Building Bridges and Breaking Walls
In our current times of political and social uncertainty, SYP’s focus for this years conference was on how we can bridge gaps in the publishing industry and break down barriers that provide obstacles for young publishers starting out. The title of this years SYP Conference hinted at the diverse range of topics that were to be discussed. The day started off early and upon registration we were greeted with the prospect of a tote bag filled with many industry necessities; a copy of The Bookseller and The Skinny along with a few free books – a publisher’s dream.
The talks were soon on their way where we were privileged to hear from the keynote speaker Marion Sinclair, talking about her time in the industry and how it has changed over the years. Then it was onto our first panel Elsewhere, Home: Scotland Meets the World where there was interesting discussion on the international approach that can be applied to publishing. Scottish publishing appears to have an international appeal where certain books have the power to travel across the continent and beyond. Scotland’s vibrant culture fuels international interest of Scottish novels where publishers can latch onto the attraction to our rich culture and promote Scottish writing worldwide.
After a short coffee break to mull over the benefits of international publishing and also the challenges – such as visas being rejected and the high financial cost to go worldwide – we had a decision to make. The conference offered us our first choice of panels between How to be Both: Transcending Genre or The Trick is to Keep Breathing: Managing your Time. If only we could be in two places at once. As I’m a bit of a lost cause in terms of time management (and as How to be Both references a novel by one of my favourite authors Ali Smith) I decided to go with the former – and I wasn’t disappointed. The panellists engaged in discussion about what genre means to them, how it both helps booksellers yet can also be restrictive for publishers. Francais Bickmore was right in saying that genre is a ‘necessary evil’ in that it simplifies book categories yet can inhibit the reach and appeal of that book. It seems the way genre is used and recognised is constantly changing. As Ann Landmann suggested ‘genres are like trends, they will come round again, eventually.’ We can’t escape genre but maybe we can use it in new and innovative ways to make people more interested in different books and to celebrate the kinds of reading we do enjoy.
Next up was The Driver’s Seat: Sales Representation in Scotland which asked the question ‘What makes the ecosystem of Scottish publishing tick?’ It was interesting to have different perspectives of the bookselling process from both a publisher and bookseller’s point of view. The art of bookselling continually changes with the rise in social media altering how we as consumers are attracted to different books and different mediums of reading. We were then treated to an inside look into what owning your own publishing company is actually like. Heather McDaid and Laura Jones from 404 Ink and Samuel McDowell from Charco Press joined us and gave honest insights into the trials and tribulations of owning your own business. They didn’t make it sound easy but it was refreshing to hear individuals willing to share their low points and it made me even more excited in seeing what projects and ambitions these publishers will follow next.
To round off our panels for the day we heard what industry experts thought about diversity in publishing. Wish I Was Here: Inclusivity in Children’s Publishing raised some important questions as to what is being done in the industry to ensure publishing is more representative of its readers. Whilst the results of the diversity reports don’t paint the industry in a good light, it is encouraging to see that some publishers are challenging the ways in which they hire staff and commission work. As bleak as diversity in publishing can look, the panel had an optimistic approach that it can be improved if all aspects of the industry can work together.
To finish off our day we had an inspiring closing keynote from Perminder Mann of Bonnier Books UK sharing her experience of how she got into the publishing industry. In telling her story, it is evident the amount of drive and passion she has put into her work and it is clearly paid off. One of her top tips was to ‘always remember you have the right to be there’, a statement I’m sure many of us will take away and hold on to.