What Scotland's young publishers want

What Scotland's young publishers want

As the social media and marketing officer for the Society of Young Publishers, Heather McDaid has to cater for the needs and skills of a new generation of publishers. Here she shares her insight into how they work, what they want... and how the SYP is having to change to keep up.

Young publishers are an eager and ever-expanding group and being part of the Society of Young Publishers, which offers support in their path into the industry, is incredibly exciting. Scotland in particular is a micro-hub of publishers – including thriving independents and many going it alone – meaning that the Society operates here on a smaller scale than in many other British regions such as London and has had to evolve to reflect the unique priorities for those joining us at the start of their career.


The main demand we get is for practical skills. Networking is vital and it’s true that everyone knows everyone in publishing after a while, but our members are hungry for detailed insights and hands-on skills that will help them keep up with today's demanding digital-physical environment. Our first conference’s coding workshop was our most popular event, and the follow-up workshop from Perthshire-based Creativelab, giving InDesign tips and tricks, was one of our fastest sellers. Unsurprisingly, we have future plans for futher training in tech and coding in publishing.

SYP book design workshop

But why are skills so vital? We have over 100 publishers, but team numbers are small – Saraband, the publisher of 2016 Man Booker longlistee Graeme Macrae Burnet’s His Bloody Project, is a small dynamic team. Outsourcing work is integral to how many publishers here operate and survive - and indeed influences how many young publishers get their foot in the door – across editorial, marketing, PR and more. Later this year, we’re hosting our first Freelancing 101 event, a crash course in helping students and young publishers pinpoint what skills they have that they can monetise. Publishing is a business of passion, but it fundamentally is a business, and the next generation know they need to be highly commercially savvy to survive.

Increasingly people coming into the industry have grown up comfortable with the technology that publishing houses have had to slowly adapt to. It’s all second nature, and so their route into the industry doesn’t have to be solely via a 9-5, department-specific job. On top of freelancing, we’ve held How To Set Up Your Own Publishing Company, with an increasing number of students going straight to their own company: She Is Fierce, Four Letter Word and 404 Ink, to name a few.

Blogging and social media has unsurprisingly been vital for SYP Scotland. It’s not new, but it does work wonders when done right, and the industry overall can learn a lot from the bloggers, vloggers, microbloggers and forum members who create communities and celebrate books in brilliant ways.

With this in mind, nothing we do is exclusive. All of our events are fully recapped so those who don’t make it can still access all the tips and information and we host regular blog series. We hold online events so everyone is able to take part, with ties in to our in-person events, or themes – last August, we gave a crash course into the running of book festivals via Peggy Hughes (Literary Dundee), Dom Hastings (previously of Bloody Scotland) and Sam Missingham (HarperCollins)

It all breaks down the location-specific barrier to allow diverse aspiring publishers from all over to access what we do. And now that we’re reached significantly more people, we face the next challenge: what do we offer now?

Broadening the insights beyond our own bubble is vital. The Society in Scotland has sought to create strong and perhaps unexpected partnerships, and it’s probably the most important thing we’ve been able to achieve. This includes partnering with Glasgow Comic Con to help us launch comics publishing events, and with The Saltire Society who administer the national book awards in Scotland, to host shadow judging panels, where people can read and judge the shortlists of the actual awards and compare with the judges’ decisions. Others, like PPA Scotland, invite us to cover their events and give followers who couldn’t attend magazine-based insight.

Most importantly, we’ve partnered with The Saltire Society and Publishing Scotland to offer an Emerging Publisher of the Year Award as of 2016, with our co-chairs on the judging panel, celebrating the successes of those working in the industry for under five years. On top of a well-deserved recognition, the winner will receive £500, offering a well-needed celebration of young talent in the publishing industry, as well as a tangible reward.

Publishing is a very old industry boasting people with a lot of knowledge and experience, but young publishers are coming into the industry with essential and inherent skills – digital understanding, coding, marketing, editorial, website content - that the market badly needs. Our future lies in exploring how to utilise, enhance and celebrate these skills. Indeed, if we're sure about one thing, it's that those skills are going to be used in a host of unexpected ways. For the established industry, this isn't just about hiring the next smart cookie - its about finding ways to collaborate with them that will maintain their need for independence and continual change.