Nestled in a cosy corner of Edinburgh’s lively Royal Mile and sharing the same stretch of road as the Scottish Storytelling Centre and Deacon Brodie’s Tavern – a pub honouring the chap said to have inspired Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde – Luath Press seems to be the most happily situated publishing house in its vast UNESCO City of Literature. It is to Luath that I’m winding my way on an unusually fine spring morning in search of publishing experience – I’ve already practically floated through The Meadows, with its dreamy avenue of cherry blossoms just beginning to bloom, and as I cross George IV Bridge, gazing around me with all the awe its impressive architecture is owed, I begin to understand why writer Alexander McCall Smith calls Edinburgh ‘a city so beautiful it breaks the heart again and again’. As a publisher who take their name from Robert Burns’ wee collie dog and were set up in answer to a need for good-quality travel guides on picturesque Scotland, I venture towards my placement with high hopes that in Luath I’ll find the heart and soul of the Edinburgh literary sphere; a company that provide a platform for authors who are so inspired by bonny Scotland and its cultural heritage they can do nothing but write of it.
As my destination lies at a stone’s throw from the castle, I battle through gaggles of tourists to reach the door, my plight underscored by the ditties of a long-suffering bagpipe player standing a few yards up the road. I reach a rather plain and unassuming door and begin to second-guess my orienteering skills (and my Google Maps smartphone app). Thankfully I spot Luath’s familiar collie dog logo perched next to one of the buzzers, and tentatively ring for entry. I’m greeted moments later by Rosie, Luath’s brilliant Sales, Marketing, and Digital Projects Coordinator, and she leads me up several flights of stairs that twist towards the top floor where the Luath office resides. Its windows reveal gorgeous views of the Old Town to one side and the New Town to the other, and suddenly I feel I’ve been let in on Edinburgh’s best-kept secret. I sit at the desk I’ll be poring over during my placement, quietly taking in the boxes of freshly-printed books, the newly submitted or marked up manuscripts, and the launch event posters that lie around me, and I can’t help but think I’m going to like it here.
Over the next four days, I enjoy a whistle-stop tour of the inner workings of the Scottish publishing sector, beginning with a wonderful overview of Luath’s history and a summary of how it operates today from Director Gavin MacDougall, who is also kind enough to offer hints and tips on getting started in a publishing career. He emphasises the importance of finding your niche within the publishing workflow, whether it be in editorial, marketing, or production, for example, and suggests honing your skills in that area to reach the top of your chosen field. Later, I take calls from keen readers who enjoyed a Luath title so much they want to order additional copies for their relatives, from writers eager to know if their prized manuscript has arrived at Luath HQ, and from Luath’s distributor, HarperCollins, calling to check on an order detail with Gavin. Throughout the week I also meet Jennie Renton from nearby Main Point Books who assists with Luath’s marketing one day a week, and I revel in the achingly well-informed bookish conversations that take place between her and Gavin. I am also introduced to a freelance designer, and a BBC journalist, and later I meet the talented Editorial and Production Manager, Chris, just returned from holiday, who I discover is a fellow alum of the University of Dundee’s Humanities department. I beseech my brain to adopt “sponge mode”, as I’m acutely aware of how valuable it is to be in an environment like Luath and absorb as much as possible of what is playing out around me.
My tasks during the week are wonderfully varied, and I begin with laying the foundations for a Twitter campaign surrounding David Torrance’s culturally-pertinent title, General Election 2015: A Guide for Voters in Scotland. I set up a list of relevant Tweeters to follow, including the accounts of all the major political parties and their leaders, to be utilised as a marketing tool as the election draws near. I come to know Torrance’s title quite well during my time at Luath, and also compose a blog post to market the product on Luath’s blog, BookBanter.
I likewise get acquainted with Stuart McHardy’s Scotland’s Future History, and draft an example blurb, an advanced information sheet (which includes creating an ISBN barcode), and a press release around this title, all intended as an exercise in good marketing practice. Keen to gain editorial experience, I am given the opportunity to proofread Rosie’s monthly digital newsletter and suggest changes. Perhaps my most important task, however, is to work on the design and production of a Luath catalogue intended for circulation at the upcoming London Book Fair, and I devote much of my time during the placement to this assignment, aiming to create a publication that represents the values and objectives of Luath, while showcasing their diverse backlist and frontlist titles.
I alight again onto the Royal Mile on Friday evening, lamenting the rapid speed at which my time at Luath passed over, yet triumphing in the great wealth of experience I amassed during that same short spell. Passing once more through the grandeur of George IV Bridge and onto the long cherry-tree lane that skirts through the Meadows, I think again of Edinburgh’s great literary heritage, and I feel privileged to have been amongst people who devote their time to both preserving and growing this beautiful tradition.