Nerdism, Escapism and Low-Quality Entertainment – A Fantasy Reader’s Foray Into the Publishing Industry

I’ve been a great admirer of the fantasy genre ever since my mother first read Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” to me back when I was still a wee bairn (as they say in this beautiful country).

Growing up, I had a lot of friends who shared my enthusiasm; not all of them identifying as “geeks” or “nerds”, who are often stereotypically associated with fantasy literature. While not everyone enjoyed those strange tales about magical objects, far away countries and foreign creatures, it was never something I felt the need to keep a secret. It was merely regarded a matter of literary preference or personal taste.

So when I walked into class on my very first day at uni (probably wearing a Lord of the Rings jumper or something of the kind), I was quite surprised to discover that being a recipient of fantasy literature was a seemingly shameful thing to be as a “serious” member of the publishing industry.
Words like “escapism” and “low-quality entertainment” were uttered by both my Book Studies peers as well as my tutors, and I quickly realised that most of them had never even read a fantasy novel.

Rather than continuing what seemed like a fruitless debate, I decided to choose an academic approach (this was uni after all, not a high school playground) and dedicated numerous term papers and essays to my cause.
Tolkien himself had addressed the issue in a number of academic papers such as his essay “On Fairy Stories”, which proved to be most insightful.

At the same time I began to wonder whether that view was specific to my course, or the German publishing industry in general.
Science Fiction and Fantasy literature makes up roughly 5,9% of the German book market (2014), which may not be a very impressive number, but is still the equivalent of several thousand new titles per annum – titles that have to be published by people who do not share the opinion of my Book Studies peers.

The question was: Where were they and where did they come from?

I decided to continue my research and found Frankfurt Book Fair to be one of the most peculiar events imaginable.

Unlike London Book Fair, it is open to the public and has become an annual gathering of CosPlay enthusiasts who use it to honour their favourite writers by dressing up as their beloved fictional characters – something I had always enjoyed doing myself.
But all of a sudden I found myself caught between two worlds: The grateful fan who came to honour the artist’s work vs. the Book Studies student who was on a mission to secure a job and gather relevant information.
The irony was – in a lot of ways it was a typical fantasy novel situation.
Choose to keep or destroy the ring. There was no middle way. All of a sudden I had to live in fear of Elric of Melniboné (one of my preferred costume choices) having an encounter with the editor of Rowohlt (one of the most renowned publishing companies out there). Or worse: a tutor.

When I moved to Edinburgh to study publishing, I was a lot more wary of people’s reactions and opinions, but to my great surprise they were a lot more open-minded. Whether this is due to the great success of Scottish works such as Harry Potter I do not know, but it filled me with hope.
I was also very much surprised to discover that quite a few talks at London Book Fair were dedicated to fantasy-related topics, and while the opening statement of the person giving the talk on “RPGs – The Quest for the Real Fantasy” (“I don’t really know anything about RPGs”) may not have been terribly encouraging, I am beginning to think that I may have finally found a place where I can be both – a publisher and a fantasy reader.
 

 

Live Publishing Project: Turadh

Since January, I have been part of a wonderful group who have been working hard over the last few months to get Turadh, an ethical and wellbeing magazine based in Edinburgh, ready for publication. This experience has been incredibly worthwhile and not only will we soon have the first issue as a physical copy, but it has also helped open my eyes to another side of publishing.

At the beginning of the Publishing MSc at Edinburgh Napier University, when I thought of a career in publishing: I thought of books. Magazines weren’t something I had ever considered, despite spending a small fortune on them every month. However, within the first day of the course we had already been given the opportunity to attend MagFest, the international magazine festival held in Edinburgh, later in the month. Fast forward a few months to where we were given a choice in modules, and I immediately chose the newly structured Magazine Publishing option. So, why the change in heart?

The Magazine Publishing module now gives students the opportunity to work in a much smaller group than previous years, meaning we would have a more practical experience creating our own magazine. The Turadh team is made up of five students, meaning that we were all able to pitch in and got more of an opportunity to improve upon the technical skills that we had built in the first trimester of the course. Our small group now have experience creating a layout for a magazine, checking resolution of images, communicating with collaborators, and editing content so that it suits a house style, among other skills.

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Given that one of the aims for Turadh was to give local artists and businesses a platform to showcase their work, the fact that we have been able to use content from so many amazing local contributors has been unbelievably exciting. Seeing how this magazine has transformed from obscure ideas of pastel theme colours to a magazine full of recipes, guides to the city of Edinburgh, and much more, has been such a rewarding and educational experience.

I will soon be beginning a placement at Foodies magazine in Edinburgh, an exciting opportunity that the Magazine Publishing module has helped me to prepare for: both with technical skills and also with the experience our team now have in working with collaborators, such as illustrators and writers. The skills I have learned creating Turadh have been vital in acquiring this placement and have also opened my eyes to the magazine publishing industry, and the opportunities it presents.

To get a sneak peek of our magazine and for any updates on publication details, you can visit turadhmag.wordpress.com

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.

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!

Publishing Scotland Conference 2017: An Overview

It’s been 24 hours since the Publishing Scotland Conference left me equally overwhelmed and excited by my chosen career path so I hope this overview will give people who weren’t fortunate enough to attend a taste of what the day was like.

After a welcome from Publishing Scotland, the Booksellers Association and Jenny Brown of Jenny Brown Associates, the day started with a key note speech from Barry Cunningham . Not only do I hope to work in children’s/YA publishing one day, but I am a long-time fan of Chicken House. I was all ears on the necessity for fueling “book growth by providing a wider variety of book of all kinds” and how readers can discover these books. ‘Book huggers’ became an integral part of my vocabulary and Barry’s business card a coveted addition to my wallet.

Next came a statistical breakdown of 2015/16 retail market trends courtesy of Nielsen BookScan data, and while your eyes may have glazed over just reading that sentence, believe me it was one of the highlights of the day. Who would have thought there was a marriage to be made between David Bowie and bar charts? Steve Bohme for one (apparently it was Star Wars last year!)

Sam Eades, Editorial Director at Orion Books, shared her innovative ideas for creating debut novel buzz without the benefit of a big publicity and marketing budget. With materials even Blue Peter might struggle to craft together, she revealed the roles a dismembered mannequin and Portsmouth bus lane played in two successful campaigns. She also stressed the importance of spear-heading trends, from psychological thrillers to cosy crime; and of recognising the opportunity for partnerships – even if those opportunities come in the form of two ice sculptors. After all, “publicists are great blaggers.”

I gained a whole new appreciation of the art of the book cover from the Creative Director at Penguin Random House, Suzanne Dean, whose journey between the hardback and paperback editions of Paul Kalanithi’s, When Breath Becomes Air, was paved by 70 rejected covers. And I’ll never look at the negative space and allusions of Haruki Murakami’s covers the same way now that I know a little of the complicated effort masquerading as the effortlessly simple.

When it comes to working better with authors (and selling more books), Lucinda Byatt from the Society of Authors reminded us that, despite falling advances and royalties, “authors remain the only essential part in the creation of a book.” How must it make them feel to often earn less than their editor?

We heard from the front lines in sales and bookselling where the successful bookstores are the ones with “experiential content that’s not available on the internet”, Kevin Ramage, The Watermill: “booksellers that diversify … throw in a bit of coffee … offer as much as possible to the customers”, Sabrina Maguire, Bright Red Publishing.

For my elective breakout session I was glad to have chosen to learn from Eleanor Collins, Senior Commissioning Editor at Floris Books, about editing narrative openings (but sad to miss out on the three other workshops that sounded equally fascinating). With the “artifice of the narrative most evident in the beginning” and a tendency for authors to begin the story before the action, editors can choose to alter the structure, chronology and/or voice. In other words (Eleanor’s words): start with the Ballroom instead of the Country Walk; or reference it and the Conversation during the preparation for the ball.

One of the most inspiring parts of the day, however, was an introduction to OWN IT!, London from founder, Crystal Mahey-Morgan. Crystal’s goal is to tell stories using books, music, fashion and film, starting with the multimedia book, Don’t Be Alien. Above all I respected her recognition that we have to see the commercial viability of diverse authors instead of just the moral necessity.

With people and pioneers like these, I’m happy to say that the future of the book does not look as bleak as it is often believed to be. Many thanks to Publishing Scotland for making the MSc Publishing students of Edinburgh Napier Universirty so welcome.

In conclusion, prep your calendars for 2018 and place your bets on who/what Steve Bohme will use to front his market data next time.

 

By Kellie Jones

Interning With Four Letter Word

When the opportunity to intern for a start-up arose, I knew I had to take it.

TwoCoversDuring the second trimester of my MSc Magazine Publishing course, the creators of new Four Letter Word came to speak at Edinburgh Napier. When the opportunity to intern for a start-up arose, I knew I had to take it.

Before coming to Edinburgh Napier University to pursue my MSc in magazine publishing, I worked as an associate editor for a B2B publishing company in the United States. Prior to that, I did several internships at various consumer and trade publishing companies. They all had one thing in common – that was that they had been in business for decades.

There are lots of pros to being with a longstanding, established company, of course, of which I won’t go into detail.

But the defined structure that exists and helps a company to thrive also presents a few challenges for a newcomer. Continue reading “Interning With Four Letter Word”