Fail to Succeed

Here’s the thing: life is an amalgam of clichés. ‘Time is a healer’; ‘When one door closes, another one opens’; ‘Everything happens for a reason’. The list goes on. The one crucial aspect of the surprisingly trivial matrix known as Life is how you deal with failure. Setbacks can feel disheartening at best, and catastrophic at worst. Nevertheless, with time and the perspective it gives, things more often than not fall into place. All you need to do is let them.

Robin Williams in ‘Good Will Hunting’. He gets it.

This probably all sounds a little too cryptic without any context. Being one of the ‘older’ students on Napier’s MSc Publishing course, I was well aware that many of my peers had only just completed their undergraduate degrees, while my life so far had been interspersed with inconsequential jobs, and desperate—often pipe-dream—attempts at finding that most nebulous of concepts: a direction.

Being someone who has made a habit of making their life more complicated than it perhaps needs to be, my impulsion has (up to now) always diverted me away from my greatest strengths. For example, I have always written. I created my first book when I was six or seven, by folding A4 paper in half, stapling the spine, and filling it with a Gulliver’s Travels rip-off thinly disguised by the fact that all the characters were reindeer (I hasten to add that I created this gem around Christmastime). I finished my first novel-length story when I was 16, and have written two more since. They’re certainly not of a quality fit for actual publication, but that’s not the point. All those hours spent writing involved a great deal of self-editing. Subconscious processes of assimilation were unfolding without my knowing: I began to understand the innate rhythm of prose as well as poetry, the importance of mimetic descriptions, when to be deliberate with adjectives, when to avoid adjectives altogether. In short—and here’s another cliché—to “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”

And yet, despite my compulsion for the written word, I never considered it as a career choice. It seemed too unrealistic to me that anything would come of it. Of course, I have now learnt that this was a sensible choice: my first trimester studying publishing has revealed that authors are paid a pittance unless they perchance get a movie deal with Warner Bros.

I jest, of course. Authors write because they are compelled to, not for the lucrative royalties. Publishing, and everything it entails, is a risky environment in which to dabble. It is rife with gambles and misjudged endeavours. Nevertheless, take a look at all the outstanding books out there. More often than not, those books—nascent, untouched by anyone other than their author—began their lives as a risk worth investing in. After tripping through my life thus far, tiptoeing into academic pursuits beyond undergraduate-level, working for a year in Waterstones and then, bizarrely, for Ralph Lauren (I folded polo-shirts with such exactitude you’d think a machine had done it, and I did that for at least four hours a day. That’s the truth), and finally, a brief venture into teaching English in Japan, it felt to me like I had returned to where I’d begun: with writing.

But not quite. Here’s another cliché: “Know thy self, know thy enemy”. Why did I not take a creative writing course? you may well ask. I do feel that in certain circumstances, “classes will dull the mind, destroy the potential for authentic creativity.” The other answer has actually been proven to me in taking this course in publishing: the creative industries were a complete unknown to me until I was thrown in at the deep-end in September. I hasten to add that my fascination with publishing has naturally evolved from my fascination with literature. Ironically enough, it has been my own complete ignorance regarding publishing as an industry, which led me into taking this degree. I write, but how in the hell does this attempt at a novel transform itself into a printed, distributed piece of work found in bookshops, and even more terrifyingly, on Amazon?! Publishing was the enemy: I had no other choice but to become familiar with its nuances and idiosyncrasies.

To date, it is no longer an enemy. True, I experienced a week of total panic at the start of the course, half-resigning myself to the belief that I had made a mistake and got myself in too deep with this publishing malarkey, and that I’d be heading back to the hellish phantom of those polo-shirts waiting for me in a Godforsaken corner of east London. But time is a healer. And life is what you make of it. It may have taken me a little longer than others to get to this point in my life, but I don’t for a moment believe that any of my experiences so far have been useless, or wasted time. If you fall off the horse, you get back up in the saddle. If you’re living life properly, then you are inherently risking setbacks. There is, however, something remarkably transformative about failure. My advice to you then, would be this: if that risk feels like a worthy one, take it.

In the meantime, I’m no longer panicking. That panic seemed to pass through a paradigm shift overnight, and I moved into the next day with a swelling enthusiasm. That day led into the next week, and before I could even find my bearings, the first trimester had come to a close. Within three months I had taken on volunteering work with Streetreads, had got a freelance copyediting job with ArtMag, could produce (just about) a basic book template on InDesign, and can now claim that I am at least a little bit knowledgeable about the ins and outs of the publishing industry in the UK and beyond. Now that it’s the Christmas break, I don’t know what to do with myself. I’ve been twiddling my thumbs for the past five days.

So, here’s the thing: or as Teddy Roosevelt put it: “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.”

Risk failure, and live vibrantly. That’s why I’m here, and why, despite the trials and tribulations of getting through my twenties with my sanity just about intact, I have found an industry—a community, even—in which I feel quite at home. Publishing has so much to offer, but conversely, it has so much growing to do. Grab hold of that beanstalk, I say. My career has only just begun.


Differences and similarities between the UK and the German publishing industry

First of all, it is not possible to sum up all the differences and similarities between the UK and German publishing industries in just one article, so this article will just touch on the topic. I will mention the VAT regularities for books in both countries, the netbook agreement, and finally an overview of different network bodies and associations in each country.

First of all, it is not possible to sum up all the differences and similarities between the UK and German publishing industries in just one article, so this article will just touch on the topic. I hope that I can still give you a good summary of the most important key points from my point of view (as a student of Book Studies in Germany who has studied Publishing for a while). I will mention the VAT regularities for books in both countries, the netbook agreement, and finally an overview of different network bodies and associations in each country (hopefully this might also be useful for research questions).

The book market in both countries is protected by different regularities by each government, because of the cultural status of the book. To do so, there are special VAT requirements for books in both countries. In the UK, books are included in the zero-rated goods which means that they are still VAT-taxable but the charged rate for the customer is 0%. A similar law applies in Germany: Instead of the general VAT of 19%, customers who are buying books only have to pay 7% VAT (reduzierter Mehrwertssteuersatz).

Another specific law for books in Germany is the so-called netbook agreement (Buchpreisbindung). This means that the publisher fixes a specific price for a book and everyone who wants to sell this book has to sell it for this fixed price. It is not allowed to sell it for a higher price nor for a lower price (and yes, this includes Amazon!). Some exceptions exist for specific editions of a book or for remaindered books, in this case the fixed price is superseded. But in general, every book has a specific price and it costs the same in every shop in Germany. Like I said before, this even applies to Amazon which means people in Germany who buy a book on Amazon have to pay the same price as they would in a bookshop. I do not go further into the consequences of a valid netbook agreement, but I would love to see a discussion in the comments and to hear about different opinions and possible advantages and disadvantages on a book market which is protected by a netbook agreement.

There are some network bodies and associations in the UK publishing industry who have a similar counterpart in Germany. Hopefully the list below is useful for research (unfortunately not all is available in English, but there may be English summaries).

Publishing Scotland Börsenverein des deutschen Buchhandels
Nielsen Book Scan Buch und Buchhandel in Zahlen (Börsenverein*)
Bookseller Börsenblatt (Börsenverein*)



The Society of Young Publishers Junge Verlagsmenschen e.V.

Both societies try to cooperate!

London Book Fair

Edinburgh International Book Festival

Frankfurter Buchmesse (international)

Leipziger Buchmesse (national)

*Academic note: The Börsenverein has advantages and disadvantages. I, personally, would never just look at their data, make sure you find similar numbers with other resources (especially for ebooks).

Please feel free to continue my list or add more facts about the book market in both countries! Also, I will do my best to answer any questions you may have.

Discovering Production

As a reader, I used to pick up a book and judge it by the cover and story. Now that I have been studying publishing for a few months, when I pick up a book, I think about the production choices. I think about what paper, typeface and other design decisions went into the book. Over the last few months, I learned that a lot more goes into the production of a book than the average reader would ever guess.

I chose to move to Edinburgh and attend Edinburgh Napier because of their emphasis on vocational training. (I also just really wanted the opportunity to live in Scotland.) I knew enthusiasm could only get me so far. I wanted to develop a practical skillset.

Napier’s MSc Publishing course gives you a year of dedicated learning in editorial, marketing, rights, production and everything in-between. It’s an in-depth overview of the entire publishing industry—books and magazines. I’ve always been interested in design but didn’t really know what it entailed. I didn’t even know what production was a few months ago. I knew someone had to design a book’s cover, but I never thought about the work required in typesetting and designing a book’s interior.

I’ve learned that it’s the production department creating the overall look and feel of the book, transforming a word document to a polished and professional product. Production meticulously goes through the text eliminating “widows” and “orphans.” They’re the ones ensuring the formatting is clear and readable, preparing the book for printing. Never had I considered how the choice of typeface changes someone’s perception of a book. For example, a production designer wouldn’t use Helvetica for a Sherlock Holmes novel. Baskerville, a typeface fitting to the story’s period and setting, would be a much  better choice.

Production choices define a reader’s experience with a book. A good example of this is the work of Scottish publisher Barrington Stoke. They use a specific type of paper and a specially designed typeface to create dyslexic-friendly books. Production choices like these can make a book more attractive and accessible to readers.

I enjoyed learning about editorial, rights, the fiction market, etc., but production has been my favorite topic this trimester. I learned how to navigate InDesign and put what I learned into practice by designing AI sheets and book templates. I’m happy to report that my prior dread of InDesign has morphed into (mostly) genuine enjoyment. Three months ago, I didn’t even know how to use a Mac computer. Now, I can typeset a book. Seeing myself and my fellow PC loyalists progress has been immensely satisfying.

I came to Napier thinking I wanted to pursue either editorial and marketing. While I’m still very interested in those areas, I’ve now added production to my list of ideal jobs. I’ve no doubt that as I continue through this course, I’ll discover new and exciting areas of the publishing industry to add to my list of dream careers. Hopefully, after completing Napier’s MSc Publishing course, I’ll find myself working in one of them.

Photo via gizmodo

Network Network Network

Before deciding to study publishing, speaking to people came naturally. I could approach a stranger at an event easily and spark a conversation because there was no ulterior motive for doing so, other than the sheer enjoyment of human interaction. Now, however, I do have an agenda: I want to be noticed. I want to be remembered. I want to make an impression so that someone, somewhere will one day think I’ll be an asset to their company.

When I began Napier’s course, I was encouraged to attend as many events as possible and to grab every opportunity by the horns. This had never been an issue for me before because I either decided to go to an event or I decided to stay at home. If I wasn’t feeling up to it, or had a rare day of feeling shy, I felt no guilt in curling up in my jammies and spending the evening binge watching Netflix instead. But now, I can’t afford to stay at home and miss out on meeting all the important people. The guilt is real. I know that if I don’t go, I’m only disadvantaging myself and my future career. That being said, whilst I do want to emphasise the importance of getting out there and interacting with people in the industry, because hey, they’re bloomin’ incredible folk, I have discovered an absolute saviour in the networking business: Twitter.

Twitter is definitely something I stayed away from pre-publishing degree. I didn’t understand how to use it properly, and again, I had no real agenda. Connecting with friends was far easier via other social media platforms, such as Facebook and Snapchat. But upon venturing into the publishing industry, Twitter has become my holy grail for when I need to network but am not particularly feeling up to it. I cannot stress the value of this incredibly, sometimes dauntingly, fast-paced-updated-by-the-second environment. There is no better way to stay in the loop and up-to-date with the publishing industry. I can refresh my feed every minute and someone will have a new opinion, there will be a new article to read or a new connection suggested. Even better, I can do it all in my pyjamas with Netflix on in the background.

One of the many major benefits of Twitter is the ability to participate in live conversations. The SYP are extremely well versed in this, and often host live chat Q&A evenings. These typically last an hour and allow people from all over the world to engage with people in the industry. You can voice your fears and receive comfort, share your experiences, teach others valuable lessons and learn anything and everything in the space of an hour. Above all, you can make those all important connections, whilst simultaneously cooking dinner.

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Various events I’ve attended have shown me that having a strong Twitter identity really pays off when meeting people face to face. If you’re active in the community and your profile is recognisable and memorable, then chances are someone will remember that conversation they had with you, where you helped them overcome a fear, or gave them advice they later followed.

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Finally, I suggest really getting to know how Twitter works. Use ALL the hashtags, even base your tweets around being able to hashtag as much as possible and include the publisher in your tweets when talking about a book.

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Show that you have an interest in the industry and that you appreciate someone’s work. The engagement these tweets can generate is unreal, and allows people in the industry to see that you’re an active member of their community.

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If you’re new to Twitter like I was, build an identity that you’d be happy to show a potential employer. Be someone that your mum would be proud of and that someone in the industry would want to meet. It’s also great when someone’s accusing you of not being productive because you’re on your phone, (I’m looking at you, boyfriend) and you can tell them they’re wrong: you’re networking.

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My Twitter: @kiiimberellla


Back to school

As I have reached the crumbly age of 33, you may be forgiven for thinking it has been several years since I was in any classroom. Admittedly, it has been a while since I was on the other side of the desk, looking out from hastily scribbled notes at the lecture slides (or, if I am to perhaps reveal too much about my earlier education, at the overhead projector acetates.). However, you may be surprised to learn that it has only been five months since I said goodbye to my classroom. Five brief, whirlwind months since I packed up my books and lesson plans, gave away resources I had developed over the past seven years, thanked colleagues and mentors, wished my students well and walked away from a career in English teaching.

Many are in a similar position to me. Many young (at heart, thanks) teachers are leaving teaching positions across the country to pursue different careers. It is predicted that over the next 18 months, over 40% of teachers in Scotland are planning to leave education due to the stresses of the job, the unrealistic workload or the mountain of administrative duties which has been increasingly piled on them in recent years.[1] I can’t speak for all of these teachers. I can’t say whether my myriad experiences as a secondary teacher in Scotland mirrors any of theirs. And this is not that story. This is about my new journey, my venture into the world of words, this time from a different perspective. Continue reading “Back to school”

Publishing 6×6

On 26th October 2017, The Society of Young Publishers Scotland and The University of Edinburgh’s publishing society, PublishEd, held an evening with six speakers from six publishing companies. The aim of the evening was to provide a six-minute insight into each speaker’s role within the publishing industry.

The first speaker was Rosie Howie from educational publisher, Bright Red. Rosie explained her role as an editor throughout the processes of book production. Her useful tips were to do structural editing first in terms of formatting and style before the first draft of the final typescript is ready for a detailed copyedit. She stressed the importance of peer reviewing the author’s work, particularly in educational publishing, and in working through changes with the author to get the best results for an educational book. The next stage is where copyediting takes place before being sent to production for typesetting. Another tip I learned was that up to five proofreads of the manuscript should be carried out before signing it off as error-free and sending it to production – signing your name against poorly proofread copies is not good for your reputation as an editor! It was extremely helpful to hear the daily tasks and challenges of the editor and the importance of their overarching role within a publishing house.

The second speaker was Laura Jones, a production freelancer and one half of The List 100′s number one publisher, 404 Ink. Laura opened up the idea of production as a possible career option which before now, no one had really explained to me. She described her role in producing and designing the books for 404 Ink and the benefits – and challenges – of working as a freelancer. It was very insightful to hear how someone in my position just a few years ago has become so successful in creating her own company, and the enthusiasm she has for her role within the publishing industry was inspiring. Laura also very helpfully explained that you don’t always have to know what aspect of publishing you want to work in from the outset and that this can often be determined from trialling different areas within a smaller publishing house to discover your strengths, which was very encouraging.

Jamie Norman, campaigns assistant for Canongate, was the third speaker of the evening. Jamie discussed the importance of pitching to the marketing and publicity of a book and of having a strong hook to your pitch to really capture and hold your buyer’s attention. A useful tip I learned from Jamie was how to tailor emails to the outlet or brand that you are trying to reach and to keep email pitches succinct, leading with the most relevant information for maximum effect. Jamie discussed some of his best tried and tested marketing techniques; competitions with unique prizes saved for publication week, extensive social media campaigns for top titles, and physical advertisements which, although expensive, can be invaluable with the right design. Most importantly, I learned how crucial it is to be prolific in your marketing.

Speaker number four was Vikki Reilly from the sales team in Birlinn. Vikki really opened up the option of sales to me as a career choice in a way no one had really done before. Her passion for sales and bookshops was infectious. She described her role as being at the centre of everything, liaising with people of all departments because she was in the position of having the most market knowledge through working with book buyers on a daily basis – and spending most of her time in bookshops. She also explained her responsibilities in organising and running promotional events, traveling, and working with non-traditional outlets like whisky shops. The variety in this role was really appealing to me and was something I had never really considered before but will definitely think about now. Another top tip from Vikki; just try new things and don’t be afraid to make a fool of yourself!

Slide by Vikki Reilly

The fifth speaker of the night was Janne Moller who has the very interesting job of travelling the world and selling rights for Black and White Publishing. Her key role is in selling translation, audio, and large print rights which means she has to know as many commissioning editors and publisher’s lists as possible to know who to sell to. She has the exciting role of travelling to major book fairs around the world and liaising with new people from all countries. She also described the challenging aspects of her job such as back-to-back meetings with literary agents and commissioning editors. One thing I learned from Janne was about the use of literary agents who are a type of sub-agent some publishers may utilise to sell their books in other territories much more easily. Another was literary scouts who know their clients (publishers) very well and can pick out books they would want to publish to save publishers time. It was interesting to find out about these sub-roles in publishing which I had never been introduced to before, as well as the extensive role rights managers have to play within a publishing company.


Lastly, Mairi Oliver took the opportunity to discuss the issues of diversity within bookselling. Mairi works for the radical and diverse bookshop, Lighthouse Books in Edinburgh. She discussed the importance of her role as a bridge between the publisher and customer and the need to know your books and customers really well to get the right books to the people who’ll love them most. As a diverse bookseller, she expanded on the necessity for publishers to rethink their lists in order for minority groups to be given a larger platform within the book industry for their voices to be heard. She spoke about the need for publishers to include more women in their lists and argued for more female writers to be put forward for literary awards. It was genuinely uplifting to hear someone so passionate and dedicated about these necessary changes within the industry promoting them to fellow publishers and publishing students who are in the privileged position to make them.

Overall, the evening was completely inspiring for me, a new publishing student, in broadening my understanding of the different roles within the industry from a bunch of excited, enthusiastic, and extremely friendly people and instilled in me that same enthusiasm for a future career alongside them in the publishing industry. I’ll definitely be going to more events hosted by PublishEd and the SYP!

Images: Hannah McGeechan

Virago: A Feminist Fairy Tale of Being Both Damsel and Dragon

Word Art
Synonyms for ‘Virago’ (Photo Credit: Elisabeth Green)

Once upon a time, there was a lady named Carmen Callil. Carmen had travelled from the far away land of Australia, to London, and there hoped to become a publishing queen. However, the publishing kingdom held little opportunity for young maidens in the 1970s. Women struggled to be taken seriously by their male rulers, being granted no power or decision-making opportunities. All they were allowed to do was work in the realms of publicity or marketing, where they would be sent to flatter and flirt with journalists, in the hopes of gaining coverage in newspapers. Carmen wanted more than this.

Now, in a standard fairy tale, this is where a prince would ride in on a noble steed, whisk up the fair maiden and fulfil her heart’s desires. But this is no normal fairy tale, as princes had actually been the source of the problem so far, and Carmen was no damsel in distress. Instead she took it upon herself to be her own saviour, and together with founders of feminist magazine Spare Rib, Rosie Boycott and Marsha Rowe, created her own company, Continue reading “Virago: A Feminist Fairy Tale of Being Both Damsel and Dragon”