SYP Scotland October 2017 Event: PublishEd

Posted on November 1, 2017 in Scotland

For our October event, the Society of Young Publishers joined forces with PublishEd, The University of Edinburgh’s creative writing and publication society, to host our publishing 6×6 event. Six speakers from six different departments in the publishing industry gave us a whirlwind tour of the industry from idea through to putting the book in people’s hands.

Speakers who joined us were:

  • Rosie Howie – Publishing Manager – Bright Red Publishing (Editorial)
  • Laura Jones – Publishing Director – 404 Ink (Production)
  • Jamie Norman – Campaigns Assistant – Canongate (Marketing & Publicity)
  • Vikki Reilly – Sales Manager – Birlinn (Sales)
  • Janne Moller – Rights Manager – Black & White Publishing (Rights)
  • Mairi Oliver – Owner and bookseller – Lighthouse Bookshop (Bookseller)


“The writing and perfection of words.”
Rosie Howie works for educational publisher Bright Red – having been with the company for a few years, she currently works as Publishing Manager, overseeing the editorial process on their titles. “The idea sparks the whole process,” she says. Particularly in educational publishing where you’re not commissioning a completed manuscript, editorial work is “the writing and perfection of words.”

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The process itself involves taking the manuscript as a first draft, dealing with a back and forth between the author to get it into tip-top shape. Editorial is where you perfect the writing and make it the best it can possibly be. You’ll make it work to the company’s house style, and subject it to several proof reads where possible. At every stage of the process, even after the final manuscript is done and it goes to production, errors can creep in, so the more eyes on it to catch mistakes, the better.

But editorial is more than just a love of words, and shaping them into a more polished book. Editors have to consider the market in their acquisition – this is her experience in educational publishing but applies across the board. You can’t publish something purely because you want to; it has to make money, it has to fit in somewhere. Timing needs to be right – particularly in educational publishing, you could be dealing with Curriculum changes and literally can’t publish something as it will be out of date months down the line. You need to really believe in it, that it’s fit for purpose or that you can make others passionate about the book – why would people care in the book if you don’t?

And relationships are key. You’ll be working closely with your authors and at times passing on comments and edits for their manuscript that might not be what they want to hear. You need to be able to work with people. Taking a manuscript from its initial form, working with authors, and making it the best version of itself is an absolute joy and one Rosie definitely recommends following if your passions lie in editorial.


“It’s one of the first things you experience as a reader.”
Laura Jones’ route through the industry is different; she’s never actually worked in a full production team, she’s instead a freelancer, and discovered her knack for production while working as an editorial and marketing assistant with independent publisher Saraband. Why does production matter? “It’s one of the first things you experience as a reader.” Before you read a single word, you open the page and if it’s bad – you notice. Why does that margin look a bit funny? Oh, I can read this e-book! Good production means you open a book and don’t think twice about what you’re looking at. It’s clean, legible, and easy to dive straight into. She cites Barrington Stoke, the publisher for reluctant readers who have developed their own more legible font, as a shining example of attention to production detail.

Editorial isn’t the only detail-oriented part of publishing, production is full of them. Whether it’s typesetting or laying out publications, or creating e-books, there are many points where errors can creep in and so it becomes vital for production to keep on top of them.  Her biggest mistake was one case where she tried to tweak the italics in a book; she accidentally deleted them all.

One pro-tip: never use the search and replace function on a full manuscript. One famous case is a book who tried to replace Americanisms by changing ‘pants’ to ‘trousers’, resulting in… particitrousers.

She shared a look inside some of the work she’s done with 404 Ink, displaying Nasty Women as an e-book without her formatting (spoiler: it’s ugly), and some of the more complex layouts she’s gone on to do. This is largely self-taught, but an absolutely vital part of the process.  Production is often forgotten about but Laura urges people to consider it – you get to shape the book and the reader’s experience from the first page.


“The art of getting the book seen.”
Jamie Norman begins by explaining that Marketing & Publicity “is the art of getting the book seen”. Interviews, events, proofs – everything you work on is essentially to get the book in front of people and shout ‘Buy this!’.  He begins with a recent email that Canongate received pitching a book that they posted online – it was a one-liner about the book being a masterpiece and showing disregard for the publishing process. It had no soul; if they didn’t care, why would a publisher?

Pitching is absolutely key in this role. A good pitch needs a strong hook, tailored approach and a clear passion for what you’re talking about; you also need to know who you’re pitching to and convince them that your books are worth their time. Jamie shares some of the people they work with in terms of marketing: Mumsnet, NetGalley, GoodReads, Love Reading – every campaigns worker needs to build strong contacts.

The goal is to reinforce the fact that your books are out there (and that they’re brilliant!). You’ll be balancing schedules – this includes multiple publication schedules, and the varying lead times of pitching to TV, radio, print press, online press, bloggers and more. Pitching can occur in-person and via email – relationships and a solid understanding of the media landscape are key, whether daily newspapers or niche reporting for even more niche titles. Ultimately, it’s getting people’s eyes on your books.

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Canongate in particular use their socials to further spread the word of books – take Tom Gauld’s recent Baking With Kafka. They ran many simultaneous campaigns, one of which was to win an illustration of yourself by Tom. His press release is also eye-catching, with the author having illustrated it himself to stand out from the rest. Whether it’s press releases, tweets, or London Underground posters, you need to engage your reader, and hook them onto your books.


“You’re at the centre of everything.”

Working in sales, explains Vikki, basically involves talking about books you love to booksellers, who love books as much as you do. You need to know every title inside out – their selling points, where they fit, what the person you’re pitching too will be most likely to like.  It’s not hard to sell someone what they want.

In sales, you’re at the centre of everything in the publishing house. You’ll be a spreadsheet savant, and you’ll know how much each book is selling, where they’re selling and when. You’ll have the direct contacts with the frontline of booksellers who can let you know first hand why some books are doing better or worse than expected. If you want to know the publishing industry, work in sales. It bleeds into every department – you’ll need to know if any area of the process is slipping back in time, and adjust pitching and information accordingly.

The industry has changed since she began, with everyone pitching more books for less shelf space. You need to be clear and concise on why your books deserve their spot on the shelf. Ultimately, when you’re in sales you’re the biggest cheerleader of books.  You love and champion your books. If you’re not excited, no one else will be. You’re always keeping an eye out on where they can sell, who might be interested in your books, and how they are doing.

If a sales person says “I can’t sell that book”, they’re doing it wrong. Every title Vikki gets, she questions, “How can I sell that book?” and then gets to work on doing just that.


“The best job in the world.”

Janne doesn’t want to tell people why her job is great, because it’s in fact the “best job in the world” and she would like to keep it secret. Working in rights, Janne’s role is to sell translations, audio rights and the like to publishers internationally to raise more money from their titles and get their authors’ work to more readers across the world.

Relationships are vital. Janne’s contact book is her biggest resource – she has to know commissioning editors at every publisher she works with, every imprint of every larger publisher, agents and sub-agents world-over, and most importantly she’ll know what they like and what they’re likely to be looking for. Book Fairs are at the heart of the rights process, where she’ll have meetings from 9am-6pm every day solidly, meeting international publishers who might be interested in purchasing Black & White titles. Sub-agents are a particularly key relationship: they know different cultures and publishing climates and can better represent your  books in locations you’re less familiar with; literary scouts pick out books their clients are likely to want to buy the rights to.

Success in rights sales can tip books into new levels of success: the Did I Mention I Love You?trilogy has been sold into many different territories so far. Interestingly, covers don’t always travel – some adapt the original cover, others go for something entirely different as they know their territory best.

Rights is a job that involves a lot of travel and many meetings, a strong contact book and negotiations. You’ll have to develop a solid understanding of international publishers and their interests, the trends that your books can fit overseas, and most importantly you’ll make many key connections and contacts world-over to help your books reach more people.


“You can change [readers’] lives every day.”
Mairi Oliver, owner of Lighthouse Books (formerly Word Power), says if you’re lucky you’ll get to work as a bookseller, and if you’re the luckiest of all, you’ll get to run your own shop and work with books every day. Booksellers do a little bit of everything – they buy the books, they do sales displays, they host events, they tidy up. If you work in a bookshop, particularly an indie one, you’re part of the team and get involved in everything and “wear every hat under the sun”.

“Publishers are the gatekeepers, we are the interface,” she explains. Ultimately, they are there to curate. Mairi displays some catalogues she received from publishers and points out some flaws – 46 men vs 8 women in one; four white writers writing about colonialism. These are stories that need to be told, but she makes the conscious decision to find other people telling their own stories. She notes that the average white middle-class man can walk into any bookshop and feel at home – if you remove one of those tags, where do you go? Hopefully, she says, somewhere like Lighthouse Books. “That’s what Lighthouse wants to be.”

They curate lesser heard voices, important voices; they try to redress the imbalances they’re seeing across much of the industry. Mairi thought their YA section in particular did this well, but an intern pointed out many gaps. She saw this as an opportunity to learn and step up, rather than getting defensive. The shop is always growing for the better.

They are radical, and take representation seriously in both what they stock and the events they put on. Their Radical Book Fair (taking place in November – go!) is testament to this – people regularly say programming diversely is hard, but they’ve put in the work. To be a bookseller is to work on the frontline of publishing – you’ll see first hand what sells, you’ll know what people are into, why readers are or are not picking up certain books, you’ll know the displays that hook people in. You’re the final link the publishing chain, but you’re the biggest champions of books for the public.

“It’s the most rewarding job and you can change [readers’] lives every day by being the place they can go to.”
And finally…

Audience questions turn to networking – we’re not scary! Everyone has been new to the industry and we’re all ultimately winging it. Don’t worry about coming up with that killer question to lead with, just say hi. If all else fails, Twitter is a valuable resource and people start to recognise those who engage on there, which will filter back in to events. People will recognise you.

Do you need a degree to get into publishing? Those who did Publishing Masters courses admit that for them it was a game-changer, but ultimately it’s a case-by-case basis. Mairi and Vikki strongly underline the power of bookselling as a route into the industry, with many booksellers going on to work in publishing and bypassing the courses as their knowledge and experience in the role makes them equally, if not more, qualified.

The main take-away of the evening is simple: go for it! Explore your interests, find where your skills lie, and know that there are many different areas in the publishing industry for you to make your way in.