What happens when an award-winning design company expands to create a publishing imprint? Back by popular demand, Adrian Searle, of Freight Books and the editor of Scotland’s leading literary journal Gutter, gave an insightful guest appearance for the Stirling MLitt Publishing class of 2013/14.
Adrian kicked his talk off with a wee slide show on all the expectation many have concerning what career in publishing will be like – money, fancy travels and big parties, more money and private jets… Before a big red X took over the screen and Adrian launched into the thick of it; publishing career is a lot more sweat and tears than money and fancy parties. Much more spending money than gaining money, a constant struggle for making that profit margin.
Adrian explained how publishing actually chose him rather than him actively pursuing the career in publishing – and it did not harm to do Masters in creative writing, after being lured into the spell of creative writing after the anthologies he published. Though setting up the imprint was far from easy, and ultimately took years to have all aspects figured out, and Adrian says a lot of it was thanks to the recession, and the “spaghetti plan” of other publishers. Though it might seem ominous to thank recession for enabling the success of another imprint, but it is a cutthroat business out there.
Combining the best of two worlds, going beyond the minimum both in published titles as well as their design, is what Adrian thrives towards. A great example of this is the Look Up Glasgow, a collaboration of the writer side of Adrian and the specialist architectural photographer David Barbour. The design of the book is all sorts of amazing, from the clever jacket that opens into one large photo on the inside of the jacket, to the clever cover design. Adrian, though, does admit he is perhaps not as motivated by money as he should but he does explain how the long-term aim is to make decent enough profit that allows them to publish without compromise those that truly tickles their fancy. On the one hand this means publishing a lot more non-fiction than fiction, but then the fiction that is published is something truly remarkable – such as the new translation of The Hairdresser of Harare by Tendai Huchu. The advice to be learned here is, as Adrian emphasizes, publishers need to diversify – not just publish fiction.
Freight Books aims to branch out from what has become expected publications from Scotland – more than golf or whiskey books as there is so much more to be discovered from Scottish literature scene, as well as from international scene. Some of the title Adrian explains were from the start known not to be big sellers, but were done with prestige and diversification in mind. Such as the Pedro Lenz book, Naw Much of a Talker, which was originally written in Swiss vernacular and translated into Glaswegian. Personal pet projects combines with the anticipated bestsellers.
Commercial decisions do rule much of the published titles, but as Freight Books is not limited to just publishing of new titles, but also branches into design and journal fields, Adrian and co. have created one of the most successful Scottish publishing labels that keeps on surprising.