The Society of Young Publishers AGM 2021

Last weekend, the Society of Young Publishers had their Annual General Meeting, and handover from one committee to the next. Carl Smith, UK Chair of the SYP 2020 committee, highlighted how proud he was of all of the committees across the UK being able to not only adapt so quickly to the challenging year with the obstacles encountered, but also make successes out of the regular mentorship schemes, “SYP Into” and “SYP Ahead”, across the different regions. Furthermore, Elle from the London team was excited to introduce “SYP Launch”, the scheme now offered to those wanting to freelance within the publishing industry. Despite the challenges faced, the SYP has seen a 50% increase in members, with a 40% increase in digital memberships.

The triumph of their panels and networking events being transitioned to take place online are a testament to last year’s committees, along with the success of introducing podcasts and video content more widely. As part of the AGM, the topical panel highlighted change in the industry and how small voices can have a huge impact. The speakers were from all over the country, and from different areas of publishing, covering Open Access as well as Trade sectors. The panel comprised: Rebecca Wojturska, Open Access Officer at Edinburgh University Press, and also Director and Managing Editor of Haunt Publishing; Amy Barrett, Editorial Assistant at the BBC Science Focus magazine and also Co-Chair of Immediate Media’s disability network for employees; and Zainab Juma, Brands Campaigns Manager at Penguin Random House, Union advocator and Co-Chair of Pride in Publishing.

The panellists spoke openly about how seeing any significant impact of change is slow going, but without the little changes along the way we’d never see any movement at all. They discussed how in order to achieve systemic change you have to accept that slowness, and you can navigate it by setting standards at whatever level of the ladder you’re currently at. The mentioned how important it is to keep having those difficult conversations with as many people as possible along the way as when significant change does happen it will have the biggest impact on those least able to affect it. It is important to challenge the hierarchy by allowing junior members of the team to be part of the conversations around core decision making. The speakers talked about how change can be seen throughout the industry already: you can see it in the levels of engagement with networks which have been set up for those who are disabled, BAME or LGBTQ+, for example, you can see it in the implementation of Open Access in Academic publishing allowing the exchange of information to be more freely available through different funding models, and you can see it in the amount of transparency publishers now have with the wider community knowing more about what goes into publishing books. The access to books has also become more widespread with publishers working with community projects tackling homelessness and poverty, amongst other initiatives. There’s more of a moral cultural responsibility seen across the board.

With regard to industry change that the panellists are championing, Rebecca highlighted the “Diamond Open Access” that is currently being offered where they don’t charge for any submission, publishing or access fees for journals; institutional libraries will invest so that other people don’t have to. It is an alternative route to publishing that empowers researchers and students. She also ensures that all of the editorial boards she has responsibility for are diverse. With Haunt Books, she is actively combating traditional publishing models by using consultants wherever she can to fill gaps in her knowledge, and pays authors a flat fee to publish with her as well as paying them to promote their work to make sure there isn’t any unpaid labour along the way: the work being published is work they have already completed and the promotion is considered part of the job.

Zainab has been working with the creative responsibility team at PRH to launch “Lit in Colour” – to diversify literature taught in schools. This initiative aims to support teachers to implement change in the classroom, making it clear that representation through literature is a problem and that it is a problem worth solving. You might have spotted on The Bookseller this week that Pearson have actually joined this programme to help provide support to teachers as the UK's largest awarding body.  Amy has been combatting the problem of getting more access to content across different disabilities and impairments and has made sure that she has been interviewing a diverse pool when it comes to the content she works on at the magazine.

The question of, “how can we prompt change to happen?” was posed. The panel discussed how it could be that more training is needed when it comes to climbing the ladder in terms of people management; there is always great training on aspects of the job itself, but people management is something we just have to take on as we progress. Another thought was that there needs to be more accountability over the people around us, with more moral and social concern. We also need to create an environment in which people feel like they can approach managers with problems and feel supported, rather than feeling the pressure to just bring solutions all the time - this might be something that needs a discussion around, which can’t happen if the people who are affected aren’t part of the decisions being made. It is important to normalise having those difficult discussions, and empower people at all levels of the hierarchy to have the confidence to speak up without fear.

In summary, it was a fascinating AGM to be a part of, celebrating the successes of the last year as well as hearing about how the industry is moving forward with positive changes happening. Our STM specialist Shalini will be on the SYP Committee this year as a Career Support Officer, helping to organise panels like this one as well as interactive workshops and networking opportunities for those of you looking to get into publishing or looking to get ahead. Get in touch with her or keep an eye on the SYP website and social media channels for the upcoming events, and keep an eye on the Inspired Selection pages for any job opportunities you’re interested in too!