There are a number of organisations that help the Scottish book trade grow its international footprint but arguably none does so as comprehensively as Publishing Scotland (PS). It is the lynchpin of any Scottish presence at book fairs, backs a translation fund for foreign publishers, and is the parent company of distributor BookSource, to name just three of its cross-border activities.
A new strand launched towards the end of 2018 was the creation of Scottish Books International (SBI), formed to promote the country’s books and authors abroad. The programme, directed by PS and the Edinburgh International Book Fair, was launched in December and is headed by Sasha de Buyl.
PS chief executive Marion Sinclair said: “We’re really excited about this. It came from conversations we had with [arts funding body] Creative Scotland, publishers and the EIBF, all around how we can add more value to promoting ourselves abroad. Previously, most of this had, of course, been done by individual companies or authors. But what we can do with [SBI] is have a comprehensive approach that combines all the players: publishers, authors, festivals and other organisations.”
Another of Publishing Scotland’s cross-border initiatives is its international fellowship programme, which has been running since 2015. Each year, publishers from the US, Canada and Europe are invited to Scotland (often during the Edinburgh festivals) to meet Scottish authors and publishers; the aim is to sell rights. Among the cohort this year were HarperCollins Germany editor Eva Wallbaum, Bompiani (Italy) editorial director Beatrice Masini and Patrick Nolan, editor-in- chief and associate publisher at Penguin Books US.
Nolan said that the trip enabled him to get a “first-hand knowledge of the Scottish publishing landscape, including publishers and agents, while getting to know an incredible group of editors all doing the same from around the world.”
He added: “I left Scotland with a suitcase full of submissions and some great new writers discovered, including Malachy Tallack, Alan Parks and Sally Magnusson. And it was really exciting to acquire a new author for my Penguin list from that mix: Kathleen Jamie. I’ll publish her astonishing new memoir, Surfacing, this [autumn].”
Publishing Scotland is a unique hybrid in the UK’s book trade as it is a membership organisation like the Publishers Association, but also both a registered charity and a commercial company (partly owing to its BookSource arm), plus it receives the bulk of its funding from Creative Scotland. Serving several constituencies is a challenge, Sinclair concedes, but it helps PS plan better for the long term. She adds: “Last year was, in many ways, the year of the micropresses, like Charco and 404 Ink. We’ve tried to help these newer, smaller companies a lot because they will grow and be the more mainstream publishers of the future. We need to keep helping and nurturing newcomers. [Scotland] is in an age of great writing, with an abundance of publishing talent and world-class events. But there are challenges. Immediate ones like Brexit, but also more long-term: how do we in books fit into the wider creative industries? We can’t rest on our laurels and we have to make an ecosystem that supports all our members.”