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