Susan Juby's MPub story

November 23, 2022

After completing her undergraduate degree in English from the University of British Columbia (UBC), Susan Juby started out as a typesetting intern at a publishing company. Funnily enough, she describes herself as the worst typesetter in the history of typesetters. Twenty years later, she is the author of multiple critically-acclaimed novels including Alice, I Think, which went on to become a sitcom on the CTV Comedy Channel. In 2016, she was awarded the Leacock Medal for Humour for her novel, Republic of Dirt: A Return to Woefield Farm. Besides her incredible trajectory as a comedic writer, Susan is a teacher at Vancouver Island University (VIU). While her Master of Publishing (MPub) degree enabled her to become a teacher, a role she finds fulfilling, it also taught her other invaluable lessons. Here's Susan Juby's MPub story. 

The Beginning  

You wrote your first book, Alice, I Think, over 20 years ago. How was that process?

I started the book in 1998. It was a secretive thing and I’d often wonder whether I could actually write something. I wrote every morning. At the time, I was already working in a publishing company. So, I’d write on the bus, on my way to work, and then I’d write in an all-night coffee shop before work. My book published right before the MPub program began. Although I didn't have a lot of expectations, I thrilled to have actually finished a book. It seemed like a miracle when my book was finally published. I was at the Harbour Centre when my agent called and said, “Harper Collins in the US wants three of these books about Alice!” I still remember that moment.

You were already in the early stages of a publishing career, so what made you decide to enrol into the MPub program?

I’d been working for six or seven years when I went into the MPub so I was a mature student. I wanted to get a broader perspective on publishing, which is something the program could offer. I also wanted a graduate degree. It was something that publishers were recognizing as a valuable accreditation. All those things led me into the MPub. It was exciting. We had a very tight group of talented people who've gone on to do interesting things. While I wanted to learn more about publishing, my main goal was to teach creative writing, publishing or something close.

You got your first book deal while you were a student in the MPub program. We’d love for you to share an anecdote. Perhaps, a fulfilling moment? 

I was just finishing up my project report, which is essentially the same as a thesis for mastering students. That’s around the time I realized that there was going to be a TV show for the Alice series. That was certainly a dream come true. Over the years, it has been really exciting to see students from VIU and UBC get publishing deals. Some of them have published multiple books. So, that's a very cool thing. I see all kinds of fascinating career trajectories when it comes to my peers who graduated from the MPub. I feel like MPub students are really going out there and making a difference in Canadian Publishing. 

Susan Juby's MPub Story

As you reflect on your time as an MPub student, what are you reminded of? 

I recall the MPub program as being one of the most intense educational experiences of my life. Since we were working really hard, we were bonding in ways that were more common in other masters programs. Sharing an intimate space, participating consistently, working hard, and creating amazing bonds were all a part of it. There is no opportunity for not showing up in the MPub. You have to do the work.Today, some of my peers are doing high-powered communications jobs and other adjacent work in different industries, not just book publishing. There’s so many fulfilling careers that have evolved out of the MPub program. The education we got prepared us for opportunities we’d never imagined. It made us really adaptable. 

How has the MPub program helped shape your career? 

I’ve taught in a variety of institutions, but I’ve been in VIU for 12 years. I actually had my first opportunity to teach a class at UBC and I thought, “This is amazing!”. I got great feedback from my peers and that gave me the confidence to apply to places to get teaching experience. You need classroom experience, and so my time at SFU’s MPub program taught me about engagement, stimulation and group dynamics. That was invaluable. I was able to use those learnings into my career as a teacher. For me, teaching is as important as writing. So, the MPub helped me balance the creative and professional parts of my life. 

Is there anything you would have done differently as a student in the MPub program?  

Not really. I love the MPub. The connections I made and the experiences I had are things that I truly appreciate. The program gave me a lot of confidence that my publishing career could be adaptable. I discovered that I could try different things. After all, it pointed me in the direction of teaching. I didn't even know enough to hope that it would be useful in that part of my career, but it was.

The Practice

What do you think students should do to ensure they’re constantly motivated to use their own unique voices within this industry? 

I believe, for myself, that all my weaknesses and strengths combine into something that makes me valuable and useful. You have to acknowledge both. You can’t only have and value strength. When I take on different professional roles, or go into any new environment, I remind myself about my strengths as well as my weaknesses when I approach things. There's something to learn from each of them.

What is your advice for MPub students, especially those who are aspiring writers?

If you want to be a novelist, you need to let go of the idea of inspiration because it's fleeting. If you want to be prolific, and have a career as a working novelist, you need to be writing even when you're not inspired. Lean back on the practice of having an agreement with yourself. This means, writing regularly and at the same time every day. Try to hit a certain goal, but let go of any notion that it has to be good right away. Novels, as a long form, is like a habit. I encourage my students to write consistently; five to six days a week. Since inspiration is unreliable, you can rely on practice.

Even though inspiration is hard to find, Susan Juby's MPub story is nothing short of inspiring. Her most recent murder mystery novel, Mindful of Murder, is intriguing, charming and, in true Susan Juby fashion, whimsical.

Learn more about Susan's book, and her phenomenal life and career here.

Follow the latest on Susan here.

Apply to the Master of Publishing program by February 1 here