The annual Scottish Book Trade Conference brings together industry professionals from publishing and bookselling to share their resources, network and encourage growth. For a student of publishing, it is a rare opportunity to connect to the latest field trends and innovations, and to learn skills from the masters. I had the chance to attend along with several of my MSc program colleagues, and came away with fresh inspiration.

20170225_135227So many excellent speakers attended, but for me one of the highlights was the editorial breakout session with Floris Books’ Eleanor Collins. A round table of professionals (and a few students) discussed strategies for working with fiction narrative openings that just weren’t up to scratch: how to troubleshoot them and tease out an opening that truly gripped readers from the start. As both a writer and aspiring editor, I found their insight fascinating. We examined structure, timeline, and voice, thinking about what information needs to be established from the get-go and what can be left until later or cut altogether; the journey of events versus the journey of emotions; and how to encourage the author to write with authority. I’m already brainstorming edits to the opening of my own current novel. Thanks Eleanor!

Of course, working with the text is only the first step in the publication of a book. Suzanne Dean from Penguin Random House gave a visually stunning presentation on her work in cover design and the carefully studied ideas behind each proof. I’m no designer, but the artistic aspects of book marketing fascinate me, and an evocative cover can work wonders. The aesthetic appeal is part of what grips book buyers and encourages them to purchase; take, for example, a literary classic that could be found for free online, or used in various older editions. What gives it new life? A striking appearance is a great way to start. From the traditional textile designs she used to create the new Russian classics covers, to the 70+(!!) versions of the paperback for When Breath Becomes Air, Suzanne instilled us all with wonder at the level of effort and detail she employs. I don’t think the audience will look at book covers quite the same way again.

My other highlight follows further down the publishing process: Sam Eades of Orion Books taught us how to launch a debut on a low budget with top publicity tips. This is key industry savvy: a brand new author might have exceptional promise, but backing too much money behind a yet untested name could have adverse consequences. Luckily, there are plenty of options for eye-catching publicity that don’t break the bank. Sam took us through some past campaigns and clever methods of collaboration with other businesses or artists (including an ice sculpture and, oddly enough, dismembered doll parts) that added spice to a new book release. Perhaps the top tip: you’d be amazed at what you can get for free if you think innovatively and ask around.

The conference was a resounding success and I’m grateful for the chance to have taken part. Students received a generous reduced rate that allowed us an advance window into our future industry; the result was an educational and formative day for all.