Sandstone Press is based in the small town of Dingwall in the Scottish Highlands. Outside the office, which is shared with the Ross-Shire Journal, lies a field full of cows with hills and trees rising up behind. The loudest noise which penetrates is the cries of young seagulls fighting one another over food. With so many companies based in Edinburgh and Glasgow, this is not perhaps where one would expect to find the Saltire Society’s Publisher of the Year but Sandstone Press like to do many things differently.
In a number of ways, Sandstone behaves like a much larger publisher. With a list of only thirty books per year many companies would specialise but Sandstone choose instead to publish a wide range of books. Their list includes a balance of fiction and non-fiction and a Gaelic imprint, Lasag. There is no preference given to local writers as the company’s approach is international. Books recently released include newly translated Scandinavian Noir, a literary novel set in Africa and a non-fiction work focused on the Biblical figure of Abraham. This is not a company afraid to take risks.
Because the company is small, with only three members of staff based on-site, I have been lucky enough to gain an insight into all aspects of their work. Moira Forsyth, the editorial director, takes the time to go over the editorial policy with me in depth before letting me loose on the submission pile and even a manuscript Sandstone is looking to publish sometime next year. Keara Donnachie, herself a recent graduate from MSc Publishing, is more than happy to have me watch how she handles the marketing and publicity for the upcoming releases and let me pitch in. Sue Foot, the company’s administrator, is extremely patient as she explains the intricacies of the finance and book prize submissions, both of which come under her purview.
I’m especially lucky in that managing director Robert Davidson is only too happy to discuss the company’s strategy, illustrated with many stories from his years of experience. A number of the questions which arise are to do with the practicalities which as students we do not always appreciate. How do the books physically get to where they are going? When a company uses outside contractors, how clear is it whose responsibility which aspect of a job is? And when things go wrong, what is the best way to stay on good terms with other businesses while sorting out the problem? There is no question I can ask which goes unanswered, nothing I do not understand which is not explained. This is easily the best learning experience I could have asked for, with some of the most passionate people I have ever encountered.
By the time I’ve asked my long list of questions, Robert has said, “You’ll be starting your own company next.” If I do, it will be in no small part due to my time with Sandstone Press.