visiting speaker

Spring Semester Bookends: Saraband & Innerpeffray

April 20th, 2016 by Johan Sheridan | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on Spring Semester Bookends: Saraband & Innerpeffray
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On February 11, 2016, we welcomed Sara Hunt from Saraband Books as the first visiting speaker for the MLitt in Publishing studies in the spring semester.

During its 22 years in operation, Saraband has created popular, illustrated reference, history, and arts titles with a certain amount of mindful dispirit. The Scottish publisher created a niche and built its reputation while the internet increased user access to information regardless of geographical boundaries.

For modern book publishers, gone is the cushioned marketplace of a local bookshop or library with built-in profits and tight control over the retailer’s inventory. Digital expectations have terraformed the world of publishing, so Hunt strove to articulate what she called the three N’s for navigating the shifting sands: noise, narrative and niche.

Beware Noise

Noise represents today’s consumer fatigue, resulting from such a great wealth of choice—encompassing global online ordering; immediately available downloads; unlimited range of selections; and wide array of competing forms of entertainment or use of leisure time, such as television, smart phone, game, movie, and social media. Noise makes it difficult to select works, let alone turn someone into a reader. “In the battle against noise, curation is the single biggest contribution publishers make.”

Deep discounting is a fact of life, with multinational corporations controlling conditions. Against self-publishing authors and free info, free books, global entertainment, increased costs, and lower returns, every book has to fight for itself. This can be good for readers, but can also promote complacency from publishers who can’t hear over the static, Hunt says. Fewer newer authors appear save those exciting few debuts, author maintenance drops off, fewer risks are taken, and popular success tends to be converted from or intended for another format.

Remember Narrative

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The narrative keyword rephrases the old adage “content is king.” Hunt stresses the importance of appealing stories that offer more than just information. Saraband adheres to the gospel of narrative, exalting stories that are compelling, fresh, worthwhile, well-crafted, useful unusual, inspiring, well-told by a strong voice, or any combination thereof. Hunt highlighted two books that are characteristic of Saraband, Uuganaa Ramsay’s Mongol and Chitra Ramaswamy’s Expecting: The Inner Life of Pregnancy. Both books that can, with the right marketing, make their way to audiences who will value those stories.

Embrace Niche

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To embrace a niche is to identify what is unique and to highlight it. Hunt points out that for many publishers, their niche—or in the case of Saraband, niches—can work like an anchor amidst all the noise. Some niches that Saraband have embraced include nature writing, memoir, wildlife, sustainable living, and Scottish literary fiction (though it’s hard to call literary fiction a niche, since Scotland is small there endures a local yearning). Publishers even have the option of utilizing an imprint to exploit or explore a niche list, as Saraband has done with their 2014-launched Contraband, which mines the crime, thriller and mystery niche. While good marketing to build readership is key, playing to one’s strengths by embracing the niche as Saraband and other successful publishers have done can provide solutions to challenges through collaboration or new publishing areas offering unique voices, easy conversion to popular digital format, or focus on high production and design values.

A room without books is a body without a soul-Cicero

According to Hunt, traditional publishers need to respond, experiment, innovate, and change. Competition with other entertainment is a challenge, but not a threat in a bad way. There is room for everybody so long as we continue to cherish high-quality writing, design, and production. Conventional book producers have already learned much from the digital side of the market, like the importance of identifying and reaching targets through influencers, hashtags, and rich metadata. Saraband continues to soldier on because Sara Hunt is always reevaluating what to publish and reconsidering how to add value, connect with target markets, and rise to the challenge presented by discounts.

Innerpeffray Library

To close out the semester, on March 22, our Publishing, Literature and Society module took a field trip to Creiff. There, we visited Scotland’s first lending library, Innerpeffray Library. Included are images of its historic facilities, idyllic grounds, and sagacious resources. Let’s consult a very old, dusty dictionary to see whether or not “sagacious” is appropriate to use here.

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Visiting Speaker: Peter Dennis – Leckie & Leckie.

February 8th, 2015 by Heather Margaret McDaid | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on Visiting Speaker: Peter Dennis – Leckie & Leckie.
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The first Visiting Speaker session of 2015 was Peter Dennis, Publishing Manager at Leckie & Leckie. The company has a goal to produce ‘high quality education resources for the secondary school market’, which includes textbooks and revision guides.

comm gordonMere weeks into starting his job, the company was sold on to Granada Learning, the first of many to acquire the company who are now (happily!) part of HarperCollins. He began in a house in St. Andrews, working in ‘an attic next to a printer and a bearded gentlemen who quietly got on and made the books.’

Part of his job is drawing the budget, from the costs and sales projections to the pricing of the book itself. You need to look at the market and justify the need for the book, and look at the competition to hit the right price mark. Too high and no one will buy it, too low and you’ll lose your profit.

He also commissions the books, so needs to brief an author (or the team of authors) so they know exactly what’s expected. Standard templates and chapter features for ease of creation and continuity are key throughout.

The instigation of the company’s real growth came from winning the Scottish contract for past papers; there was a definite need to expand and working in a rural area can only go so far. Rural companies and publishers are not doomed to failure, he adds, but there can be a limiting factor in terms of growth.

The current SQA changes, moving to the Curriculum for Excellence, is the first overhaul of this kind in Scotland’s education sector for about 20 years, so it’s a big threat to the company as their entire list is technically gone, but also an opportunity spiralling from that need to create a new range of excellent products.

This is almost a good thing, as he notes that Leckie & Leckie was beginning to run dry with topics they could create books for. As there was no real change, the scope to expand into became narrower; they tried smaller subjects with smaller cohorts, topics like Graphic Communication and Home Economics, but there weren’t many places left to go.

7bb576f7-9b3b-4e3d-a49e-f0492d143d44To create an authoritative text, you need to wait until the tinkering by the SQA is done. “People want to have something that they can open up and use,” he explains; they need to be patient at times in order to create a high quality, accurate product. Within that there are additional opportunities to spark interest and differentiate themselves using exercises, hints and tips, word banks, glossaries and so on.

The process, editorially speaking, can be much the same as with trade as there is a back-and-forth needed to refine the initial manuscripts and get them to the required standard; this is aided by peer reviews, which also gives the author a sounding board during the writing process. Author input doesn’t stop there. They help with design aspects, making sure the diagrams and images used are correctly placed and accurate.

As for the future of publishing, he says, it’s digital. They’re looking to expand their content onto a digital, interactive, fee-based platform. Being part of a larger company mitigates the risk of embarking on this project, something which they likely could not afford to risk quite yet themselves. It is new, but with tightening school budgets, they would offer free samples and justify that the appetite for such a service is there from both sides.

In Scotland, we’re lucky to have a stable curriculum, where other countries in the United Kingdom have a more volatile and politically sensitive system. In that situation, it can be a boost to publishing, but can also prove difficult to plan ahead.

Throughout his time with Leckie & Leckie, he feels that the Scottish education system itself, being different to elsewhere in the UK, made them able to retain their brand identity despite being acquired by numerous companies, which is a nice thought to end an interesting talk!

Visiting Speaker: Dr Sam Rayner

January 7th, 2015 by Callum Mitchell Walker | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on Visiting Speaker: Dr Sam Rayner
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On Thursday the 4th December we enjoyed the last visiting speaker of the semester, Dr Sam Rayner, the Director of the Centre for Publishing at the University College of London (UCL). Dr Rayner’s talk focused on her paper ‘Star Texts: The Next Generation’ in which she explores the dynamic modern world of publishing and its impact and potential impact on teaching and learning in society. Dr Rayner analyses the way in which publishers edit and package content for new readers and new markets, the shaping of the literary canon, and the emergence and significance of several types of ‘Star Texts’. Before beginning her talk, Dr Rayner pre-warned us of her use of Star Trek puns (which she admitted she had toned down), however the class was eager to hear about her research on ‘Star Texts’.

But what does Dr Rayner mean by Star Texts?

Dr Rayner began by expressing that throughout her academic and professional life (whether it be teaching, research, working in libraries or bookselling), texts and their status and consumption have been fundamental. This made her interested in observing how we read, keep, study and rate books. As a literary and publishing researcher, Dr Rayner recognised that certain terms related to texts with cultural standing—‘The Canon’ and ‘The Classic’, have “become elusive and complicated by two other means of quality control”—‘The Prize Winners’ and ‘The Book Club Recommendations’. Dr Rayner collectively calls these four groups ‘Star Texts’, and argued, “these texts create clusters in the impossible constellation of the research environment that they belong to”. This term, ‘impossible constellation’ comes from Prof. Ruth Mateus-Berr from the University of Applied Art Vienna, during a conference on artistic research, and she used the term to attempt to describe the “several contradictory methods, understandings and histories” that could be applied to artistic research. Dr Rayner believes that this ‘constellation’ was a particularly useful way of understanding how texts exist in the 21st Century. Her research therefore focuses on the tension between a literary work, and the responses to the literary work in question. Dr Rayner suggested that whilst the text remains unchanged, there is a constant transformative process of the work, born out of the interaction and response from each specific reader.

‘The Classic’

Dr Rayner went on to discuss importance of the transformative star text group of ‘The Classic’. These texts, Dr Rayner argued, are those that most commonly stand the test of time. But what makes a text a ‘Classic’? Dr Rayner pointed out that scholars have very varied views on this question. The ‘Classic’, academics argue, should arguably be “timelessly appealing” and “elevate its author to the status of a god”. Dr Rayner also added that ‘Classics’ can be very subjective, and one individual’s list of ‘Classic’ texts won’t necessarily be the same as that of another individual. However, we do find a curated ‘Classics’ section in a bookshop, and publishers for centuries have created ‘Classic’ lists. This type of text is chosen, designed and marketed by publishers rather than academics (not suggesting they are purely commercial products, however). Dr Rayner asserted that the ‘Classic’ should appeal to every type of reader. She also pointed out that publishers such as Penguin attempt to modernise by means of packaging, engaging with digital, and marketing these timeless texts.

‘The Canon’ 

Dr Rayner next went on to explain another type of ‘Star Text’ known as ‘The Canon’. The establishment sets this group for primarily educational purposes and to define identities within culture. This type of text exists to represent the view of the individual and the preservation of tradition. Dr Rayner went on to discuss how texts have become ‘canonised’ in education through curriculum and have moved away from chronological presentation, towards a clear genre focused syllabi of texts. ‘The Canon’, Dr Rayner believes is undergoing a time of extreme change, and the impact of celebrity culture and national feeling are determining the way texts are canonised in education. Dr Rayner also addressed the issue of whether or not students should be given a prescribed reading list, as arguably this is a means of industrially restraining the individual’s imagination. Perhaps a more effective system would rather encourage young people to love reading and get into a habit of it, Dr Rayner shared to the argument.

‘Prize Winning Fiction’ 

The next type of ‘Star Text’ Dr Rayner explained was the ‘Prize Winning Fiction’ category. Dr Rayner argued that in the modern world of publishing, being nominated for literary prizes quite often means being read or not being read by the reading public. Dr Rayner also discussed how effective creative writing courses are in the emergence of this type of text and the development of a synergy between academics, creative writing and publishing bestsellers. The question was also raised over what should constitute as a ‘prize winner’. Should it be by measured by unit sales or by its literary quality? Furthermore, who should decide on these status elevated texts? Academics, publishers or readers?

‘The Book Club Recommendations’

Following on from Dr Rayner’s previous group of ‘Star Texts’ was the final group of ‘Book Club Recommendations’. This group can also be a prizewinner, but experiences the treatment of being associated with a well-known figure or celebrity. In these cases, the power of an individual’s brand is worth thousands in sales of a title if they have been selected as part of their ‘book club’. This phenomenon arguably gave the book back its ‘social history’ and within these book clubs, the well-known figure(s) (such as Oprah or Richard and Judy) play an active role in choosing, recommending and associating themselves with a title. Dr Rayner described how in a sense these individuals act as mediators between the author’s text and the audience. Book clubs show more than any other type of ‘Star Text’ the tension between the cultural and the commercial that exists in the book trade.

Merely ‘Solar Flares’ or Eternal ‘Burning Stars’?

Dr Rayner developed her argument by observing the conflict between cultural and academic responses of texts and the importance of reader interaction and marketing campaigns on the success of these titles. In the vast ‘constellation’ of texts in the current market, Dr Rayner believes that grouping these ‘Star Texts’ helps us to identify what drives us when we choose what we are reading. The development of technology also makes the text organic, with digital transforming the way in which we read, store and share text. Dr Rayner’s paper raised several interesting debates on the textual environment and what defines a text as a ‘Star’ and indeed what cultural, academic and commercial forces play a part. By the end of Dr Rayner’s talk, we were ready to “boldly go where no researchers have gone before” and explore the future of ‘Star Texts’ and textual constellations!




Guest Speaker: Lindsey Fraser

November 19th, 2014 by Leia Forster | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on Guest Speaker: Lindsey Fraser
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fraser ross

On the 13th of November, Lindsey Fraser of Fraser Ross Associates visited us here at Stirling to give a talk on the role of the literary agent.

Lindsey began by reminiscing of a time when book publishing was simpler. Books had one price; that which was displayed on the book jacket, and books were limited to paperback and hardback formats.

As the publishing industry adapted to reflect changes in the digital landscape, it became apparent that authors needed representatives who had their best interests at heart and would help them to manoeuvre the unfamiliar realm of publishing.

Having spent ten years working for the Scottish Book Trust, Lindsey and colleague Kathryn Ross had established that there was a need amongst Scottish authors for agent representation, and so they left the Scottish Book Trust in order to create Fraser Ross Associates. They are now part of the small literary agent community which forms The Association of Scottish Literary Agents.

When speaking specifically about the role of the agent, Lindsey said that she considers literary agents to be responsible for finding the best possible homes for books. She also expressed that a major part of the role is giving your writers confidence, and that it is important to remember that agents are sometimes the only contact that writers have with the world of publishing. Trust is essential in this relationship.

Lindsey went on to highlight that the agent is on the side of the author, and ultimately it is their aim to help the author make money from their writing. The agent also encourages the writer to respect publisher deadlines and teaches them how to deal with promotional events as well as showing them how to make the most of opportunities that are presented to them.

Talking more about the encouragement that should be offered to authors, Lindsey noted that they are particularly vulnerable after having their first book published and are beginning to consider the next. It is important to help them through this period of insecurity. She commented that authors have a tendency to look at what was not right with their book and need to be reminded of what was good. She also said that sometimes after having a book published, authors would like to have a period of rest, but there is an important issue here regarding the children’s book industry. Children grow up quickly, and their interest in certain books changes. If you are publishing a children’s series, you need to ensure that the books are published before your readership outgrows them. Sometimes it is necessary for an author to produce a number of books in quick succession, especially if their books are doing well.                                                                                                                              scottish bt

Nearing the end of the talk, we were informed of The Scottish Book Trust’s live literature scheme which provides funding for author visiting sessions at schools in Scotland. They pay half of the author’s fee as well as traveling expenses which allows more schools to benefit from visiting sessions while authors also get to promote their books and interact with their readers on a more personal level.

Lindsey’s talk offered wonderful insight into the role of an agent in the publishing industry. She shared with us her refreshingly honest thoughts and opinions regarding some issues within the industry, and I particularly liked her comparison of the Bologna Children’s Book Fair to speed dating which highlighted once more the importance of networking in this industry.

Visiting Speaker: Dr Simon Frost, Bournemouth University

November 14th, 2014 by Sarah Boyd | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on Visiting Speaker: Dr Simon Frost, Bournemouth University
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Simon FrostAs an extra addition to the Visiting Speaker series, Dr Simon Frost, Senior Lecturer in English at Bournemouth University, came to talk to us about his current research project. Entitled ‘Private Gains and Retailed Literature: Pathways to a Sustainable-Economic Account of Reading‘ (though Frost pointed out that his subtitle keeps changing!), this ambitious project is being undertaken in association with John Smith’s, the higher-education bookseller familiar to most students for their on-campus shops.
It’s probably worth mentioning at this point that Dr Frost’s project is quite a complex and, in some ways, esoteric one and that it is very much ongoing and developing, so at times it became a little difficult to take on all of the information he was conveying. The seven-and-a-half pages of notes I took during his presentation are testament to this! However, I’ll do my best to cover what he had to say.
First, Dr Frost outlined the aim of his project, to produce a defence of literature (the project is focused on fiction) in economic terms, rather than the cultural terms in which arguments for literature’s value are usually expressed. This was one of the trickier ideas to get our heads around but Frost put it in layman’s terms, saying that he’s trying to find out why a customer would choose to buy books, rather than booze! Essentially, his belief is that pointing to literature’s cultural importance does not mount a strong enough defence for the funding and resources allocated to it and that we require a discussion that engages with the economics of literature in sustainable terms or, in other words, attempts to discover what readers gain from the books they buy in more practical terms.
We then looked at the structure of Frost’s project, which is organised into three ‘threads’:
  • ‘theorisation’ – produce a model of how readers gain from books, bridging the literary and economic by investigating the idea that books meet intangible needs for readers.
  • ‘tuition’ – a number of students will be involved in the research for this project, particularly in compiling the results of an extensive survey, aiming for 750 completed surveys.
  • ‘professional practice’ – working in conjunction with John Smith’s, examine the shift from ‘bookseller’ to ‘book-based supplier of solutions’, in particular the move to provide new services based on outcomes/gains.

John Smith's BooksIn order to explain how he became involved with John Smith’s, Dr Frost gave us a potted pre-history of the current bookselling situation in Britain. John Smith’s has been around since 1751, so it has survived and responded to the major changes that have happened in the bookselling industry over the last several centuries, from the 1899 establishment of the Net Book Agreement (NBA) and its encouragement of dedicated bookstores, to the collapse of the Agreement in the 1990s which led to the downfall of almost all chain booksellers on the British High Street. More recently, the rise of online bookstores (themselves largely a result of the NBA’s collapse) has forced John Smith’s to rethink its business, as Amazon and its ilk have disrupted the traditional tutor-student-campus bookstore relationship. Their response has been to stop thinking of themselves as ‘booksellers’ at all and instead re-brand as a provider of solutions for students and Higher Education (HE) institutions. Indeed, their website is tagged as ‘John Smith’s Student Store’, with no reference to bookshops at all.

In effect, this has resulted in John Smith’s working with HE institutions to provide students with all the resources they need to successfully enter, negotiate and exit higher education. Their Stirling store, for instance, lists 15 departments, providing products from art supplies to bikes, mobile phones to university-branded clothing. They are no longer thinking about how they can sell the most books to students but about how they can meet all the needs that students might have, how they can become the main provider of solutions to students’ demands and problems (as well as aiding HE institutions to meet their outcomes). In this way, their rethinking of their business model fits neatly with Dr Frost’s project, as it relocates books as one part of a service that anticipates and provides everything that students will gain from appropriating. So, a copy of ‘Mrs Dalloway’ is no longer just a tool for education and cultural influence but also a product that can be analysed and quantified in economic terms.

aspireFor the final part of his presentation, Dr Frost went into more detail about how the relationship between students, their HE institutions and this new incarnation of John Smith’s works. An essential part of this is the distribution of bursaries to students in England (introduced as a mitigating response to the raising of tuition fees). Universities receive a sum of money from the government and parcel this out to selected students in bursaries, often around £300, which are intended to widen opportunities for students from low-income backgrounds (and, ideally, to be spent on university-related goods and services, rather than down the pub, though we did have a discussion of whether or not the social environment provided by pubs – and cafes, equally expensive though perhaps less stigmatised – is a valuable part of the university experience!). John Smith’s have become involved in this process via their ‘Aspire‘ smartcard, which can be pre-loaded with the bursary money and limits what it can be spent on. This allows for a number of interesting features, from each card being tailored to its recipient’s needs, to facilitating data gathering and feedback to the institution. Of course, as several members of the class pointed out, this has some moral and legal implications, particularly with regards to privacy (the idea of tutors being able to keep tabs on whether you’ve purchased their reading list or not is more than a little Big Brother!) and this is an area that Dr Frost will be looking into as his study develops. At the moment, though, his main questions in this area are:

  1. Is the diversity of purchasing agency (i.e. those involved in the process of purchasing) now so great that it produces a break from the linear rational-choice model of purchasing?
  2. Do the limits imposed by the ‘Aspire’ model constitute an interruption of free will or free exchange? They limit the convertibility of one resource to another (the bursary can be turned into books or bikes but not beers) but do they also limit free choice? Such limits are common in the public world but how do they function in the semi-commercial and commercial spheres?
It was fascinating to hear about a project still in progress, with Dr Frost acknowledging that he is still in the process of gathering information and developing the theories and concepts that will form his ultimate conclusions. His observation that his ‘inner critic’ was working even as he spoke was one that I – and I’m sure most of us – identified with, but it’s reassuring to know that the pros suffer too. It was also great to feel that he was genuinely interested in our responses and in engaging in conversation with his audience – it’s always encouraging to feel that we’re being taken seriously by people already working! I’ll be interested to see the results of his project and how it shifts and develops as it progresses.

Adrian Searle from Freight Books paid us a visit

October 21st, 2014 by Marit Mathisen | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on Adrian Searle from Freight Books paid us a visit
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Adrian Searle, Image source

The third person on the Visiting Speaker programme was Adrian Searle, publisher at Freight Books and director of Freight Design.

He gave us his view on publishing, delivering a humorous and informative presentation, as well as some insight into Freight Books and its perspective on publishing.

Having a diverse background, with experience from advertising and design, as well as having studied Creative Writing at the University of Glasgow, it should come as no surprise that Searle has diverse knowledge of and expertise in the field of publishing. He co-founded Freight Design in 2001 and in 2011 Freight Books found its way into the world, picking up an impressive number of shortlistings for a fairly small publisher. These include the Saltire First Book Awards, the Saltire Scottish Publisher of the Year 2013 and 2014, and UK Drum Design Award. Searle does not let that go to his head though, stating that “one man’s Booker Prize is another man’s doorstop”. He equates book publishing to gambling, alluding to Dostoevsky and his view on gambling – if you do it once and win, it is easier to become addicted. He also made it clear that there are other businesses where you could earn money more easily, in his case design, but he finds publishing to be more fun, saying “I love publishing”.

101-uses-of-a-dead-kindle-2_270One of the titles released by Freight Books is 101 Uses of a Dead Kindle, written by Adrian, with illustrations by Judith Hastie. The title is a play on the title of a book released in the late 80s, 101 Uses of a Dead Cat, by Simon Bond. They had high hopes for the title, and a retailer had ordered a large number of copies. Unfortunately, this was a real life example of the sale or return policy followed in the book trade, as almost all the books were sent back by the retailer, with Adrian having seen only one copy in one of their shops.

What happened with 101 Uses of a Dead Kindle has not put Freight Books off publishing humoristic titles, however, with If Dogs Could Swear reuniting Adrian and Judith for a second time. Simple, but effective, and, according to Adrian, if you add a content advisory label on the front it will induce more people to buy the title! Other humour books in the works for Freight Books are Throne of Games and Cyclists: A Spotters Guide.

Adrian also talked about risk, saying that publishing is all about risk, alluding back to the gambling analogy. He said that when you publish a book you want to lower the risk to the reader, making them think at first glance that the book you are selling is worth their time. He also explained some of the ways in which this can be achieved. This ties in with the content advisory on If Dogs Could Swear but he specifically mentioned endorsements by famous people, or quotes by people in general. According to him the fact that someone other than the publisher says a book is good makes the reader more likely to purchase that title. Another thing to use in promoting books is any prize nominations and wins the book has received. Both the quote and the prize nomination will give the book more credibility than the book would have on its own.

Freight Books also publish Gutter, a magazine published twice a year, with short stories and poetry from writers with ties to Scotland. As poetry and short story anthologies are fewer and further between than the people who write them, this is a good place for writers to try to get their work out to readers. Their Scottish point of view underlines Adrian’s contention that “London is the Death Star” (for publishers). He says that anything coming from outside of London is viewed as provincial, and explains that Freight Books is sometimes asked to remove “Scotland” or “Scottish” from their advance sales information.

Adrian Searle is the type of person who gets a lot said in little time, and hearing him speak so enthusiastically about his work, while still cautioning that it is hard work, was interesting and enlightening. The fact that he still says he loves publishing is encouraging, as it shows staying power – even for someone with his diverse background. Freight Press’s achievements in a very short time are impressive, and we can only wait to see what more might come from their small office in Glasgow.


Visiting Speaker – Ann Steiner

January 21st, 2013 by Nicola Marr | Posted in Blog | 1 Comment
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The visiting speaker series continued with an insightful talk from Ann Steiner, researcher and lecturer in Literature and Publishing Studies at Lund University, Sweden, who gave an academic’s perspective on recent developments in international publishing.

Ann began by explaining that the publishing industry as a whole is very culturally specific, with different countries experiencing vastly varying market structures and stability. Using Sweden as a case study, we learned about ways to promote literature within the limits of population and language. Sweden, a fairly large country with a relatively low population, has around 300 major publishing houses all operating on an international level, yet only 5 of them producing work specifically for the Swedish market.

Ann then went on to talk about different integration models of publishing in Sweden, using the example of The Bonnier Conglomerate – a large family run media corporation who dominate the market and control all aspects of the publishing chain from printing to retail stores. This monopolization leaves very little room for competition, with smaller publishers struggling for visibility in the mainstream market. This can be seen as detrimental to the Swedish publishing industry as a whole, and Ann was part of a commission who raised concerns about this exploitation to the Swedish government.

An interesting point raised by Ann was the difference in reading habits between Swedish readers and UK readers – most notably the fact that many Swedish people are not familiar with electronic reading devices. The e-book industry in the UK is an ever-expanding market, a trend many of us would expect to see continuing worldwide. However as Ann pointed out, although e-books are available in Sweden the market hasn’t reacted as favourably as in other parts of the world, which is surprising considering the high internet saturation in Sweden. Ann suggests one reason for this unusual cultural difference is a problem which is recognized at national level – that if the e-book market flourishes it may cause a decline in the number of Swedish-language books being read, as it is expected the majority of e-books accessed will be English titles. Ann predicts that the market in this area will eventually mature and if one retailer chooses to promote a particular device, Sweden may see an increase in e-book sales.

The next topic of discussion focused on the way Swedish consumers buys books – or don’t, as the case may be. Current figures show 35% of all books are currently bought in bookstores, with 22% of books being purchased online. However, Ann discussed a worrying trend in the demise of bookstores in small communities. This has been caused in part by the de-regulation of book pricing in Sweden in the 1970’s, which has since seen the price of books plummet, meaning bookstores struggle to make a profit. This low pricing structure has altered the consumer perception on the value of books in Sweden, meaning people now expect to buy books at very low prices. The closure of bookstores throughout the country is expected to have a knock-on effect on the industry as a whole, with recent figures already showing a worrying decline in the reading ability of young boys in Sweden.

Next, Ann spoke about Swedish literature within the context of the rest of the world. Historically, Sweden was an import country with over half of all fiction and non-fiction literature coming from other countries. Although mainly translated, Sweden also has a fairly thriving foreign language market. Over recent years, the success of Swedish crime fiction has seen a massive upturn in the export market, particularly after the international success of Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Ann also touched briefly on the ways in which Swedish literature is perceived in other countries, pointing out that particularly in the German market, Swedish books are often portrayed as stereotypically cold and harsh, with covers that would not sell in the Swedish market.  Ann finished the talk by pointing out the importance of country specific publishing,  stating that books are very much intertwined with culture and can be deeply important for a national sense of being.

During a brief Question and Answer session afterwards, students got the chance to learn more about the publishing course run by Ann at the University of Lund and the similarities in the teaching content. Ann also spoke briefly about her predictions for the Swedish market in the future – most notably that the Swedish crime fiction genre will eventually die out and hopefully make way for new trends in Swedish literature.

An interesting, enlightening and at times surprising insight into the Swedish market and how it differs from the UK market, I think the whole class will agree we learned a lot during this session. Thanks, Ann!

-Nicola Marr

“Kids Need the Best Books!” – Meeting Keith Gray

December 21st, 2012 by Miriam Knafla | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on “Kids Need the Best Books!” – Meeting Keith Gray
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Keith Gray, advocate for the physical book and supporter of school libraries, visited us to give a passionate talk about the boom and development in children’s and young adult’s publishing, the beauty of books, and, well, his admiration for John Green.

From when Keith first started writing to today, a lot has changed in the children’s and young adult’s literature market. Back in 1996, a category for young adult’s fiction did not even exist. Barriers had to be brought down; teen fiction had to be established as its own category. Junk by Melvin Burgess, which, according to Keith, can today be seen as the first YA’s novel, and the big selling Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling introduced novels to the market that were neither written for children nor adults but for teenagers. Ever since, the young adult’s book market grew; competition got fierce. The positive side of this is that there is a lot of good material out there today which is brilliant as Keith states: “kids need the best books!” A matter that seemed to be close to Keith’s heart in this context is the closure of school libraries. To him as an author for whom school libraries are the biggest bridge to reach his audience and who wants to see children having access to good literature in general, this is an alarming trend. He has joined in on the protest and I think everyone should. Of what worth are the best books if you take away one major platform that enables children to access them?

Another topic that Keith couldn’t avoid talking about is the controversy around the digital book. If we talk about the best books, about which format are we talking? Does the format even matter?

“A book is a solid block of virtual reality – why put buttons on it?”

Read digitally, read enhanced or stick to the traditional pleasure of skipping pages, smelling paper, feeling the texture of a book cover? Which format has more to offer? Which format is more suitable for children? Books become more and more what can be called media packages. “Everything is turned into an app.” Book characters have their own fictional blogs and websites; entire communities are created around them. And even though Keith sees the potential of such promotional activity, he also considers it to be a worrying trend. What will become of simple books? What will become of authors who are reluctant to give away what happens to their characters once the book has finished. Can they keep up with the competition? Will younger and future generations still acknowledge the beauty of the physical book? Keith’s tip is to make a book into an object that you want to own, something you want to show-off on your bookshelf, something you like to identify with. Make every effort to turn a manuscript into a “lovely, brilliant book experience.”

Finally, after a lot of swooning over the physical book, and don’t get me wrong here, his enthusiasm was delightful and entertaining, he started to rave about a certain author. As I am a fan of that author myself, I was quite delighted when he mentioned him and his promotional strategies on today’s competitive and fast evolving YA’s market. The author he was talking about, and this shouldn’t be a surprise as I mentioned him in the introductory lines, is John Green. Green can be seen as a prime example when it comes to reaching his audience. He and his brother Hank built up an online community par excellence over the past years. The two brothers share their everyday life experiences in a weekly Vlog-format and talk about interesting matters that come to their minds, all on YouTube. Their channel VlogBrothers currently has over 807.000 subscribers and more than 261 million views. Their Nerdfighter community not only watches their videos and reads John’s books but they also attend conventions and events that the two participate in. ‘Terrifying’[1] gatekeepers such as parents, grandparents, librarians and teachers are simply bypassed and the target audience directly addressed. This guarantees Green a sturdy fan base and a solid clientele. On a personal note, it is exactly this social media strategy that got me hooked to start reading his books. And after Keith’s talk, I realised that a friendly character can indeed make sales and it wouldn’t surprise me if the next book my classmates bought, would have the name Keith Gray on it. I, at least, already have a copy of one of his books on my bookshelf.

Keith Gray is an author of children’s and young adult’s fiction and has recently worked as an anthologist and collaborated with other authors to write about intriguing topics such as losing one’s virginity (Losing It) and what would/could/should happen in an afterlife (Next). His publications reach from Creepers published in 1996 by Mammoth, about gangs of kids who do garden creeping respectively hedge hopping or, how the police would call it, trespassing, to his latest book Ostrich Boys which won the Angus Book Award and the silver medal in the Smarties Prize and which was also adapted into a play. Keith usually targets his books towards boys (he does have a female readership as well, though) dealing with the overall theme of what it is like to be a young boy.


[1] Yes, they can be terrifying; they can be your alley or your worst enemy. Try to market a novel so that both the adult, (who might be of an overprotective kind) who usually provides the book, and the kid, who is supposed to read it, like it. Your book can be held up at so many stages before it actually reaches the child it was dedicated to.

Visiting speaker: Peggy Hughes, City of Literature

November 17th, 2012 by Aija | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on Visiting speaker: Peggy Hughes, City of Literature
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The delightful Peggy Hughes amused the Publishing studies 2012/2013 class  with her lively presentation on the UNESCO badge of City of Literature  – a designation, which was bestowed upon Edinburgh back in 2004. The City of Literature Trust  is head by Peggy herself and her boss Alison Bowden.

Why Edinburgh should be designated as a City of Literature by UNESCO, you might ask. Well, when a group of prominent figures in the literary scene having a post-prandial discussion they came to the surprising conclusion that as Edinburgh was “brilliant at books,” something should be done to make sure this would become general knowledge. Simply because Edinburgh has a huge literary heritage, and has a vibrant contemporary scene – already hosting some of the world’s most well-known and largest poetry and literature festivals and events.

Organisations from grassroots up to government level Edinburgh worked together to create The Bid, an audit of all Scottish literary accomplishments in two volumes – talking about putting things in a nutshell – We Cultivate Literature on a Little Oatmeal. It took a bundle of Scottish treats (whiskey, haggis, bagpiper among others) to convince the UNESCO headquarters in Paris.

Among her lively and very fast paced presentation, the class was entertained with best bits of past events that had aimed to hold Edinburgh to its badge of honour as well as a selected few spoilers over the upcoming events. Working together with other Edinburgh literary events and organisations, the City of Literature has proven to be worth every bit of the designation, more than holding its own among the others with its goals of establishing partnerships, promoting participation, learning as well as advocating awareness towards Edinburgh and keeping the focus on creativity, bringing people together in literature.

Thank you to Peggy for the grand insight into the Scottish literature scene and its uniqueness, and I’m sure the class cannot wait to see the ‘Stache-mob or join the Literary Salon.


Meeting Adrian Searle

November 8th, 2012 by Luca Baffa | Posted in Blog | 1 Comment
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The Visiting Speaker on 4th October was Adrian Searle, editor of the leading Scottish literary magazine Gutter and publisher at Freight Books. He gave a brief account of his previous career in the publishing field and a description of the projects he is currently working on.

The first publication Adrian described is a collection of short stories: The Hope That Kills Us, An Anthology of Scottish Football Fiction (2002). He came up with this idea in 2001, when he decided to undertake a commissioning project to raise a profile as a publisher. So, with the collaboration of a number of Scottish writers and a photographer, he worked as the editor of this publication. The market of this book was wide enough, from sportsmen to their relatives, and the book sold a thousand copies in paperback all across Scotland.

As the second example of publication, Adrian presented a fascinating book: The Knuckle End (2004). One of the peculiarities of this work is the design: the book appears as two pocket hardback books connected by the cover. The first book is an anthology of stories written by postgraduate students (2003-2004) of the noted Creative Writing course of the University of Glasgow. The text is organized in two columns on each page, and they are reproduced slightly skewed. The typography is completely left to the Victorian master class standard (elaborated types based on traditional letterforms). The second book is a love story shaped as a collection of photos, of self indulgent nature and wrapped in a vernacular typography.

Afterwards, Adrian talked about Gutter. There are few places where authors can publish short stories in Scotland. The aim of Gutter is to fill this lack of outlets and to provide the readers with high quality stories written by Scottish authors (or writers who have a connection to Scotland). The magazine has a taste of old-fashioned literary magazines, there is great care in the use of the typography, and there are no images (except for some cartoons). The magazine is meant to be a beautiful physical object, so there is not an electronic version of the magazine.

Adrian started Freight Books to extend his publishing work from Gutter to a wider selection of writers and audiences. The main characteristic of Freight Books is the size: being small and independent, it is much quicker than bigger publishing houses at undertaking new projects. Also, the titles selection is more balanced on the quality of the products rather than big profits. The second characteristic is the book choice, mostly contemporary fiction, and the high standards of the texts.

The publishing house aims to release from 10 to 15 books every year. The authors of these publications are debuts, writers who were formerly published in Gutter, and some other writers with a British-Scottish background. He went through a long list of titles that Freight Books has published in the last few years: Killing the Messenger (2011) by C.  Wallace, Furnace (2012) by W. Price, Ramshackle (2012) by E. Reeder, Tip Tap Flat: A View of Glasgow (2012) by L. Welsh, My Gun Was As Tall As Me (2012) by T. Davidson, All the Little Animals (2012) by W. Hamilton and S. Howell, Healing of Luther Grove (2012) by B. Gornell. Then, he told us about a few other titles which are going to be published in the next few months including 101 Uses of a Dead Kindle by A. Searle himself and J. Hastie (8 Oct 2012), and Fabulous Beast by P. Ace (Spring 2013).

I really admire the work of this publisher which is driven by a genuine interest in books and their authors. Adrian described in great detail every feature of the books he edited, with special attention to their look and feel. The authors, also, had been referred to with the greatest esteem during his speech, in an interesting combination of respect and friendship.