Industry Insights: Kevin McGowan and Fatma Oulha from Ringwood Publishing
In this issue, we talk to Kevin McGowan, Submissions Manager and Fatma Oulha, Social Media Manager who work for Ringwood Publishing, a volunteer run independent publisher of Scottish fiction and non-fiction. Read on to discover more about them and their journey into publishing…
Tell us about how you joined Ringwood Publishing
Kevin: I came from the writers’ side of the tracks. With writing for a living being a rather dreamlike, albeit not impossible career goal, becoming involved in the publishing industry was a strategic compromise which ended up being perfectly enjoyable and still allowed for the transference of skills that comes through writing, such as editing and proofreading. I had not long finished a master’s degree in creative writing and, after a few classmates having interned there, decided to get in touch with Ringwood.
Fatma: I am an avid reader; books are an important aspect of my life. So, during the first lockdown, I decided to go ahead and search for internship opportunities and sent emails to every local publishing company I found in Glasgow. I received a reply from Ringwood Publishing and after several inquiries from their part, I got an interview scheduled. I passed the interview and became a new Ringwood intern. It was certainly one of the happiest days of my life.
Can you tell us a bit about Ringwood Publishing and being a volunteer-run independent publisher?
Kevin: Ringwood began in 1997 and reactivated in 2011. We publish a diverse range of work, all with a Scottish connection to some extent. The benefit of being an independent, volunteer-run publisher is that we can devote ourselves to stories that we actually care about – it’ll never be a money-guzzling corporation, so the passion takes precedence every time. We also do our best to take a more personalised approach and really support our authors. I do suppose that marketing can be occasionally challenging due to our reliance on zero budget methods – however, the good thing is that marketing is largely virtual now, anyway, and we currently have a great team who have been working wonders through social media, etc.
Fatma: Being a volunteer-run publisher can be very challenging, especially with the competitive nature of the industry. Yet with their aspiration to publish great quality work of fiction and initiative to accept passionate interns, they managed to build a notable reputation and acquire very dedicated staff. It’s a company that calls for diversity and is full of ambitions and countless opportunities for its staff to develop within a welcoming and talented environment.
Can you tell us anything about Ringwood’s remote internship opportunities and how hopefuls can apply?
Fatma: As you know, the publishing industry is competitive and opportunities are mostly provided to individuals who have a great deal of experience. However, Ringwood provides this amazing chance for those who are eager to gain valued work experience in a variety of publishing tasks from manuscripts evaluation, proofreading, editing and copyediting and an overall knowledge of the publishing process, in addition to other aspects like social media managing and digital marketing. The application process is simple, as those who are interested need to send their CVs and if initially accepted, they undergo a lengthy interview in which Ringwood provides a clear explanation about the requirements of the internship and what an intern would gain from this arrangement.
Kevin: Simply send your CV to email@example.com! Ringwood offers a range of experiences. The thing I like is that the longer an intern sticks around, more and more opportunities will arise for that person. It really is a mixed bag in the best possible way.
Ringwood runs an annual short story competition. For anyone hoping to apply next year, what advice would you give?
Fatma: For anyone interested in participating in Ringwood’s short story competition, I would say if you have a dream of becoming a writer, if you are passionate about writing and books, and have a talent for it, then trust in your abilities and go for it. It is a great opportunity and the winning entry is published on the website, which could be the first step towards more success.
Kevin: The diversity of the entries has been great for this first ever competition and it has been enjoyable reading through them. I did, however, spot quite a lot of tiny punctuation errors here and there, so I’d encourage next year’s entrants to ensure that they’re doing rigorous proofreading prior to submitting.
Lastly, if you could give a shoutout to any project that deserves more attention, what would it be?
Fatma: I think all of Ringwood’s books deserve a wide acknowledgement, as each has a compelling story and pronounced motivation behind it. Our recent publication Lockdown Laughs: The Bathroom Book by Gerda Gordon certainly deserves noteworthy attention, as both Ringwood and Gerda decided to donate all proceeds to charity. They will be working with Cystic Fibrosis Trust, Cancer Research, Children in Need and Alzheimer’s Scotland.
Kevin: One that I’ve really admired since the moment I discovered it is Poetry Lab Shanghai – it’s a lovely little project that aims to bridge the worlds of English and Chinese poetry. The team translates published English poems into Mandarin, and vice versa, so the effort being put in is commendable. I think the unity that they’re focusing on is very important and is what’s needed now more than ever.
1. What attracted you to work in social media?
I have a passion for aesthetics, and I believe that social media allows for a lot of creativity. My studies are related to social media, so I found it would be a great opening to develop my skills and improve my knowledge. When I became an intern I was apprehensive about having such a tremendous responsibility, but I received amazing support from all of Ringwood’s staff and we are gradually building our social media presence.
2. What factors influence your decision when deciding how best to promote a book?
To promote a book, I have to consider its content and genre, the opinions of the authors and what they want to convey, what Ringwood represents and what would interest the readers. These factors help to write on-point captions and design compatible graphics. You have to value the book the same way the author and the publisher does, as it certainly takes a long time and effort to write and publish it, so the promotion needs to be founded with the same level of motivation.
3. What three qualities do you think a Social Media Manager needs to possess?
I think any social media manager should be organised, creative and have a passion for learning and improving the necessary skills for the role. A basic knowledge of the workings of social media platforms is important, but there is always room to be better and more innovative.
4. Social media roles can be competitive nowadays. Do you have any advice for hopefuls looking to work in this area of publishing on how they can build experience on their CV?
My advice is to try to apply for internships, as these are a great way of gaining practical knowledge and skills. There are also many online publishing communities which provide valuable tips, dos and don’ts and promote any recent opportunities (writing, proof-reading, editing, etc.). For social media experience in particular, a great way would be to follow other social media managers and learn from their input and recommendations, and maybe opt for starting a blog or building a social media portfolio. Briefly, I believe that anyone passionate and motivated enough for their goals can excel even if their skills need a bit of polishing. All you need is to keep trying and never give up.
1. You have worked as a freelancer alongside your role as Submissions Manager at Ringwood. How do you balance your competing responsibilities?
August ended up being a busy month, between doing a proofreading job, leading the editing on one of our newly published titles, The Ten Per Cent, and general Submissions Manager duties. I prioritise whatever is needing done first and, in the event that that’s going very well, I do sometimes flit back and forth between various responsibilities. Being or becoming used to a certain work pattern and environment also helps – my main paid job is remote, even pre-pandemic, so I already found it quite easy to juggle multiple tasks from home.
2. Can you tell us about your input from the time a submission is received? What does a manuscript need to have to get your attention?
If a manuscript passes an initial accept/reject screening by myself, I will add it to our submissions files. After that, I’ll send it to our reading team for a couple of brief initial verdict reports – if at least one person believes it to have potential, our team will then provide in-depth reports on it and all members of the editorial committee will also read the manuscript. These reports will subsequently aid us in reaching a final decision at our monthly editorial committee meeting, which I usually chair. To get my attention in the first place, the manuscript should ideally have a Scottish link, no matter how tenuous, and be relevant to our interests genre-wise – our catalogue is varied, but we don’t tend to publish high fantasy, sci-fi and the like. Beyond that, the writing must be at least competent, which includes all the grammatical bits and bobs. If something comes in and it’s clear that the author, for example, doesn’t know how to format dialogue, I will reject it. Helping writers with editorial tweaking is part of the publishing process, certainly, but only within reason – you still need to know what you’re doing before submitting to anywhere.
3. What three qualities do you think a Submissions Manager needs to possess?
Understand writing and, secondly, be capable of firmness and rejecting a lot of manuscripts – Ringwood has a small annual limit as to how many books can be published, so I do turn away a lot of stuff at the threshold before anyone else ever sees it. The third quality, relating especially to the second, is that you need to be attuned to the company and its wider workings e.g. what we publish, what we are interested or are becoming interested in, things like that. I don’t think you can function as submissions manager in a vacuum.
You can find out more about Ringwood Publishing on their website or Twitter @RingwoodPublish