I wouldn't have done that if I wasn't in school. I definitely still use that knowledge to this day, I still crack open eBooks and look in Sigil and the code in my day to day so.

Genevieve Cheng: I think profs are always just there to support you. I think they respect initiative coming forward.

Jazmin Welch: Oh, yeah.

Genevieve Cheng: But, it just sounds so interesting and definitely on the backburner in my brain if I ever want to go back to school. Right now I'm in the mindset my last year kind of like, this is my last project. This is my last enrollment. I'm never going back to school. I'm definitely gonna eat my words in probably like four years, when I'm like, "I want to go back to school. I like school."

Jazmin Welch: Yeah, I was the same. So yeah, you never know. Hahaha.

Genevieve Cheng: I feel like everyone in a master's program is like, "don't say never because you're gonna go back to school because I said 'never'". Haha.

Jazmin Welch: I didn't even enjoy school, which is the funny part. Like because I'm on paper, like you're fairly traditional nerd. Just was always a 90s student. I finished high school with like the Governor General's Award for like, highest average in my high school.

Genevieve Cheng: Oh wow.

[Both laughing]

Jazmin Welch: I am a super nerd when it comes to school.

Genevieve Cheng: Super nerd!

Jazmin Welch: You would think I love it. Yeah. And so you know, I did my- I think because I just like worked myself to the bone and my undergrad was really hard, and I just have such a high level of perfectionism that it kind of destroyed me a little bit by the end. When I told my family that I was going to do a master's, they were all like, "you are not allowed to go back to school, like you can't, because you complained so much whe you were in your undergrad."


Genevieve Cheng: "You can go back, but you're not allowed to talk about." Hahaha.

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Jazmin Welch: Exactly. Haha. Yeah, they were like, I don't want to hear about it. If you hate it, like don't come crawling to us.

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Genevieve Cheng: I mean, but it is a different structure of a program, I guess. So, there's certainly a ton of work still to be done, but especially with publishing, I think all the profs in publishing that I've had are super self aware. So, it's just really practical and hands on. I don't know if the message is the same. Is it really quite hands on?

Jazmin Welch: Yeah, it really is. In one of the first classes you do a lot of like profit and loss statements, because I think it's kind of like, it's setting you up that if you did want to graduate and literally start a press, you would have all the tools to know... It gives you all the bits of all the pieces of publishing. So, yeah, you're literally hands on figuring out how to create a profit and loss statement for a book. Haha, which is so interesting.

Genevieve Cheng: I'm not gonna lie. I hate profit and loss statements. From the little I know about th em. I've had to do them twice. Yeah, I'm not enjoying them. But- [laughing]

Jazmin Welch: They are, yeah, they're pretty brutal. [Laughing]

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Jazmin Welch: I think, like you mentioned, the professors are self aware of like, let's not destroy our students well being and like, let's not make it so hard that they can't eat properly and rest at all. So, I- I did get that sense that they were very mindful of how we were feeling and we did like mental health check ins. And I still think it was- it was difficult, but it- I did appreciate that there were those like, y-you know, the professors were always very open. I think we all appreciated it a lot.

Genevieve Cheng: Is there anything else that you would kind of recommend to masters students now that you've had a couple years outside of the program as well, and working in the business

Jazmin Welch: Networking is such a big part of a masters, and I think it is for a lot of programs, but especially in publishing because they bring so many experts. So, even when you're doing those little presentations to the people during the book project- to actually talk to them? Haha, it seems- it seems obvious, but there's so many people that come into the program, and that's you know, that's such a huge bonus that a lot of people don't get. You literally have people brought to you, like on a silver platter to talk to you, right? So, if you're not taking advantage of those conversations, then it's- it's just kind of a lost opportunity because those are the people you will end up working with like it is a very, very tiny industry. And because the program is so well respected, when you do get out you will have people that acknowledge the fact that you've finished the program and want to work with you because you've done the program. That's what's so great about it too. Like it's- it's well known in Canada at least. There's not many masters of publishing out there. Hahaha.

Genevieve Cheng: Okay, so kind of after graduation... What was the first career related thing you did after finishing your master's?

Jazmin Welch: I saw Arsenal had a job posting that, you know, one of the great parts about being a student is also those job boards that you get access to because I probably wouldn't have seen the job otherwise. I was following the Quill and Quire job board already at that time. So, if anyone doesn't know it's a great industry job board for publishing-related jobs. I was already following in there, but because it was posted through the school I felt like I had a better chance. So I saw that come through and I was like, "oh my gosh, this is my chance!" Hahaha. Those jobs hardly ever come up. And I had, as I said, I was on that job board all the time and you never see a like full-time job in book design at a press. A press that has a great mandate, has an amazing track record, produces incredible books... I was so excited applied and was so surprised that I got it too. [Laughing]. So, I was- I was pretty pumped that that was my first, um, first experience like right out of the masters. I think I started like the September afterwards. And I was already running my business during school, too. So, I didn't have actually any intention of getting a job when I finished. I was like "oh, I'll just keep working on fleck and just see where that takes me." But, I did really want to work in house at a press to get like the- the experience of working on a team and having feedback from people that really know what they're doing in the industry. But, I knew that I wasn't going to keep, kind of, accelerating my career and learning if I was not actually connecting live with people who are publishing in the trade. That was great. I was so happy to- to get to work with them and still- still work with them, obviously.


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Genevieve Cheng: What do you enjoy most about book design?

Jazmin Welch: I think for me, the reason why I like it is that every day is different. Because even if you're following the same kind of creative process, and I think a lot of designers follow a very similar process of like ideation, research, and brainstorming, and all of that... It's this problem solving thing that each book is a totally different journey. Like, you read it and then you are meant to create something for that piece. So, everything else that you've done for another book doesn't apply to that book. And it just keeps things so fresh. Like, again, even if you're following a similar day to day, that e-each book is like a totally unique opportunity to do something different.

Genevieve Cheng: Any last advice for people finishing their masters? What is your number one piece of advice for them, as they wrap up their degrees?

Jazmin Welch: Making sure that you're not hard on yourself in the job market. I think that's key. Like, apply for anything and everything because you never know where it's going to take you. Everything will build towards something. So, even if you take a job that seems irrelevant, yeah. Just don't beat yourself up about not being in your final destination because it can also change, right? Like, you might fall in love with something else and change your path.

Genevieve Cheng: Anyways, yeah it was just thank you so much for sitting down!

Jazmin Welch: Yeah, thank you so much. It was great. It was nice to chat with you. And yeah, I wish you the best on your publishing journey!

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Stacey Copeland: Interested in learning more about the FCAT community? Stay tuned for a brand new episode of FCAT after school hitting your feeds every other Wednesday this season. A big thanks to Jazmin Welch for joining us here on the show. You'll find links to resources mentioned and more info on Jaz and the publishing MA program in the show notes. Our host for this episode was Genevieve Cheng. Production by Gen Cheng and me, Stacey Copeland. FCAT After School respectfully acknowledges the Musqueam, Skwxwú7mesh, Tsleil-Waututh, Katzie, Kwikwetlem, QayQayt, Kwantlen, Semiahmoo, and Tsawwassen people, on whose unceded traditional territories our three campuses reside and where many of the stories shared in our series take place. Make sure to rate us and subscribe to FCAT After School in your podcast app of choice, so you don't miss any of our upcoming episodes. You can follow us on social media @FCATatSFU. That's FCATatSFU on Twitter and Instagram. See you next time!