Dear Publishing was a little different from the rest of the panels: a series of pre-recorded open letters from members of the book community to raise the concerns they have with the publishing industry.
Tom Hodges from Typewronger Books, Edinburgh’s smallest bookshop, appeared first. As they specialise in small-press and self-published books, they often deal with people at the beginning of their journeys, which prompted the question that in an industry where it is often who you know that counts, what can be done to give writers greater access to publishers and for new voices to be heard? Internships was the next point on their agenda. They're a great source of knowledge and helpful in getting your foot on the ladder, but often they are unpaid or on the lowest wage scale and thus not accessible for those who cannot work for free. Taking that into consideration, Tom asked how publishing is trying to make career paths more accessible.
Kelly Urgan, a freelance editor and founder of Editegrity, wanted to know how publishers and freelancers could work better together. She asked questions about how a freelancer can work better with each department within publishing and what they might need to know before approaching that department. She also asked whether there are any extra skills that a freelancer would benefit from investing in to be better prepared. These discussion points led to the question of how a freelancer could get their foot in the door with a publisher. She also had some questions aimed at the HR department; as a freelancer wanting to move to an in-house position, she wanted to know whether there were any tips for making the transition and what experience would be best to showcase in an application.
Dean Atta and Jeda Pearl Lewis spoke next on behalf of the Scottish BAME Writers Network (SBWN) to discuss the inequality still present within the publishing industry. SBWN stated that BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) writers are made to feel that they have to fight each other for the same small share of the publishing world, when really that share should be expanded to hear more BAME voices. SBWN asked publishers to take a good look at their working practices and see where there are areas for improvement to stop the prejudices that BAME writers face. SBWN mentioned that publishing needs to make more of an effort to reach out to editors from underrepresented groups, beyond tokenism and single-issue takeovers of magazines/journals. This led SBWN to ask that if an editor came across a piece of work that they perhaps didn't relate to due to differences in ethnic experiences, how are BAME writers supposed to find the right support for their work? This truly is important, as there are BAME readers who want to see themselves represented too in the books they read and would feel empowered by it. SBWN asked for more support for underrepresented writers to make the process of approaching a publisher or an agent through to the stage of being made an offer more transparent, especially as the publishing process can be more difficult to navigate for BAME writers. SBWN called for more diversity in all areas of the publishing industry.
The last speaker was Bushra Wasty, Book Blogger at Bibliobushra, who also commented on the mysterious nature of publishing and how for an outsider it seems like a puzzle not easily solved. She brought up the difficulty of the hierarchies of imprints and discovering contacts for these imprints on websites that don’t provide any answers, and then remarked that it is also puzzling that large publishers pay billions to buy competitors, yet their staff still seems to be woefully underpaid. This segued to her next point: the pay disparity for BAME employees and the lack of representation within senior roles in publishing. She said it is nice to see some effort being made in this regard, but that there is still a long way to go. Due to Bushra’s blogging experience, she's had access to proof copies of books, but she noted that there have been occasions when these have been poorly edited and wondered what the reason is for this. Also in the case of ebooks, she has found that they sometimes have formatting issues that make her wonder whether she is in fact reading a book or a proof, again questioning what can be done to improve the experience for readers. Her letter ended on a gracious note: 'for I find myself being able to overlook some of publishing’s faults when I immerse myself in some of the most beautifully written and printed books that will be my companions for life.'
The questions and ideas presented within Dear Publishing were answered in its twin panel, With Best Regards.