Degrees of Publishing

When it was time to announce my plans after accepting the offer to join the Publishing MSc at Napier, the conversation always went the same way. “I’ve decided,” I’d say, “That I’m going to go for the publishing postgrad.”

“That’s great!” they’d reply enthusiastically. Then, inevitably, the pause. Then – “So, uh. What does that involve?”

It would be my turn to hesitate. “Oh, you know. Making books and stuff. Editing. Printing. That sort of thing.

They’d nod and smile and tell me it sounded great, and none of us would be any the wiser. I had read the Napier website and this Publishing Postgrad site, and I’d searched around a little.  I knew my explanation was lacking, but, despite that, I could not shift the image in my head. I’m sure every reader of this post will recognise it: the author in their study, tapping away at their keys, sending out the printed manuscript to hundreds of different publishers by post and waiting anxiously for an acceptance letter. The publisher receiving the big envelope, becoming engrossed by the story, and deciding to go ahead. The editing, taking out all the mistakes, and then, somehow, a cover appears and suddenly the book is in bookshops. A romantic, cinematic notion to be sure, and one that absolutely did not prepare me for the myriad of jobs that realistically need to be completed before – and after – a book is published.

Image from Publishing

I have now been on the MSc Publishing course for almost ten weeks, and have been thoroughly disabused of the above notion, learning parts of the publishing process of which I had never even dreamed.

Continue reading “Degrees of Publishing”


MagFest 2017

MagFest Programme (Photo Credit: Grace Balfour-Harle)

On 15th September 2017, a group of Edinburgh Napier publishing MSc students were lucky enough to attend MagFest at Central Hall, Edinburgh. MagFest is a Scottish Magazine Festival for professionals (and students) to hear about and appreciate the developments in Scottish Magazine publishing. Organised superbly by PPA Scotland (Professional Publishers Association Scotland), the day was full of guest speakers, workshops and culminated in an interview with self-professed magazine-enthusiast and novelist: Ian Rankin. The theme for this year was ‘heroes of the magazine industry… some of their visions for the future of magazines.’

As well as Ian Rankin, there were many other leading experts in the magazine publishing field speaking throughout the day, including Zillah Byng-Thorne, the Chief Executive of Future PLC, Ruth Mortimer, the director of the Festival of Marketing and an interview with John Brown, the founder of Brown Publishing. These industry-leaders were only too happy to explain their vision for the future of publishing, which can be summed up with the phrase: ‘Be open to the unexpected.’ (Zillah Byng-Thorne)

The organisers of MagFest stayed true to the theme of Visions of the Future, with speakers from four new magazines in Scottish publishing: Boom Saloon, Cable, Marbles and Word-O-Mat. Each of these magazines had a unique point of view, and filled a gap in the market, whether it be by democratising art, discussing taboos like mental health, giving Scotland a voice in international affairs, or by simply making tiny little books filled with beautiful content. Vice Publishing talked about a way forward using technology to maximise the brand of a magazine, and that ‘all that matters is great storytelling’ whatever the medium. The future of magazine publishing remains strong.

However, the PPA Scotland also strived to ensure that although magazine enthusiasts look to the future for inspiration, we must also understand and value the past. A talk from the magazine archivists, Mark Hymen and Tory Turk, from The Hymen Archives, the largest collection of magazines in the world, showed us how magazines ‘were your internet’ and how much of a resource they are still today which we must preserve and protect.  The Audience of the Future Panel discussed the tactility of magazines and that children, despite being known as the technology generation, appreciate the feeling of reading a traditional magazine. And Mark Neil showed us how using inspiration from the past can give a fresh take on the future at his talk Cover Versions.

Fringe Event: Paul getting Lucie to spill all the gossip (Photo Credit: Grace Balfour-Harle)

As well as the day full of speakers, I was lucky enough to attend the Fringe Event the night before, which was an interview of Lucie Cave, the Editor of Heat Magazine conducted by Paul MacNamee, the editor of The Big Issue. As well as spilling a bit of gossip, Lucie illustrated how she used multi-level platforms to maximise the brand of Heat, and how important it is to understand what the readership wants. She also highlighted the importance of following your instinct and turning a challenging task (like an difficult interviewee) to your advantage, and to always engage with your audience.

Overall, MagFest 2017 was a very informative and exciting event for all who attended, especially for the large group of young student publishers who just can’t wait to get started in telling their own story. As Ian Rankin said in his interview: ‘Do your research, but have fun with it.’

Ian Rankin and Barry McIlheney (Photo Credit: Grace Balfour-Harle)

Dyslexia Awareness Week

A reflection upon Dyslexia Awareness Week 2017.

Today we are currently in the last day of Dyslexia Awareness Week whose campaign this year has been #PositiveAboutDyslexia. There is still quite a lot of stigma around dyslexia and those who have it as is highlighted in the BBC Three short ‘Things Not To Say To Someone With Dyslexia’. So many of the common things that are said to people who have dyslexia are either dismissive or negative; things like telling dyslexia people that they ‘need to focus more’ and when someone mentions that they have dyslexia asking them to spell it. (Confession: I did misspell dyslexia at least three times while writing this post).

This week I was lucky enough to be involved in #DyslexiaStory campaign.  This was set up between Dekko Comics, where I am currently an intern, and Estendio a company who develop innovative support Apps for people with Dyslexia. I got to be there from the very start, being involved in the initial Skype conversation where we decided on the hashtag and how we wanted people to get involved.

The plan was to take this years #PositiveAboutDyslexia campaign and add to it a little. Allow people to poke a little fun at themselves, or share a proud moment. To share with us their own favourite #DyslexiaStory.

The responses that we got really were a mixed bag, from a man telling us about misspelling his own name on his Higher English exam to a mother proudly sharing her daughter’s success in having her poetry published. One thing that I did enjoy was that the responses were overwhelmingly positive.

As part of Dyslexia Awareness Week I went along to Edinburgh Central Library for a Dyslexia Scotland event which promoted positivity about dyslexia and involved speakers and performers who were dyslexia and sharing their stories. First up was a sixteen year old boy from Aberdeenshire who played some live music and explained that when he was in early primary school he used to hide under desks because he was unable to connect with traditional methods of learning. He now expresses himself through songwriting and playing the guitar.

This was followed by the master of ceremonies for the night, Paul Hugh McNeill who is an ambassador for Dyslexia Scotland. I knew of Paul in advance of the event through Twitter and it was amazing to see just how inspiring a speaker he was in person. He talked about his own experiences of growing up Dyslexic, in the 1980’s and how in primary school he had just been labeled as ‘bad’. It wasn’t until he was twenty-five and decided to go back to full-time education that he realised his Dyslexia wasn’t something that he should be ashamed of, but that there was help available to him.

Paul is a hard worker which has gotten him to where he is today, he talked about how his dyslexia made him work hard, and that without it he wouldn’t be where he is today. He is a fantastic role model for young children, not least because he is an advocate for him, espousing that all a dyslexic child needs is an adult on their side. A parent, a teacher, an auntie or uncle, and if that child doesn’t have any of those people on their side then they will have Paul.

The launch of the new Dyslexia Scotland Website and of the hard work from the Dyslexia Scotland Youth Ambassadors whose enthusiasm made the launch possible was also briefly touched upon.

Finally we got to hear from Margaret Rooke, the author of newly published book Dyslexia is my Superpower (Most of the Time). Margaret herself is not dyslexia, but her daughter is, which made her interested in the learning difficulty. She has interviewed dyslexic people across the country and compiled her interviews into this book which is available for purchase here.

It was quite important to me to be involved in Dyslexia Awareness Week. I think that it’s something that can so easily be overlooked, when coping strategies are in place and you are long since diagnosed. At the Dyslexia Scotland event I spoke to parents whose children had just been diagnosed and were caught the relief of knowing that there was a reason their child was struggling, and the difficult realisation that their kid is in for a hard slog. It was uplifting to be able to share the success stories of other dyslexic people in the room.

So to end this Dyslexia Awareness Week I am going to push myself to continue being #PositiveAboutDyslexia long after the campaign fades.


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.

Making the Most of Your Student Days: Advice I’d Give to Future Publishing Students

After making it to the end of the second trimester of the publishing course here at Napier, I’ve already found myself starting to reflect over the past nine months that I’ve spent as a publishing student. With a dissertation still to tackle alongside job-hunting over the summer, things are far from over yet. But following the end of taught classes and the first signs of summer weather, there’s one question that I’ve found keeps popping into my head: where on earth has the time gone? It’s been a whirlwind of a year in the most brilliant way possible, and so I thought I’d share my top three simple pieces of advice I’d give to future publishing students so that they can make the most of their time on the course.

  1. Say ‘yes’ to as much as possible

The MSc Publishing course at Napier will provide you with a thorough understanding of the publishing process and give you the opportunity to practise the skills you learn through live projects. However, it is also important to pay attention to learning opportunities outside the course so that you can develop your experience and knowledge of the industry on an even wider scale. Become an SYP member, attend industry events, and take on as many work experience opportunities as you can manage. It may seem like a lot, and at times it will be, but once you’ve found your own balance and way of managing things, it’ll all become worth it.

2. Never stop asking questions

One of the greatest things about being a publishing student is that the industry is full of lovely people who will go out of their way to help you in any way they can. Make the most of these opportunities and never be afraid to ask questions. Reach out to people at industry events – the word ‘networking’ is one which strikes fear into the souls of many (myself included), but simply by asking someone a question, not only will you further your learning, but you may also find yourself ‘networking’ without even realising it (gasp!).

3. Look out for each other and enjoy it!

Amidst all the stresses of deadlines, placement applications and part-time work, it may at times be easy to forget what a brilliant position you’re in as a student surrounded by so many like-minded people. Never forget to help each other out along the way, and never forget to take the time to enjoy all the perks of being a student, as the time will absolutely fly by, and this may be the last time you can enjoy ‘the student life’ before entering the big bad world of work.

Best of luck to all future students on the MSc Publishing course!