After a space opened up on the Luath Press waiting list at short notice, I found myself preparing to go on placement a few days later. I was delighted to get the opportunity to see what Luath Press was like for myself, since a friend of mine had really enjoyed a placement with them a while beforehand. When she showed me the A4 checklist of varied tasks that the team gives to people on work experience, I became determined to apply for a placement with them and experience it first-hand. Over the course of my two weeks at Luath Press, there was certainly a lot to do.
I had no previous experience with marketing, but they encouraged me to build up my skills by drafting blurbs and AI sheets for books they were working on. I also found myself researching hiking groups around Scotland and ceilidh dancing groups worldwide to create spreadsheets of their contact details, since they would be potential target markets for niche books. In addition, I faced the somewhat daunting task of calling up a popular TV programme about the UK countryside to ask whether we could get some coverage for a relevant non-fiction book – it turned out that, although it took me a while to get connected to the right person, they were very friendly and helpful once I had explained why I was calling. Initially I was surprised that someone so important and high-profile was willing to listen to the request, but it really boosted my confidence to realise that such ambitious marketing strategies might actually pay off. (Besides, the worst that could have happened was that they’d say ‘no’, losing less than 20 minutes of my time. Definitely worth the effort to try!)
I also read, assessed and wrote a brief report about an unsolicited manuscript. This was a task I was familiar with from previous work experience, but the oddity of the manuscript I read really made an impression on me. It wasn’t so much the quirky content as the fact that the author had seriously mistaken which genre it fell into, so their cover letter felt completely mismatched with the story itself. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a good match for Luath’s list and it would have required far too much editorial work to be viable. This was my first experience of being involved in the rejection process. I was surprised by the use of standardised rejection letters at first, since I wondered how any author was supposed to improve their work or select more appropriate publishers to target without constructive feedback. However, it was explained to me that many authors would only be upset or offended if we gave them more details about the reasons for rejection, or would get the impression that it was now a dialogue which they could persuade the publishers to change their mind about – which would only be a drain on the publishers’ time and give a negative impression to the authors in question. I’m still not sure that I agree with the use of standardised rejection letters, but I can appreciate that the issue could get very complex if personalised ones were used.
As a word of advice to anyone considering going on placement there: Luath Press is great, but since it’s just off the Royal Mile there is a tendency for nearby bagpipe music to reach the office, so consider bringing headphones with you. I found that doing so let me focus a lot better on my work, but I really wish I’d known to bring them on my first day!
There were also more mundane tasks, such as carrying boxes of books downstairs, filling envelopes for mailouts, answering the telephone and even taking a sack of mail to the Post Office. I also volunteered to fetch a handful of display books from a different part of the city, which was certainly no hardship on a glorious sunny day – and better still, I was saving Luath’s actual employees a trip, enabling them to get on with more urgent tasks. All these little things highlighted the realities of being a small team with limited time and lots of physical books and mail to move between locations. It demonstrated the positive attitude and teamwork of everyone involved as they stepped away from their desks and usual workloads to ensure that the practical side of things was also handled smoothly and efficiently.
Overall, I really enjoyed my time at Luath Press. My colleagues (including another person on work experience) were all very friendly and supportive, helping me feel like part of the team in no time. They took care to get me as wide a range of tasks as possible during the time I was there (including meeting an author and editing his manuscript from start to finish) and the two weeks seemed to fly by.