How many people can say they’ve met Margaret Atwood, Chris Hadfield, Jason Priestly, and Elaine Lui in person and have photographic evidence to prove it?
At least one: Elizabeth Hilborn.
Elizabeth, known to her friends as Liz, graduated from Humber’s Creative Book Publishing Program in 2011. She has worked at Kobo since finishing her internship with the company in 2012 and is currently the merchandiser for the Canadian market.
“Which means I’m in charge of merchandising all the eBooks on our website here in Canada. Basically, I curate the eBooks side of the site experience.
“Merchandisers are responsible for knowing all the hot new books coming out, knowing our customers and discovering reading and shopping trends, selecting content for all our sales, and, the best part, developing great working relationships with publishing houses all over the world.”
The Best Part
That global aspect of the company is part of what Elizabeth likes about working at Kobo.
“We’re exposed to so many different reading cultures, trends, and tastes, which never stops being interesting.”
But, she says, that’s only part of what she loves about her work. The best part is the people.
“At Kobo I work and have worked with some of the cleverest minds and brightest spirits; I really do look forward to coming to work every day and seeing their faces. I have also really enjoyed working with publishers all across the world (I've merchandised our eBook store in both Australia and the United States) – it’s so fulfilling when you’re able to work together with a publisher to help give exposure to their books.”
And it doesn’t stop there; Elizabeth has also met some pretty inspiring authors!
“In my nearly three years at Kobo I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Margaret Atwood, Malcolm Gladwell, Chris Hadfield, Elaine Lui from Lainey Gossip (a personal fave), Douglas Coupland, Kevin O’Leary, Kathy Reichs, Louise Penny, Jo Nesbo, Dennis Lehane (a huge thrill), Rainbow Rowell (the absolute BEST), and Kate Atkinson (she’s amazing!), just to name a few! I even got to interview Rainbow Rowell AND Liane Moriarty, which was beyond incredible.”
Not to mention the fact that Elizabeth gets access to all the books she could ever want to read, and often in advance… sounds like a dream job!
The Hard Part
But it’s not all hobnobbing with famous people. Elizabeth says the enormity of the workload and the fast-paced work can be very demanding.
“You’re managing all the books coming in from all the accounts in your territory! There are unfortunately only so many you can focus on at one time. It’s is a real challenge to keep up with everything – all the books you want to read, all the merch stories you want to tell, all the emails in your inbox… it’s fruitful, but it is a challenge.”
Luckily, none of that came as a huge shock; Elizabeth says Humber’s publishing program introduced her to a lot of contacts in the industry and gave her a great overview of what to expect when she graduated.
“My time at Humber really put the publishing industry into perspective – how much you get paid, what you’ll be working on, how fast you’ll be expected to work. You get a good idea of what it takes to make it in the industry.”
The Surprise Part
Funnily enough, Elizabeth says, the fast pace was the one thing she didn’t expect going into Humber’s program!
“You can hear it from Cynthia [Director Emerita] or prior graduates, but you won’t really get it until you experience it. That especially goes for Enterprise [the final project where student groups form a mock publishing house, complete with signed authors, marketing strategies, websites, etc and compete against each other to “win” based on judging by a panel of real-life industry experts]. It sounds like a really fun exercise, but it takes so much time and effort – worthwhile, absolutely, but still unexpected. Especially if you get the basement room with no windows!”
Basement room aside, Elizabeth says Enterprise turned out to be one of the highlights of the program for her when her group took home the grand prize.
“Enterprise was really grueling for my group, and I don’t think any of us expected to win. We barely had any time to practice our presentation! But we had some really talented people in our group and a great idea so to end up being recognized by a panel of industry experts was amazing! It was part of my job to contact potential author candidates, and that was so much fun. I spoke to Steve Carrell’s agent and one of our authors ended up being a writer for the Daily Show! It was so fun.”
The Other Best Part
Elizabeth also made some great friends at Humber, one of whom even went on to be her roommate after they graduated. “But,” she says, “the best moment was being chosen to receive the Dean’s Award, which was particularly rewarding as all of this goodwill came right as I was having open-heart surgery.”
Yes, open-heart surgery. Elizabeth knew she would have to have a valve replaced at some point, possibly during her time at Humber, so she was happy that her doctors were able to postpone it until after graduation. Of course, there’s never a good time for open-heart surgery; it wasn’t an ideal way to start off her first internship.
“The most difficult challenge was definitely my open-heart surgery. I’d just started my first internship, and then was in the hospital for a week, having this procedure, and then trying to get back to normal.”
Amazingly, Elizabeth took it in stride and completed not one, not two, but three internships within a year of graduating. And that last one turned into a job. But Elizabeth says she was lucky to be able to survive that long on intern pay levels.
“I didn’t expect how many internships it would take to land a job. It’s not the case for everyone, but it is not uncommon. I was glad the program was only four months because you spend about another year working all over the industry afterwards. The internships are so important and so necessary and you learn so much in your role, but it is impossible to live off the money you make at most internships. And in most cases, you do several before you land a job. Luckily I was able to swing it, but I imagine most people can’t, which likely impacts their career potential. It’s really too bad.”
But, Elizabeth says, the program “really works” and it opened a lot of doors for her.
“With a Humber certificate you get those interviews and you get those internships and eventually you get those jobs.”
And, she adds, you get to meet a lot of great people.
“It didn’t even occur to me that I would be surrounded all day by 30 or so likeminded individuals who share similar passions and interests and who are all here for mostly the same reason. In my university experience, classes were large and everyone had a different major. Here, we were all working towards the same thing. I didn’t expect to truly enjoy so many of my classmates (and teachers!) but I really did.”
Humber Publishing is known in the industry for developing great publishing talent and fostering lifelong connections and friendships, and Elizabeth is clearly a testament to both.