Becoming a member of the Society of Young Publishers has been one of the highlights of my time on Edinburgh Napier’s postgraduate MSc Publishing course so far, and has also been crucial in developing my understanding of the industry. The SYP’s stated aim is ‘to help assist, inform and encourage anyone trying to break into the industry or progress within it,’ specifically for those with less than ten years’ experience in the world of publishing. The Scottish branch has hosted several valuable events since I began my membership in September, including October’s ‘Editorial: First Draft to Finished Book,’ November’s ‘Freelancing 101’ and ‘Agents Uncovered’ in February. All of the SYP Scotland events have been extremely interactive and informative, as well as providing great opportunities for networking, but the largest in scale and impact was March’s second annual conference, Publishing 101: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.
This post is intended as a brief overview rather than an exhaustive account of the day, and, as such, will hopefully provide an insight into the conference for those who were unable to attend, or a quick re-cap for those who did. The different seminars on offer during the day covered many perennially key areas within the industry like marketing, book awards and self-starting, as well as addressing more current issues like increasing diversity and the impact of Brexit on the publishing world. A fiery keynote speech by agent Jenny Brown set the tone for the day, one of optimism and defiance in the face of changing and uncertain times. Jenny also emphasised the strength and importance of Scottish publishing, urging everyone present to have faith that there is life outside London for the publishing industry, and to remember that ‘passion costs nothing.’
One of the most intriguing sessions of the day, and my personal highlight, was the Brexit panel discussion which followed Jenny’s opening remarks. The diverse panel featured representation from publishers, printers and retailers alike, as well as Janet Archer, chief executive of Creative Scotland, who focussed on the potential long-term impact of Brexit on funding for the creative industries in Scotland and Britain as a whole. Derek Kenney from Bell & Bain spoke about Brexit from the printing industry’s point of view, and was refreshingly optimistic about the opportunities it may bring, both for his own company and industry-wide, and stressed the need to accept the result, regardless of political position, and adapt to make the best of the situation. Timothy Wright and Gráinne Clear, of Edinburgh University Press and Little Island Books respectively, gave industry reflections on Brexit from the contrasting viewpoints of academic and children’s publishers, with the overriding tone being a juxtaposition of optimism and uncertainty. The final panel member was Alby Grainger, owner of the independent and family-run store Little Shop of Heroes, specialising in comics and graphic novels. Whilst Brexit’s impact is usually thought of as a vague but disquieting spectre looming in the distance, Alby’s testimony showed the immediate influence it has had on book retailing. The costs faced by his store rose by an incredible 26% within three days of the Brexit result, and the only way to bare this increase was to release a long-term member of staff who was almost like a family member to Alby. Publishing and bookselling is very much a people business and it was distressing to hear about the impact Brexit has had on real people from independent businesses. Alby’s passionate claim that ‘principle is much more important than profit’ struck a chord with the audience and showed why independent businesses are still so important in the industry.
The next session offered attendees a choice between watching some product pitching by aspiring young publishers in ‘Pitch Wars,’ and discussing the pros and cons of various internships and work placements in ‘Internships Anonymous.’ I chose to attend ‘Pitch Wars,’ which featured four excellent and diverse pitches. As these products are all still in the embryonic stages it would not be fair to expand on them in-depth, but, without giving too much away, the contest was eventually deservedly won by my MSc Publishing colleague Lauren Nickodemus, for an extremely confident and well-thought out presentation proposing an innovative new series of adapted fiction classics.
The afternoon’s activities also included ‘Marketing 5×5,’ a run-down and explanation of five successful marketing campaigns, and a further choice between sessions on crowdfunding publisher Unbound by Joelle Owusu and publishing entrepreneurship by Hannah Taylor of She Is Fierce magazine and 404 Ink’s Laura Jones and Heather McDaid. The last main session was a fascinating panel discussion on the merit of book awards and whether they still matter in this day and age, again featuring Gráinne of Little Island as well as Sandstone’s Robert Davidson and Heather Collins from the Scottish Book Trust. The discussion gave a lot of food for thought, especially on the different effects different awards can bestow, with most being about delivering credibility rather than any real increase in sales. There was also debate on the controversial issue of publishing companies having to pay significant sums of money in order for their books to feature on the shortlists of certain awards, before closing remarks and a reading by Chitra Ramaswamy, which again reinforced the ever-increasing importance of diversity in contemporary publishing, and ended the day the same way it began: with unapologetic optimism.