Publishing insights from Adrian Searle of Freight Books

Adrian Searle
Adrian Searle

Publisher at Freight Books, Managing Director of Freight Design and Editor of the leading Scottish literary magazine Gutter, Adrian Searle is a busy and successful man. He is also a very knowledgeable and entertaining speaker, as Edinburgh Napier Publishing, Magazine Publishing and Creative Writing students found out last week, when he was our guest lecturer.

It is easy to find out about the companies by visiting the various websites; what is more interesting are the insights shared by Adrian.

Gutter magazine: The design of the first issues are still striking 12 years on
Gutter magazine: The design of the first issues are still striking 12 years on

For example, Adrian started Gutter magazine with his friend Colin Beck after a comment by someone at the Wigtown Book Festival. Adrian said that they saw the comment as a challenge and – as there was a gap in the market at that time for a platform for new writers in Scotland – Gutter created an instant community. Adrian stressed that it was a community and not a clique. 

The Gutter team set the bar of quality very high, as we saw when Adrian showed us the 12 issues that have been produced over 6 years. The redesign of Gutter for its 10th issue keeps it fresh and collectable. Freight Books was born out of a number of factors, namely: the new authors that were submitting work to Gutter and looking for a publisher; the proliferation of ‘London orphans’ (as Adrian amusingly called the midlist authors that London publishers were no longer dealing with); and the ad hoc book publishing work that Freight Design had already been engaged in since its inception in 2001.

Three years on, Freight Books has produced an impressive list of diverse books, with their best selling book falling into the humour category. Adrian has a broad background and he thinks that a varied life experience makes a good publisher. One of the main themes of the lecture was the idea that

“publishing is gambling”

and that is

“both the fun and scary bit”.

Adrian spoke about how small publishers tended to be leaders while big publishers followed the market and in doing so minimised their risks. He also mentioned that Freight Books was picking up midlist authors who were disenchanted with the big, conglomerate  publishers, the latter being “obsessed'” with star authors while neglecting the large majority of their authors i.e. the so-called midlist.

We potential publishers and authors were warned that there were easier ways to make money but that publishing was addictive as well as rewarding and addressed what it means to be human.

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