Postgraduate Publishing studies at Edinburgh Napier University. INDUSTRY APPROVED Publishing degrees (accredited by the Professional Publishers Association and Creative Skillset). MSc Publishing was the first Publishing programme in the UK to be accredited by the Professional Publishers Association (PPA). It is now accredited by Creative Skillset (only one of two courses to hold this award). MSc Magazine Publishing is the only course of its kind in Scotland and is the only publishing course in the UK to be accredited by the PPA. The PPA is the lead body for best practice in training, development and people management for the magazine and business media industry.
One aspect that I have been very eager to learn about during my time on this Publishing MSc has been the area of independent publishers. How do they differ from their larger competitors? And how do they thrive?
In January of this year, I was lucky enough to be taken on as an intern for Muddy Pearl, an Edinburgh-based publisher that print “books that are true to Scripture and to the Spirit.” They produce high-quality titles by key Christian writers who are experts in their fields and write with a genuine insightfulness; navigating the reader through modern life. I have been encouraged to read their backlist titles and have loved seeing the breadth of topics covered.
A lot of my workload consists of helping with marketing, which I have thoroughly enjoyed as I have gained very practical experience in how publishers generate interest and sales from books. Rather than a scatter-gun approach, marketing materials such as AIs and press releases are focused and tailored to individual parties. Invariably, it was here that a positive response was received, and I have learnt the benefit of finding a common ground with the recipient in order to stand out in their inbox!
Also, I have proofread titles with a marketing focus in mind, looking to see where there are opportunities to collaborate with others and find ‘hooks’ with which to catch readers’ interest. I have learnt a lot from this, as even at the initial stages of editing, the publisher is thinking “How can I sell this?” Given the topical nature of Muddy Pearl’s titles, this was not too difficult, but I’ve realised that a good understanding of your customer’s profile is essential.
Consequently, in growing my knowledge of how we market books, Muddy Pearl’s personal and well-researched approach has struck me as a very effective way of bypassing larger companies and aiming their titles towards an engaged audience. My placement at Muddy Pearl has been a brilliant opportunity to learn first-hand how an independent publisher thrives in this environment and it has cemented even more my wish to work in this area!
When you want to get your foot in the door of an industry, it’s often advised that you carry out a substantial period of work experience with an appropriate company; undertaking an internship not only allows you to experience first-hand, the environment you hope to someday work in, but it also looks great on your CV. However, the prospect of working unpaid for a length of time can be incredibly daunting and this is why it’s particularly important the company you’re working for recognises that and does everything they can to help you in other ways.
When I responded to Fledgling’s advert for Editorial work experience, I was not initially aware of what the working hours would be, I just knew that I wanted to apply and if successful, do everything I could to commit to the hours asked of me. I’d been aware of the publisher beforehand and admired their commitment to publishing debut authors as much as possible.
‘Fledgling Press are an independent publisher in Edinburgh, committed to publishing work by debut authors, emerging talent and new voices in the literary world.’
They also state on their website that they ‘have a healthy intern programme where [interns] don’t just have to make the tea.’ I in no way expected to be successful, having (I’ll admit) missed my initial interview slot because I went to the entirely wrong address. So, after the rescheduled interview and heading home annoyed at myself, I was shocked and delighted when Clare Cain emailed me to offer me the placement.
What I want to share the most about my experience so far is how completely and utterly accommodating and understanding Clare has been from the outset. When she emailed me offering me the position, she stated that it would be around six months long (February to September), but that the hours were one day a week on Wednesdays, 9:30am-3:30pm, 45-minute lunch break inclusive. That though the placement itself is unpaid, travel expenses would be taken care of and that come September, if I don’t want to leave or am looking for a job and feel it beneficial to stay, then I certainly can.
In addition to this flexibility, on a weekly basis Clare asks me how my course is going, what my workload is like and if I’d rather not come in the following week in order to focus on my studies. Though I have not yet felt the need to take any time off, it is incredibly comforting to know that I need only phone in, to let Clare know I won’t be able to make it, and that it would truly be okay.
Fledgling Press is run from Clare’s home in Portobello, by herself, husband Paul and designer Graham. Myself, Clare and a fellow intern spend our Wednesday’s sitting around the kitchen table, drinking copious amounts of tea (always offered to us by Clare) and trying our best not to get distracted by her beautiful dog, Charlie. Clare’s family are also often around, equally as welcoming as Clare, and with one daughter at university herself and another at the end of high school, it’s easy to relate and chat away about all our different career goals.
In terms of my involvement with the work itself, I cannot commend Clare enough for the access and control she gave me right from the beginning. On the first day, I was given login details to submissions, encouraged to turn down those I felt were better suited to a different publisher’s list, and to request the full manuscript of those I was interested in. At first, I was trepidatious about turning people down, reading as much as I could, convinced I would decide they were suited to us. Clare laughed nostalgically at this and assured me she was the same when she first started out. But that to keep up with the volume of submissions, you had to have the heart to say no and move on.
As Fledgling are a small, independent publisher, typesetting is done in-house, and I’ve had the opportunity to put the skills I’ve been learning in class to the test, sometimes even surprising myself when I’ve been able to show Clare something about InDesign she didn’t know. Though the role is Editorial, it has become clear to me that the roles are widely shared in a small publishing house and it’s all the more enjoyable for that. In my interview, I asked Clare what it is that makes someone really stand out to her, someone she can see going far in the industry, and she replied that an awareness of the industry as a whole is essential. It bodes well for someone to have an understanding of the areas outside of their own.
Though I could write forever about how much I’m enjoying my time there, I will say one more thing. The first full manuscript I worked on, where I carried out the final proof, was a genre I would never usually intend to read. However, I treated the writing with immediate respect and sat down, ready to pay full attention and to try to understand the author’s vision and world they had worked so hard to create. To say I was pleasantly surprised would be an understatement and I spent a great deal of time after, gushing to Clare about how much I loved it and how wonderful it was that I was one of the first people to ever see the work before it becomes a book.
I can assure you that travelling that little bit farther (really only a 30-minute bus journey from the city centre) to a little seaside town every Wednesday has been, and I’m sure will continue to be incredibly worth my time. I am learning so much from a powerhouse of a woman who has truly made Fledgling Press what it is today, and I feel nothing less than valued for the help I am able to give, as a complete beginner in this exciting, supportive and passionate industry that is publishing.
My placement took me down to the shore in Leith to Black & White Publishing. They are an independent publisher focusing predominantly on books with a Scottish interest. Their titles include both fiction and non-fiction and range from Young Adult to sports to true crime.
During my time there I had the opportunity to work on a number of different projects. I compiled links of reviews for use, updated social media, contacted customers, processed orders and sent out review copies. These tasks provided me the chance to witness a number of the ways in which publishers connect with their target audience to promote their books.
Having a keen interest in Editorial meant I was excited to hear that I would be able to read the unsolicited submissions that Black & White receive. Many publishers no longer accept these so it was a great opportunity to be able to do this!
I was also given the chance to proofread one of their upcoming titles, Knit Your Own Britain, the follow up to last year’s Knit Your Own Scotland. This was very different to any proofreading that I have done before as it was mostly knitting patterns which proved challenging but was an excellent opportunity to test myself!
Another exciting aspect for a book lover like me was that I was asked to read a number of upcoming books and I am really looking forward to seeing all of these projects when they are published later this year.
My time at Black & White was a great chance to apply the skills that I have gained as part of my MSc and put them to use in a publishing environment. I would highly recommend a placement with them and thank you to the team for having me!
If you want to find out more about Black & White Publishing you can visit their website, and follow them on Twitter and Facebook.
Every Thursday morning over the last three months I have stood alongside commuters, travellers and Scotrail staff on platform 15 at Waverley Station, waiting for the eight o’clock train to Glasgow. Once there, I would hurry across windy George Square and make my way to the office that Freight Books shares with its sister company Freight Design at 49/53 Virginia Street. Freight Books is a young indie publisher – only established as a business on its own in 2011 – with a backlist of eight titles and a number of novels, short story collections and poetry titles on its 2013 front list. However, Freight is probably best known in the literary scene for its biannual publication Gutter, a journal for new Scottish writing, which is edited by head publisher and director Adrian Searle.
I wanted to experience the publishing workplace at Freight because of the strong emphasis that the company puts on both beautiful design and editorial excellence, and also because I like the authors they publish. My main aim regarding the placement was to gain insight into a great range of publishing activity, and because Freight is a small press it was easy to get to know the publishing workflow through the variety of tasks that I came across here. Even though I was only in the office one day per week I could get a feel for the everyday business in a publishing house and follow the various steps towards the production of a book from manuscript submission to final cover design and promotional campaign. I got to experience that everyday promises new experiences and new challenges in a small place like Freight –‘monotony’ is definitely not part of the job description! One day I was reading a futuristic novel of a Glaswegian debut writer while on other days I was asked to research into a magazine column at the NLS or compile a database of independent bookshops in Scotland.
Next to offering me a fascinating, hands-on experience of several different areas of the publishing profession, my placement at Freight has helped me to gain skills and develop the proficiency and confidence needed in today’s publishing industry. If you want to know more about Freight Books visit their website: http://www.freightbooks.co.uk/ or follow them on twitter @FreightBooks