The Society of Young Publishers (SYP) Scotland held their second Scottish publishing conference in Central Hall, Edinburgh on Friday the 3rd of March. Its debut in 2016 was so popular that they decided to bring it back in 2017, bigger and better than before.
Keynote speaker Jenny Brown, of Jenny Brown Associates, took to the stage to give us young aspiring publishers a motivational, inspirational and very memorable speech. She started by describing the publishing industry at present as an “interesting and important field, at the best time in history.” I found the manner in which she discussed the differences between being labelled as a Scottish or UK Publisher of great interest. Branding a company as “Scottish” generally limits its reach of publication; Scottish publishers tend to only publish for a nation of 5 million, which is much smaller than that of the English book market, a nation of roughly 60 million people. Although, she mentions that regional books from publishers tend not to reach further than their region, Scotland and Scottish literature has international reach unlike other small nations. She claimed the reason behind Scotland’s wide reach is that “we can stand on the shoulders of those literary giants [like Stevenson, Scott and Burns] and share our voice to the world.”
In 2002 Jenny established her own literary agency, Jenny Brown Associates, which since then has become one of the UK’s leading literary agencies. She stressed the importance of passion and innovation to get ahead, “passion costs nothing, but counts for everything” and “making your voice heard, take risks and innovate.”
Jenny’s keynote speech was one of my personal highlights of the conference; she was truly inspiring to listen to, full of positive insight of the publishing industry. It is no wonder her writers think so highly of her, “you are really in a job of making dreams come true.”
The second event of the day was the The Brexit Questions Panel. Alby Grainger of comic store Little Shop of Heroes kicked off the Brexit debate, by describing the exit result for him as “catastrophic increase in costs.” Alby’s business mainly relies on imports from outside the UK, roughly 90% of his products are imported from US sources. Brexit was a nightmare for him, within 3 days of the result the cost to import products rose a staggering 26%, resulting in him having to let a member of staff go. Janet Archer, the chief executive of Creative Scotland, highlighted this growing anxiety on the topic of job security in light of this specific political decision. Derek Kenny, of UK printing company Bell & Bain, agreed that nationally there is currently a prominent theme of “uncertainty in an uncertain world”. He did however, mention that along with the negative implications there are also positive effects and opportunities being created within the UK, for instance larger UK publishers looking for a stable UK printer and distributor. Bell & Bain have witnessed a 9-11% growth in the last 3 years and are even considering crossing the Atlantic, to open an office in America. Timothy Wright of Edinburgh University Press, a wholly owned subsidiary of the University of Edinburgh, experienced a completely different impact from Ably at Little Shop of Heroes. EUP are mainly an export led business, with a significant amount of business in America, so since the Brexit result they witnessed a 20-25% increase in business, mostly due to the strength of the dollar and weakness of the pound. Gráinne Clear explained that post Brexit, disaster struck for Little Island Books, an Irish publishing company with a UK branch, which is apparently pretty common for Irish publishers, when they converted their pounds sterling into euros this resulted in a massive financial hit. Overall the general message of this panel was that quite honestly, no one has any idea on what to expect economically or socially, it’s just going to be a case of wait and see.
Another memorable feature was the Marketing 5 x 5 session which quite honestly was one of the most enjoyably parts of the SYP Scottish conference, apart from the free wine and pizza obviously. It wasn’t until I started the marketing module of my publishing postgrad that I started to find marketing of greater interest. Out of the panel of 5 marketing gurus, each demonstrated completely different and innovative whilst very successful campaigns. Unsurprisingly a prominent component in most was the importance of utilising social media, for not only the publisher but also the author’s online presence. Social media has become so important to marketing because it offers a free platform. It is quite common for most publishers to have little or no budget, so it is vital to achieve as far and wide a reach as possible. Flora Willis from Serpent’s Tail, an imprint of Profile Books, was in charge of marketing for the republication of Chris Klaus’s novel I Love Dick, which was originally published in American in 1997. Her campaign mainly consisted of grass roots marketing, with badges, stickers and of course #ilovedick on Twitter. Unsurprisingly Willis thinks the utmost and foremost important part of working in publishing, more specifically marketing, is to have and use a sense of humour when trying to engage with your audience, a sentiment that resonates throughout this particular campaign.
The Publishing 101 conference was packed full of industry insight and inspirational speakers. I would like to thank the SYP for organising and hosting this event. I walked away feeling happy, motivated and truly part of a community.
– by Ailsa Kirkwood