London Book Fair: A First Impression

A publishing student talks about her experience tackling #LBF18

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There has been a lot of talk, both in my classes and out of them in the last few months, about London Book Fair. Talk about how big it is, the idea that it might be overwhelming when you first see it, that there will be a lot of publishers there: not just from the UK but worldwide. Where will you stay? How long are you going for? What panels are you planning to go to? Which stalls do you want to visit? Do you have any meetings set up? No- do you?

Honestly by the time I got on the train last Monday morning I was sick to the back teeth of talking about London Book Fair (LBF). I just wanted to see it. Continue reading “London Book Fair: A First Impression”

Editorial Internship at Fledgling Press

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.

 

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Placement at Pain Concern

What a placement as an editorial assistant at charity, Pain Concern, looks like

For our MSc Publishing placement module, I decided to do something a bit different to working in a publishing house and applied to help out at a charity instead.

Pain Concern is a national charity that supports and informs people with pain and those who care for them – including loved ones, carers, and professionals. They do this by providing information through their website, podcasts, and information leaflets which circulate pain clinics around the UK. They also raise awareness about pain through Pain Education sessions and fundraising techniques, and campaign to improve the provision of pain management services.

My role in the charity is as an editorial assistant, and I was really keen to volunteer some of my skills that I have developed on the course to a charity which would really benefit from them.

In-house they are a small team, but this is fleshed out by the vast array of volunteers nation-wide who help out in whatever ways they can. On my first day, I arrived to find that they were extremely welcoming and made me feel comfortable straight away. I was also pleased to find that they wanted to push me into developing into new areas and gain more experience in a variety of ways and as far as I wanted. This included the possibility to write some press releases when they appeared. There was also the chance for me to develop my web skills through updating their website and finding ways to make the articles published on the website more discoverable.

Currently, my role entails transcribing their monthly podcasts and condensing them into a short blog article to publish regularly on their website. This means I have to work closely with the trustees to ensure the articles meet The Information Standard quality checks and disseminate the correct medical information as this is so important for the patients and carers reading them. I also monitor emails and check in with the transcribers and listeners of the podcasts to relay when a new podcast is coming out, and to make sure that they send in their transcriptions to be published on the website, too. In addition to this, I will be helping the team ensure that their current and upcoming publications also adhere to The Information Standard and achieve the Crystal Mark for quality, which is one of the most important jobs.

Luckily, I had the opportunity to meet the trustees in person. Visits from the trustees don’t happen too often since they have to travel from all over the UK. The fact that they braved the ‘Beast from the East’ to be there that day proved their commitment to the charity and to those who rely on them, and I found that pretty inspiring. As well as the sandwiches, the staff meeting was thoroughly enjoyable. I got to sit in and hear about all the developments within the charity and the office itself, and to learn about the ways they will continue to grow in the coming months. This was exciting! I was encouraged to give feedback and it was nice to feel that even though I was so new, my views were still appreciated and even wanted.

Overall, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my experience at Pain Concern – so much so that I will probably stay on as a volunteer after this module has ended. I’ve learnt new skills and enhanced the ones that I brought with me to the charity, and I’m hugely grateful to the team for letting me join in on all the great work that they do!

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Images © Pain Concern

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.

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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.

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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Reflections on a Live Project: Making Siren Magazine

This year I have taken part in the Magazine Publishing module as part of my MSc in Publishing. For this trimester, the Magazine Publishing module has been revamped at Edinburgh Napier University.

Instead of the whole class working on one magazine project together, as they did previously, we were told we could pick our own production teams of between four and five people. These small groups would lead the design, project management and editing of a whole magazine each. Every Thursday, our class sat in the Edinburgh Napier publishing computer labs which functioned in a way akin to a little magazine publishing house for the day.

While this may sound terrifying, my personal experience was quite the opposite as I had the opportunity to work with three fantastic and charismatic classmates. Jackie, Ann and Hannah were my dream team in many ways. We worked very well together because though we are all very different, we are also good friends who are very much on the same page, excuse the publishing pun.

There was nothing but good spirit and determination in our team throughout the project, as we decided to be strong-willed, level-headed women with a dream of creating a magazine that would inspire other women’s voices through its content. Thus, Siren Magazine was born!

Creating a magazine from scratch is something that very few people ever have the opportunity to do. Even those who have worked in magazine publishing for years will usually find themselves working with publications that already exist in some form, andsiren cover while working in this way can often be just as incredible, there is something very special about seeing your own idea go from concept to creation right before your eyes.

At the beginning of the trimester, our little team had a lot of fun spending a day sitting in a coffee shop thinking of names and concepts for our magazine. In a year as stressful as one spent pursuing a Masters’ degree, that is a day that sticks out as one full of team spirit, ideas and probably a little too much laughter…which soon became the coping mechanism for our team of witty women.

We decided that day that it would mean a lot to us to create most of the content by ourselves. As a result, we put a lot of ourselves and our individual personal interests into the magazine. This can be seen in the tone of the design and content, as well as in Hannah’s talent for photography, which was put to good use!

It was an extremely unique and challenging experience to put together a real publication with three inspiring classmates, and have it end up as a professional publication and viable publishing portfolio piece. I really like the way our resulting magazine shows how people of different backgrounds and interests can create a coherent publication together in the way that we did. I am especially proud of Siren’s cover, which is an empowering photograph our team took in relation to an article we wrote about the laws surrounding online facilitated sexual violence in Scotland.

Working on spreads and designs for the magazine really improved our technical skills, and through several copy editing sessions and “urgent” moments of changing proofs, we really got to experience the demands and high pressure environment of magazine publishing.

During the project I also had the opportunity to design the magazine’s website and manage several social media accounts to promote it. While our main focus was on print, an online presence is something we knew our magazine would really benefit from. This experience provided me with skills transferable to many other publishing areas too.

At the point of writing this, Siren has been sent off to the printers and our team are waiting the infamous wait that all publishers must at some point experience.

To find out more about our magazine you can catch all our content in the coming weeks over at sirenpublication.wordpress.com.

My Placement with Jennie Renton

This trimester, I am working with Jennie Renton as an editorial intern. As most of us who now belong to Edinburgh’s book world will probably already know, Jennie can be found in Main Point Books, one of West Port’s eclectic and exciting second-hand bookshops. An admirable multi-tasker, one of Jennie’s many roles is freelance editing in the offices at the back of her quirky shop.

Working with Jennie has been an ideal opportunity for me for many reasons. At the beginning of the internship, we got together to speak about my interests and how they may align with editorial projects she is interesting in working on. Keeping my passions relevant has always been important to me, and it soon appeared my interest in social activism and community work linked up with a local history project that Jennie is working on. Without further ado we began our adventure in planning a new book together.

This is a project Jennie is obviously very passionate about, so I was quite daunted at first. After a few weeks, however, I began to feel at ease and more confident that this is a project I could be helpful with, and certainly one I could be passionate about.

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The ever-changing window display at Main Point Books

My work so far has included researching and reading through archives relevant to central Edinburgh’s history, conducting interviews, and editing and transcribing voice recordings. As the weeks go on, I will hopefully play a role in planning the book layout itself.

It has been an extremely interesting project for me personally, as well as a productive learning experience. I’m not from Edinburgh, though I have fallen in love with this city, so it has also been a great way for me to become closer with the history and community of this fantastic place that has taken me into its arms.

The location of Jennie’s offices is my favourite thing about this placement. I have always loved nothing more than being lost in a bookshop and no better place for a book lover than Main Point Books. It’s a place I wandered into on the first week I moved to Scotland last August, and where I picked up a number of obscure Woolfian works that I had not been able to find elsewhere. Needless to say, it’s been a favourite ever since!

Seeing Jennie manage the shop along with many other tasks has been particularly interesting for me, as a person who would like to dabble in several different areas of publishing and book selling. There’s always a story to be told about the eccentric characters who come into Jennie’s shop, and the interesting books they buy and sell there. With her clever wit and impressive amount of experience, the greatest character is probably Jennie herself and she has a lot of wisdom and witticisms to impart on any budding young publisher. She’ll be sure to send you on your way with a smile on your face at the end of the day.

I would recommend an internship with Jennie Renton to anyone interested in gaining first hand experience of original and challenging publishing projects. This placement is especially relevant to anyone hoping to become more involved in the book world of central Edinburgh, and gather an insight into the Edinburgh publishing scene.