Publishing Scotland Conference 2017: An Overview

It’s been 24 hours since the Publishing Scotland Conference left me equally overwhelmed and excited by my chosen career path so I hope this overview will give people who weren’t fortunate enough to attend a taste of what the day was like.

After a welcome from Publishing Scotland, the Booksellers Association and Jenny Brown of Jenny Brown Associates, the day started with a key note speech from Barry Cunningham . Not only do I hope to work in children’s/YA publishing one day, but I am a long-time fan of Chicken House. I was all ears on the necessity for fueling “book growth by providing a wider variety of book of all kinds” and how readers can discover these books. ‘Book huggers’ became an integral part of my vocabulary and Barry’s business card a coveted addition to my wallet.

Next came a statistical breakdown of 2015/16 retail market trends courtesy of Nielsen BookScan data, and while your eyes may have glazed over just reading that sentence, believe me it was one of the highlights of the day. Who would have thought there was a marriage to be made between David Bowie and bar charts? Steve Bohme for one (apparently it was Star Wars last year!)

Sam Eades, Editorial Director at Orion Books, shared her innovative ideas for creating debut novel buzz without the benefit of a big publicity and marketing budget. With materials even Blue Peter might struggle to craft together, she revealed the roles a dismembered mannequin and Portsmouth bus lane played in two successful campaigns. She also stressed the importance of spear-heading trends, from psychological thrillers to cosy crime; and of recognising the opportunity for partnerships – even if those opportunities come in the form of two ice sculptors. After all, “publicists are great blaggers.”

I gained a whole new appreciation of the art of the book cover from the Creative Director at Penguin Random House, Suzanne Dean, whose journey between the hardback and paperback editions of Paul Kalanithi’s, When Breath Becomes Air, was paved by 70 rejected covers. And I’ll never look at the negative space and allusions of Haruki Murakami’s covers the same way now that I know a little of the complicated effort masquerading as the effortlessly simple.

When it comes to working better with authors (and selling more books), Lucinda Byatt from the Society of Authors reminded us that, despite falling advances and royalties, “authors remain the only essential part in the creation of a book.” How must it make them feel to often earn less than their editor?

We heard from the front lines in sales and bookselling where the successful bookstores are the ones with “experiential content that’s not available on the internet”, Kevin Ramage, The Watermill: “booksellers that diversify … throw in a bit of coffee … offer as much as possible to the customers”, Sabrina Maguire, Bright Red Publishing.

For my elective breakout session I was glad to have chosen to learn from Eleanor Collins, Senior Commissioning Editor at Floris Books, about editing narrative openings (but sad to miss out on the three other workshops that sounded equally fascinating). With the “artifice of the narrative most evident in the beginning” and a tendency for authors to begin the story before the action, editors can choose to alter the structure, chronology and/or voice. In other words (Eleanor’s words): start with the Ballroom instead of the Country Walk; or reference it and the Conversation during the preparation for the ball.

One of the most inspiring parts of the day, however, was an introduction to OWN IT!, London from founder, Crystal Mahey-Morgan. Crystal’s goal is to tell stories using books, music, fashion and film, starting with the multimedia book, Don’t Be Alien. Above all I respected her recognition that we have to see the commercial viability of diverse authors instead of just the moral necessity.

With people and pioneers like these, I’m happy to say that the future of the book does not look as bleak as it is often believed to be. Many thanks to Publishing Scotland for making the MSc Publishing students of Edinburgh Napier Universirty so welcome.

In conclusion, prep your calendars for 2018 and place your bets on who/what Steve Bohme will use to front his market data next time.


By Kellie Jones

Bright Red Publishing Placement – My Experience

This post summarises the valuable industry experience I gained through my work placement with Bright Red Publishing between September and December 2016.

From day one, the whole team were very welcoming and, despite my lack of publishing knowledge, helped me to build my skills through a range of challenging introductory tasks. Throughout the placement, I learned about design, marketing, author management, contracts, copyright, and lots and lots about editorial!

Before applying, I had little knowledge of the publishing industry but I was instantly drawn to Bright Red Publishing because I had used their textbooks at school and, unlike other study resources, I had positive memories of their bright colours, lovely images and user-friendly design.

Gaining experience in a small company was brilliant for me as it meant that the tasks could be really varied from hour-to-hour, and I was constantly learning from the team’s combined wealth of experience. Among the most rewarding tasks was when I was given an updated section of a textbook to proofread, and then seeing the corrections I had identified included in the revised set of proofs a week later.

Over the course of the placement, I would meet the Directors, Alan and John, Publishing Manager, Rosie, Marketing and Sales Consultant, Sabrina, and Creative Director, Caleb, as well as a host of freelancers and writers. I was fortunate that my placement day coincided with the Christmas party, a great opportunity to meet even more individuals involved in educational publishing, all of whom were eager to give me valuable advice and insights.

Completing this placement was not only enjoyable and educational, but helped me to set myself goals to achieve my career aspirations. The time I spent at Bright Red Publishing was a brilliant introduction to a career in publishing and I came away with a greater range of valuable knowledge and skills than I had at the start of September. I will always be grateful to everyone who helped me in achieving this, and I look forward to seeing how this excellent company progresses in the future.

Work Experience at EUP

Edinburgh University Press is the leading University Press in Scotland so I was very excited to obtain a placement in journal production with them for this term. In particular, I was excited to work with journals as last term for the Publishing in Context module we had to choose a company to study and I chose Edinburgh University Press. By the time that I had finished writing my case study I realized that I had no idea how journals were produced so I feel that this placement will fill that particular gap in my knowledge.

I have done a little bit of work with Edinburgh University Press when I was younger. At that stage, I did not understand the important of academic publishing and did not appreciate journals, for what they are. With the value of hindsight, I can now see that this was a naïve view and I am keen to compare and contrast my experiences at the company and take every opportunity of learning as much as I can about academic publishing.  So far I have found that the staff are very friendly happy to answer as many questions that I may have during my time there.

The Magic of Special Collections


I graduated in English Literature but my degree was actually comprised of courses across various different disciplines, like English Language, Philosophy, Classics, and Theology. The marvellous way in which literature is woven with the threads of language, religion, and culture teaches us that we cannot separate our learning into self contained subjects but, instead, we must look at the bigger picture if we want to try and grasp meaning. I took the opportunity to study manuscripts, and various Old and Middle English texts in their manuscript versions, and the insight I gained was invaluable.

I learnt that how books were, and are, made is something we must consider if we really want to understand the life of the creator, the time in which they worked, and what that meant for the longevity and influence of the writing. You might not realise that elements such as the type of paper (or vellum) used, how the book was bound, the competence of the scribe, if the book was available to the public, and even the location of where the book was kept, could have so much to tell us today.

For example, vellum (or calf skin) was very expensive. That meant that only the wealthy could afford books and they were very precious. Scribes worked for months and even years on books, carefully writing and illuminated their pages by hand before the books were sewn – a huge difference compared to today’s high speed digital printing. And think again about having access to your own book to do with as you wish– some owners made their books available to the public, only to have the illustrations (or illuminations) cut out by admiring or enterprising viewers.

So much of that textual, cultural, social, and economic information would be lost without the tireless work of university libraries who cultivate these fantastic special collections.

You may have been lucky enough to attend University of Edinburgh’s Close-up on Collections event during Academic Book Week 2017.  But if you didn’t, I want to continue to reiterate the place of rare or ancient books, manuscripts and illuminations, and archives, in academic studies across all fields. These texts are not just examples of brilliant literature and art, but they are also academic books in their own right. They are handbooks which tell us how your social standing played a huge part in the commission of a book, they are autobiographies of aggrieved scribes, they are dictionaries of dialects that may otherwise be lost, and they are histories of how books and learning became available to as many people as possible.

The magic of special collections is not just an appreciation of the hard work of librarians, archivists, curators, and restorers, nor is it the preservation of texts for the present and the future, and neither is it is the chance to experience the past, held in your own hands, and seen with your own eyes. The best bit about special collections is that they are for everyone. And I urge everyone to use them.

You never know what you might discover.

Edinburgh Napier University:

University of Edinburgh:

University of Glasgow:

University of St. Andrews:

University of Dundee:

University of Aberdeen:

These are the links to just a few of the special collections in universities across Scotland. There are many others, across other institutions, nationwide. Alternatively, you can also speak to your local library or find out more via museum facsimilies such as those at The Folio Society and The British Museum.

Photo from The National Geographic Magazine

Article by: @publishstudent

#AcBookWeek – Building Buzz about our Books

Forget prestige, or some desire to add to the world’s depository of knowledge: the thrumming motor beneath most academic endeavour is an enthusiasm so ardent it might be called obsession. We know our subjects so well that we realise how little we truly know about them, but that only encourages us to research more. Even when it’s a living, academia is a calling.

Liking things a lot is quite the desirable trait these days. The 21st century has seen the inexorable rise of the fan in every cultural sphere. It is now difficult to imagine trade publishing without the excitable ecosystem of bloggers generating an abundance of free publicity, for the pure love of the book. So where are the academic book bloggers? I want to see excitement about these books. I want GIF-laden reviews of A Brief History of Time and Gender Trouble. Personally, I could extoll the virtues of Ronald Hutton’s work to anybody, with as much enthusiasm as I might recommend a favourite novel. Admittedly, there are many factors that might put off the “casual” potential reader of an academic book, especially those around accessibility and the perception that the text is not “for” them. But if we return for a minute to that idea of producing books for the good of mankind, to expand our horizons: what good does it do to promote that learning only to the academy?

Last week I had the pleasure of attending an interdisciplinary postgraduate conference on Fear and Loathing in Fantasy and Folklore at the University of Edinburgh. I listened to dozens of fascinating speakers giving papers on Game of Thrones, Pirates of the Caribbean, Harry Potter, and other dry and obscure topics. The atmosphere was great: smart, passionate people engaging with academia in a lively, accessible way. There was a hashtag. There was buzz. And the whole thing was free and open to the public.

In an age of instantly available information overload, the curatorial is becoming more valuable than ever. Skimming a Wikipedia article, or reading the first page of Google results simply does not give the reader the same value as a text written by somebody who has dedicated a significant part of their career to understanding the nuances and context of their subject. Academic books can be vital, fascinating, and even fun.

During Academic Book Week, I suggest we try to harness that feeling, and look outside of the traditional audience for these books. As publishers, we have a responsibility to disseminate information, and if we can make sure it is accessible to those outside the academic environment, we should. After all, we want our books to be read.


Students’ Experiences with Academic Books: Two Perspectives

While researching topics for our Academic Book Week blog post, we ended up chatting about our own experiences buying and reading academic books during our University careers. We decided to write a wee section each, showcasing our individual perspectives on being a student and the future of the academic book.

Claire’s Perspective

Anyone who has gone on to further education will remember their first trip to the university bookshop with the entire course reading list, and the slow walk home with a full bag and a less-full bank account. Although I don’t look back fondly on this initial process, it did teach me something: That academic books are highly personable; and it’s worth it when you find something that clicks.

This for me was Tom Devine’s The Scottish Nation, as part of a Scottish History module. This book features in Academic Book Week 2017’s 20 Academic Books That Shaped Modern Britain. This book talked me through Scottish history like a novel. It was great to read and made the statistics that I would normally naturally gloss over relevant. I still pick it up to read every now and again. The amount of research behind this book, like millions of others, is intimidating.

And I do think that the academic book world can be intimidating. As a publishing student now it is interesting to see the argument that this industry is on the decline, with huge digital access to books and calls for open access. However, as students, we are also being taught that this is an extremely innovative industry to work in, and that we must be at the forefront of that innovation – this is how academic publishing will survive. However there will also be those books that do shape how we see academic books. Devine gets my vote!

Rebecca’s Perspective

The publishing landscape is in a constant state of flux. This influences all types of books, from the paperback bestseller to the thickest academic tome.

Technology is, as always, a crucial factor. Due to open access policies and increased digitalisation, students are often able to access journals, as well as their set texts in eBook format, freely.

Cost is also influential. As an Undergraduate, I studied English Literature, and budgeted to afford the novels, plays and poetry collections that made up my course reading lists as I prefer reading print, like to scribble in the margins, and enjoy collecting books in general. For a textbook I’d only use for one essay, however, I’d opt for checking it out of the University library. Someone with different reading tastes than me might consider reading the majority of texts online, however.

Personally, I think that while digital innovations are good, and necessary, there will always be students like me who prefer the hard copies. I believe they can be a good investment. During my first year, I remember splashing out on the Norton Anthology of English Literature Volumes I & II, as well as the Norton Anthology of Theory & Criticism. I did end up using them throughout my entire time at University, however, as they are bursting with vital texts from the entire literary canon. It was also probably cheaper to purchase the anthologies, rather buying every individual text I used. Incidentally, it is W. W. Norton & Company’s best-selling anthology.

So, I think that while there are constant shifts in the way books are being published, the printed academic book will always have a place on the shelf.

#AcBookWeek – Future Partnerships in Academic Publishing


interior_view_of_stockholm_public_libraryBy Marcus Hansson under CC by 2.0

Until the 28th of January, Academic Book Week 2017 is celebrating the “diversity, innovation and influence of academic books”.

The week-long celebration has sparked discussions about the future of academic publishing, the question of open access and the possibilities of digital in scholarly publishing. As students, Academic Book Week is also causing us to reflect on our experience with academia, as well as on the value of academic libraries and resources. The latter have not only been crucial to our academic learning and achievements, but have also introduced us to groundbreaking theories and new ways of thinking.

When scouring through articles relating to Academic Book Week, one stood out as particularly informative to us future publishers. In a recent article, Christina Kamposiori from Research Libraries UK presented the views of five university librarians on the future of the academic book. We have identified a key point which we believe is relevant to those considering a career in academic publishing – including us!  

“The lines between author, publisher, bookseller and librarian may become blurred as we explore the potential for new and innovative partnerships.”

Librarians are about to become a lot more involved in the publishing process, participating in the design of academic resources and creation of content.

The digital revolution is presenting users with new ways of accessing academic content (eg. online journals, videos, and even social media). In order to provide these users with a wider array of formats, new forms of collaboration between all the actors of the academic publishing chain are likely to take place. The forging of closer partnerships may be further fostered by the increase in the number of university presses. Meanwhile, librarians have a valuable role in supporting authors during their research and providing advice. Such communication and collaboration is key in tackling the challenges academic publishing may face and in ensuring the sector stays innovative and relevant to tomorrow’s users.

Academic Book Week has brought to our attention the current issues and debates surrounding the academic book. As MSc Publishing students, we are looking forward to becoming actively involved in these discussions.

  • Make sure to read more on this issue here (Christina Kamposiori, Five Librarians Discuss the Future of the Academic Book British Academy Review)
  • Find out about Academic Book Week by clicking here
  • Head here to find out more about Merchiston Publishing’s latest publication, Innovations in Learning and Teaching

Claire & Alice