Placement: Vagabond Voices

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After my very enjoyable stint at Scotland Street Press was over, I decided that I wanted to gain more experience in the publishing workplace. As a born and bred Glaswegian, I was extremely keen to see what my home town had to offer in the way of publishing houses, so it was logical that I looked to Vagabond Voices.

Established in 2008 by Allan Cameron, Vagabond Voices publishes ‘novels, poems and polemics penned at home or abroad.” With an excellent reputation of publishing translations, and with my background in French, this felt like the perfect fit.

I began my placement in January and it has been a joy ever since. Having before worked for a small publisher I was accustomed to the buzzy atmosphere and the variety of tasks that I’d be expected to perform but I learned more than I ever imagined.

Since I started there, I have only ever been encouraged and I have read many a submission and my feedback has been taken seriously, I have proofread and been given feedback and support on my work, and I have been given control of the social media channels, and given the freedom to create promotional images on Photoshop and InDesign which have been used.

Most surprisingly is the fact that Allan, the director has guided and encouraged me into undertaking more sales activities, something he feels I have an aptitude for. Sales was never a role I considered prior to this placement and I’m surprised at how much I love it. Creating relationships and rapport with buyers has been one of the most fun aspects of the role.

Overall, my time spent with Vagabond Voices has provided me with invaluable skills and knowledge and my confidence has increased tenfold. I will always be grateful to Allan and Dana for the time they invested in me.

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Vagabond Voices Placement

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As part of our publishing course we have the opportunity to apply for practical placements in the second trimester. Thus, in December began the hunt for internships. The first people I e-mailed were Vagabond Voices, based in Glasgow, and I got a quick response from the person who runs the publishing company, Allan Cameron. I was beyond excited to hear from him and after a few more exchanges they took me on board and I began my placement in the middle of January.

Vagabond Voices are an amazing, small, independent publisher focusing on publishing translations and literary fiction. They recognize the importance of translated literature and the stories of different people and cultures. The publishing industry is currently discussing the issues of diversity and inclusivity and Allan has been trying to tackle all these problems for the last 10 years by translating a variety of stories into English.

I am also very interested in the power of the translated voice so this seemed like the perfect placement for me. I started my first day with great enthusiasm that has not waned since then. I utterly enjoy spending my Fridays there doing a variety of tasks. Dana, Allan’s right hand woman, understands how important this placement is for us and does her very best to make sure we make the most of it. She lets each intern try a bit of everything.

I started by helping out with the social media. I have always been a bit afraid of social media and marketing but I found out that tweeting and creating posts can be fun and engaging. I also realized that it takes much more time than I had thought.

I was also allowed to dip my finger into the submissions, an activity that I am still doing. I think this has been the best part for me so far. The sheer volume of submissions that a small publisher receives is staggering. There is always so much to read but I have found out that I really enjoy doing it. There is rarely a hidden gem in the pile of pages but every manuscript teaches you something new and I am started to understand how to separate my own literary preferences and the text itself. I have learnt that objectivity and decisiveness are key when reading submissions and practice indeed makes perfect.

With practice in mind, Dana let the interns proofread a manuscript that is to be published this year. This was an incredible and valuable experience as we were allowed to see quality writing and exercise our judgment in tweaking the manuscript. The amount of work that goes in editing and proofreading a piece of writing is amazing and a person needs to pay attention to every miniscule detail. It is definitely a task that appeals to me. I put into practice everything I have learnt so far from my course and definitely enjoyed the feeling of holding a manuscript and doing my best to make it even better if possible.

As a whole, I can only recommend Vagabond Voices. Allan and Dana are amazing people with a lot of knowledge and it is a privilege to work with them, pick their brains and have a chat about books and publishing as an industry. I have tried a variety of publishing tasks and I have come to understand a bit better how a publishing company works on a daily basis. What I would like to emphasize in the end is the way interns are treated at Vagabond Voices. Both Allan and Dana fully realize that interns are not paid and they do their best to make up for this fact. The hours I do on Fridays are flexible and Allan always says that we are to come and go as we please since we are not getting paid. This flexibility and way of thinking is vital for publishers who open their doors to unpaid interns. Dana has played a major role in my placement so far. She is the one that usually gives the daily tasks and she always tries to give us something new because she realizes that we are there to learn. She has offered us a range of work and at the moment she is preparing a feedback on our editorial job and all of this is on top of her actual work. This understanding and effort have really impressed me and I really urge everyone to go and check Vagabond Voices out as the work their doing is amazing.

 

 

This Is It!

In late November, I had the opportunity of attending Literature Alliance Scotland’s This Is It! event: a Literary Cabaret that would showcase some of the best writing talent Scotland has to offer. Hosted by writer Siân Bevan, the evening took a tour of Scotland’s literary world, with five speakers ‘representing different areas of our literary country’. The audience was welcomed by Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs, Fiona Hyslop who opened the evening with a warm introduction. After a captivating reading by poet William Letford, of his poem This Is It, Siân Bevan introduced the first of the evening’s five speakers.

Francis Bickmore, Publishing Director of Canongate Books, held the daunting position of first speaker, discussing the state of the publishing industry in 2017 and a note towards its future. Reflecting on the year as a whole, Bickmore began by questioning why we continue to write and publish books in such unstable times. In times where we have become worryingly disconnected from one another. The answer, quite simply, is that books offer us hope. As Bickmore reasoned, they are a ‘crash course in empathy’ and a means of demonstrating the change we wish to bring to the world. Our need for hope and empathy has been reflected in the rise of a new book trend. In response to a year of despair, the publishing industry was witness to a new trend in the form of ‘Up-Lit’: books that have optimism and positivity at their core. Bickmore went on to discuss the importance of diversity and equality, which has become a hot topic within the publishing industry after a recent survey found that around 90% of the workforce identify as white British. After praising the solidarity of online communities in their fight for equality and their highlighting of inequalities, Bickmore declared that the industry is moving ‘to be as diverse as the population it serves’.  While Canongate Books has made progress in this regard, with 35% of their new writers coming from BAME backgrounds, he admits that there is still a long way to go. Bickmore’s focus on equality, however, was not limited to the subject of racial equality but also encompassed the importance of gender equality and its benefits for everyone. The current patriarchal environment has not only put unfair limitations and disadvantages on women, but has also created a strict and rather damaging definition of what it is to be a man. Admitting that men also lose out with patriarchy, Bickmore wished that 2017 would prove to be the year in which men woke up to feminism and joined the fight for true gender equality. Although such change will not come quickly or easily, books can be a powerful tool in starting the conversation of change as ‘changes on the page take shape in the real world’. Canongate recently published Robert Webb’s memoir How Not To Be a Boy, which Bickmore named as an excellent example of books tackling these damaging gender norms. Bickmore rounded up his segment by reminding us that we should be proud of Scotland’s literary culture and continue to celebrate writers, for in such unstable and challenging times ‘we need [them] to keep hope in the dark’.

The second speaker of the night was Adrian Turpin, Artistic Director of Wigtown Book Festival, who recovered well from the delicious error of being introduced as Adrian Turnip. He discussed the importance of book festivals in the book world. Beginning by conveying the sheer vastness of the Scottish book festival scene, Turpin revealed that Scotland now boasts over 45 book festivals, with the Edinburgh International Books festival being ‘the largest public celebration of the written word’. Turpin claimed that the greatest strength of the book festival scene in Scotland is that no two are the same. But what really makes our festivals so important? Aside from being ‘producers of content’ and places of discussion, they are, very importantly, great resources. Book festivals are resources not only for young people but for community groups, for the elderly. They are resources for Scots languages and vital for the Scottish tourist industry and publishing sector. They are resources for current writers and the next generation of writers. Book festivals are an intrinsic part of the Scottish book trade that help bring in new audiences and spread the love for the written word.

Our next speaker was Pamela Tulloch, the Chief Executive for Scottish Libraries Information Council (SLiC). Responding to the growing concern for the future of UK libraries of late, Tulloch insisted that despite facing difficulties in a decade of austerity, Scottish Public Libraries are still going strong. This is in no small part due to their Ambition and Opportunity strategy that was launched in 2015. This strategy aims to promote and support reading and literacy, digital inclusion, economic wellbeing, social wellbeing, and culture and creativity. In order to fulfil the aims of the strategy, Scottish Public Libraries have introduced various features that have really set them apart from other libraries. These include off site online resources (eBooks), opportunities for film education and support for new upcoming businesses. They have also introduced 3D printers to their libraries with guidance on how to use them. As part of the strategy, SLiC aims to promote libraries as excellent public services. In an effort to make the library process simpler for its members, SLiC introduced their new One Card initiative in November. In its trial run, the scheme allows members access to the resources of any participating library within the trial areas. The simplicity of the One Card is important as it makes access to libraries easier from a younger age. Although the trial is due to end in April 2018, SLiC hopes that the initiative will be adopted across Scotland. However, despite the encouraging progress and stability of Scottish Public Libraries, Tulloch noted that libraries across the UK are still at risk and implored her audience to join the Libraries Matter campaign, urging us to go online and share why libraries really matter.

After Pamela Tulloch’s address, William Letford returned to discuss his experiences as a writer and the opportunities for writer development. He began by admitting that he didn’t move into poetry without help. After deciding to embark on a dramatic career change, Letford attended a council funded writers group. The writers group enabled upcoming writers to discuss literature and poetry with already published writers, and offered valuable guidance. It was through such guidance that Letford was soon encouraged to apply for the New Writers Awards, an award scheme run by the Scottish Book Trust and funded by Creative Scotland. Recipients of the New Writers Award are given a £2000 cash award and continued support in the form of mentoring, training in performance and presentation, and opportunities to show their work to agents and publishers. The Scottish Book Trust continued to support Letford after he won the award, providing one-to-one grammar lessons on his request. Letford then discussed the benefits of the Live Literature Fund, another programme run by the Scottish Book Trust. The Live Literature Fund provides access to a database containing over 700 writers across Scotland, with the intent that organisations and communities can use it to find and apply for writers to perform live for them anywhere across Scotland. The fund then covers half of the artist’s fee and all travel expenses. While Letford notes that the extra income this fund provides for authors is helpful, the power of the project is most important as it acts as ‘a bridge between reader and writer’. Letford also praised the writers and publishers before him who had paved the way for writing in Scots, because ‘the more words we use, the more mischief can be made, and the more mischief, the merrier the show.’ Letford then finished his segment with another poetic reading and a challenge to the audience to step outside of our literary comfort zone.

The final speaker of the evening was best selling author Louise Welsh, who discussed an international perspective. Returning to some of the themes introduced by Francis Bickmore, Welsh began by discussing the diversity of Scotland. Although she considers Scottish literature to be ‘almost as diverse as its landscapes’, Welsh questioned whether it is diverse enough. In a very effective demonstration of the publishing industry’s lack of diversity, Welsh asked the audience to take a look at the faces around the room. It took only a brief sweep across the crowd to realise that most, if not all, of the audience was white. After voicing her hope that this reality will change if we work at it, Welsh declared that to do so we need to reach out. As we reach a time in which many countries are turning inwards, it is more important than ever to engage with each other across the globe. The networks and friendships we create will foster empathy, creativity and hope. ‘We need to continue to take the world to Scotland, Scotland to the world’. Welsh concluded her address by urging the audience to celebrate Scotland’s place in the literary world.

A thoroughly enjoyable evening, This Is It was a clear demonstration of the passion and dedication that this industry has in abundance. The ability to admit where it is failing, and still show such enthusiasm and commitment to making a change for the better makes me proud to be a part of the publishing industry. As the year comes to a close I am thankful for all the opportunities I have been given to be a part of such a fantastic industry and the celebration of the literary world, and I eagerly await the opportunities 2018 may bring.

Twitterpated

Being somewhat of a reserved person, I knew that one of the biggest benefits of studying publishing this year would be helping me come out of my shell. In a lot of ways, I felt I never needed to, but when I found how important connecting to other people is in this industry, it simultaneously stunned and intrigued me. I knew that putting myself out there, especially with that dreaded word: ‘networking’, would be a challenge for me and others to overcome. But it also struck me that the way people form relationships in the industry is an important thing to be a part of, not only to make professional contacts, but to gain perspective and knowledge about the different aspects of publishing. I know little of other industries and the workplace in general, being a fresh graduate, but ‘networking’ was something I was entirely unprepared for and due to this, it’s almost natural to doubt its effects. Instead, I’ve found that it’s tremendously simple to put yourself out there, so much so, I found it difficult to begin.

I was initially perplexed at the necessity of a Twitter account as part of the course. The last time I used social media regularly was when I was a sixteen-year-old posting on Facebook and since, only use it rarely to keep in touch with others. I remember the initial ‘Twitter boom’ when a bunch of my friends started posting but by then, I lost interest. I never fully pondered the benefits of Twitter until I learned more about advertising in class – not only with company products – but with myself. I’ve found that not only is self-promotion essential for establishing contacts, but growing more social and keeping updated with news can only benefit my social development and understanding of the industry.

And although I joined Twitter purely for professional reasons, I made sure to explore it with an open mind as well. I couldn’t help but follow several celebrities and company favourites to personalise my news feed a little more. It strikes me as odd to read about the latest trends of publishing alongside what the cast of my favourite TV show get up to, but I now see why many find Twitter so compelling. Even with my initial scepticism, I can safely say I’m now ‘Twitterpated.’

I still find it difficult to post, possibly due to the hurdle many have faced: wondering if what I have to say is worth putting out there amongst the vast number of voices online. But I have definitely observed the benefits of even visiting the site regularly and staying updated with others, especially for publishing. That people seem interested in what I have to say indicates something special about the industry – people are interested in people rather than what’s solely on paper. Since networking and the exchange of ideas is such an important part of publishing, Twitter is an essential platform for this. Although I still find it challenging to put myself out there, joining social media is a huge help. Not only can I observe how people and companies work and interact on the site, it’s a platform that I can steadily introduce myself on. It makes me want to involve myself further and I’m interested to see how I develop more as a person by the end of the academic year.

Independents: Original Content Curators

It’s becoming an issue, mostly in film and TV, that all our top-rated content is either an adaptation, sequel or remake (how many King Kong stories do we need? 8 apparently). Even fiction, to an extent seems to be relying heavily on remade content. Although thankfully this is done with different angles and edges making the stories feel fresh, new content seems to be lacking in today’s spotlight. Sometimes it can feel as if we’re all absorbing the same things, over and over again. The top TV series are often based on something else too, Game of Thrones anyone? Spiderman has had three different films series in 15 years, and how many times can we really watch Uncle Ben die just because the industry knows that consumers will often go back to the things they love? Save that man from his Groundhog Day, please, somebody. We need to give stories time to rest before they are refreshed.

Most of these remakes, prequels and sequels are not horrible. Most are actually pretty good, some are brilliant, but it leaves me wondering if people are simply giving up and sticking to their tried and tested ways, or if they are running out of ideas.

There is one place however, that seems to be overflowing with original content; independent publishers. I was not aware of how many, nor how successful these publishers were within the industry before MSc Publishing. Most of the independents I have encountered since September are all dedicated to introducing new viewpoints and stories into our lives, something sorely needed to keep the industry fresh and interesting.

What was also surprising was how these smaller companies are so much more willing to take risks on newer content than the bigger household names are. Well-loved series are great, and often a large source of income (something that was not a surprise), but some of the best sellers that come from publishing are the standalone thrillers. The books that are fresh and new and risky are the ones that stick in the mind, the ones that you can’t stop thinking about long after you’ve finished. Independents are giving a voice to the often ignored, and giving consumers much more choice when it comes to content.

The publishing pool is much larger, deeper, and richer than I ever knew it was. Not just in Edinburgh and London, there are publishers spread across the country if only you know where to look, and now I’ve learnt how to find them. Independents are an exciting part of the publishing world because they are all so closely involved with the content they produce; every job links, and the books become the love of the whole company not just the author. Maybe this is the reason that their part of the storytelling industry is flooding with new content, because they care so much about the stories they tell they are more open to the new stories that have yet to be told.

Publishing in Actual Practice

When I started my life as an MSc Publishing student I had some experience in publishing, having translated a few novels and edited a short story collection, but the work I was most proud of was Pendora Magazine. I started this online magazine with a friend of mine almost two years ago, while we were both studying English in The Netherlands. We just wanted to share our thoughts about books and also publish original fiction. Did we know how to run a magazine? Nope. Did we care? Hell no! We didn’t really know what we were getting ourselves into until the submissions came pouring in. But we did our best and we learned on the job and we got a pretty decent idea of what the job required. Until May of this year, it was a pretty amateurish magazine, with irregular posts and our time was limited by our studies. After I finished my BA dissertation, I wanted Pendora to be what I called “a proper magazine.” During the summer I spent every day researching magazines and trying to figure out what we had been doing wrong and what we could improve on. When we relaunched on September 4th, it was a better looking, much more organised, and busier magazine with several people working on it. I was in charge of everyone. But I still didn’t know all the ins and outs of what this project required. At that point, I started studying publishing.

Almost everything that we learned on a weekly basis at university was directly helping me run the magazine better and more efficiently. We are still just online, so I’m keeping notes on everything I need to know for when a filthy-rich benefactor decides that the best use for their money is to fund a print run for Pendora.

The first major educative experience was not part of the degree, but it was thanks to it: MagFest. Going to this year’s MagFest was easily one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I attended most of the talks and a couple of workshops, and by the time it was done I already felt I had learned so much from these amazing people who were in similar positions as I was. The online community is great, but nothing can replace the experience of being in the same room with so many people who had jumped off the same cliff as I had (yes, that’s what launching a magazine felt like for me). When all the talks were over, I thought “Well, today has been so amazing” but I didn’t know that the best part of my MagFest experience was saved for the very end. After the last talk, an interview with Ian Rankin, we were all having a glass of wine (each of us had their own glass, we weren’t all sipping wine from a giant glass) when I saw a notification on Pendora‘s Twitter of an account called @sheisfiercemag liking one of my tweets. I went on the account and fell in love with this magazine’s presence on Twitter so I asked around and was finally introduced to Hannah, the amazing mind behind She Is Fierce. It turned out that Hannah had had a very similar experience launching and running her magazine, so what followed was a half hour where we compared our frustrations at making a magazine work (the phrase constantly repeated was “I knooow riiiight?!). Hannah didn’t reveal some well-kept secret in the publishing world about how to make a magazine great, but just talking to her was really helpful in running Pendora.

The things that I learned in class that were directly applied to how Pendora works can be divided in two categories which I’ll call “Oooh so that’s what it’s called” and “Oooh so that’s how it works.” The first category is a list of things that I kind of figured out on the job during these two years but had no idea they had a name and a how-to manual. The second category is made up of all the things I had been wondering about all summer while Googling “how do u run a mag?” I learned that those choices I had made and was very insistent on were called “a hou-se sty-le”, and that table of translated name and cities and rivers I had made while translating a WWII trilogy over 3 years was called “a spe-lling grid.” I learned how rights work, even though I haven’t figured out how to sell my Breaking Bad fan fiction. I (theoretically) learned how to write a blurb, although the blurbs I write about Pendora articles on a weekly basis still feel kinda weird. I learned how to approach the target audience for every post that we publish through a technique that feels like it came out of Mindhunter. I want to say I learned how to network, but my Twitter feed is still a list of movies I hate (I know it’s not hard to share your thoughts about publishing and books you like with people in the industry, but it also kind of is, okay?) One of the most important things I learned, and I’m still learning, is how to use InDesign, which will come in really handy when that aforementioned benefactor becomes Pendora‘s patron. I learned how to efficiently edit our submissions, how to plan posts, and generally how to approach any new challenge thrown at me. Most importantly, I learned how the different roles in publishing work together to produce, market, and promote content. That’s the most exciting part about all of this. I’m surrounded by people who want to do the same thing I want to do: find, perfect, and promote content that we are excited about. There’s no better environment for this little project to grow in. The Pendora team has grown in Edinburgh too with Alice and Daniele taking over some of the marketing and promotion for the magazine’s content and doing a much better job than I ever did, and I am so very very grateful to them.

Indie Publishing: a chance to be bold

Without a doubt, one of my favourite aspects of the Edinburgh Napier Publishing MSc has been the exposure to stand-out independent publishing houses across Scotland. Speakers from Floris Books and Barrington Stoke, to name a few, have shone a light on the quality and breadth of content that these publishers produce. Here is a brief summary of why these publishers fall not in the shadow of their larger competitors but illuminate their own unique niches in the market.

  • Harbingers of change: Although in significantly more danger if a title’s sales fall short compared to larger publishers, a trademark of many indies is their innovative content that deviates from the expected. Willing to take the risk, indies can inadvertently lead market trends simply by leaning on their staff’s experience and gut instincts. There is also often an active decision to readdress homogenous content by publishing writers whose voices otherwise would not have found a platform.

 

  • Knowing their markets: In contrast to the substantial finances fuelling the marketing campaigns of larger publishers, indies must allocate their funding much more sparingly. Titles must avoid a scatter-gun marketing strategy and have a targeted audience in order to be profitable. Successful indies have used this with great aplomb and use word-of-mouth sales, author visits, and smaller festivals to create a grassroots buzz about their content.

 

  • Carving their own place: In order to distinguish themselves, successful indies focus a lot of their attention on carefully curating their list. Building a reputation for expertise in a particular area allows them to compete at a higher level and attract specialist writers who in turn enhance the publisher’s reputation. This distinct focus can lead to an indie doing remarkably well with an international reach; while other larger publishers are inhibited by multiple drains on their attention.

Ultimately, these independents fight against a bland publishing landscape and are a barrier to a rotation of insular-looking titles. As aspiring publishers, it is in our best interests to support a diverse and consequently creative industry.