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Industry Insights: Interview with Stuart Debar, Creative Director at SRL Publishing

By Gabriela Kaczmarek, Kat Lenahan, Molly Arabella Kirk and Anna Cowan


Stuart Debar, Creative Director at SRL Publishing, tells us about the running of the first climate-positive publisher and tells us a little about the future publishing in light of the ongoing climate crisis.


How did you first get into publishing?


Everybody asks this question and I genuinely have no idea. I originally trained as a chef and worked in hospitality, then worked my way up the retail ladder for around ten years. Halfway through that, I randomly started up a magazine where we had a pool of around thirty contributors, including myself, writing up everything from film/tv reviews, recipes, album launches, interviews etc. It grew too big too quick – I had interviewed The Sugababes and Kelly Hoppen from Dragons' Den, and was getting random things sent to me almost every week. Working in retail alongside this was incredibly stressful and I had to keep turning down some amazing opportunities. I was about to close down the magazine when a friend asked me to take a look at a book they’d written, and it just started from there. Sometime in 2020 I decided to leave retail for good (probably not the best idea seeing as during lockdown retail was pretty much the only open store and an incredibly safe job) and worked on SRL on a more full-time basis.


You are the Creative Director at SRL Publishing – this must be an incredibly demanding role! Can you tell us a little bit about your responsibilities in this position?


It’s a little bit of everything to be fair. Just like any other industry, you go work for a large multi-national company and you stick to one, maybe two, areas of expertise. Whereas [in] a smaller business, you basically do a bit of everything. I much prefer this – I’m very much a “variety is the spice of life” person and I need different things to do every single day. I’m a Sagittarius and we get bored very easily and need a change of scenery quite often. Mostly it’ll be between editorial, working through the submissions, contracts, foreign rights, working alongside our authors and guiding them through the process, working with the brilliant ARC reviewers and all the amazing freelancers we work with too. Occasionally it’ll be heading out to international book fairs and talking to as many people about our titles and authors. Oh, and throw in some sales there too.


Can you share more about SRL’s selection process for the books you publish?


I think we’ve now passed fifty overall books, not including all the different editions and whatnot, but we’ve published quite a broad spectrum of genres including picture books, middle grade, YA, NA and general trade. We look for stories, authors with a passion for storytelling, stories with themes and topics that need to be spoken about, that need a platform. As long as we like it enough then we’ll publish it. I would say that if any submission doesn’t follow our guidelines then it does get deleted – if a publisher says they’re not interested in poetry, then don’t send poetry. If a publisher kindly requests no Dropbox, or similar, links, then don’t send these. I believe it’s about trust – if someone fails to read and follow our guidelines then, for their benefit, how do we know they will read and understand their contracts? It sounds a bit harsh, but it genuinely is for their benefit and to make sure we can trust that person to fully read and understand everything we provide throughout the publishing process.


How do you see the role of physical books evolving in the future in light of the increasing environmental and sustainability initiatives in the publishing and book industry?


I think print is king, and always will be. I completely understand the debate against print books and understand why people may think eBook readers are more sustainable (not always), but print books are not going away any time soon. We calculate the number of trees used for our products so we can make sure we’re always planting more to replace, and I always think just imagine if fifty years ago publishers were doing the same thing. We could be using those very trees to create today’s books, and it becomes a circular economy. Nothing beats holding a physical book in your hands and it is so much better than reading from a screen, because we all stare at screens too much anyway.


As the world’s first climate-positive publisher, what advice would you offer to other companies within the publishing and book industries looking to reduce their environmental impact?


Every publisher, or extended company within the industry, will have different needs and different targets. What could be a quick-win for one company, might be a lot more difficult for another. I’ve always stated it’s much quicker for smaller companies to make bigger changes than the large corporates because we don’t have a board of directors to please.


My advice would be to take it slow and one step at a time as it can be quite overwhelming, especially for someone a lot newer to it, and all the information out there can be a bit too much. Start small, find out what the company’s biggest opportunities are and work towards that one goal before taking on another. I would also say to not just throw money at something hoping that it’ll cover everything up – you need to know your figures and your calculations if you’re talking about offsetting, you cannot just put money out there and hope for the best. One of my main gripes is overprinting books just for a better profit margin. I completely understand that, from a business point of view, it makes sense, as businesses do need to make a profit, but printing an extra few thousand books just to cut the cost price in half knowing they’ll all end up destroyed is just criminal, and this practice needs to stop.

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