1. Delivering this year’s opening speech, powerhouse Sharmaine Lovegrove set the tone for the rest of the conference. She offered a refreshing perspective on the industry, describing the serpentine journey that led to her starting the Dialogue Books imprint and becoming the industry icon that she is today. She stated on Twitter after her speech, ‘I only know how to be honest, candid and political about my career, publishing and my commitment to literature, writers, readers and equity’, and we thank you for that candour, Sharmaine.
2. In our ‘meta’ opening session IRL URL, festival organisers and publicists discussed how they’ve adapted live events to the online format this past year. This was particularly close to our hearts as we executed our first digital conference this year (after our March 2020 conference sadly had to be cancelled due to the pandemic). It was inspiring not only to learn how our panellists tackled and overcame their respective hurdles but also to discuss the future of literary events, and how we can make them as accessible as possible – even when we return to our version of ‘normal’.
3. A recurring theme throughout the pandemic has been that we need to look outside our own bubbles and listen to different perspectives. Hosting our first-ever digital conference, we would have been remiss not to make use of the format’s advantages and thus it was a highlight for us to be able to welcome speakers from wider Europe and India in our session, World Wide Web. It was fascinating to hear the global perspectives this panel brought as they considered what it’s like to work and publish across borders during a pandemic. In addition, our pre-recorded Dear Publishing videos featured members of the wider book community voicing their questions and concerns about the industry. These questions were later responded to by a panel of publishing professionals in the With Best Regards session in an attempt to demystify publishing and encourage much needed communication. We hope to see more such open conversations in the future.
4. The ‘Young’ in our organisation’s name doesn’t refer to age, but to the stage of our publishing careers. For our early-career professionals – especially those who may not have had their starts in publishing – we offered the session Alt. Routes. It featured professionals who broke into publishing later in life and discussed the significance of transferable skills, particularly people skills, time management and computer literacy, as well as the importance of fresh perspectives gained from experiences outside of publishing. And for our aspiring publishers, or those who have only worked in the go-to trade sector of publishing, we organised the More Than (Trade) Words session. It taught us about the diverse fields and sectors the publishing industry comprises, from comics, educational and academic publishing, to distribution, B2B and literary agencies. Through 6-minute presentations, six professionals provided insight into their work.
5. The Sharing the Password session was a joy to witness, as our dream line-up of speakers, chaired by Anamik Saha, tackled issues of inclusion and diversity in the industry, in terms of ethnicity, gender identity and sexuality, chronic illness and disability, as well as socio-economic class. There is always the worry that we may be speaking in an echo chamber, but, as expressed by the speakers themselves, it felt like the panellists were able to cover new ground and reach fresh conclusions. They were unanimous on the fact that representation and accessibility need to be considered from the get-go by ensuring there’s space for more people from marginalised groups at the table; it will no longer be tolerated as an afterthought nor a marketing ploy.
6. A true highlight was seeing how the themes of innovation, adaptability and resilience featured in our various panel discussions and learning about how creative this industry has been in the face of adversity this past year. Apart from our session on live events, this resilience was particularly potent in The Lockdown Issue, our session on magazine publishing, and Your Cart Is Full, in which we heard from a panel of independent booksellers. These two parts of the industry have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic and ensuing lockdowns, making the open conversations and exchange of ideas between panellists all the more inspiring to hear.
7. As always, the SYP Spring Conference offered an opportunity to come together and celebrate Scottish talent in the book industry. This year, we heard from the people behind various Scottish-owned bookshops and small presses, but we also took the opportunity to highlight Scottish writers during our closing ceremony. Delivering a hilarious closing speech, Stirling-based author Ross Sayers hit the nail on the head on how it can feel to try to get a foot into this industry. He mixed humour with candour as he touched on subjects such as impostor syndrome and pay gaps, pleading with future publishers to be more open and honest with their authors. Our conference performer Gray Crosbie performed a heartfelt reading of their poems, ‘Haircut between binaries’, ‘Neighbours’ and ‘Taboo’ and an extract from their new flash-fiction book Love, Pan-Fried. For those of us who have missed spoken-word nights, Gray’s performance was an immersive experience that transcended screens and physical distance. Hearing from the Scottish talent featured in this conference, we were reminded of Literary Agent Jenny Brown’s words from her More Than (Trade) Words presentation: ‘We are lucky to be working here in Scotland. It’s a place full of literary heritage […] and also, we have a remarkable spirit of collaboration’.
8. Speaking of celebrating Scottish talent, our special event, Publishing Shuggie Bain, was a clear highlight on everyone’s list. This conversation provided a rare opportunity to learn about the process of working on a celebrated global success like Douglas Stuart’s Booker Prize winning Shuggie Bain. It was a joy to hear publishing rock stars, Publicity Director Camilla Elworthy and Editor-in-Chief Ravi Mirchandani, regale us with the tale of acquiring and producing this story of a lifetime. It felt like – as Douglas Stuart put it himself – we all got the chance to be a ‘fly on the wall’, witnessing the excellent working dynamic of two colleagues in this intimate setting.
9. Whether you took part in our conference #SYPChat (a recurring Twitter chat hosted by the SYP), our speed networking on the final day, or simply joined in the conversation using our conference hashtag (#SYPRefresh) or through the Zoom comments field, a clear highlight was to get to hear from and engage with so many of you throughout the conference! We really hope we can continue to meet you at socials, panel discussions and the wide range of publishing events the SYP has to offer in the next year (learn more about becoming a member of the SYP here).
10. As much as we enjoyed learning from all our eloquent speakers, nothing gets us quite as hyped as a Zoom pet-sighting and, thus, we’d like to dedicate our final highlight to Ned Hartley’s cat, Minnie – thank you for your service. More cat (and other pet!) sightings in the future, please!
For full summaries of all the Ctrl Alt Refresh sessions, check out the blog section on our conference website.