Visiting speakers

The Road to Becoming An Agent, and Where It Is Heading

October 8th, 2011 by Kate_McNamara | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on The Road to Becoming An Agent, and Where It Is Heading
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Literary Agent and consultant Maggie McKernan of The McKernan Agency ended up in her position in an interesting fashion. After studying Philosophy and Logic, she got on a train and ended up in Paris. She took it into her head to become a writer, and spent three very hungry weeks with no fixed accommodation before she stumbled into the Shakespeare and Company bookshop, where the owner offered her a bed on in the library above the shop in exchange for work. McKernan took him up on this offer, and spent her days working at the till, reading, and serving a few customers. At night she slept upstairs among rats with writers who boarded there. McKernan watched them come and go, and  slowly began to realize that she did not actually want to write, but work with writers.

The turning point came when a young Sebastian Barry wandered into the store. Speaking to him, she discovered that what she really wanted to do was publish people like him. Determined now to work in publishing, she wrote to sixty publishing houses in London and got a job, which she partly puts down to her looking up the name of a managing director and addressing her letter to him personally. She began working in design and production, as this was the only way in. She never believed that she could work in editing like she wanted, but her views on editors were soon to change.

“None of them were quite as clever as they first seemed, and you could become an editor,” she told us. She worked for a while, then moved houses, set up a literary fiction imprint, and worked more and more with writers, which she loved. Her particular approach was to keep the writers’ interests to the forefront of what she did. “My strength as an editor…”, McKernan said, “was what they call in publishing Author Management.” This entailed working closely with the authors, managing their expectations and helping them to achieve what they wanted to achieve.

Four years ago, she changed tack and became a literary agent as she wanted to be her own boss, as commuting to London was no longer an option for her. This was a good move for her personally, and everything was going quite well. And then along came the recession.

McKernan was undeterred. She began to take on a client list, and now has between twenty and twenty-five writers, which she hopes in time will become fifty.

McKernan doesn’t seem overly spooked by the technological advances in publishing and what these will mean for the literary agent: ““As long as writers are still enabled to write I will be happy, and I may have to do something else, I may have to make my living some other way.”Her attitude to e-books is refreshing: “All that really matters is that people keep writing books and that we keep being able to find books.”  Naturally, McKernan clearly sees the need for the literary agent – they are a way of filtering out unpublishable material so that publishers do not have to employ a whole division solely to read new manuscripts. Surprisingly for a literary agent, she is fully supportive of the idea of self-publishing: ““If you do it yourself, you get all the money…the writer sees the possibility of getting all the money, and why should they not?” However, she does mention that self-publishing authors may want to consider hiring someone to do P.R for them. Unlike some agents, she gives no indication of wanting to be both publisher and agent to her authors, but she does insist that ebooks are an area she would love to work with if she was just starting out.

In spite of this attitude, McKernan realises the publishing industry is changing drastically for everyone:“Challenges and opportunities are almost the same thing…technology has frightened everyone, and agents in particular….Will people still print books? Will they still buy books?” All those in the industry must watch and wait as technology and e-publishing develop further before these questions may be answered with any certainty. Whatever happens, it seems McKernan will take it in her stride and continue to put the author first.

By Kate McNamara

Breaking In and Standing Out

September 25th, 2011 by Claire_Squires | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on Breaking In and Standing Out
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Suzanne Kavanagh of Skillset

A report on career advice from Suzanne Kavanagh, Visiting Speaker Semester 1, 2011-12, by Rachel Chase

Though Suzanne Kavanagh announced that her intention was to “scare” the publishing students at the University of Stirling on Thursday, September 22nd, she cleverly presented her material in a way that was more optimistic than frightening.

Suzanne works for a not-for-profit organization called Skillset. At Skillset, she supports individuals and businesses in the creative industries by offering them skills and training. She has been involved in the publishing industry for 16 years (specifically marketing) and she was kind enough to share her vast knowledge with us about making a career in publishing.

Though her presentation was not “scary” overall, it did have some frightening elements. Take, for example, the fact that sixty-seven per cent of the workforce in the publishing industry is over thirty-five-years-old (which is downright discouraging for anyone in their twenties who is trying to break in). In addition, the number of freelance editors has dropped and the number of people working in publishing has dropped significantly since 2007, due, in part, to the digitalization of books. In short, there are fewer jobs and more people trying to get in.

What does all of this mean for post-graduate students studying publishing at the University of Stirling? It means that things are tough, but not impossible. Suzanne emphasized that there is a shortage of sales and marketing skills among those who are trying to get into publishing. Editorial is not the only way to go, and, in fact, Suzanne suggested that getting into publishing through another door—say, marketing—is a good idea to break in.

Her lecture was very informative and I came away with specific areas in which I can improve my resume. Among the most important aspects for making yourself stand out are work experience (thirty-five per cent of the publishing workforce have done unpaid work), computer skills, specific software skills, and even math skills (though this fills many book-reading editor-bent students with horror—numbers matter!). The bottom line is that publishing is a business and unless a publishing house makes money, they cannot continue to publish the wonderful books that we love to read.

Thanks Suzanne for a great beginning to the list of fantastic visiting speakers lined up for this semester! If you want to learn more about Skillset, visit their website.

Visiting Speakers for Forthcoming Semester

September 15th, 2011 by Frances_Sessford | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on Visiting Speakers for Forthcoming Semester
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Stirling Centre for International Publishing and Communication hosts another great line-up of publishing professionals this semester. Our guest speakers are drawn from many sectors of the industry, including literary agency, retail, printing, distribution, trade publishing and digital publishing. The visiting speaker sessions give our students valuable knowledge of how different parts of the industry operate. As a highly technology- and consumer-driven industry, publishing is changing at the speed of light and our speakers can give up-to-the-minute insights into both how the industry is adapting to the challenges it faces, and how they as individuals are playing a part in this.

But first things first: how can you go about getting a job once you have your degree? Suzanne Kavanagh of Skillset will provide some guidance and information on this very subject on Thursday September 22. (Please note this session is for Publishing Students only, and will be held at 10.30am, not 2pm.)

The public sessions begin on September 29 with a talk by David Martin of Martins the Printers about how digital printing technology has radically changed the way books are produced. Switching to the other end of the production spectrum, Maggie McKernan, literary editor and agent will give a dual perspective from her career as both an editor and literary agent on October 6. The following week (October 13), Adrian Searle of Glasgow-based publishing imprint Freight Books will be speaking about setting up a publishing company in 2011.

Is there any truth in the suggestion that inside every publisher there is a writer struggling to get out? Well, if that’s the case with you then Dr Paula Morris of Stirling University’s new Creative Writing taught masters course will give you not only the author’s view of the publishing industry but also some tips on getting published as well (October 20).

After we get a chance to catch our breath at the mid-semester break, Jane Camillin of indie sports publisher, Pitch Publishing, will kick off the second half of semester on November 3 by talking about how publishing can be small yet successful, followed on November 10 by Liz Small of Geddes and Grosset/Waverley Publishing, a long-established Scottish trade publisher. Focus then switches to retail on November 17, with Eleanor Logan of Chapter Twenty independent publishing retail consultancy giving the bookseller’s perspective on these interesting times, and our penultimate guest on November 24 is Marion Sinclair, course alumni and Chief Executive of Publishing Scotland, the representative body of Scottish publishers. The program closes on December 1 with Simon Meek of Tern TV on digital adaptations of well-known books.

Don’t miss any of them! Attendance at all visiting speaker sessions is free but there is limited space so please register via to book a place. All sessions will be held at 2pm in Pathfoot B2.

André Schiffrin, Visionary Promoter of Independent Media

July 22nd, 2011 by Claire_Squires | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on André Schiffrin, Visionary Promoter of Independent Media
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Andre Schiffrin (photo credit Micheline Pelletier)

Never before has the control of the global conglomerates over the publishing, media and culture industries been under such scrutiny.

With Publishing Scotland, we present an event on Monday 22 August at the Edinburgh International Book Festival which goes to the heart of this debate.

André Schiffrin, the speaker at the event, was the Director of Pantheon Books for almost thirty years, bringing authors including Pasternak and Foucault to an American audience. His landmark 2000 publication The Business of Books expressed his belief that Western publishing was in a crisis, fuelled by the concern that the five largest conglomerates in the US controlled 80% of the books produced. His belief that this profit-driven industry prevented him from publishing books propelled him to resign and set up the non-profit New Press.

In his new book Words and Money, Schiffrin builds on his earlier arguments by focusing on the crisis in the general media, examining the European market to illustrate how the US corporate model has influenced practice worldwide to the detriment of serious journalism. He proposes measures to safeguard the future of publishing, bookselling and the press.

In this timely intervention into conglomerate ownership practices and philosophies, and what can be done to counteract them, Schiffrin will give a presentation and then open the floor to questions from the audience.

For further information and to book your place visit the Edinburgh International Book Festival website.

The event is organised by the Stirling Centre for International Publishing and Communication in association with Publishing Scotland and the Scottish Universities Insight Institute Independent Publishing Programme of Enquiry.

Publishing Showcase Event

April 18th, 2011 by Claire_Squires | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on Publishing Showcase Event
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On Wednesday 4 May 2011, the Stirling Centre for International Publishing and Communication will be holding a Publishing Showcase. 

The event will include feature a round table from our Industry Advisory Board members on the Future of Publishing, an opportunity to hear from current students and to see examples of their work, and a closing reception during which you will be able to meet students and staff from the Centre. 


3.30-4.30pm Industry Round Table: The Future of Publishing (Pathfoot B2)

Speakers: Christoph Chesher (Group Sales Director, Taylor and Francis); Peter Mothersole (ex-OUP and Macmillan); Bob McDevitt (Publisher, Hachette Scotland)

4.30pm-6pm    Publishing Student Showcase and Drinks Reception (Pathfoot C1/2)

If you’re interested in attending this event, please let us know via the details on our contact page. The event is free.

Star Speakers at Stirling

March 20th, 2011 by prm | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on Star Speakers at Stirling

The Stirling International Centre for Publishing and Communication hosts regular visits from publishing professionals to complement its teaching programs and to give students real insights into the world of publishing. Recent star attractions have been Lynette Owen, rights director at Pearson; Willie Anderson of Wiley Blackwell; Jenny Brown, literary agent; and Marion Sinclair, CEO of Publishing Scotland. But we don’t just have famous names: publishing professionals from all areas of the business – editors, designers, printers, marketeers, distributors, writers and business managers – have come to speak to us and share their knowledge, wisdom and experience. We also encourage course alumni who have launched their own publishing careers to come back and speak, both to relate their experiences and to reflect on how the course has helped them in their work.

This semester’s list of speakers has been as interesting and exciting as previous ones. March came in like a lion, with a brilliant talk from Bob McDevitt of Hachette Scotland and an inspiring presentation from entrepreneur Kelly Wilson from LMK Publications. Later in the month we are looking forward to hearing from John Seaton, Canongate’s backlist and inventory manager on March 24; Malin Nauwerck, visiting PhD student from Sweden on April 7; Leah Gourley, editor at Perth-based publisher Prepress Projects on April 14; and Miriam Johnson, editor-at-large and founder of Jargon Media on April 21. The semester will be rounded off by Sarah Brear of the Copyright Licensing Agency on April 28.

Life in the Gutter…

December 30th, 2010 by Lauren_Hunter_Nicoll | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on Life in the Gutter…
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A literary journalist (who shall here rename nameless) overhead at the Wigtown book festival bemoaning the fact there were ‘no good writers under the age of forty-five in Scotland’, and a frustration at a lack of literary magazines exhibiting new Scottish writing, were the key factors which propelled editors Adrian Searle and Colin Begg to establish Scottish literary magazine Gutter.

Both editors recently visited Stirling University’s Publishing Studies centre to share their experiences about establishing the magazine and to provide an insight into the world of publishing.

As graduates from the University of Glasgow’s Masters in Creative Writing course, both Adrian and Colin highlighted the fact that beyond being published in the course’s annual anthology there were few outlets in Scotland for the publication of new writing with the demise of literary magazines such as Cutting Teeth and Cencrastus.

Gutter was established to fill this void. With the proviso to promote new and exciting Scottish writing, the magazine showcases emerging and established writing talent side by side. Published twice yearly, with the first issue launched in August 2008, recently published writers have included Alan Bissett, Patricia Ace and University of Stirling Royal Literary Fund Fellow Linda Cracknell.

Plans for the future include the publishing of a Gutter anthology and the continuation of Gutter events. This year saw a Gutter event ‘McSex’ at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, a night which explored the tradition of eroticism in Scottish Literature – think smutty prose and nipple tassels (the smutty prose from the writers/nipple tassels on the burlesque dancer, although the opposite could have been interesting!), and events at the National Library of Scotland and the Glasgow Aye Write! Book Festival.

With the most recent issue full of stories from Scottish writers such as Louise Welsh, Zoe Strachan and Ewan Morrison I think that particular literary critic’s assertion was perhaps slightly misguided; there are certainly lots of good writers in Scotland under forty-five… Gutter is proof of that.

Lauren Nicoll

Scotland’s favourite national pastime: NOSTALGIA

December 15th, 2010 by Karen_Margaret_Raith | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on Scotland’s favourite national pastime: NOSTALGIA
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Adrian Searle by David Lemm

Over the past few decades, Scottish literature has become slightly repetitive.  As Liz Lochhead’s quote above affirms, Scots are continuously looking back at the good-old-days.  Kiddies getting milk at school, Ah- Bisto!, the fish man on Tuesdays and working in factories and mines.  Read James Kelman’s The Burn or Gregory Burke’s Gargarin Way, and you will be slapped in the face by a depressing (albeit brilliantly written) anti-Thatcherite society.  Although it has only been twenty years since Mrs Thatcher has been in power, perhaps it’s time to embrace the new literary scene.  Welcome to the spotlight Adrian Searle and Colin Begg, the creators of Gutter magazine.

On the 25th November, these two ambitious young men joined the publishing studies class at Stirling, to promote entrepreneurship and contemporary Scottish fiction.  In reaction to a nameless critic asserting that ‘there were no “young literary Turks” out there,’ Searle and Begg set out to prove that ‘the new writing scene in Scotland is bouncing’ [Hind].  Meeting each other at a Glasgow creative writing course, the double act teamed up to form literary magazine Gutter, which has been compared to industry heavy-hitters MacSweeny.  The magazine concerns quality writing that is well-presented.  Writers have included Louise Welsh, Ewan Morrison and Zoe Strachan.  Searle would love to snag Scottish literary royalty, Kelman, Agnes Owen or Douglas Dunn.  They ardently promote the value of intellectual thought, and aren’t afraid of injecting a bit of Scottish ‘cheek.’  One of their events has been called ‘McSex’ and assessed eroticism in Scottish literature.  Also, the current poem on their webpage concerns the couple of the moment, Prince Will and Kate Middleton.  Excerpts include,

Life may be grim, but bankers and toffs have misery at bay

With this assertion, create a diversion, a Royal wedding day.


So, welcome back the Tories and their Liberal rejects;

We’ve cuts and riots, it’s strangely quiet, but cardboard city’s next.

Searle with modesty maintains that he is ‘playing with publishing’ or as he quirkily deems it ‘micro-publishing.’  From a marketing and design background, he co-founded the Glasgow-based publishing house, Freight, in 2001.  He decided to self-commission projects, in order to have complete control over the creative process.  Freight has churns out rare titles, including The Hope that Kills Us: An Anthology of Scottish Football Fiction, Snacks after Swimming and The Knuckles End: A meaty Collection of New Scottish Writing.  They base themselves around Scottish writers, and the projects are visually stimulating, and have already received several accolades.  Again, Searle refers to the titles unpretentiously as ‘fairly self-indulgent.’  Freight enjoys a sense of humour in the creative process.  When naming the title Knuckle End it refers to an obnoxious assertion that Scotland is the ‘knuckle end’ of England – the leftovers that you might make soup from or throw to the dogs.  Wittily The Knuckle End is broken into two hardbacks joined in the middle by a knee joint: one section is on fictional short stories, the other a cow’s journey from the field to the abattoir.  Artistically, the text employs squint double columns, and uses vernacular typography, created by ‘non-designers.’  Colin Begg? Well, in his spare time – he’s a doctor.  Doesn’t it make you tired just hearing what they’re up to?

Inspirational and informative the talk had the students swigging their lattes and developing formative strategies for our own publishing houses.  Can’t wait to see what the boys are up to next.

PS: Now you’ve finished reading my blog go over to Gutter to subscribe to their mag, and read the rest of the poem On the Announcement of the Engagement of HRH Prince William & Miss Kate Middleton by Carl MacDougall (Parental Advisory Recommended).

Image copyright David Lemm,

Karen Raith

Inspiring Paula Morris

December 12th, 2010 by Saskia_Spahn | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on Inspiring Paula Morris
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Personally, I have remained much inspired by the talk of Paula Morris, who was the last guest speaker of our series. Paula is an author and teaches Creative Writing at Stirling. In fact, listening to her felt like ‘Yes, I will write more myself’. Firstly, she addressed the myths people nourish about writers, e.g. the writer isolating themselves, being oblivious to the world, while, in fact, they have another job instead, to make a living. Also, there is the opinion they would compromise for anything that would stimulate sales. However, in the case of popular writers, they might not be prepared to, – an example being Jonathan Franzen, who did not like Oprah’s Book Club (endorsement) sticker on The Corrections. Another ‘myth’ that Paula wanted rid of is that people seem to feel each and every publication be available on Amazon. Not true. Amazon is not hosted in every country, books are out of print, and smaller publishers may not be able to afford distribution through that channel.

Paula then talked about the author–publisher (editor) relationship, and the frustration of many writers, who complain that they aren’t looked after well enough, or that the publisher didn’t do enough for their book to do well. On the other side, there’s the writer, who also needs to become proactive. Not only has he or she to win the publishing team over, so that they will care more about the book, and put more effort towards its realization, but also, if an author won’t show initiative, he or she might sell the book to a publisher to see it disappear before long. Claire asked the curious question, how much it would be also about the team liking you, the author, as a person. Paula’s answer: a lot. No surprise. Nowadays, authors are expected to have Facebook and Twitter accounts, a website, a blog, etc. Their own initiative counts, literally. Paula is a great example herself. On one occasion, when living in the US, she promoted herself, with her husband designing book flyers, to be sent out to bookshops, who, in turn, invited her to do signings. These things make the publisher happy, as the author themselves has provided for a growth in sales. Ideally, the author would subsequently receive more attention from the publisher’s part. However, this may depend on how well the book will do after all. Curiously, if you’re a poet, your book won’t be expected to sell as well as if you were doing fiction. At the bottom line, if the records tell that your book has done great, you are likely to get another deal with your publisher.

According to Paula, everything is about getting your product ‘out there’. She also thinks that you want slightly too many copies of your book on the market, and that it is a good sign if there are returns, as this would confirm that there are a lot of copies out there. Additionally, Paula emphasized the status of London and New York as centers of publishing. Once your book hits London or New York, it would go out in the world – Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India…

Paula Morris, in my opinion, has been one of the most inspiring guest speakers we had. The effortlessness and candidness she applied speaking about her work, views, and experiences invigorated her talk to evolve into one ever so multi-faceted, relevant, and genuinely stimulating.

From snuff and quill pens to 21st century bookselling…

December 5th, 2010 by Ina Garova | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on From snuff and quill pens to 21st century bookselling…
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Willie Anderson, the deputy chairman of John Smith & Son, gave a talk at Stirling University’s Centre for International Publishing and Communication recently.

The deputy chairman of John Smith & Son is a charismatic man – well-read, well-informed and well-spoken. For an hour he mixed funny stories from his days in the industry with astute observations about the changing face of bookselling and what the future holds for publishers. 

Mr. Anderson gave a brief account of John Smith’s development as a bookseller starting from 1751. This was when their first store opened in Glasgow, when snuff and quill pens were a part of their stock along with books. Then talked about how John Smith’s decided to concentrate on campus bookselling and exit the general market because they could not compete with the bigger chains.

He also explained why they’ve decided to open a bookshop in Botswana and the deal they’ve made with the university to encourage students to buy from the store. The students are given vouchers from the university, which they can spend on books and other educational resources in the bookshop.

The company has a similar arrangement with the University of East London where students, after finishing their first semester, receive an UEL Progress Bursary Card with £500 they can spend at the John Smith’s store.

Mr. Anderson also mentioned, of course, Amazon – the current threat to chain bookstores.In his words their marketing strategy is ‘brilliant’ because they appear to have everything, but this is not the case. Amazon relies on sheer volume to make a profit. ‘They’ve brainwashed you,’ he smiled, ‘but the sales going through the Amazon web page have been extraordinary for John Smith’s so far.’

 When asked how their website is working out for them, Mr. Anderson replied: ‘You need a website, it’s a good marketing tool, but the sales are not fantastic through it. It is not a very good website,’ he stated, somewhat apologetically.

 The future of bookselling? According to Willie Anderson, it will be interesting to see how the industry will develop in order to overcome the current difficulties in the market. It is a time of great change and publishers need to be increasingly receptive and flexible in regards to these new developments, he concluded.