Adrian Searle

Insights from Freight Books Publisher, Adrian Searle

November 1st, 2016 by danny_frew | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on Insights from Freight Books Publisher, Adrian Searle
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Adrian Searle is Publisher at Glasgow-based Freight Books and Director of sister company Freight Design. He is also founding co-editor of Scotland’s leading literary magazine, Gutter and holds degrees in History and Creative Writing, obtained at the University of Edinburgh and the University of Glasgow respectively.

On the 26th of October 2016, students and members of the public had the chance to hear Searle discuss publishing matters at the University of Strathclyde as part of the ongoing Nuts and Bolts guest speaker series. In the space of an hour Searle offered up a great deal of insight in to both Freight Books and publishing in general.

Some highlights follow.

On the timely arrival of Gutter

 For those unfamiliar, Gutter is a boundary-pushing and award-winning literary magazine published by Freight Books which focuses on new Scottish writing. The 15th issue has just recently been released.

Why has Gutter been so successful? It partly boils down to timing. The magazine launched during an industry slump which prompted many publishers, particularly in England, to ruthlessly exorcise any immediately unprofitable talent from their lists.

Adopting a more venturous approach, Gutter thrived by drawing on the growing pool of artists seeking out viable and more welcoming channels for their work.

 On vision, insight and the challenges of standard practice

Searle puts forth the notion that publishing works best when the whole process takes lead from an individual’s clear and focused vision, although he also attests to the need for a solid sounding board – he and AyeWrite! programmer Bob McDevitt have indulged in plenty of shop talk over games of squash.

Technically an “outsider” to the industry, Searle has held multiple roles in marketing and business development out with the publishing sector – enabling him to astutely pinpoint that the publishing industry continues to be beset by not-quite-optimized standard practice models within distribution, selling, returns and printing.

On the risks of a literary focus

Searle affirms that the publishing of literature, particularly literary fiction and poetry, is a labour of love and at times very much a luxury.

For as much pleasure and pride as there is to be gained in publishing Searle stresses repeatedly that, above all else, publishing is a business and a tough one at that. In divulging a 1 in 7 strike rate for profitability in fiction publishing, Searle makes it clear that you simply cannot eradicate risk in this industry, but that you should still seek to defend against it.

The answer for Freight Books has been to develop a diverse list and an appreciation for the need to simultaneously embrace what we continue to refer to as high and low brow culture. In addition to publishing literary fiction, Freight Books have wisely entered the burgeoning humour market with titles such as 101 Uses for a Dead Kindle, which Searle himself authored. A point of pride I’m sure, for sub-rights were later sold to Verlagsgruppe Random House and the publication received favourable attention from the German weekly news magazine, Stern.

On the tricky business of marketing Scottish literature

Searle made it clear that marketing Scottish literature can be a complicated and often frustrating task. Freight Books have an impressively diverse list of authors and titles, but they are undeniably a Scottish publisher with a plethora of identifiably Scottish titles.

Problematically, many parties – at home and abroad – readily compartmentalize Scottish identities and knowingly cultivate and capitalize on the prevailing clichés of our times.

Generally speaking, we should pause to deliberate over the ways in which Scottish identities are broadcast across the world stage. Within the publishing industry itself, the whole messy business of harnessing stereotypical national identities can be a bit of a double-edged sword.

For example, a title with a strong local focus – say a crime novel set in Glasgow – can welcomingly drive sales in that respective locale.

In another instance, many readers and publishing houses will willingly accept titles that fit comfortably in to pre-existing schemas for Scottishness – the most prevalent two being the gritty tartan-noir novel or the drug and profanity fueled Welshian narrative.

As to any deviations? Well, sadly the fix for such titles is to avoid branding them as overtly Scottish in a bid to render them in a robustly marketable light – at least until any potential literary awards can be obtained, which may absurdly help to mitigate any undeserved backlash towards issues of national identity.


Strathclyde’s Nuts and Bolts lecture series continues in the Lord Hope Building, Room 228 on the 9th of November at 1pm. Visiting speaker is award-winning novelist Cathy Forde. All are welcome and the event is free, non-ticketed.

by Danny Frew



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.


Meeting Adrian Searle

November 8th, 2012 by Luca Baffa | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on Meeting Adrian Searle
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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.