At the beginning of this trimester, all Publishing students were offered the opportunity to participate in the Big Read initiative.

The Big Read was launched in 2015 at Kingston University, as a scheme that aimed at increasing student engagement and initiating conversations through a shared reading experience. Every arriving student received a free copy of Nick Hornby’s About a Boy, and the project sparked very positive reactions from both the staff and students. Edinburgh Napier University joined the Big Read initiative last year, promoting Matt Haig’s The Humans.

For this year’s Big Read, we decided to do something a little different to Kingston, and our project puts students at the centre. We are using Detective McLevy’s Casebook, a collection of short stories by a 19th-century Edinburgh detective James McLevy, said to be the inspiration for Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. The Publishing staff and students at Edinburgh Napier University produced this special edition back in 2012, tying it in with the 125th Sherlock Holmes Anniversary and launching it at the first ever Bloody Scotland, Scotland’s International Crime Writing Festival. So, even from the choice of the book, #NapierBigRead is truly student focussed.

I knew immediately that I wanted to participate in the Big Read project. As a fan of Sherlock Holmes and detective fiction in general, I was fascinated by the book itself, and delighted at the prospect of being involved in a real-life promotional campaign. As part of the events team I still have a lot to organise before the book’s official launch, but last Monday I had the opportunity to participate in an off-campus event which proved to be a brilliant hands-on marketing experience.

One thing that we have learned about marketing is that publishers are great at using trends, anniversaries, and existing events to promote their products. As part of our campaign, we paired up with the National Records of Scotland to showcase Detective McLevy’s Casebook and #NapierBigRead to all attendees of “19th-Century Policing in the Lothians,” a talk by Dr John McGowan. If there exists an expert on Detective McLevy, it has to be Dr McGowan – a former Detective Superintendent of Edinburgh Police who founded the James McLevy Trophy and wrote several works on the detective, including a foreword to our book.

A few days before the event, I went with a fellow student to scout out the venue and come up with ideas on how to utilise the space. We quickly learned the value of networking: while the room was closed to the public outside of events, we approached a National Records employee who kindly offered to show it to us the next day. She found the Big Read project really interesting and offered her support on any future National Records events.

Around the same time, we briefly “took over” our course Twitter page to gather suggestions and create a poll for our official Big Read hashtag. The Big Read scheme is all about inclusivity and student participation, so we considered it important to give everyone an opportunity to have a say. After the vote, we decided to use #NapierBigRead for promotional purposes – a simple and informative hashtag that can be reused next year.

On the day of the event, we arrived early to introduce and give our book to the arriving attendees, providing them with an opportunity to browse through it before the talk. Everyone was pleasantly surprised by the gift and many people expressed their excitement over Detective McLevy’s stories. As Dr McGowan’s talk was all about 19th-century policing in Scotland, it gave everyone great insights into the context of the book. After the talk, many guests approached Dr McGowan to ask him to sign their copies (something that he kindly agreed with us beforehand), and we had the opportunity to talk a bit more about our project. It was amazing to see people’s genuine interest in the initiative: I answered many questions about the Big Read’s history, purpose, and our plans for future events.

One thing that I love about Edinburgh Napier’s Publishing course is its focus on giving us practical industry-related skills and real-life experience. The assignments develop our design, editing, and public speaking skills, and our instructors encourage us to attend networking events and create a professional online presence. Participating in #NapierBigRead is a great way of learning about marketing and promotion during an actual live project. For me, taking part in the recent event was a valuable experience and I look forward to encouraging more people across the University and beyond to read, discuss, and connect with Detective McLevy’s Casebook in the coming months.

Follow #NapierBigRead to find out more about the project and any upcoming events!

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Dr John McGowan