Diversity, equality and representation in London Book Fair

Conspicuous by its absence – where was the LGBT+ representation in the 2017 programme?


When I went to London Book Fair (LBF), I thought long and hard about which talks I wanted to attend. I was determined to learn as much as possible in the time available, but that meant making every moment count. While attending talks I couldn’t network – and vice versa. So I needed to focus. I decided to target talks focusing on diversity above all else, while fitting in as much about children’s and YA, technological innovation, translation and fantasy as I could.

So what was on my shortlist for diversity? There was a wide range of talks to choose from, but due to… Continue reading “Diversity, equality and representation in London Book Fair”

So what’s next for Children’s Digital Publishing?

Over the past few years e-book sales in the UK have been on the rise, in 2015 e-book sales grew by 4% based on the previous year, although this increase has slowed compared to double digit increases in 2013 and 2014 according to Nielsen BookScan data, so although slowing, there’s life in e-books yet. More impressively however are the sales of children’s print books which were on course to increase by around 12% in 2016, the biggest increase in over a decade.

I’m interested to explore the opportunities available to publishers regarding children’s digital publishing; what the barriers are, from attitudes of consumers, as well as digital limitations. By exploring these things I hope get a sense of what might be next for children’s digital publishing. Continue reading “So what’s next for Children’s Digital Publishing?”

The Importance of Print: Neilsen Book’s UK Children’s Summit

Back in March I was able to attend the London Book Fair. This is staged annually where publishers from all over the world can interact. Alongside some of the most prestigious international publishers negotiating sales, there is also a number of extremely interesting talks and seminars going on from various industry officials over the course of the three-day event.

Children’s publishing plays a major part in the fair, with many prominent publishers in this industry present (pictured above is Usborne’s amazing stall). On the final day of the fair the Neilsen Book’s UK Children’s Summit, which I was lucky enough to be able attend, was held. They presented the latest data concerning the children’s book publishing industry and we were able to gain an insight into how the industry is progressing in this area. Continue reading “The Importance of Print: Neilsen Book’s UK Children’s Summit”

The Printed Book

In March at this year’s SYP 101 conference, Jenny Brown gave the opening remarks and discussed themes and trends occurring in the publishing industry. One theme was the rise in printed book sales. Brown pointed out that Waterstones made the first profit this year since the 2008 financial crash. There has also been a decrease in ebook sales which has resulted in bookshops like Waterstones removing e-readers from most of its stores.

But why?

There are two popular theories regarding the price of ebooks and the general physical medium coming into vogue.

Take a stroll through Amazon and you’ll see a surprising amount of ebooks being higher or similar in price to a printed book. For example, at the time of writing this Zadie Smith’s Swing Time is priced at £6.29 for the paperback version and £8.99 for the Kindle edition. Fumio Sasaki’s Goodbye Things: On Minimalist Living is £6.99 for the paperback version and £6.49 for the Kindle version. J K Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is £3.85 for the paperback but £5.99 for the Kindle. Even if an ebook version is a little cheaper people still prefer a printed version as they feel the difference in price isn’t large enough to outweigh the benefits of owning a physical book. Another reason is that to read an ebook you have to own a device to read it on, keep it up to date and charge it. Whereas a printed book can be read anywhere, for as long as you like and keep in your bookshelf until the end of your days. There is also a concern that ebook technology will become outdated and all files could become inaccessible. Continue reading “The Printed Book”

The Year of the Publishing Postgrad – a summary

This time last year, I was cramming preparing for my final exams as an English Literature undergraduate at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow. I was also reading Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood as it was the only thing able to distract me from my anticipation of hearing back about my application to Napier’s MSc Publishing course. Yes, grizzly murder was the antidote to my constant nerves. (Reading about grizzly murder, that is.) I didn’t have a Plan B for my life after graduation, so it was essential that I was accepted as a Publishing Postgrad. And thank goodness, I was.

The first official week of classes after induction cemented my commitment to the course and the publishing postgrad lifestyle, into which I was happily thrown. Magfest took place on the Friday of the first week, and to hear from giants of publishing (Vanessa Kingori! John Bird!) as an induction into the industry was incredible. It was also a great chance to network (a word that doesn’t terrify me as much as it used to) and meet with new classmates, who would become friends, hostel roommates, and publishers that I genuinely admire.

Following the first week of introductions, we quickly got stuck into trimester 1 projects. With a live market research group project, individual product reports and case studies, the next few months would fly by in a whirlwind of paper, paragraph styles, and publishing news.

A personal highlight of trimester 1 was being part of the social media team for our market research project on the Martin Rattler Activity Book. Our research took us to Gorgie City Farm, the National Museum of Scotland, and fascinating, bookish corners of Twitter. More significant than the goats and galleries, though, was the opportunity to see how market research comes together on social media. I’ve taken away a lot from the experience, which has since helped me gain a social media internship with Linen Press.

While the first trimester ended with a festive whimper of proud exhaustion, trimester 2 began with the sound of a starter’s gun. It was all go from the first day back. With a placement module, a live book project, and a magazine to publish, January to May were incredibly busy, and so rewarding.

In the midst of all the madness was a trip to London for The London Book Fair, which I can honestly say was one of the most fun, hectic, and surreal experiences I’ve had. Walking into the Olympia, I was instantly consumed by the electric atmosphere of meetings between publishers, authors, illustrators, book buyers and everything in between. For the next three days, I soaked up as much publishing genius as I could, including talks from Penguin Random House on branding, and Michael Morpurgo on his new children’s book.

Back in Scotland, it was back to business. Over the course of the next two months, I achieved what I thought was beyond me. Three amazing classmates and I published KNUT magazine (DIY or Die, baby), a product and brand of which I couldn’t be more proud. I secured a placement with freelance editor Jennie Renton, who has since become an editorial inspiration. And finally, I edited, typeset, designed and published a book. A whole book.

As I write this approaching the end of an exhausting but exhilarating year, I have nothing but gratitude for the MSc Publishing course at Napier. It has given me so many new skills, enhanced my existing ones, broadened my knowledge, and given me some incredible experiences within and without the classroom. It has also introduced me to people I hope to continue to work with for years to come.

For any prospective students thinking of applying, I 100% encourage you to do so. Throw yourself into the course, take advantage of every opportunity, and by the end of trimester 2, you will surely have found your feet.

Publishing’s Diversity Issue

After attending the Creating an Inclusive Bookshop seminar at the London Book Fair in March where we heard from Tamara Macfarlene (owner of Tales on Moon Lane bookshop), John Newman (children’s book buyer at Newham bookshop) and Nikesh Shukla (critically acclaimed author and the editor of The Good Immigrant), I reflected on how the publishing industry, as a whole, is lacking in diversity.

The industry’s employment is equally split between men and women. However, only 7% of the publishing industry’s workforce is BAME (black, Asian, minority ethnicity). The overall image of publishing is white and middle class. Part of this issue originates from the trend in publishing of hiring being based on not what you know, but who you know. Publishers have had a trend of hiring employees based on personal recommendations of their staff; this significantly limits the group of potential employees.

There is an apparent connection between the lack of diversity in the employment sector of publishing and the lack of minority writers being published. It is likely that BAME writers may feel their work won’t be selected at the overwhelmingly white publishing houses. It is also possible that staff are sub-consciously selecting white authors’ submissions because it’s what they connect with personally and what they see themselves represented in. In Kean’s article (“Has Publishing Really Become More Diverse”), she cites this as a huge downfall for publishing, not simply because it’s an uneven and lacking representation of society, but it is omitting an entire market of potential readers/customers and losing prospective profit. This is creating a monoculture in popular fiction. By recruiting more BAME employees, it would most likely have the subsequent effect of diversifying publishers’ list thus expanding their market reach.

The industry has recently started initiatives to rectify this gap in their workforce. The charity Creative Access did have a programme with several publishers where they gave paid internships to BAME people interested in a career in publishing. However, the funding for this was cut in December 2016. Pan Macmillian sought to remedy this and donated £50,000 to the charity. Penguin Random House have “The Scheme” which is a fully paid thirteen month marketing internship. For this they did not ask for submissions through the traditional route; all they asked was that you weren’t in full-time education, had the right to work in the UK and gave them your email address. No other personal details were required for submission, not even a C.V. PRH sought to even the playing field and remove any unfair advantage, the only thing applications needed to have was an interest learning new skills and about the publishing industry. The industry’s use of unpaid internships is a major factor for lack of diversity. Only people who can afford to do unpaid work are entering the publishing workforce so the white middle class status quo remains. Alongside paid internships, Andrew Franklin (founder of Profile Books) says there should be mentoring schemes offered in publishing houses for BAME entry level employees as, in his experience, they feel marginalised. This seems especially important in a post-Brexit Britain.

Another factor affecting the diversity in the publishing is that the work that is published in the UK by BAME authors is often of extreme circumstances. Writer Sarfraz Manzoor summaries the situation well, ” With respect to ethnic diversity, publishing possibly fetishes extreme tales…to write beyond those confines and to show that one can be brown without being sad, mad or dangerous.” (Shukla’s “How Do We Stop UK Publishing Being So Posh and White?”) Even when minority authors are published, the content must be based on great hardship, something not required of white authors. Writer Bernardine Evaristo is seeking to rectify this misrepresentation and also increase BAME authors in poetry as she found BAME poets only account for 1% of the market. To resolve the lack of diversity in poetry Evaristo established the mentoring scheme Complete Works in 2007. This is still running and has proved extremely successful. The participants, who have been mentored by published poets, have progressed to either win or be nominated for over forty awards.

The initiatives that have been created to rectify the lack of diversity are encouraging but it is so important to continue this progress and openly discuss this major issue in the industry. It’s essential that momentum isn’t lost and that the industry doesn’t do a little and deem the matter to be addressed.


Dunfermline Comic Con and the “Ideal” Graphic Novel

After conducting extensive research into a graphic novel publisher for a company case study last term, I learned that despite the overwhelming preference of print by authors/illustrators and publishers alike, digital graphic novels are gaining traction and growing in popularity. This is largely due to companies like Sequential creating digital formats of graphic novels that offer extra content for the reader. Despite this, I believe that the printed format of the graphic novel is ideal and possibly essential for interpretations of its meaning. For example, the temporality a physical edition provides can be very important for the reader’s interaction with the story. While the “extras” provided with e-books may be enjoyable and a convenient way for creator and reader to connect, would a digital format ultimately detract from the experience?

A major market for publishing in general has, in recent years, been in the technological medium. As e-book publishing has expanded on a global scale, it has given graphic creators and small publishers the ability to reach an all-inclusive audience. Ultimately, readership is increased by digital technology, which makes it more simple for the consumer to buy and enjoy graphic novels. By adapting graphic novels for an electronic format, they become more accessible. In fact, the sales of e-books in the United States, specifically digital download-to-own comics, has grown over the years, peaking at $100 million in 2014, an 11% increase over the year prior, according to Publisher’s Weekly journalist Calvin Reid (“Graphic Novel, Comics Market Rises to $935 Million in 2014”).

The question, in regards to graphic novel publishing, becomes one of practicality: how do graphic formats translates in a digital medium? Almost all of the digital market share belongs to the “print mimic”-style of e-book; surely the significance of a comic’s use of “spatial temporality” – utilising the space of the page, looking for meaning through the disjunctive back-and-forth of the panels – would fail to be expressed. By adding additional extra features in their digital content, some companies are hoping to resolve this issue. These representations, formally called “enhanced e-books,” usually contain special audio and video features. By adding this supplemental layer, the narrative is expanded to accommodate the digital format.

In some ways, enhanced digital editions of texts can have certain unfavourable limitations. Enhanced e-books are rare in publishing as they are expensive to develop and do restrict the audience – some enhanced editions can be read only on an iPad using particular applications. Additionally, while the technical performances themselves are deceptively simple, “…the effort behind these types of books is a magnitude of somewhere between seven and 15 times as much effort as a typical illustrated e-book,” explains Liisa McCloy-Kelley, who was the head of the digital production group at Random House (to Slate’s Kim O’Connor in her article “The Ghost in the Machine”).

In March I attended the Dunfermline Comic Con (hosted by Little Shop of Heroes) hoping to talk to writers, illustrators, and other creators about their thoughts on the direction of comic and graphic novel publishing and the place digital content has in this particular medium. I first spoke with Olivia, a student at the University of Dundee getting her PhD in Girl’s Comics. When I asked her for her opinions on digital graphic media, she explained it from an interesting perspective – many women, particularly young girls, feel more comfortable with digital comics and graphic novels as opposed to going into a comic book shop or reading physical copies. The world of comic books is, unfortunately, not yet all-inclusive, especially for children and young adults.

I also had the opportunity to speak to Clare Ferguson, Managing Director of Scotland’s own Diamondsteel Comics. Ms. Ferguson said that she saw both sides of the argument (if it can be called an “argument”), but that the ultimate answer is quite straightforward; while physical printing is costly (paying for production, a colourist, an illustrator, lettering, inking, etc.), and people do enjoy digital, publishers will never get as much money if they don’t print in the physical format, in her opinion. I spoke to a number of other illustrators and writers at the Comic Con who seemed to share Ms. Ferguson’s view; online content is incredibly helpful to gain and cultivate a fanbase, but they still like producing physical content because it seems as though it is what consumers prefer, particularly when it comes to such an artistic format.dunfermline3

While I believe that digital representations of comics can hinder one’s understanding of or alter one’s experience with certain artistic media, there seems to be pros and cons to both sides. I never got an answer from anyone on their thoughts of the “ideal” medium for graphic novels and comics, but perhaps that means that there isn’t one.