Learning at Luath

A week ago I did a one-week placement at Luath Press, an independent Scottish publisher specialising in ‘well written books worth reading’. Here’s what I learnt:

Publishing’s a complex business…

Luath publish approximately 40-50 titles a year, of which only 10-20 are unsolicited manuscripts that come from a large pool of submitted work. They sell to chain and independent bookshops across Scotland, and as they publish many local history and guide books, through tourist gift shops when not in lockdown. They also always push for a UK and international reach for appropriate books; Gavin, the director at Luath showed me several copies of Poverty Safari by Darren McGarvey, one of their most successful recent books, all translated into different languages.  

I really love proofreading

I started off my placement reading through Activism for Life, Angie Zelter’s forthcoming memoir-cum-handbook about her life as a peace activist. Its release date coincides with International Women’s Day, so the team were busy putting the final touches on her manuscript to send it to the printers the following week. Since taking Publishing Writing A last year, I’ve edited and proofread for friends but working on a published book was a step up. I was told the majority of my comments were used, so making an already brilliant book a little bit tidier was immensely satisfying.

It’s all about the audience

After reading Angie’s book, I set about writing an advance information sheet, press release and book blurb. Gavin was on hand to point out that each of these had a different audience and therefore needed to say different things. Sounds obvious, but this helped me to tailor each piece: AIs are for booksellers, so they need to convince them there is an audience out there for the book; a blurb is for the reader so needs to entice them in; a press release is for the media so it needs to be attention-grabbing and relevant to current issues. I worked on these simultaneously, dropping the sentences in the document that most fitted that audience, thinking carefully about what was appropriate where. Of all of these, I found the blurb easiest, which should come as no surprise as I have far more experience browsing bookshelves than I do as a newspaper editor or bookseller. It was a real boost to my confidence when Gavin said he would use some of my words on the real book jacket, but I got some good feedback for the other documents too.

My work is better than I think it is

My work got really positive feedback, and most of it I thought was terrible. I did a recorded zoom interview with Angie and was fretting that I was awkward and the sound was awful but Eilidh, the Sales and Marketing Co-ordinator who would be editing it and posting on social media said I came across well and established great rapport with the author.

Being a beginner is exhausting

I was completely frazzled by Friday. I’d added so much new information into my brain and worked really hard to do a good job with all the work I was set. This realisation helped me to emapthise with the 7 social work students I was to supervise the following Monday at my day job!

Work placements are about balance

I was prepared for the work placement to be more useful to me than it was for Luath, and that it was unlikely that my work would be used. But of course, I secretly hoped that my work would be to a standard that was useable. I was given a range of activities which gave me the benefits of both ends of that scale; writing a reader report for Activism for Life taught me a huge amount about how to assess a book quickly and succinctly, which was great preparation for the other tasks but of course wasn’t useful for a book about to go to the printers. But doing things to a useable standard was a huge boost to my confidence, which is just as important for me at the moment as cold hard knowledge.

I’m really excited for what’s next

My experience at Luath was a fascinating insight into how a manuscript gets from a writer’s desk into a reader’s hands. It also it gave me the confidence and insight to identify where my skills might align with parts of that process, and where I want to go next in my adventures in publishing.

As I type, I am negotiating a second work placement at Peepal Tree Press in Leeds. They are another independent publisher, but specialise in Caribbean and diaspora writers. There’s a real buzz around what they are doing at the moment after one of their books, The Mermaid of Black Conch by Monique Roffey won the Costa book of the year.

Because of my time at Luath, I have a much better idea of what to ask to work on at Peepal Tree. I got a glimpse into the world of book design and production which I am curious about as my first degree was in Graphic Media Communication. It brought back memories of nerding out over tiny typographic decisions. I have also asked Peepal Tree if I can space my placement out over a longer period as one week went by in a flash.

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