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visiting speaker

Between the Caribbean and the U.K.

December 11th, 2017 by Lucie Santos | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on Between the Caribbean and the U.K.
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“Create tastes rather than following them” Jeremy Poynting

The best part of being a small and independent publishing company based in Leeds with a special interest in poems and Caribbean literature is that they can create taste instead of following trends.

Jeremy Poynting introduced a poetry small press: the Peepal Tree Press where two people are involved in full-time supported by six part-time helpers. Their aim is to encourage the authors and work with professionals in order to have the books in the hands of the consumer. This is why, currently, they publish fiction, poetry and general academic titles. The key point is to encourage books to be accessible to a more general reader. They publish writing directly from the Caribbean and this makes them actually the biggest publishing house in the United Kingdom for Caribbean literature. They operate because books should make a difference and take part of a dialogue about society as they think the process of working with authors is important and they can afford to take their time.

Because they are helped with funds from the Arts Council, they do not need to be market oriented. One of the objectives is to have “Great Art for everyone”: they do not only publish books but they are involved in social media events and one important part of a cultural company is the connection with people. The objectives are different than a big publishing house; they cannot have economy of scale but they try to keep the backlist alive.

So, one huge value brought by an independent publisher is the capacity of doing new things even if the audience is limited for a poet. Besides, because they are outside of London, they can develop a very international target market. They want to bring international writing into the country and to print diversity literary travel.

The story began in a garage and crossed the sea to the Caribbean

The objective is not only selling books in the U.K. but also selling books in the Caribbean because they want to nurture the roots from which they are coming from. The Caribbean’s literature is an essential part of British and Scottish culture.

Why is the area producing a Nobel Prize but does not have a publishing industry developed?

Shivanee Ramlochan explains “It is really difficult to be published in the Caribbean”. It is hard to get recognition of your work, and even harder if you write poetry because poetry is not old in the Caribbean. She is a poet from Trinidad and she wants to learn publishing skills from manuscript to print books and eBooks. Now she would like to teach others back to the Caribbean.

The publishing sector in the Caribbean is focused only on two parts of the market: university presses and professional but not fiction. Moreover the market size is very little and the number of booksellers is very small. There are few proper bookstores, the products are more focused on Christian books and schoolbooks.

The publishing sector is living through history of colonialism and there are a few people interested in Jamaican books; in Grenada for instance. There is no distributor in the Caribbean and it is difficult to reach every single island coming from the others. They transit through Miami to go to others islands and there are no direct flights.

But Shivanee Ramlochan shows us that it is not impossible to write poetry and to be published.

“Books should make a difference and be part of a dialogue.” Jeremy Poynting

So what about discovering poetry from Caribbean ? It is also a way for us to remember all the links we have with the Caribbean people. They are part of European history, indeed not the easiest part we’d like to face.

By Lucie Santos

Visiting Speaker: Philippa Cochrane

March 31st, 2017 by shaunna_whitters | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on Visiting Speaker: Philippa Cochrane
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Call me biased but I believe every child should be read to from an early age. It’s fun, it’s key to development, it’s educational and it’s also a great way to establish relationships.

After today’s visiting speaker, I can’t highlight that enough. We were joined by Head of Reader Development at the Scottish Book Trust, Philippa Cochrane and I’ve never been so thankful for the support in Scotland for readers and writers.

Their main aim is to change lives through reading and writing with an incredible number of programmes such as Bookbug, Read Write Count, What’s Your Story and Reading People. It is obvious that the Scottish Book Trust are working hard to achieve this but Philippa was quick to point out one frightening fact: children who are not read to from an early age have a language deficit of 50,000 words compared to a child who is. It’s not meant to frighten parents to read to their children or be controversial, it’s true. Every child should have the same opportunities and help in their early development but sadly it’s not always the case.

I have my mother to blame (or love) for my book addiction. She pretty much had a bookshelf of baby books for me before I was born and for most of my life books have been an important part of our household. It’s one of the main reasons I’m so adamant that reading to a child is important: it helps to give a child the best start in life and helps develop skills necessary for educational and social purposes. It certainly helped me. These types of programmes and opportunities were not available when I was growing up and it’s amazing to see the support for readers and writers in Scotland has grown so well but it also needs to continue to make sure that everyone has the same opportunity to grow and develop by reading.

The Scottish Book Trust is responsible for a number of programmes such as Bookbug, First Ministers Reading Challenge, Read Write Count, What’s Your Story, Book Week Scotland, Annual Story Campaign, book tours, author tours, live sessions and interactions with authors/readers. It faces challenges, as do most arts based charities, but they do receive donations, sponsorship and funding from not only the Scottish Government but also individuals, companies, trusts and foundations.

One of their most recognisable campaigns is Book Week Scotland which held over 1000 events across Scotland with a 150,000-book giveaway, a Scottish book-to-screen-adaption competition and even a book dare where a reader is given a book themed dare to complete (Philippa proudly displayed the tattoo she had done because of her dare but don’t worry they aren’t all like that!). It’s a fantastic event and is gaining more popularity every year to the delight of the publishing industry.

The Scottish Book Trust want to make sure that children are developing by reading, helping aspiring authors gain help and advice they need to achieve their dream, help people (not just children) who struggle with reading or loneliness by interacting with them and aiding them but not by shoving a handful of books at people or a leaflet offering advice – through several events, programmes and campaigns.

For me, reading is important especially at a young age and hopefully these events and campaigns continue to help families across Scotland develop.

by Shaunna Whitters

Visiting Speaker: 404 Ink’s “Nasty Women”

March 30th, 2017 by katharina_dittmann | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on Visiting Speaker: 404 Ink’s “Nasty Women”
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On March 23, the Stirling Centre for International Publishing and Communication and the Stirling Centre for Gender and Feminist Studies organised a launch event for 404 Ink’s first book publication, Nasty Women. We welcomed our very own Laura Jones and Heather McDaid, founders of alternative indie publisher 404 Ink, as well as Claire Heuchan and Laura Waddell, two of the authors featured in Nasty Women. They came to talk about the idea behind the book, discuss issues of class and diversity within the publishing industry and offered some advice on working in publishing.

404 Ink’s Nasty Women 

Nasty Women is 404 Ink’s first book, published on International Women’s Day 2017. It is a collection of essays on the experiences and the issues women face in a world in which right-wing populism, racism and misogyny seem to be on the verge of becoming socially acceptable once again.

Heather and Laura talked us through the idea behind the book and the adventurous publication process: The essays in the book are meant to “celebrate and showcase women’s voices” and to give a platform to those women whose experiences are often marginalised in the mainstream media. The idea was to represent current issues (especially in the light of Donald Trump being elected as President of the United States), which led to a heavily shortened publishing schedule. Setting the publication date on International Women’s Day left Laura and Heather about four months to commission, fund, edit, and produce the book. The overwhelming demand for a book that gave voice to the experience of contemporary women became clear when the project was fully funded on Kickstarter within three days and widely exceeded the initial goal.

Panel Discussion

After Claire Heuchan and Laura Waddell read extracts from their essays titled Black Feminism Online: Claiming Digital Space and Against Stereotypes: Working Class Girls and Working Class Art, respectively, the panel discussed possible crises of confidence and the feeling of imposter syndrome. This was related to both the issue of diversity in publishing as well as Nasty Women’s unconventional publication process.

In publishing, following your intuition is almost always a good idea, and if your gut (and experience) tells you that there’s a market for your project, seize the opportunity and get to work! From an author’s point of view, Claire says that faith in your own work is derived from how it is received in the public context and that the commission for Nasty Women was “incredibly validating”. When it comes to the relationship between publisher and author, trust is the most important factor. According to Laura Waddell, it is very reassuring to work for a publisher who believes in the project and is committed to their authors. Basically, everybody suffers from imposter syndrome from time to time, you just have to push through it and keep learning.

On the subject of tackling issues of class and diversity, the panel discussed the problems of gatekeeping and how it can narrow the level of representation within publishing. When commissioning the essays for Nasty Women, Heather and Laura were careful not to tell their authors what to write, but to respect their voices and to interfere with the content as little as possible. Their policy is to put the author first and to give the whole publishing process a sense of transparency, which benefits both publishers and authors alike. Claire says that writing for Nasty Women has given her the opportunity to “hold the doors open for other people” and encourage other marginalised voices to make themselves be heard as well. While gatekeeping is still a big issue in the publishing industry, 404 Ink shows that it is possible to have a relationship of equality between publishers and authors.

Some final advice

After answering questions from the audience, the discussion ended with Laura, Heather, Claire and Laura offering some advice for starting out in publishing:

  • Don’t do the work all on your own! It is easier to share responsibilities and take advantage of other people’s skillsets.
  • Look at the structure! If you want to make an impact in editing, start by paying attention to how things are composed.
  • Be authentic! Be true to yourself and keep your main objectives in mind.
  • Things will go wrong! People make mistakes, so don’t take anything to heart and just work through it.

By Katharina Dittmann

Visiting Speaker: Vikki Reilly, Birlinn Books.

March 14th, 2017 by Rachel | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on Visiting Speaker: Vikki Reilly, Birlinn Books.
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Last Thursday we welcomed Vikki Reilly from Birlinn Books, one of Scotland’s leading independent publishers. The talk covered her experience working in a sales team, getting into the publishing industry, and advice about internships.

Birlinn and being part of the Sales team

Although Birlinn are a fairly small publisher with a team of around 20 employees, they punch significantly above their weight, publishing around 160 titles a year. One of their more  distinguishing features is that they proudly publish books that tell the stories of all of Scotland – not just the central belt. This leads to a more national conversation, which can only benefit the book industry in Scotland.

Vikki works specifically in the sales department, and provided us with some valuable insight into working in this sector:

  • Nurture your relationships with booksellers.
  • Be trustworthy – people can tell when you’re lying.
  • Know what market a book sells best in.
  • The best way to sell a book is face-to-face, and sales teams are developing more now as publishers begin to recognise this (hooray!).

Getting into the industry

Vikki talked us through her experience of getting into the publishing industry, including completing the MLitt in Publishing Studies at Stirling University and interning for several publishers, including Canongate. But her presentation emphasised that it is crucial to expand your frame of reference. One of her main pieces of advice was to “never underestimate what you can learn on a shop floor.” Taking on jobs in music shops and bookstores is useful, and will enhance your ability to relate to other people’s interests, which is useful in publishing. Additionally, her presentation stressed that people rarely have a singular career path in publishing now, so be flexible and don’t let good opportunities pass you by.

Internships

Birlinn offer an internship programme where interns spend 3 months at a time with them, and Vikki informed us that they have a space coming up in April. During these 3 months interns can get the most out of the experience and gain new skills. Vikki offered some useful advice for all the existing and future interns out there:

  • Don’t go in there with a sense of entitlement, (there’s nothing wrong with making a cup of tea occasionally).
  • While it can be difficult, try not to be too shy! You will get more from your experience by asking questions and being enthusiastic – people like it when you take an interest.
  • Remember that everyone is still learning, not just you. Meaning, no question is too stupid (this was definitely reassuring to hear).

At the end of the presentation we were provided with lovely catalogues of Birlinn’s titles as of 2016 (and cake). Overall, the presentation was lively and engaging, and I think most people left the room feeling really inspired.

– by Rachel Patrick

Visiting Speaker: Rosemary Ward, The Gaelic Books Council

February 10th, 2017 by claire_furey | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on Visiting Speaker: Rosemary Ward, The Gaelic Books Council
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The second guest speaker of semester two was Rosemary Ward, Ceannard of Comhairle nan Leabhraichean. That’s Director of The Gaelic Books Council to most.

Gaelic Books Council logoGaelic is an indigenous language, with 1.7% of the Scottish population having some Gaelic skills, while 32,400 can read, write, and speak the language. There are also Gaelic speakers abroad. 24% of the Council’s online sales are shipped abroad. Surprisingly, Germany is a large market – due in no small part to Michael Klevenhaus, founder of the Gaelic Academy in Bonn.

The first Gaelic book was published in 1567 but until the 20th century most publications were church focused. Things changed in 1951 with GAIRM magazine, which introduced a new generation of Gaelic writers and created a demand for an organisation. Hence the Gaelic Books Council was set up in 1968. They have charity status and are publicly funded.

1985 was another turning point with the opening of the first Gaelic Medium School in Glasgow, creating a demand for Gaelic textbooks.

The Gaelic Books Council have three goals:

  1. Support writers and publishers

The Council commission books, give grants to publishers and attend literary festivals. Rather than having just one special Gaelic literary festival, the idea is to normalise Gaelic by having a presence at all the big festivals. They also support writers and publishers through talent development and training. For instance, there was a real delay getting Gaelic books published because of the lack of editors. The Gaelic Books Council have produced intensive courses to fill the skills gap.

  1. Capacity Building

There are two annual prizes for new Gaelic writers and the Council also has several partnerships and scholarships, such as the biannual Gaelic scholarship at our own University of Stirling.

  1. Sales and Marketing

They have a shop in Glasgow, An Léanag. Check it out if you’re passing! (Mansfield St, just off Byres Rd.) In addition, there is an online shop and they are active on social media and in reaching out to schools and communities, to expose people to Gaelic.

Challenges Rosemary identified were the small number of publishers, AMAZON! (always), negative perceptions of Gaelic in the media and funding.

On a more positive note, developments and opportunities that were outlined included

  • Lasag, a series of novellas for learners and young people.
  • Children’s co-editions and originations.
  • Donald Meek award, which is only for unpublished works.
  • New talent.
  • Leugh le Linda. Linda McCloud is their reading ambassador and does reading sessions, which the BBC are now planning to film as a series.
  • Steall, a new Gaelic magazine, a new version of the pivotal GAIRM, which is no longer in publication.

We must say móran taing to Rosemary for an engaging, interesting and informative talk on Gaelic publications. If this has peaked your interest in Gaelic, head over to learngaelic.scot to get started!

@LeughLeabhar

Gaelicbooks.org

Claire Furey

Guest Speaker: Angie Crawford, Waterstone’s

December 5th, 2016 by emma_morgan | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on Guest Speaker: Angie Crawford, Waterstone’s
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There were pretty high expectations for the last guest speaker of the semester, given the brilliant, funny and interesting talks that we’ve been treated to over the weeks.  There was also a problem of attention, with the impending last presentation of the year looming.  Angie Crawford, Waterstone’s Scottish book buyer, had a great deal to contend with in keeping our attention and interest.  She managed it easily, bringing samples of AI sheets and review copies ranging from the elaborate and well-backed to the…simplistic.

As a group of students hoping to make careers in the industry in which Waterstone’s is a major player, her career history was both interesting and encouraging, to see the passion and enjoyment that can exist from a career in publishing.  It was particularly nice to hear that it was at the University of Stirling, at another guest lecture, that Angie Crawford, inspired by and drawn to the field of children’s publishing, decided on her future career.

Her career followed the progress of the publishing and bookselling industry on a grander scale, working in the now-defunct Dillons bookshops, as well as Ottakers.  She worked in the industry through the process of digitisation and improvements in organisation that this brought, and acquainted herself with the Scottish market, typified by smaller-scales and a more fragile market than the London-centric industry at large.  From this interesting and varied career, Angie seemed to draw certain messages and principles out that had helped her in each role, one of which was, crucially, the importance of knowing both the market and the people in it, the customers.

The priority that Waterstone’s place upon engaging with their customers, and ensuring a ‘culture of friendly and knowledgeable service’ is the heart of their success, and this has come with the reinvention that followed their near-collapse.  James Daunt’s independent-minded influence was, according to Crawford, both immediately felt and transformative, doing away with ‘identikit’ bookshops and encouraging – sometimes reluctant – bookshop managers to take the reins and individualise their shops to the local customer.  This shift in philosophy, which was accompanied by major process and organisational rethinking, changed Waterstone’s for the better.

Angie Crawford, comforting fearful of publishing students everywhere, admitted to feeling under-prepared and uncertain of her suitability for her role as ‘Scottish’ Commercial Manager.  She shared that her main qualification for the post seemed to be that she was Scottish, and thus, in the minds of the London-based bosses, knew Scottish publishing.  Her reaction to this?  Like any good publisher, she did her reading, familiarising herself with the titles that sold, the titles that were loved and the things that worked in Scotland which might not work elsewhere.  It seems that the Scottish love a good murder – perhaps because it’s fun to say with our accent! – and crime fiction is a reliable high performer across Scottish bookshops.  However, our love for crime fiction aside, Scottish is not a genre, and Crawford noted that while her colleagues were focused on fiction, non-fiction, sport, etc; her role requires her to look wider, and often work hard to create cohesion between titles that span genres and which can seem entirely distinct from one another.

Angie Crawford has the experience to make any lessons she has to impart worth listening to, and she was able to pull out some key pieces of advice that she learned in her time in the industry:

  • Good relationships are more important than great deals – Book buying is a negotiation, but it is a negotiation between partners, and it is essential that both parties walk away with a workable deal, and their trust in the other party intact.  A chain like Waterstone’s might have the leverage to push for a heavy discount, but if this price means the publisher can’t afford to print the books, no one wins.
  • Keep an eye on the future – All of publishing is a business of planning ahead, and Angie frequently mentioned that the process of buying involves forecasting – or fortune-telling – what books people are going to want months ahead of time.
  • Sometimes, you just know – Angie mentioned that occasionally, it was just the feel of a book that was important, whether it felt right in the hand, opened easily, etc;  it isn’t an exact science and intuition is essential.
  • Go with your gut, but prepare to be wrong – Book buying has an element of gambling about it, sometimes a bet placed on an unknown author pays off when the stock sells out quickly, and sometimes the books sit on the shelf (or in the stockroom) and  haunts you.  Ultimately, it seems that a certain amount of bad choices are inevitable, but a successful book buyer reacts quickly and doesn’t get discouraged.

by Emma Morgan

Visiting Speaker – Kathryn Ross

November 11th, 2016 by rachel_kay | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on Visiting Speaker – Kathryn Ross
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Last Thursday, our publishing class had the privilege of spending a few hours with literary agent Kathryn Ross. Alongside Lindsey Fraser, Kathryn runs Fraser Ross Associates Literary Agency and Consultancy (www.fraserross.co.uk), which the pair established in 2002.

logoKathryn didn’t take the traditional route to becoming a literary agent. She began as a secondary school English teacher, overseeing the school library, and eventually collaborating with the department head to set up a mobile bookstore in a van. When this venture did well, she left teaching and got a position running the children’s tent at the Edinburgh Book Festival, afterwards moving on to work at the Scottish Book Trust. Kathryn spent ten years here, where she met Lindsey and built up a long list of author and publishing contacts. Finally, with the encouragement of author Vivian French, the pair took the leap of setting up their own literary agency with Vivian as their first client.

Fourteen years down the line, she says her job is hard work, hugely rewarding (emotionally, although not always financially), and that she gets a lot of joy from seeing authors set off, and in helping them grow their careers. Fraser Ross Associates now represents about sixty-five writers and illustrators, most of whom work in children’s fiction (although some write across all age ranges and genres).

booksWriting for children is challenging. There’s a lot to accomplish in a short format, including fleshing out the characterisation, problems, and emotions that form a complete story. Children’s books must be equally appealing to parents- these are the buyers, and the ones who will be reading the book over and over. Children’s authors need to be good at summing up and pitching their content, and are now expected to do more marketing and publicity than ever before. An author’s success has increasingly come to depend on things like doing events and getting positive online reviews.

Agents are integral within this process, acting as sounding boards, cheerleaders, and business advisers to an author. This includes ideas development, networking, brand-building, and actively pursuing sub-rights. When taking clients on board, Kathryn and Lindsay look for long-term partnerships, where the content and the personalities both fit. Good communication is essential, as are trust, openness, and honesty, as everyone needs to be able to talk through ideas and problems.

Authors / illustrators and literary agents are often recommended to each other, one of the reasons that networking is vital. Kathryn and Lindsey also seek out new talent, such as by attending end-of-year college art shows. On top of this, they receive unsolicited manuscripts, about 200 per month. Many of these come via email, and Kathryn says she misses the physicality of receiving packages in the post- although she doesn’t miss the occasional extras, like glitter stars, crushed biscuits, melted toffees, etc. Kathryn has gotten some extremely creative submissions over the years, and was able to give us extensive, and often hilarious advice on what not to do, including why penguins and polar bear must never meet.

Each ‘day in the life’ of a literary agent is different, but typical tasks include:

  • Reminding publishers to pay invoices
  • Checking/negotiating contracts
  • Polishing submissions before they’re sent to editors – lots of editing!
  • Meeting with publishers, especially in London
  • Pushing for better royalties for her clients
  • Reading Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and The Bookseller
  • Attending launch parties
  • Negotiating permissions fees
  • Talking authors through outlines, edits, and cover design
  • Giving advice to cold callers
  • Informing authors of success / rejection
  • Discussing deadlines, delays, relationship problems, moving house, etc. with clients
  • Paying authors
  • Submitting manuscripts
  • Sending congratulations cards of all types
  • Reading unsolicited submissions
  • Attending book fairs, especially Bologna
  • Reading, reading, reading, reading, reading, reading, … and emails.

Many thanks to Kathryn for sharing her time with us, and for bringing back the nostalgia of story time for us Masters students!

Visiting Speaker: Peter Dennis of Hodder Gibson

October 26th, 2016 by amandasarahbain | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on Visiting Speaker: Peter Dennis of Hodder Gibson
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Mention the name Hodder Gibson to anyone who was educated in Scotland and there are immediate flashbacks to countless hours spent revising with their past papers. So when Peter Dennis, Managing Director at Hodder Gibson arrived on Thursday afternoon, it was like a blast from the past for many of us.

Hodder Gibson is a small educational publisher based in Paisley, Scotland. Their editorial office consists of a small team which strives to keep up-t0-date with the market, by forming close working relationships with students, teachers and the SQA (with whom it exclusively publishes the official past papers for National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher). Peter Dennis described educational publishing as an easily defined market, which is less of a gamble than traditional trade publishing, thanks in part to the SQA who publish exact lists of student numbers, however as it is a small market, it is important to get in first if you want to turn a profit.

For Hodder Gibson, their relationship with the SQA is mutually beneficial. The endorsement by the SQA permits Hodder Gibson to use the official SQA badge on the cover of their educational texts, resulting in increased sales for them and revenue for the SQA. However, due the growth of digital platforms and the availability of past papers online for free, Hodder Gibson have had to change their strategy in order to protect their income. Dennis described revision textbooks as an “anxiety” purchase and therefore it is no surprise that Hodder Gibson have expanded their range of products into practice papers and revision textbooks, thus competing with publishers such as Leckie & Leckie and Bright Red.

Like most educational Publishers, Hodder Gibson’s target market are school pupils in S3-S6, who have the required fear of examinations and suffering from the subsequent panic, want to buy revision materials. According to Dennis, teenagers who are desperate to get into their chosen university make up the majority of Hodder Gibson’s customers. There are currently 364 secondary schools in Scotland and Dennis himself believes that good relationships with schools are always good for business. Although Hodder Gibson sell direct to their customers via their website, the majority of their sales come through high street retailers (discounted at 40%). Dennis describes this discount as “too much of a sacrifice” and therefore the publisher is now attempting to generate the majority of its sales directly via schools (discounted at 20%). For Dennis and his team, price is important and it has to be right for Hodder Gibson and its competition.

Although sales are vital for Hodder Gibson, much of the publisher’s work goes into the creation of their texts. Dennis described commissioning as “begging, pleading and bullying” both experienced teachers and those who are newly qualified (exploitable) and eager to prove themselves, to create content for revision textbooks. For educational publishers creating content can be difficult due to the tight timescale and limited budget to pay busy authors. Dennis himself recounted sending sarcastic emails to authors who have missed deadlines, only to discover one author was about to give birth and the other was in ICU (he was bored and finished writing from his hospital bed)! Following the creation of content the majority of the editing and design process is done by freelancers in order to save money and because as Dennis himself describes, the job of a copyright researching is a very boring, “Sisyphean” effort. Printing can often be done abroad for a fraction of the price if publishers factor in the additional time needed for shipping.

Hodder Gibson is incredibly aware of the evolution of the digital market. Today’s students want options and it’s important for publishers to move with their market. Dennis believes that students are “suffering” in schools without Wi-Fi, given the social media landscape in which students find themselves. Hodder Gibson don’t want to just reproduce their print content in a digital format because students may not pay for it and the demand changes from subject to subject. Dennis firmly believes that the future of educational publishing is digital, so it’s no surprise that Hodder Gibson are striving, as always, to stay ahead of the market.

by Amanda Sarah Bain

Visiting Speaker 13/10/16: Jonny Gallant from Alban Books

October 17th, 2016 by Alice Laing | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on Visiting Speaker 13/10/16: Jonny Gallant from Alban Books
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13872919_10153621715627121_7098822134678477676_nSometimes all you can do is laugh…if only to stop yourself from crying. At least that is Jonny Gallant’s approach to looking back on any and all of the mistakes that he has made in his career.

From working with Cannongate in 2004 (when publishing was made easy from the sales of Life of Pi) to Walker Books, Alma Books, and St. Andrews Press, Gallant has found himself in the role of Managing Director of Alban Books.

Alban Books is the UK distributor for eleven Christian publishers outwith the UK. Most of the publishers they work with are based in the US with others in Europe and Israel. For a relatively small company  they have 7000 active titles under their care, with an average RRP of £23.55. With a team of five people marketing and selling over 500 titles per year, working with 400 trade accounts, 400 libraries, 700 academics, and 600 reviewers Alban Books know how to keep themselves busy.

Gallant himself knows how to grab the attention of a room full of publishing students, managing to inspire laughter throughout his visit by being candid about the mistakes (or, as he colorfully referred to them, f**k-ups) he has made in his career thus far and offering us a few lessons along the way.

Lesson 1: Always double check the zeros on your shipping forms to avoid sending the entire print run to Australia.

Lesson 2: Learn how to spell ‘Stationery’ and always believe the person with two degrees in Literature from Oxford University on the spelling of ‘Stationery’.

Lesson 3: There’s an odd amusement to be found in witnessing 800 people enthusiastically agree to your redundancy.

Lesson 4: Brexit is a sh*tstorm that is causing Gallant’s publishing related misery as he tries to safely make it through, with Alban Books relying heavily on their backlist, which accounts for 88% of sales. However, there is always Pope Frances, who is likely responsible for 10% of their sales, to be thankful for.

Lesson 5: When one door closes, a better one will more often than not open – mainly if you accept invitations for coffee.

Lesson 6: Always question why people don’t blink at spending £3 for a greetings card, but expect a 250+ page book to be £6.99.

Gallant did an excellent job at showing a room full of post graduate students that you shouldn’t fear making mistakes, as there are always opportunities and a lesson to be learnt. Time spent worrying about what could go wrong, or even what has gone wrong, is time wasted and there’s not a lot of time to spare in the world of publishing and distribution. It’s not too clear how Brexit is going to continue to affect Alban Books and the rest of the industry, but one thing that is clear is that ‘Visiting Speaker Day’ is fast becoming a class favourite and we’ve been left with very high expectations – no pressure.

by Alice Laing

First Visitor Talk of 16-17: Nikki Simpson, PPA Scotland

October 13th, 2016 by morven_gow | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on First Visitor Talk of 16-17: Nikki Simpson, PPA Scotland
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ppa-scotAt 2.45pm on 6th October, with a retinue of publishing students bearing boxes of precious periodicals, Nikki Simpson (Business Manager at the PPA – Professional Publishers Association) strode through the seemingly endless corridors of the University of Stirling. She was a woman with a mission. Her aim, to convert Unbelievers – those students convinced that their future lies 100% in the world of book publishing rather than that of the magazine.

A passionate presenter, Nikki soon had many of the most hardened book career diehards rethinking their options and goals. The PPA represents over 700 magazines in Scotland, an industry valued at £154m which supports 1,300 full-time, 560 part-time and 4,400 freelancers. DC Thomson is the largest employer with around 600 employees, but the smallest publisher could have a couple of people working on a “passion project”. Annual events, the international Magfest (make a note in your diary, 15th Sep 17) and the Scottish Magazine Awards (The Beano won in 2015), provide the perfect platforms for the industry to celebrate the drive and passion of those working to produce regular magazines of the highest quality. The PPA is also planning to open a centre for magazine publishing in Edinburgh which would act as a hub for the industry and raise the profile of the sector. Exciting times!

magsThere are three areas of periodical publishing – Consumer, B2B and Contract. The boxes were soon opened and magazines representing each of these areas passed around. To appreciate magazines, it’s vital to get hands on and we certainly did. Delighted sounds filled the room as we were given a design lesson in the art of the mag. Everyone is familiar with the glossy mag, but what caught the imagination in Nikki’s presentation was the sheer variety of paper stock used and glorious typography and images. Smooth, matt, cut outs, glow in the dark, QR codes, VR – seemingly unlimited creative options. Titles like Modern Farmer, Delayed Gratification, Boat, Little White Lies, Oh Comely, ‘Sup, the Gentlewoman and Hot Rum Cow had many fans and turned the head of many a committed book careerist on the day.

It’s worth remembering that the big players are those with circulations audited every six months by ABC (Audit Bureau of Circulations). The UK top five are: supermarket mags for Asda, then Tesco; TV Choice, What’s On TV, and Waitrose magazine. Their combined circulation figures, a mighty 6.8 million.

What makes a magazine successful? Nikki explained that in addition to the basic funding models of subscriptions, copy sales, advertising, and crowdfunding, brand extensions via websites, apps, award nights, supplements (even shops in the case of Tyler Brule’s Monocle) are all so important. The issue of ad blocking was discussed. Half of us in the room admitted to using these. After Nikki’s cri de coeur against their use for magazine sites, “Die! Die!” but “I love your content!” and the particularly vivid “ad blockers stab newspapers in the face”, those students using adblockers were swearing off using them again.

Nikki covered 16 possible career areas in magazine publishing from design to insight, through ad sales and procurement – and editorial, of course – as it’s always worth keeping an open mind regarding opportunity for experience.

She rounded off her rallying call for magazines with examples of cutting edge creativity – links below.
Marie Claire
Augmented Reality

Paper Tablets

Google Glass

Following questions from the audience, those magazines which had been objects of desire during the talk were handed over to some lucky recipients, and our first visitor talk in this semester came to an end. Nikki’s presentation had qualities essential for a career in magazine publishing – passion and creativity – and she succeeded in making many of us consider a career in magazines for the first time.

By Morven Gow