Gavin MacDougall Interview - Part Two

The View From Here Interview - Part Two:

Gavin MacDougall

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by Jen

Gavin MacDougall is the Director of Luath Press, based in Edinburgh, Scotland. I talked to him at The Frankfurt Book Fair. You can read about Luath Press, Distribution, E-books and Digitisation in Part One of the Interview here. In Part Two we talked about being a publisher, the submissions and selection process, and advice for new writers.

There is still time to enter The Luath books competition, open until November 30th.


What does your desk look like?

There’s always lots and lots of paper in a publisher’s office, even if things are becoming more paperless. But, yes, some parts of my desk are visible.

Do you prefer to get elect
ronic queries or manuscripts over paper ones?
Paper. We generally leave it up to the individual and are less prescriptive. Some will choose to send in messily hand written pages, nothing about themselves and no return address. However, that said, every publisher receives three categories of work. Yes, No and Maybe. Writers submit to us, we then submit to retailers, key head office people, so the process is constantly filtering. The retailer has to say yes, no, maybe, that’s what happening at every point down the line. So if what we get makes it easy to submit to others down the line, then that’s great. Some publishers do have very restrictive submission guidelines; three chapters, double spaced. However, I can think of a number of writers we’ve published that have not entered work that way, whether by another route or recommendation.

How many submissions do you think you get a year?

Hundreds and hundreds. Last time we actually counted was couple of years ago and it was something like five hundred, but that’s probably tiny compared with what a lot of publishers receive and why they need to be more restrictive.

Do you have a slush pile?

We don’t have anything we refer to as a slush pile. We have manuscripts awaiting consideration, at any given time we have book proposals across the spectrum that we requested and not.

How many people do you have reading submissions?

One person coordinates submissions. Our energies, as at most houses, are focused primarily on the books that we are publishing rather than on those we might consider.

What’s the process of reading submissions and making offers or rejections?

Well when you say read, we might only read a few hundred words, we assess the material rather than read it.

I almost never read a synopsis because it destroys any possible pleasure you might have reading the actual book. One tends to read incrementally – starting at the beginning, you see if you get to the end of the first page, do you feel like turning over to the second page, do you feel going on and so on – an awful lot won’t get beyond page 1, page 5 or page 10 or whatever it might be. So when I said that the work experience person had read Ann Kelley’s work, she had actually read the entire book and was motivated to do that – she may have looked at fifty, but that may have been the only one she read to the end.

We never enter into any discussions as to the merit or otherwise of submissions, although I’m aware that some publishers do.

When you have found something you like, what happens next?

We’ll arrange to meet with the author, and if we agree to proceed, we start the process of any editorial input that is appropriate, arranging covers, getting information of their biography, starting the selling process, organising launches, press releases and so on. It can be incredibly quick and it can take years. The trade likes to have information three to six months in advance of publication so you need to work back from that. If there’s a good reason to fast track books it can be done. If it can be tied in to something specific or seasonal then we’ll tie it in there.

Is language or writing in dialect a barrier to getting published or getting a larger readership? I’ve seen Alan Kelly’s book ‘The Tar Factory’ and another is very local vernacular about a Celtic and a Rangers fan. Can you sell that sort of book outside of Scotland?

Fiction potentially travels whether set in Scotland, written in dialect or not. It might be more difficult for a French of German publishers to pick it up and read and assess it, to decide whether they want to publish it or not, but Irvine Welsh has been translated into lots of languages. James Kelman is maybe more idiosyncratic in his style of writing. Roddy Doyle has been translated widely. I don’t know whether they translate it straight or whether they put it into his style.

If someone first self-publishes his or her work, would you still consider publishing it?

There have been rare cases of self-published books going on to be successful with a major publisher; ‘A Year in the Merde’ was one. It can happen, but I think generally, if an author has success with a self-published book, great and potentially we’d be interested in his or her next book. But I think to try and republish the same book; no, most publishers wouldn’t be too enthused about that.

Do you have any advice for new writers?

Read our books. Check out your local bookshops and Amazon. Pick a publisher who is appropriate for your work. Consider how the books you are writing will fit with a publisher’s list. It may be that if the publisher is currently working with seventeen crime writers they’re not looking for an eighteenth. Or it may be they’re looking for seventeen more.


Luath Press is based in Scotland
Luath Press Ltd,
543/2 Castlehill, The Royal Mile,
Edinburgh EH1 2ND,

I would like to extend my thanks to Gavin for his time and effort in this interview. Both at Frankfurt, which is probably one of the loudest, more stressful events of the publishing year, and afterwards in his working with me to fine tune the text, and his infinite patience with my (mis)use of commas. Thanks to his generosity we have six wonderful books to win in The View From Here competition, open until November 30th. The Prize includes a signed copy of The Burying Beetle, and copies of Inchworm, Cowboys for Christ, Bad Catholics, My Epileptic Lurcher and Right to Die all from Luath Press, plus a $30 voucher from The View From Here.

I have heard an author say that big publishers are, 'soulless, big corporations'. Luath is certainly not that. It seemed to me that Gavin MacDougall is wholeheartedly behind his publishing house, from its solid foundation by his predecessor in a few travel guides, it has been
built up through sweat and tears into a house with a sizeable collection of good books across a range of genres. He believes in getting good books published. And as a writer it is gratifying to know, that in an ever changing, three-for-two market, that is still what counts to a quality publisher.


Mike French said...

Fascinating - interesting to hear Gavin's view on if a publisher is likely to publish a book previously self-published.

And I struggle with commas as well Jen!

Paul said...

Thanks, Jenny and Gavin. It's always useful to get an honest, behind-the-scenes account of how publishers approach their unsolicited manuscripts. This reinforces the importance of ensuring that the MS is the best it can possibly be if so much depends on only a page or two being initially read.