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.

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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.

Featured in this post:

@SYPScotland 

@SYP_UK

@KT_CHAR_ELL

My Twitter: @kiiimberellla

 

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”