For our February event we headed over to Glasgow to offer an Insight into Publishing for those interested in the field. We had Adrian Searle, publisher of Freight Books; Rosie Howie, development editor of educational publisher Bright Red, and Catriona Cox, previously of Publishing Scotland and BooksFromScotland.com, who is now undertaking a PhD researching the history of Scotland’s industry.
“The Scottish publishing scene has an international profile.”
“It’s all about ideas,” begins Adrian. “Publishing is about strong ideas, executed well.” Freight somewhat fell into publishing and have grown year-on- year. “We did well considering we didn’t know what we were doing.”
When they launched Gutter, the country’s leading literary mag, queues of people turned up with the next great Scottish novel, and this has helped them elevate their publishing output to 39 in the last year. Though he says they won’t do that again any time soon, it’s part of a plan to expand rapidly then contract: move to more money but less books.
“This is our heartland,” he says. “The Scottish publishing scene has an international profile.” You can travel all over the world, sell rights. He admits that there are far more roles in London for those interested in publishing but it’s about talent, persistence and dedication. A Masters does help – you can learn more about the Stirling and Napier publishing courses up here if you’re interested. There does seem to be few opportunities up in Scotland comparatively, but they are there.
“Editorial is one important but very, very small part.”
“Publishing is great. It’s a great career. I love it.” Being a jack of all trades works, and so does having a specialism. It’s a very diverse industry in that way, but there’s one role that most come in with their eye on. “Editorial is one important but very, very small part. Authors write books, books create culture, authors meet editors.” They’re always the go-to in literary films – editors have really good PR.
“Taste is a very, very limited thing,” he notes, on how a book needs to be run by many people before being taken on. There needs to be a high degree of understanding of the market. Loads of books deserve to be written, but not all deserve to be published.
“Read voraciously in the markets,” he continues. “Spot a trend before it happens, spot what’s just emerging. You need a fantastic level of literacy.” He believes that creative writing courses are the best prep for editorial. “You don’t need to be a writer to be good at editorial, but it helps.”
“My great mission in life is to destigmatise sales.”
To the other roles, Adrian believes, “Sales is the most important job of every company, it’s the most creative part of every business. My great mission in life is to destigmatise sales. Good sales people are worth their weight in gold.” They have a huge input on what’s bought, and are closely related to marketing. Marketing are thinkers, they work out the book and plan, getting it out there.
As for production and design, “design plays a huge part in bookselling”, and for money and contracts, “it’s always about the money”, and while it’s not glamourous to most, it’s vital. If you speak any other language, Rights will love you. It’s not a necessity to work in the area, but it’s definitely an asset.
Turning to questions: how do you market yourself when you have a broad scope of experience? “Bullet points,” says Adrian. “Join the SYP, show them your CV, ask for help and what’s important. People want to see dedication. The pay is shit, but it’s emotionally rewarding, you work with creative people and that has some cool points, which is why the demand is high. Publishing is full of clever arty people. Be dedicated, have an eye for detail.”
What about interview advice? “Everyone cares about their company,” says Rosie, “so know it inside out. Use the jargon that they use. Have a working knowledge, know the people.” If it’s a small company in a niche sector, make sure you tailor it to their needs, if it’s a massive company, tailor to the department, and so on. Adrian adds to go to publishing events and network, it’s good to get to know people and get a better feel for what’s out there and what everyone does. Be nice, it goes far.
“Go to everything. Meet people.”
But what if you don’t have years and years of publishing experience? “Publishing is an increasingly eclectic mix of people with difference experience,” says Rosie. It’s important to get it where you can, but not needed from the very start of time.
“Show that you’ve achieved stuff,” says Adrian. “That you’ve got transferrable skills. It’s about maturity. Everybody wants to work in fiction straight away, but there’s lots of other areas. Start with something unsexy, get the skills and move.”
But it’s not all about the role – look at the motivation. “The processes are similar over content,” Rosie explains. For example, if you like shaping a project and working with words then there are other routes than fiction. If you undertake work experience, do make sure it’s a learning experience for you and use it to work out why you want to do this, and explore a little.
A large part of publishing is the networking, and it’s a very easy industry to start to get involved with in that sense. “Go to everything,” says Catriona. “Meet everyone. Go to general events, author events… Going out there and meeting people is one of the best ways to engage with the industry.” Publishers will more often than not be at their author events, and you could just chat to them there.
So, ending the main panel with a caution: what are the biggest mistakes people make when trying to get into publishing? The big one: spelling. “Get six people to proofread it,” says Catriona. There’s nothing worse than typos. Know your audience and where you’re coming from. Rosie recommend that you “sell yourself and be professional.”
No one needs a sob story, they just need to know why you’re the best person for the job. Be yourself. Don’t go generic because publishers can spot it a mile off, say more than “I love reading books.” The more you target and tailor yourself to them, the better the response. “Show your own personality without overkill.”
Massive thanks to everyone who came out for the evening, and who stuck around later to learn more about the publishing industry! Be sure to follow SYP Scotland on Twitter and Facebook, and read through our blog, for the latest updates in publishing in Scotland, and plenty of advice and events to help!