Scottish book publishers have introduced audiences worldwide to some of the most tragic, reviled and revered characters in literature.
From the other-worldly narratives spun by George MacDonald and Alasdair Gray and the seedy worlds of Ian Rankin, Denise Mina and Irvine Welsh, to the intimate confessions of Scotland’s Makar, Jackie Kay, the creative spark inherent in Scottish Literature is astounding in both its diversity and literary scope.
But how do you get involved in such a dynamic industry?
Keara Donnachie, Publicity Officer at the Dingwall-based Sandstone Press, reveals how she got started in the book publishing industry, why she loves witnessing an author’s work come to life and shares her best advice on how to get involved in a similar role.
I handle the marketing and publicity for Sandstone Press, an international publisher based in the Scottish Highlands.
What led you to this role at Sandstone Press?
I studied English Literature and Creative Writing, but it wasn’t until my MSc in Publishing that I realised just how many roles exist in publishing!
After my MSc, I interned everywhere I could, and that provided me enough experience for my current role.
Did you always aim to work within the creative industries or was it something you fell into by chance?
Reading and writing are the two great loves of my life, but I always thought of them as hobbies, rather than a future career. All of my jobs had previously been in retail and education, but they just weren’t engaging my creativity.
During my MSc, I had my first taste of working with authors and their content and I realised then that I had found my calling!
Can you describe an average working day?
Every day is different! I usually work three months in advance of publication, but I’m also working on books from earlier or later on in the year. For example, a book could suddenly be shortlisted for an award, and you have to drop everything and jump back into that campaign.
As well as gaining publicity for our books and authors, I manage our social media, plan events and coordinate with book festivals, create publicity material like AI sheets and catalogues, and oversee our website.
What are your favourite aspects of your current role at Sandstone Press?
Without a doubt, witnessing a book come to life; from that first tentative idea to the physical copy that you can pluck from a bookshop’s shelf.
Also, that moment when an author receives their first piece of coverage for the story they’ve created from their blood, sweat and redrafts. When it’s finally released into the wild, it’s always a rewarding moment to witness.
What have been your career highlights so far at Sandstone Press?
I was pleased that one of my campaigns, Josephine Tey: A Life, received a lot of national press coverage and even a review in the Wall Street Journal. There’s also going to be a dedicated conference in Inverness next year, sparked by the book.
I was also thrilled that Jorn Lier Horst’s newest novel, Ordeal, reached number 1 on Amazon’s Scandi Crime chart (knocking Jo Nesbo off the top spot!). This involved concentrated social media targeting alongside e-book promotion and I’m glad it paid off.
It was also wonderful to attend the Edinburgh Book Festival this year, not as a reader, but as a publisher. We were very lucky that our author, Paul MacAlindin, had an event for his book, Upbeat: The Story of the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq, on the opening night.
What authors are you working with at the moment at Sandstone Press?
Currently I’m working on Fallow, a debut by Daniel Shand. It’s a fantastic thriller about two brothers with a highly manipulative relationship and a dark past. Alan Warner named it his ‘book of the year,’ and I have to say, it’s one of my favourites, too!
I’m also thinking ahead to January, and planning a campaign for Wait for Me, Jack by Addison Jones. The story spans sixty years of a marriage, against the backdrop of post-war America. We flashback between the highs and lows of Jack and Millie’s relationship: change in careers, affairs, and children. It raises the question: is there something to be said for the tradition of sticking by each other, ‘for better or worse?’.
What authors would you love to work with if you got the chance?
I think every Scottish publisher is coveting a certain Man Booker Prize shortlisted author at the moment: Graeme Macrae Burnet’s, His Bloody Project, published by Glasgow-based book publisher, Saraband.
There are some genres we don’t publish, so I think it would really be interesting to work with a YA author, or perhaps on something like a cookbook. I think the Hairy Bikers would be good fun…
What advice would you give to those looking to break into a similar role? What skills and attitudes should they have and who should they be following?
It’s very simple: experience, experience, experience! Try and grab as many internships as you can – even if they are unpaid – because it can make a world of difference to your CV, and you’ll also realise what roles you naturally fit.
It’s important to be a people person, as you’ll often have to comfort a nervous author, or pitch confidently to the press. You need to be organised and capable of flitting between campaigns.
Most importantly, you need to be creative. You have to understand the hook, and work those angles to the appropriate people. You also should be positive and realistic of what your campaign can achieve.
In terms of skill set, social media savvy and basic design skills can really give some oomph to your campaign.
If you’re based in Scotland or would like to work here, Publishing Scotland is a wonderful resource for job listings and training opportunities. Also, don’t forget to check out Sandstone Press on Twitter and Facebook.
Postscript: Creative Brew would like to wish Keara a massive congratulations for being shortlisted for Emerging Publisher of the Year at the 2016 Saltire Publisher of the Year Awards. Thoroughly well-deserved and we’ll be rooting for you all the way!