Monthly Archives: October 2015

Session 4 – List Management (22.10.15)

List management is the area of commission editing I learnt more about in today’s session. A list is devised by editors for the purpose of publication. As well as maintaining strong relationships with the authors already on their list, they work with agents [in Fiction publishing], and scour newspapers, magazines and blogs to find the best new writers around, often having to pitch against other publishers for acquisition. (Penguin Careers, p.6).
However, in academic publishing, list management is somewhat different despite acquisition similarities. Most often, as Tony Mason explained, list management considers books already published. looking at sales, deciding whether you need to reprint, digitalise, or make new editions. Or of course, pulp it – i.e – dispose of stock. In groups, we were given a list of such information for a few books and we aimed to choose the right course of action for the future of individual titles. Below is a picture of our decisions compared with Tony Mason’s. This was a very useful, proactive exercise for me as I was able to think logically about what the appropriate response would be. I think, as a group, we did well.

Reprint report.png

 

 

 

A significant aspect of list management is the contract with the author. Deadlines of manuscripts from authors are important, but it is rare for authors, in the case of Manchester University Press, to actually meet that deadline date. Why the delay? Well, there are several reasons. Some may include promotions, illness, a change in personal circumstances but the main reason is the busy nature of academics’ lives. For one, the financial gain is minimal – the average payment is £200 for writing a book, £40 to peer review, so the motivation won’t be there in many cases. Secondly, they have occupational tasks on hand which makes spare time to write or review proposals quite low down on their list of priorities. And then there is the added effort of confining finished works within the required word count. Even things like getting permission to use photo’s and illustrations may take time.
Backlist management was another area that was covered. Primarily these are the books that prove to be big money makers for a publishing company. For example, at MUP, the book ‘Beginning Theory’ is a consistent stream of revenue as it makes 5% of MUP’s yearly revenue alone each year. In the table provided, the data for this book is evidenced. Such production of lists would most likely be done by the sales and marketing team to give to the commissioning editors. ‘Birthday books‘ also relate to backlists; this involves looking at a books life over a year to see how well it is selling, which is then a good indication for the future.
This session has taught me a lot about the management of lists and makes me more confident going into the assignments. As for my own improvements from previous sessions, I did contribute to discussion so I am happy on that front. I aim to continue to develop my contribution now as well as research more around studied areas, which will benefit my self-progression even further.

Penguin Careers. http://gs12.globalsuccessor.com/docs/images/175/6/1/PENCAREERS09.pdf. [accessed 23 October 2015].

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Session 3 – Guest speaker: Kevin Duffy (15.10.15)

Kevin Duffy, founder of publishing house Bluemoose, came in to talk about the various areas of publishing in this session. He predominantly spoke about the editorial side of publishing within an independent publishing house, but he also discussed other areas such as contracts, marketing, and data services.
An area Duffy reiterated on several occasions was the running of publishing companies. He voiced his opposition towards aristocrats being in charge, stating that 99% of commissioning editors are from Oxbridge, which is a hindrance to quality writers being published on account of the authors stories being ‘too working class’. Duffy added that it is the ‘Oxbridge/private school upbringing’ that has clouded their judgement; they have never lived a normal life so their literary focus is therefore closed-minded as a result. This is perhaps the reason why Duffy decided to run his own publishing house in the north of England so as to aid literary talent. It is his passion to find great stories, regardless of social status.
If literature is anything, it is finding new voices“, he said.
Duffy gave the example of the investments in Terry Wogan’s novel preventing new writers from being noticed. It is an example of publishers concentrating more on commercial matters rather than quality writing. Although he recognises that investments in new writers is risky, he nonetheless feels that it is unjust. Duffy makes it his business to read the opening three chapters of every submission to see if the story has potential. Bluemoose publish five to eight books every year.
Marketing was an aspect of publishing he made very clear is critical, especially for an independent. For Bluemoose, he said, WHSmith Travel outlets – in airports – is a great way to make money. Traveller’s will buy books on impulse, so it is a excellent way for independents to make a profit on a book if they can get a shelf space at an airport. This was an interesting thing to learn since it distinguished, for me, the different targets independent publishing companies have compared to the ‘Big Five’ publishers. Also, I discovered that knowing when to publish a book is essential. Generally speaking, books will be published and available for purchase in the latter half of the year as 42% of all books bought are purchased from the end of September to December. This is the biggest opportunity for a real commercial success for publishers and booksellers. He said that the editing process for a book begins twelve to eighteen months before publication, with reviewers given a solid two or three months to write a review. I found this very insightful.
Additionally, during production, a book will undergo the Bibliographic Data Service (BDS) roughly four months before publication. This gives the book its unique ISBN, and its information will be passed to all UK and English speaking country libraries. This was another key fact I learnt from Duffy.
‘Discoverability’ is a word that is floating around the publishing world. This has particular relevance for independents like Bluemoose because it is the prime focus for them to find new writers. Duffy explained that the best way to find such talent is not through book fairs any more – he described them as ‘rights fairs’ – but through literary festivals. He named ‘Wordpool’ in Blackpool as an example. This led on to Duffy talking about the importance of reading in general. He is a big supporter of libraries and believes this is how to get children from poorer backgrounds to start reading and gain knowledge. He said, quite emphatically, that “if you can get children to read, it is a passport to life“. That is some message!
Overall, the visit from Kevin Duffy was very valuable for me in terms of learning more about editing and of the publishing industry as a whole, especially independent publishers. The blurb activity I did also allowed me to see what pitching would be like for a book and paired with the knowledge gained of AI Sheets (Additional Information Sheets), I feel I have learnt much from Duffy’s visit which will benefit me greatly.

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Session 2 – P&L (08.10.15)

In this weeks session, the focus of the class was to introduce us to the P&L within commission editing. Abbreviated for ‘Profit and Loss’, the P&L assesses the financial position of a proposal or existing book with a possible re-release, and plays a pivotal role within the work of a commissioning editor. As Jane Friedman states: ‘ the P&L is a publisher’s basic decision-making tool for determining whether a book makes financial sense to publish.’ (1) For example, in academic publishing, if a book has sold well in hardback, the publisher may well consider a re-publishing of that book in paperback so as to maximise profit – a re-release in paperback would reduce production costs compared to hardback, and more books can be sold. Often with academic publishing, specific subject cover which won’t sell many copies will likely be made into hardbacks, selling at a larger price to meet production costs.
P&L’s are documented using an Excel format. Due to the necessity of such a document in professional practice, the P&L process is an area in which I will be expected to learn and understand – part of my assignment work will be to demonstrate and produce a basic, successful P&L sheet, ensuring that a book gets at least a sixty-five percent gross margin.
* Gross margin – profit based on money coming in minus costs going in.

The reason that it is suggested a minimum of a sixty-five percent margin is because there needs to be enough profit coming in from a proposal to make the project worthwhile. A book that won’t sell is a waste of money and resources if it was to be published. Below is a basic portrayal of a P&L spreadsheet. The page shown here is a ‘sales and royalties’ page next to the P&L; this sums up the profit/loss in a shorter space.

P&L

I feel that I have made a strong start to this work. During the session, I began practising using P&L spreadsheets by inserting a set of data into an empty spreadsheet, putting in figures which would be realistic for a prospective book. For my assignment when I am required to produce a P&L I will need to have a gross margin of sixty-five percent or more. I am happy that I managed to get to eighty percent after my first attempt at using it. As a class, I think the majority of students found this introduction challenging, even overwhelming. Me included. However, by the end of the session, I felt a little bit more at ease so I will be optimistic when tackling it in weeks to come.

The session also allowed me to learn some key terms, which was very useful. For example, the R.E.F (Research Excellence Framework) was a good term for me to familiarise myself with within academic publishing.  Put simply, this involves academics needing to publish four pieces of work every seven years in order to maintain their academic professor status.

I also gained some insight in how to access authors and face up to competitors. Questions commissioning editors would ask are: ‘can this proposal sell well for the company?’, ‘Is this going to compete well against main publishing rivals?’, ‘Does this proposal make sense to publish – i.e does a competitor already have something similar published?’, and ‘what subject areas/genres are not being published by competitors and so pose an opportunity?’. Consequently, this session has taught me some vital facts and information. Looking forward, I need to make sure I learn the Harvard referencing system so I can cite my findings with accuracy, thus making my blog work easier and more efficient.

Sources

  1. https://janefriedman.com/book-pl/
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Session 1 – Introduction (01.10.15)

The first lecture for the Editorial and Production module introduced me to various forms of editing. Prior to this session, I was ignorant to the fact that there was more than one kind, so straight away I was learning. Led by Anthony Mason, the Senior Commissioning Editor for Manchester University Press, I discovered what was involved in each.
Commissioning editing involves the analysis of proposals and the signing up of books, as well as the consideration of the marketing benefits a book may make. Questions a commission editor may ask include: will this book make money? Will this book allow us to meet our target(s)? Looking at past trends also helps commissioning editors to assess the likelihood of profit on a book. In terms of academic publishing, peer reviews from other professionals in a certain area are used to determine the quality of the proposals content. This is a form of editing I had not known in the past.
The other editing form I learnt was production editing, which involves the editing of the book itself and the change of content and format. I had more of an understanding for this already but it was still insightful to be able to deduce the difference from commission editing.
To expand on commission editing, I discovered that even this can be branched off into three categories: proactive commissioning, reactive commissioning, and collaborative commissioning.
Proactive commissioning involves undertaking market research, and in academic publishing, academic callings to search for authors. Reactive commissioning is when someone has a proposal to present and the commissioning editor has not had to approach or find them. Collaborative commissioning combines both proactive and reactive. Arguably, this form is most beneficial and effective to work by due to the fact that you gain more authors, and hopefully, more money.
I feel that I could have contributed more to the group discussion in topics such as publishing cycles, and debate over author anonymity in peer reviews, and this is something I will aim to work on for next weeks session: involvement in discussion.
Unexpectedly too, was the opportunity to apply practical work in this session. I got the chance to write and send a practice email to an author who had a complaint with their book not being on the shelves of their local Waterstone’s store. Working with a fellow peer, we formulated a response, to which we aimed to be as professional as possible. We had a choice in how to approach the email; whether it be professional and sympathetic, aggressive, or tentative. The point of this was for us to see how the relationship with the author is critical in publishing. It also gave me the chance to actively comprehend the typical tasks a commissioning editor would likely be doing.
Overall, the first session was both enjoyable and informative. I feel confident as I go into the second week, eager to learn more and partake in more fun tasks.

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