Meet Gillian Cott: The 2016 AC Award in Publishing Studies winner

Thursday, April 6, 2017

When Gillian Cott learned last spring that she had won the 2016 Access Copyright Graduate Award in Publishing Studies, it came at the perfect time.

Cott, enrolled in Simon Fraser University’s (SFU) Masters of Publishing program, had to travel from Vancouver to Montreal in June 2016 to begin her three-month internship with graphic-novel publisher Drawn & Quarterly. Travelling across Canada isn’t cheap, particularly when you’re a student, and she was stressed trying to find a way to cover her travel costs. 

Winning the $2,000 Access Copyright Award, “was a deep breath of relief,” says Cott.

Cott made it to Montreal and found the experience of doing production work for a publisher whose world is graphic novels a match made in design heaven. “When you are laying out a graphic novel, you are often laying out several layers in [desktop publishing software] InDesign,” says Cott. “You have to layout each page individually. You have to scan original artwork. You have to sometimes fix up colours.”

The Access Copyright Graduate Award in Publishing Studies was established by Access Copyright in 1995 (back when it was known as CanCopy). The Award aims to provide financial support to students enrolled at SFU’s Masters of Publishing program, the only graduate-level publishing program in Canada. To date, the Award has helped over 20 students focus on getting their graduate degree and discovering where their calling is in the publishing world.

John Maxwell, director and associate professor of the program, knows first-hand the impact of the Award. After all, he was a member of the program’s first graduate class in 1995/96, has been an instructor at the program for just over 15 years and been its director since 2014.

“Students come to the school and quit their day jobs and need every bit of help they can get,” says Maxwell. “The Access Copyright Award and a few other awards from the university and other organizations allow students to be nation-wide. It allows them to travel.”

And the students themselves? Maxwell describes them as deeply immersed in the world of literature and eager to learn about the publishing industry.

They undertake two intensive semesters reading, learning and collaborating in the classroom. “We push them through that for eight months and we cause them to be able to accomplish things that they didn’t think they were able to do when they first came in,” says Maxwell.

Afterwards, they have a three-month internship with an established publisher and spend a final semester completing an extensive report on their internship that also synthesises the theories and concepts covered in the first two semesters of the program.

Maxwell notes the growth of his students over the course of the program. “They have a sense of confidence and accomplishment that they can go into a workplace setting or into a project and believe that they can be a valuable contributor to it,” he says.

Cott hopes her contribution to publishing will be on the production side. The three months she spent at Drawn & Quarterly helping to craft pages that meld text and images have instilled in her a deep enthusiasm for it. “I think that there is a special space for books that are really beautiful,” says Cott. “There is something more tactile about being able to look at beautiful images alongside text. I think there is a market for it.”

Now that Cott is close to completing the report portion of her Masters, she is scouring the job market hoping to get a position with a Canadian publisher, ever mindful of the assistance that endowment funds such as the Access Copyright Award has given her and other students.

“They are incredible, especially when you have something like an internship where you’re doing something and getting the skills that you need to move forward in your career,” says Cott. “It gives students a world-is-your-oyster ideology that’s really important.”