Firefighting with Street Reads

Right in the heart of Edinburgh, on the lower floor of a small indie bookstore called Lighthouse, is the current home of Street Reads, a non-profit, non-governmental organisation run by Ms Rachel Cowan. Also known as “the Book Wumman”, Rachel is a firm believer in the transformative power of reading, and has been donating books to homeless folk since 2015. Street Reads –as well as Rachel– have been through a lot ever since. One of the first things I noticed about her is that her compassion for the homeless lacked any element of pity or sense of superiority, but rather came from a sense of kinship with this folk; Rachel is deeply empathetic in the way only a person who has themselves gone through plenty of hardships can be.

I first heard about this initiative from our programme leader, Ms Avril Gray, who recommended Street Reads as a volunteering placement. I immediately applied for the placement, because I’ve enjoyed volunteering in the past, and I felt especially drawn to the idea of giving away books in the same way you would give a blanket or food to those in need, as they are equally important. A book is a portal to another world, and this sort of escapism is vital to people whose own life is in ruins. Working with Rachel and listening to her stories about the homeless readers who sometimes confide in her, opened my eyes even wider to the harsh realities that exist alongside us.

My own little contribution to Street Reads mostly consisted of filing, tidying up our overflowing crates and bookcases, and picking out suitable books for the crates that Rachel brings with her to charity or church initiatives involved with homelessness, such as Souper Saturday (a project of The Station, a newly registered charity), Soul Food (of St Paul and St George’s Church), and homeless shelters. The way Street Reads works is that the readers are not randomly given the books as gifts but they get to pick (and keep) their books. Selecting which books to bring is very important, since the aim is to attract as many readers as possible, and offer them books they actually want to read.

Picking out books was a little tricky at first, but soon I got the hang of it: lots of crime and thriller (yes, Ian Rankin is immensely popular with all demographics!), lots of classics, a sprinkle of historical and literary fiction, books in foreign languages (not all of the readers have English as their first language, and the comfort of reading in one’s mother language is incomparable), YA and children’s fiction, and strictly NO chick lit. The last one is hardly surprising, as the content of these books isn’t relatable to women who have been, and are currently going through, experiences of mental and physical abuse, desolation, poverty and homelessness. All in all, the same rule that applies to publishing applied here as well: know your market. Format is important too: hardbacks may be beautiful on the shelf, but they are not easy to carry around, and practicality is the priority.

But all the enthusiasm and drive in the world are not in themselves enough to run any sort of organisation. In the end, it comes down to funding. This is the main struggle Street Reads is facing, and it weighs heavily on Rachel. With the help of social media (Twitter mostly), a ton of people have grown interested in our mission, and  have been dropping by the bookcave to donate their books. Other donors that have been supporting Street Reads for a while now include Canongate Books and The Skinny magazine. As a result, Street Reads is currently by no means lacking in books. What it lacks are regular sponsors. Rachel, who is apt to speak in metaphors, compares herself and the volunteers with firefighters, struggling to put out many small fires at a time with a towel, while what we really should be doing is putting out the big fire with a professional fire engine. But there’s no professional equipment; no steady funding. And as long as this continues, Street Reads is stuck on the short-term, managing the day-to-day demands, barely making ends meet; as Rachel put it: “we cannot do the big picture”.

While this might be the reality right now, there is always hope for the future. 2018 is the year when Street Reads aspires to finally become a registered charity. Along with that, I hope that all the hard work put into this initiative will be recognised, and that Street Reads will attract regular sponsors, so that everyone involved can finally afford to think for the long-term. Until then, I am very grateful to Rachel for all the things I’ve learnt so far and all the things I will learn in the coming months; it’s been an honour firefighting with her.

Follow Street Reads
Twitter: @streetreads 
Facebook: Street Reads




The First Feeling of Accomplishment

‘So, Andrew, you can use InDesign, right?’

That’s not the exact wording, but that is what I was asked on my first day as an intern at Scotland Street Press. My response was a hesitant yes. I started at Scotland Street at the end of October and had begun learning how to use InDesign for the AI sheet assessment. However, I was still very inexperienced and I’ve never been particularly confident with computers But I didn’t let that stop me. I put my head down, carefully worked away and a week later I had completed my first ever advert.

Skip forward to December and my first piece of work in the publishing industry was released for the world to see. I sat down with a coffee on the 2nd of December 2017, turned to page 6 of the Scottish Review of Books and there was my half page advert. So, in my first few months in the industry I’ve secured an amazing internship and I’ve had my work featured distributed through a national newspaper. And that is a really good feeling.

I fully believe that knowing when to say yes is the key. When I agreed to make the advert for Scotland Street, the honest truth was I wasn’t confident in my abilities. As I have already said I’m not naturally good with computers and I’ve had to work hard to learn what I do know. InDesign has presented a very new challenge, but it’s one that I’ve begun to enjoy. And the more I learn, the more the confusing grids of measurements, paragraph styles and tools begin to make sense and even feel natural to use. A part of that has come from making that advert. I didn’t think about what I didn’t know. Instead I took what I did know and applied it, learning the rest along the way.

I’m so grateful to Jean Findlay for taking me on at Scotland Street and getting me to make that first advert. I feel like my work matters there and I can put to use all that I learn in class. With the opportunity to apply the theory I feel more and more confident in my abilities. And it all started with a hesitant ‘yes’. Some of our guest lecturers, such as Jonny Gallant from Alban Books, have made it clear that accepting invitations and opportunities has been vital to their careers. You never know what you may be asked to do, and what benefits may come from that. Because the first time worked out so well, I feel confident enough to say yes again and take advantage of whatever comes my way. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some work to do. The next advert is due by the end of January, and I fully intend to make the next one even better.

Work Experience at Lighthouse Bookshop

21878820_1915901028730250_6186047585476673536_nIn October and November, I had my work experience at Lighthouse – Edinburgh’s Radical Bookshop. Before arriving in Edinburgh, I was already interested in this bookshop, as it is a left-leaning independent bookshop. Their goal is to challenge the status quo and advocate for diversity, sustainability, free speech, and equality.

My aim for this work experience in a bookshop, was to find out what happens after a book is published. How do bookshops decide which books they want to have in their bookshop when they have so many choices? How do the books themselves influence their chance of being placed on a book shelf?

I was able to gain experience in different aspects of a bookseller’s daily work-life.

25286049_10214836582128764_1599288614_oI curated the Young Adult Fiction section of the bookshop. My goal was to introduce more diverse books in this section. Not all the books that I wanted to purchase were purchased. There were several reasons for this. While choosing books, I found out that I could not get some of the books as they were not available in the UK. Another reason is that the cover was not suitable for the audience. A final reason, is that the price was too high.

In November, the bookshop hosted the Edinburgh Radical Book Fair. In preparation for this event, I helped copywrite some parts of the flyer and assisted with the flyer’s design. During the book fair, I also got my first experience in chairing a discussion — I chaired the discussion on Political Multiculturalism and Immigrant Communities.

21827106_846841135482374_6556849867535155200_nFurther, I gained experience in retail and customer service. Using a cashier is really confusing at the beginning! Talking with customers about books is one of my favourite activities at the bookshop. It’s exciting to discuss books with them, and it’s so rewarding when someone decides to choose a book because you have recommended it to them.

Now, that my work experience has finished, I’ll be continuing to work at the bookshop as a bookseller.

About the author
I’m Sinead, an MSc Publishing student at Edinburgh Napier University. I work part-time as a bookseller at Lighthouse – Edinburgh’s Radical Bookshop. My blog Huntress of Diverse Books focuses on reviewing and promoting diverse books. I’m also a co-host at Lit CelebrAsian, an initiative aiming to uplift Asian voices in literature.

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12 Days of Christmas – Publishing Edt.

*of Publishing

On the first day of Christmas my degree gave to me a SYP membership.

On the second day of Christmas my degree gave to me two tips for inDesign and a SYP membership.

On the third day of Christmas my degree gave to me three class reps, two tips for inDesign and a SYP membership.

On the fourth day of Christmas my degree gave to me four lecturers, three class reps, two tips for inDesign and a SYP membership.

On the fifth day of Christmas my degree gave to me five layers on photoshop, four lecturers, three class reps, two tips for inDesign and a SYP membership.

On the sixth day of Christmas my degree gave to me six different fonts, five layers on photoshop, four lecturers, three class reps, two tips for inDesign and a SYP membership.

On the seventh day of Christmas my degree gave to me seven paragraph styles, six different fonts, five layers on photoshop, four lecturers, three class reps, two tips for inDesign and a SYP membership.

On the eighth day of Christmas my degree gave to me eight guest lecturers, seven paragraph styles, six different fonts, five layers on photoshop, four lecturers, three class reps, two tips for inDesign and a SYP membership.

On the ninth day of Christmas my degree gave to me nine publishing books, eight guest lecturers, seven paragraph styles, six different fonts, five layers on photoshop, four lecturers, three class reps, two tips for inDesign and a SYP membership.

On the tenth day of Christmas my degree gave to me ten children publishers, nine publishing books, eight guest lecturers, seven paragraph styles, six different fonts, five layers on photoshop, four lecturers, three class reps, two tips for inDesign and a SYP membership.

On the eleventh day of Christmas my degree gave to me eleven inDesign pages, ten children publishers, nine publishing books, eight guest lecturers, seven paragraph styles, six different fonts, five layers on photoshop, four lecturers, three class reps, two tips for inDesign and a SYP membership.

On the twelfth day of Christmas my degree gave to me twelve tries on inDesign, eleven inDesign pages, ten children publishers, nine publishing books, eight guest lecturers, seven paragraph styles, six different fonts, five layers on photoshop, four lecturers, three class reps, two tips for inDesign and a SYP membership.

Edinburgh: The Secret Ingredient

Back in 2004, Edinburgh was the first city to receive the title of “City of Literature” by UNESCO for its literary heritage that spans over many centuries and current efforts in this regard. And it shows. Edinburgh is known for its famous authors, book festivals, publishing scene, unique bookshops, libraries and museums, literary prizes, so much more. There is always something taking place in this city and events to look forward to.

In the few months I’ve been in Edinburgh, these are some of the events that took place.

#BookshopDay is a campaign first launched in 2016 by Books are My Bag. This year it took place on October 7 and more than 2,000 bookshops throughout the UK and Ireland were involved. The public had the chance to win book tokens and purchase a limited edition totes in two different designs –– one for adults and another for kids. You better believe I got my hands on one.

Later on, I had the amazing opportunity of attending the Saltire Society Literary Awards Shortlist announcement at Waterstones in Princes Street. These awards celebrated Scottish literature and the publishers behind them. During this event, the nominees for the various categories were unveiled, a small excerpt was read for a few of the books, and wine was shared.

A very pleasant surprise was finding out about SYP (Society of Young Publishers) Scotland. This is an organization that works throughout the UK to support new publishers entering the industry. They’ve organized gatherings such as the socials where students and professionals alike have the opportunity to chat and network. Other events were the 6×6 with PublishEd, Inclusivity in Children’s Publishing, and the Christmas Party where guests speakers would share their experiences and current work in the publishing industry.

This Is It! Literary Cabaret took the attendees on a 90-minutes run-through of the literary highlights of 2017 regarding publishing, festivals, libraries, writer, and more. Some of the speakers included award-winning poet William Letford, Francis Bickmore form Canongate Book, and best-selling author Louise Welsh.

On a bigger scale and for extended dates, we had the Edinburgh Book Festival, “the largest public celebration of the written word in the world” according to their website. More than 1,000 writers and thinkers gather for this festival. Then there was the Radical Book Fair which is Edinburgh’s alternative, independent, and entirely bookshop run flee market of books and ideas. It included over 80 stalls and various guest speakers. Book Week Scotland ran on an even bigger scale having activities and lectures in different cities in Scotland.

Furthermore, there are book launches and author signing events taking place frequently at various bookshops. And if you want to mix literature and history, a number of literary tours are available in Edinburgh that will take you around town to places of literary significance or you could visit the coffee shop where JK Rowling wrote part of Harry Potter. (That’s The Elephant House in case you’re interested.)

Coming from a country that’s a clear contrast, it’s been a welcomed surprise moving to a city that avidly celebrates and shares its love for literature. It has reaffirmed my decision to go forward with my publishing masters and nurtured my love for books. In the recipe for publishing, Edinburgh definitely is the secret ingredient that makes it all even better.


-Damarys S. Campos

A Shot at Mailshot


An opportunity to help with a mailshot at Floris Books was offered to me and the invitation to get paper cuts whilst stuffing envelopes was surprisingly appealing. This could have had something to do with my passion for children’s books and my excitement to see the insides of a working children’s publishing house. Floris Books publish in two main areas; they are the largest children’s book publisher in Scotland and have an adult non- fiction list that harks back to the publisher’s origins. Their Kelpies imprint specialises in children’s books with Scottish themes, authors and illustrators. A few members of the Floris sales and marketing team came and spoke to us at Napier, so from the knowledge of the publishing house and having heard from the friendly team, I was delighted to spend an afternoon with them.

What stood out to me as I arrived at the cosy office was the friendly and welcoming environment. There was bunting strung up around the lively open-plan office and colleagues were in quiet discussion. The different teams, editorial, production, sales and marketing, were grouped around the office, able to focus on their own tasks but just as able to call over and discuss with each other. I was introduced to the small, efficient team and was made to feel very welcome for the afternoon ahead.

With a cup of tea to sip on, I helped one of the girls from sales and marketing with the mailshot. Armed with boxes of catalogues, an array of envelopes and an organised mailing system we set to filling the orders. I was delegated the overseas orders and was astounded by how far and wide the catalogues were going; from the USA to Singapore to Australia. Their mailing list consisted of faithful customers and suppliers, some of which I recognised from discussions in class, such as Gardeners Books wholesalers. Along with the Floris Books and Kelpies catalogues, we were sending out folders of AI sheets. Having worked on my own AI sheet as a class project, I felt proud that I could take a peek at these with an informed opinion and knowledge. The AI sheets were sent to suppliers and retailers who would be interested in knowing more about the books featured in the catalogues. What also stood out to me was that in November the publishers were sending out spring/summer catalogues. This demonstrated the organisation and constant forward thinking that publishers need, to stay relevant and responsive to their markets. This organisation was seen even down to sizing the envelopes so that postal expenses were kept to a minimum.

As we were filling and sealing envelopes I was able to pick their brains and ask any question that popped into mine. As we made our way through the orders, different questions arose that enabled me to understand the operations and processes of the house. I asked about whether their content was selected through commissions or submissions and I was told that actually most of Floris’ books are from translations that they buy the rights to at fairs. I also got an insight into the roles that the sales and marketing team perform. It became clear that ‘Marketeers’, as they like to call themselves at Floris Books, are required to turn their hands to many tasks and skills. As I have heard from many speakers there is no one route to a career in publishing, and the staff at Floris Books all have their own unique journeys to working there. It was apparent that all teams in the office come together on many tasks and projects and that there is also a lot of crossover between roles. I was also told, and was thankful to hear, that there is a lot of learning on the job. I truly believe that I will learn so much from experiencing and working in publishing houses through placements. I am determined to make the most of any opportunities, no matter how big or small, offered to me, where I can meet people in the industry and see for myself how it all works.

This experience with Floris Books enhanced a lot of the aspects of publishing I have learnt about through the Masters at Napier. It was an invaluable opportunity to speak to a member of a children’s publishing house and see how even a small part of the job, like mailshotting, can be revealing and educational in how a publisher operates. Through being able to ask questions, not only did I get valuable insights into this publisher’s processes and demands, but also realised how my own knowledge and understanding of the industry has grown significantly since undergoing my Masters; I was considering aspects of publishing that before studying at Napier, would not have occurred to me. My afternoon at Floris Books and first shot at a mailshot was highly enjoyable, in meeting the team and getting a glimpse at a working children’s publishing house.

The PPA Support

One of the most important reasons I chose Edinburgh Napier University’s MSc Publishing course was because of its close association with the Professional Publishers Association (PPA). Being the voice of professional publishers for decades now, PPA supports various companies from consumer magazines publishers, customer magazine publishers to smaller independent publishers within the UK’s publishing sector. They also provide the members with vital information, data and research alongside helping those who are new in the publishing industry. Most of all, PPA provides its members, industry professionals, newcomers and even students the much-needed networking opportunity which allows for the exchange of ideas and on which the publishing industry thrives. One of the biggest challenges initially faced by students and other new entrants in the publishing industry is certainly ‘Networking’ at the professional events. It does seem daunting at first but in fact, people from the industry gladly meet students and are encouraging and willing to extend support. They tell us about their jobs and experience, offer advice and answer any questions we might have. For an instance, DC Thomson’s Sally Hampton was of great help to me in my case study for the Publishing in Context module.

Events, the professional ones or semi-formal ones like a book signing event, author talk, books launches or launch parties are appropriate platforms for networking and the first event, which we publishing students attended, was the Magfest. It was organised by the PPA and Edinburgh Napier University was one of its sponsors and supporters.

Magfest is Scotland’s biggest magazine event, which attracts magazine publishers, students, enthusiasts, and publishing professionals. The theme for 2017 was Heroes and Visions and there were talks by Ian Rankin, Alex Miller, the Executive Creative Director of Vice UK, Zillah Byng-Thorne, the Chief Executive of Future Plc, Paul McNamee, the Chair of PPA Scotland and the Editor of Big Issue amongst others inspiring speakers. Also, there were workshops such as ‘Get Your Hands on Trail- Blazing Magazines’ by Neil Braidwood, ‘Sign me up: Subscriptions in an Online World’ by Luise Mulholland, ‘From Print to Live’ by Simone Baird and a panel discussion on ‘Audiences of the Future.’ Founders of new magazines like Boom Saloon, Marbles and Word-O-Mat introduced their magazines as well. The day before was the Magfest pre-event, The Fringe where Paul McNamee interviewed Lucy Cave, Editor-in-chief of Heat. Attending such an event in the very first month of the course was much beneficial as it gave us an insight into the industry of which now we are part.

More recently, in November 2017, PPA Scotland organised The Scottish Magazine Awards. A true celebration of Scotland’s magazine industry, it was hosted by BBC Scotland’s Judith Ralston and the judging panel composed of some of the biggest names in the publishing industry like Wired’s Andrew Diprose, Diane Kenwood from Time Inc, Matt Phare from Shortlist, Sally Hampton from DC Thomson and Heather McLaughlin from Pinpoint Scotland to name a few. Prices were awarded for Brand Extension, Columnist, Business and Professional Magazine Designer, Newspaper Supplement, Member Magazine, Feature Writer, Sales Performance, Social Media Campaign etc.
The PPA also helps foster and advance careers by including categories such as New Launch, Rising Star, Small Publishing Company Magazine and Young Journalist. They are not only encouraging but also paving a way for the new entrants and small-scale businesses.

The attendees of the professional yet glamorous awards nights were the hotshots of the industry. Thanks to PPA Scotland, we were given a chance to attend and the experience was truly wonderful. It was remarkable to note that although the people present were essentially competitors, yet at the same time were extremely supportive of each other.

Publishing is an industry where maintaining relationships is imperative, be it with agents, author, readers and other publishers and PPA does a brilliant job of bringing people together and works to ensure that the industry as a whole prospers. The contribution it has made so far and which the organisation will continue to make in the future is invaluable and as a student, someone who is relatively new to the industry, it is assuredly reassuring to know and see the Professional Publishers Association acting as a guardian.