Event Review: SYP Scotland’s “The Book: From the Inside Out”

Ever wondered exactly what goes into making the books we all love? Well SYP Scotland is going to tell you, in 360 seconds.

This was my first SYP event, and it was absolutely fantastic! I got the opportunity to get loads of information about the publishing industry, and it was such a great, friendly atmosphere. Definitely going to more events in the future!


First up Adrian Searle took to the stage to talk about the ins and outs of commissioning. He opens by busting the myth that publishing isn’t necessarily the glamorous career you thought it was. It isn’t a case of “manuscript sold, book is made, fabulous lifestyle and loads of money.” But it is still an interesting career to have.

Publishing is ultimately a business, and the aim of the game is to find books that will sell. Freight books is lucky in that they have another business and can publish books that may not make the most money, but they can invest in an author whose second or third book may be that money maker.

“Publishing is the purest form of gambling” Searle states. His advice to those looking to work in the publishing industry is to take the less glamorous job and work to achieving the more exciting job in ten years time, as opposing to taking the glamorous one and messing up. Most of all he states “work hard and be interesting.”

Art and Design

“I am in the business of selling books by the cover” Rafaela Romaya states.

While there is the old worn cliché “Don’t judge a book by its cover” Romaya argues that this is exactly what we do. She states that we as human beings are visual people, and all the elements of a books design – the colour, the font, the alignment and the images draw us towards a certain book.
She also states that “a book does finish a room” this is why such effort and care is taken with the book spine. It is an incredibly important process, one that can have a massive impact on the sales of a book. She also mentions that all these subtle elements of design can have a major part in the overall genre the book is put into.

Rafaela also discusses the impact that the digital world has had on the design of a book. She emphasises that with eBooks there is room to do more, to create even more interesting and visually exciting books.

“Good book design is when the book asks you to pick it up and leaves the shop with you!”

Art and design is clearly a very important role in the publishing process, and I myself often pick up books in Waterstones based purely on their cover. Next time you’re in a bookshop, why not take some time and think about the covers, and what they’re trying to convey.


Next Eleanor Collins of Floris books takes to the stage. Collins decides to rebel against the traditional presentation format and describes her role as editor in the form of a romance novel. She starts of by describing the massive pile of manuscripts she has on her desk. She has to read them and ultimately decide if they are books that her company can sell. You are trailing through the pile and find a manuscript filled with promise, though it somewhat falls through in the middle. The more time you spend with it, the more you fall for it, the more attached you become to it.

“This could be the manuscript of your dreams!”
“It’s boots need polished and it’s face needs scrubbed – it’s an intense time.”

Collins stresses the need for an editor, no matter how good the manuscript is. She states that she has never found a manuscript that was 100% perfect, everyone needs some kind of tweaking. She also mentions the importance of cultivating author relationships (though she won’t go into that, because it starts to bring in an icky threesome metaphor.) Editing is clearly a very intense profile, and as Eleanor states, you finish with that manuscript, love it and nurture it and bring it to life, and then another one in the pile catches your eye…


The fourth speaker is Leah McDowell, also from Floris books. She highlights the importance of production in the whole operation of publishing. McDowell likens the production stage to the British army. In that they are intensely loyal, and must adhere to strict disciplines.

“We wage war on missed deadlines”

“A finely set paragraph of text is like a regiment.”

The production department has so many different jobs. They must ensure everything is completed on time, they have to get quotes on how much it will cost to make the book, wrestle with art and design to ensure the book is completed and that they don’t go over budget.

McDowell stresses the importance of integrity in production. Like in the British army we must own up to our mistakes. They have to respect the printers also, and send them the correct digital formats. McDowell finishes up by highlighting that production is a role that is often overlooked in publishing, with people looking for the more glamorous roles like editing. She states that though this may be the case, it is an integral role in the whole operation, and without it, the whole process would fall apart.


Our second to last speaker is Lindsay Terrell from Canongate books. The book has gone through this whole process of editing and design and production, and now it is ready to be marketed.

“We are in the business of telling stories”

With marketing books, the story may already have been written but that doesn’t mean the job is any less difficult. Terrell tells that you may only have a tweet, or a small space on a newspaper spread in order to resonate with your reader, to draw them in and buy the book.

Marketing involves asking questions. Who is reading this? Why are they reading it. Who is your key demographic? What do you want to convey to them. Marketing is ultimately about ensuring the right people see and read the book. She also discusses the role an author can play in marketing a book – they can be the integral voice that the marketeer cannot be. It’s a very exciting job to be with so many resources at your finger tips.


Last but certainly not least is Vikki Reilly, who provides us with a whistle stop tour of what it’s like to work in sales. She starts of by explaining that she spends the majority of her time in bookshops. She deals with sales in-house but she also travels to various locations in order to pitch books to the local book stores. She also tells us that it isn’t about just book stores, she sells to gift shops, museums and a whole host of different shops, depending of course on the book in question. The key part of sales is finding the right place to sell the book, somewhere where people who have like minded interests will ultimately see it.
Reilly also tells us that a big part of her job involves author events, organising signings or talks or whatever the bookseller requires.

“You have to be a cheerleader for your book” she tells us.

Reilly’s job also requires going above and beyond. She spends a lot of time in her car, and has had to drive copies of a book to a bookshop in her pyjamas on a bank holiday because the printers was closed and the book had to be at the store by the deadline.

She also stresses that you need to know your retailers, what is likely to sell and what isn’t. They can’t stock everything so you have to ensure your book is going somewhere that will ultimately benefit it. She concludes by telling us “It’s impossible to love everything you publish, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth it’s weight in paper.”


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