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.

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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!

Getting into publishing: what I’ve learned from various industry events

Throughout the last year or so, I have gathered some tips on how to get a job in publishing, through attending various industry events. I have discovered similar pieces of advice cropping up each time, so thought I would share some of these for the benefit of anyone, like myself, looking to pursue a career in publishing…

Work experience.  The majority of hiring companies will expect applicants to have some form of relevant work experience. This is a great way to make industry connections and develop invaluable skills. It can be difficult to find the time to complete a work placement while you are studying, especially when you need that time for a paid job. However, summer holidays are a great opportunity to complete a one or two week placement, or alternatively many companies will allow you to do one day per week over a longer period of time. I have also been told by many people that working in a bookshop for a while can be very beneficial as it helps you develop a consumer-focused mindset.

Networking. The word still makes me shudder and I am far from mastering it, but know I will need to eventually as its importance has been emphasised time and time again. The first step to networking can be as simple as building a social media presence. Twitter is a crucial platform to the publishing industry, allowing you to find your voice, while maintaining a professional image and enabling you to connect with others within the industry. It’s also a good way of finding out about industry events. Networking in person, however, can be far more daunting. Events held by the SYP are a good way to start, as most of the people are either also just starting out or are there to speak to – and help – people like us. A key tip when starting a conversation is just to ask the person questions about themselves and their career.

Job Applications. A CV should be well-structured, clear, concise and roughly two pages long. It should be specific to the particular opportunity you are applying for, while being personal to you. In a creative industry, like publishing, it is important to not only describe your skills, but display them. For example, if you want to be an editor, make sure there are no errors, or if you want to be a designer, try and be innovative with the CV’s design. A cover letter should always be included in a job application. This should give the employer a good impression of you and display your personality, summarising the information on your CV and explaining why you want the job. A useful structure is industry > job> you.

Skills. Employers are looking for a number of things when you submit a job application. You will need to show that you have:

  • A sound awareness of the industry
  • Practical experience
  • A strong commercial understanding
  • Solid digital skills
  • Adaptablility
  • A willingness to try new things
  • Good communicating skills
  • A keen interest in pursuing a publishing career

Key tips. With the industry being so competitive, it is essential to remain positive and persistent. Some final tips I have learned are:

  • Don’t be afraid to self-promote
  • Go out of your comfort zone
  • Tailor everything you do to your goals
  • Say yes to absolutely everything

 

 

My Placement at Floris Books

This semester I have been interning with Floris Books, winner of the 2016 Saltire Society Scottish Publisher of the Year. As I have a keen interest in children’s books, I was delighted to be selected to spend my Tuesdays with the marketing team at Floris HQ. The company publishes beautiful books for children, and holistic and alternative living titles for adults. They also publish under the Kelpies imprint, which encompasses Scottish children’s titles, from colourful Wee Kelpies board books to KelpiesEdge YA reads.

Though I have become quite adept at stuffing envelopes over the course of the semester (are you even a publishing intern if you aren’t a dab hand with the franking machine?), the marketing team made sure I had plenty of interesting and fun things to do. I’ve become far more comfortable with PhotoShop, caught a glimpse of how publishers work with distributors, wholesalers and retailers, and gained an understanding of marketing niche titles, such as the anthroposophical books published by Floris.

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Speed Bonnie Boat ‘See Inside,’ produced in PhotoShop by yours truly

I have particularly enjoyed working with titles under the Kelpies imprint, and was given the opportunity to use Adobe creative suite programs to produce both online and print marketing collateral on several occasions. Designing branded materials was a new challenge for me; I thoroughly enjoyed working with the imagery created by the design and production team, playing around with an eclectic range of typefaces, and adapting materials for different platforms.

This internship has helped to solidify my understanding of the practicalities of marketing books, from tracking sales, to contacting media and running events. On World Book Day I helped out at a school launch for Lari Don’s latest book, which was exciting, as I have previously only attended book launches as a member of the audience. I have become familiar with Floris’ intricately designed database, uploaded images to the website and prepared posts for the blog, and been given opportunities to explore social media analytics and sales data.

The best thing about interning with Floris? Everyone has been so invested in making sure I benefited from my time there, answering endless questions and taking a genuine interest in my learning.



For more information about Floris Books and their Kelpies imprint head over to their websites, and find Ceris on Twitter or LinkedIn,

 

My work experience with Black & White Publishing

In November 2016, I started an eight-week placement with Black & White Publishing in Edinburgh, for one day per week.

Black & White publish a range of different genres, such as non-fiction, adult fiction, children’s books and young adult fiction. They have a few imprints, including Itchy Coo (Scots language imprint), Broons Books and a new YA imprint, Ink Road. Their diverse list is one of the main reasons that made me want to do a placement with them.

Situated down by the Shore in Leith, neighboured by lots of cute cafes, shops and bars, Black & White’s office is in the ideal location for an independent publishing house. Upon entering the office, I immediately fell in love with its peaceful atmosphere, surrounded by endless shelves and stacks of books. It felt far more homely than I had imagined a publishing house to be and this was enhanced by the fact it was made up of such a small, friendly team (including an office dog!).

I was welcomed by Daiden, Sales Account Manager, who introduced me to the other staff in the office and handed me a summary of potential intern tasks to familiarise myself with. These were split into different job roles: editorial/production, publicity, events, marketing, digital, rights and miscellaneous. I found this very helpful, as it allowed me to connect the tasks I was completing with their relative areas of the publishing workflow.

During my placement, I completed a variety of stimulating tasks across the different departments. These included reading and logging submissions, sending rejection emails (editorial); researching and contacting potential reviewers and bloggers, creating press releases (publicity); creating events and show cards for book launches (events); drafting marketing plans for specific titles (marketing); writing copy for the website and composing scheduled tweets (digital). A highlight for me was getting to sit in on a company meeting, which involved deciding upon a logo for new YA imprint, Ink Road. This was really exciting and I felt privileged to be asked for my opinion on such an important decision.

I found it interesting to see how a small company operates, as the departments overlap a great deal and everyone works together as a team. Undertaking projects in the various departments allowed me to develop a range of adaptable industry-focused skills and helped me discover that I’d like to pursue a career in publicity or marketing – something I hadn’t previously considered.

I’m very grateful to Black & White for giving me such an enjoyable and valuable experience!