University Press Redux 2018 – some themes

Redux 18 wordcloudThe second University Press Redux Conference was held at the Knowledge Centre at the British Library 13-14 February 2018, in association with UCL Press and the ALPSP. It was again a sold-out event, with 250 delegates from across the global scholarly publishing field including university presses, commercial scholarly presses, librarians, funders and service providers. See

Topics covered by the speakers (as summarised on the conference website) were: Academic-led presses; Author engagement; Digital publishing; Distribution and industry supply chain; Higher education policy; International sales; Journals publishing; Library – collection strategies and library supply; Media and publicity; Open access monographs; Production and printing; Relationship with parent institution; University publishing – history and new university presses.

The presentations and discussions were wide-ranging and stimulating, and some common themes emerged. Here is my personal take on the key themes from the conference.

Themes that stood out for me:

Funding – This was the question which seemed to dominate, especially after HEFCE’s Steven Hill stated that HEFCE wants its funding to incentivise academia to share content, and that this may not involve publishers (it’s not HEFCE’s role to fund publishers). The 2027 REF is likely to include an OA mandate for monographs. This seems to take no account of the findings of the Academic Book of the Future project, which highlighted the particular funding challenges for monographs, and it will have a potentially huge impact on the traditional scholarly book publishing model, especially in the humanities. Jane Winters told us that her entire departmental budget for OA was £10,000 a year. Sarah Caro from Princeton UP asked who would publish mandated OA monographs without funding. Who is going to pay? Is this, as Sarah Kember contends, part of a deliberate ongoing dismantling of state support for the arts and humanities, taking public funding to pay for research outputs purely to benefit private commercial interests?

The importance of copyright – Richard Charkin reminded us that a publisher’s commercial worth is its intellectual property assets, not its annual profit (Bloomsbury has JK Rowling). Aileen Fyfe stressed the importance to learned societies (and their ability to fund and support their field) of the income they receive from journal sales – income that relies on people having to pay for the content. So far, publishers have not noticed a decline in sales of paid content which is also available as open access. However, that links in to discoverability for OA content – if you don’t know a book is OA, you’ll probably buy the priced version. Which leads on to…

Discoverability for OA content – Michael Jubb highlighted the complexity of the supply chain for books, and the intermediaries who supply information and sell books to both institutional and trade buyers. There is no commercial incentive for these intermediaries to promote OA availability, which is therefore nearly invisible in the supply chain. However, there are signs that this is changing. For example, JStor has been very actively adding OA content to its platform (and removing the priced version of the same titles). Currently only 5% of academic book are published OA, so libraries expect to pay for most content and may not seek out OA alternatives, but if OA becomes more prevalent (and discoverable) surely fewer libraries will carry on paying for the content.

A pivoting back towards the institution – Amy Brand of MIT Press asked whether we are seeing a pivot back to the academy, with universities getting more involved in communicating their mission, and their value to society. Lisa Bayer of the University of Georgia Press stressed the political necessity of embedding the press into the university. Aileen Fyfe reminded us that scholarly publishing has not always been commercial. In its early days there was no expectation that money could be made from the circulation of highly specialised knowledge, and over the past 160 years scholarly publishing has been non-commercial for a larger chunk of time than it has been profit-led. Institutional resources such as IT expertise mean that library-based presses like Michigan have more scope to develop major projects such as collaborative platforms for sharing content in multiple formats.

Collaborative platforms – Pierre Mounier of OPERAS exhorted the humanities and social science communities to stand together – “United we stand!”. Sarah Kember asked us to think about the possibility of a publishing network that is properly, publicly funded, rooted in the university and rooting for the future of AHSS as well as STEM. Fulcrum (based at Michigan) is a values-based publishing platform, which is a collaboration between several US campus-based presses.

I took extensive notes at the conference and have put them together into a 32-page document, which I am making available for a nominal £15 (once purchased, I am happy for you to share the notes with your colleagues or students). This document has been created from my personal notes at the event and covers all the main sessions as well as three of the parallel sessions (Media, Authors and their Publishing Experiences, and Europe). It is available in Word or pdf format. If you are interested in obtaining a copy, please email me:

Please note: Official slides and audio from the conference are available for free at See also  and for a storify of the tweets (available until May 2018). The Twitter hashtag was #redux18. UP Redux information can be found on the ALPSP website at My notes are intended as a useful complement to these resources.

Further reading:

The Academic Book of the Future:

The Role of the Editor: Publisher Perspectives – Katharine Reeve (Academic Book of the Future):

Untangling Academic Publishing: A history of the relationship between commercial interests, academic prestige and the circulation of research – Aileen Fyfe; Kelly Coate; Stephen Curry; Stuart Lawson; Noah Moxham; Camilla Mørk Røstvik:

Why Publish? – Sarah Kember (Learned Publishing):

UKSG Cost estimates of an open access mandate for monographs in the UK’s third Research Excellence Framework:

KU Research Exploring Usage of Open Access Books Via the JSTOR Platform:

Research Consulting: Why are new university presses on the rise, and how can you get involved? – Megan Taylor:

Changing publishing ecologies: A landscape study of new university presses and academic-led publishing. A report to Jisc by Janneke Adema and Graham Stone, with an introduction by Chris Keene:

Open access monographs in the REF – Steven Hill (HEFCE):

The OA effect: new report (Springer Nature):

Scholarly Publishing: crossing the Rubicon – BookMachine, Oxford 7 September 2017

The BookMachine panel discussion on disruption in scholarly publishing took place on the 7th of September in Oxford, sponsored by Ingenta. It was a great event, with lots of food for thought, and I share my notes here. The discussion was chaired by Byron Russell (Ingenta) and focussed on how publishers can stay relevant and useful in the face of new technologies, new ways of information sharing, and changing research models and needs. The speakers were Charlie Rapple (Kudos), Phill Jones (Digital Science), and Duncan Campbell (Wiley).

What is the most disruptive thing in scholarly publishing at the moment?

The panel agreed that actually the publishing industry has not been disrupted. The large companies have not lost market share. There has been consolidation, not disruption, and consolidation might be considered the opposite of disruption. So, to ask a different question: what has been the most innovative thing? One answer is the effects of Open Access. OA has created an “author pays” model. Power has shifted towards the author and away from the library. In response to this, publishers are now focussing on services to authors (data sharing etc).

You can draw a path from evolution to revolution to disruption, and many commentators label things as disruptive which are really only evolutionary or revolutionary. The transition to digital has changed a lot of things, but not disruptively. Scholarly societies are wondering how they can continue to add value, and perhaps technological change has been more disruptive for societies than for publishers?

Why hasn’t scholarly publishing been more disrupted? We are still here. The single most disruptive thing hasn’t happened yet. Publishers rely on the scholarly importance of the version of record. This, by the way, is just as true for OA publishers as it is for traditional publishers. What happens when other versions become valid? We are seeing the rise of pre-prints, and data in multiple formats, both a move away from “the final article”.

Are publishers responding to change?

There is a huge amount going on inside publishing. Publishers need to keep listening to their users (including libraries and societies) and to their changing needs. At the moment, it’s apparent that we are still providing a useful service. We are turning richer article inputs into richer article outputs. Publishers need to listen, and innovate based on needs.

It is very difficult as an incumbent to be innovative. However, it should be said that publishers are fantastic at infrastructure. It was publishers who were behind the development of Cross Ref and DOI for example. Plumbing is not sexy, but it is important. Infrastructure can be innovative. It’s also worth saying that publishers are generally supportive of innovation elsewhere, outside of their organizations. For example, big publishers paid it forward by supporting Kudos in its early days, and were crucial for the company’s development.

Infrastructure is important now, and will become even more so in the future. A current model seems to be that an academic has an idea for something that needs to be fixed, a big company supports them, and then down the line buys them. The risk is that the learned societies and smaller publishers are not getting involved fast enough. The result is that big companies are pulling ahead. Smaller publishers should try and get involved earlier.

Smaller publishers might think that they don’t have the cash to put into investment. However, smaller publishers can be creative, perhaps getting involved in providing feedback in return for discounts for example. It is easier for big publishers, but it is possible for smaller publishers. As an example, Ingenta works with a lot of small publishers, some with only 2 or 3 staff, and introduces smaller publishers to new developments. Collaboration between smaller publishers might be the key (the IPG does a great job with this).

What is the effect of the demise of consortia deals? Are we seeing the end of the Big Deal?

There are pressures, but deals on the whole are hanging on. The slew of cancellations has still not materialised.

Access and discoverability

Library discovery systems are very expensive, but there are alternatives. Google Scholar is becoming more disruptive, and more widely used by scholars who may not even be aware of the library’s own discovery systems.

One large Dutch university killed off their discovery system, and put up a one-page document telling people how to use Google Scholar. Everything was fine. (Although a year later the library signed up to EBSCO’s discovery system, so perhaps there was more to this than meets the eye.)

New technology does not always succeed in its original form, although it can go on to evolve into something different. ReadCube is a good example. This was a kind of PDA system for journal articles, and was well received by libraries. It was like a Netflix for articles, and enabled control of what people could do (print, share). It did not succeed in the end, because publishers were not prepared to investigate the new model. But, the tech behind it has gone on to support a system for content sharing developed by another publisher.

For access to articles, forget Sci Hub, forget Patron Driven Acquisition. Even without access to a university library simply Googling an article title never fails. Green OA works well.

Copyright, sharing and piracy

Where do we draw the line on issues of copyright? In relation to the sharing of articles, there is a difference between individuals sharing stuff (sharing between academics), and a more large-scale attempt to share everything (Sci Hub). The line not to be crossed can be judged by asking who is sharing it and for what reason.

Sharing is fine, but the systemization of sharing is a problem. Sci Hub has forced publishers to face up to the fact that academics already share articles among colleagues. Sci Hub has pushed the agenda, but it is not the answer. Unpaywall is really neat, and legal.

Publishers feel a bit beleaguered when people think that piracy is bad but publishers are worse! What can publishers do? The key thing is that everything we create needs to serve the customer’s needs. The relationship between academics and publishers has been maintained by senior academics, serving on editorial boards for example. But are senior people really in touch with the needs of post-docs and junior researchers? There is a current shift in the research funding agenda, away from disciplinary funding, towards big, multidisciplinary projects (a cure for Alzheimer’s, the exploration of Mars). If people are working in multidisciplinary projects, which journal should they publish in? Will the channels change?

As well as the increasing thematic nature of funding, let’s hope there is a change in how research is evaluated too. The idea that it’s based on where you are published is so wrong headed. There are other outlets. We’ve got to use technology to start looking differently at impact, influence, and reputation.

In the old days, as publishers you never used to encounter a user; you dealt with the bookshop, the library. Things are changing and we need to get on board with the changes. In the rise of the machines (AI) in the sharing and discovery of information, what happens to publishers?

How do external parties view academic publishing?

Interest from outside investors is in scientific information, not in scientific publishing. Publishing is dead, long live scholarly information. Technology, information tools, open science, open data. You can put anything into Figshare and give it a DOI.

How can publishers move forward in ways that their customers might not think they need or want? Publishers might not be thanked for driving things forward, but you can get around that by creating a new brand, trying things out and moving forward but without the reputational risk.

Should publishers get involved with driving tech development in information sharing? The Belmont Forum was flagged as an interesting case. The Belmont Forum’s vision is:

“International transdisciplinary research providing knowledge for understanding, mitigating and adapting to global environmental change.”

Forum members and partner organizations work collaboratively to meet this Challenge by issuing international calls for proposals, committing to best practices for open data access, and providing transdisciplinary training.  To that end, the Belmont Forum is also working to enhance the broader capacity to conduct transnational environmental change research through its e-Infrastructure and Data Management initiative.

This is transdisciplinary research and information sharing, but not “publishing” as we would traditionally recognise it. But publishers should take heart from the fact that there are many things that publishers know how to do that others in the research ecosystem just don’t know. Many people think publishing is easy until they try to do it. The Belmont Forum recently asked publishers for input and advice, which is encouraging. Knowing whether and how to get involved comes back to listening to your community, that’s the way publishers can contribute.

The Academic Book of the Future Report launch event, 20 June 2017

The end of project reports from The Academic Book of the Future project have now been made available, and were formally launched in London on 20 June 2017. These are my notes from the event, with apologies for any errors or significant omissions (my handwriting is not always fast enough!). The Twitter hashtag was #AcBookReports.

The project reports are available online:

Welcome and introduction:

Caroline Brazier, Chief Librarian, British Library – The project started three years ago, to address what the ongoing rapid changes in the publishing industry would mean for the Arts and Humanities. Marilyn Deegan’s report provides a synthesis of the project and what it has achieved so far. Michael Jubb’s report gives details of the state of affairs in the academic publishing ecosystem.

Andrew Thompson, CEO of the Arts and Humanities Research Council – Having just signed a book contract with OUP, quite pleased to read the report’s finding that the book has a future! The report is conceived not as the end of a project, but the beginning of a discussion. How can our high quality research be more widely shared?

Samantha Rayner, UCL, Principal Investigator, Academic Book of the Future – So, here we are, finished after three years of work. This evening we start to collect the responses. Thank you to Melissa Terras who coordinated the team from behind the scenes. The team gelled quickly because they found they had common ground, and felt a responsibility to respect lots of different views. Fellowship has been essential part of the project. A journalist who read the report thought it painted a bleak picture. Sam rejects this entirely. There are lots of challenges, but this is NOT a bleak picture, and there are talented, practical, and visionary people out there who want to be involved. The project has shone a light on the things that need discussing. Research is becoming ever more politicised, so it is good that policymakers were involved in the discussions. The team managed to speak with a huge range of people. One of the best things proved to be having a pool of money unallocated at the start, which could be made available for mini projects which suggested themselves as the project progressed. This provided useful agility. In putting together the two reports, Marilyn and Michael are both heroes of the history of the academic book.

Academic Book of the Future Reports:

Marilyn Deegan, KCL, Co-investigator, Academic Book of the Future –

Thought this day would never come! The project has been a community building project, with a small project team, but a very large coalition of contributors. Want to mention advisory panel chair Kathryn Sutherland who never let us forget that good scholarship is central. Sam Rayner deserves credit for the decision to cast the net very wide, with events, etc. She was the one who came up with the idea of Academic Book Week, which has been an astonishing success. There was also the first ever UK university press conference, and many other conferences, seminars, workshops, focus groups, talks, interviews.

The BOOC is going live on Thursday 22nd June.



  • The academic book/monograph is still greatly valued in the academy and beyond
  • Print is not dead, and many scholars at all stages show a preference for print for sustained reading
  • The future is likely to be a mixed economy of print, e-versions of print and network enhanced monographs of greater or lesser complexity
  • There are many new exciting forms and formats of academic book…
  • …and new publishers and publishing partnerships emerging
  • Publisher brand still matters
  • Most scholars would be happier producing one or two ground breaking books in their careers rather than five or six which are produced quickly and have less impact
  • There is still confusion and anxiety over the Open Access agenda

Not bleak at all! But there are challenges, including increasing teaching loads and assessment.

A quote to end with:

“The substantial work of serious scholarship with a wider reach than that of the immediate academic sub-field is a precious thing, at the core of our cultural life and intellectual discourse” – Jonathan Bate

Michael Jubb, Lead Researcher, Academic Book of the Future –

Books are important, and they are part of the infrastructure for the Arts and Humanities. But, books now have more than just print formats. The academic book is part of an ecology with complex interactions. The number of titles is increasing, but overall sales are not increasing and sales per title are going down. Are too many books being published? Or is not enough effort being put in to get people to buy and read the books? There are tensions over rights. There is a need for innovation from publishers (which involves tech costs). The supply chain is almost comically complicated. There is a huge range of intermediaries. There has been no wholesale shift from print to e and the reader preference is still for print (across all age ranges). We will see digital alongside print for the foreseeable future. The publishers’ economic model is still based on print, but this is unsustainable. There has been lots of experimentation with OA, but we still haven’t got to grips with a sustainable economic model. Challenges include: costs and funding, author behaviour, rights regimes, international ecology, scalability. Can we get some quick wins? There is obvious potential with OA books for wider dissemination.

“Discoverability is the process by which a book appears in front of you at a point where you were not looking for that specific title” – Thad McIlroy

Discoverability is a disaster area. Metadata quality is poor. Onix, used by publishers, is completely different to MARC, used by librarians. We need discovery services better suited to academic books and behaviours of potential readers.


  • Quality must be sustained (not every book an academic wants to publish should be published)
  • Need to address issues of supply and demand
  • Need to maximise reach
  • Need to improve systems and processes and stimulate innovation
  • There should be more bespoke publishing services (not every book needs every publishing process, and there is room for cheaper, more pared down publishing for some books)
  • Need to address the economic implications of print plus e
  • Support development of OA

Above all:

  • Build communities and relationships
  • Develop a new structure to support dialogue amongst all the stakeholders
  • Need new policies to stimulate change, built on a deep understanding of the ecology

A motto to live by, to quote Ben Goldacre “I think you’ll find it’s a bit more complicated than that”

Panel responses to the project conclusions and recommendations:

Geoffrey Crossick, Distinguished Professor of Humanities, School of Advanced Study, University of London –

Very pleased to have been invited to comment. Learned a great deal, especially from Michael Jubb’s report. When Crossick wrote his own report on OA, he now realises that he structured it like a book, and it was a long form argument developed through the different sections (he wanted to shout to people “don’t just dip in and out!”) needing to be read in the order it was written.

The value of the monograph lies in the process of writing and reading it, not in the physical object. We know people value the physical book, and e-books currently can’t get near the experience of a print book. It’s different for articles. The availability of digital books became possible at the same time as OA, and this perhaps muddied the water.

Why write books at all? The answer is that long, structured argument is fundamental to humanities research. A monograph is not the same as a group of articles. Crossick is not sure that there is a crisis of oversupply, because the terms of “crisis” are not defined. He voices caution about technical determinism. Just because certain things are possible technically, does not mean they are valuable. What readers want should drive change. The reports make clear the many challenges of OA. Restraints lie in author ownership issues. There is a serious problem of third party rights (images etc). But the biggest problem with OA is finding the right business model. The book processing charge will not prevail.

Frances Pinter, Founder of Knowledge Unlatched –

Books sit inside the knowledge structure of each discipline, and there is a different ecology for every discipline. These reports look at the academic book from an Arts and Humanities point of view. KU’s research has shown that there is enough money in the academic system to support OA. It is not in one place, but it is there. Pinter agrees that not every monograph needs the full publishing treatment, and this is significant because it means there is scope for reducing publishing costs significantly before the stage of having a finished digital file. KU has looked at publishing costs around Europe, and many publishers offer a pick and mix menu of publishing services, which goes a long way to explaining the differing costs of OA in different places in Europe.

The writing of a monograph is part of the research process itself, so Frances is not convinced by the argument that there are too many books published. You need the whole of the milk before the cream can rise to the top, and there are no publishers who can reliably spot the cream. “Find me a publisher who’s always been right … there isn’t one”.

The Jubb report has an excellent chapter on intermediaries and their services. Amongst other things, it provides the startling fact that vendors typically take 50% of the amount the library pays for the book.

KU have been looking at geo-stats for the monographs they have unlatched. Monograph usage is 7x higher than what is going through the libraries in the same area. This suggests that there is a larger audience than we thought. HEFCE is looking to mandate OA, but is trying to get funding together in a very unstable environment. It would be easy for them to shelve their plans, but Pinter thinks this would be a mistake.

Chris Banks, Director of Library Service, Imperial College –

For a librarian, collecting, discovery and OA are important topics. It is worth thinking about the different types of academic output. At the moment we still have an academe that is very cautious. Reward mechanisms are based around publishing a book, and scholars need to write a good book and publish with a good publisher.

Collecting – Increasing amounts are being published, and there are more students. Despite things being available online, there is an increased usage of libraries, and so libraries have a space problem. In the old days, with print books, you never knew when a book might go OP and become unavailable, so libraries used to purchase “just in case”. There are more choices now, and libraries can purchase “just in time”, as the need arises, and in whichever format is the most appropriate. Libraries still buy print books, but there is more sharing amongst institutions. We are moving away from the number of books on shelves being a measure of value for the institution towards looking at the number of books a library can make available.

Cataloguing adds value for the library, and Chris thinks libraries would be willing to pay publishers to add good metadata to make sure books are discoverable. Libraries have trained, skilled people who could help with this! This would be valuable for both libraries and publishers. Libraries are looking for new and smart ways to use their budgets to make more books open, and Chris supports initiatives such as Knowledge Unlatched.

Discussion and audience Q&A:

Anthony Watkinson – In the US they have the Mellon Foundation who supply significant levels of funding. Where is our Mellon? Where will the money come from?

Answer from Michael Jubb: struck by how conservative the US publishing landscape remains, despite 20 years of Mellon initiatives.

Answer from Marilyn Deegan: Mellon seems to support two kinds of projects, either boutique projects for a single book, or large infrastructure projects, many of which are in partnership with libraries. We in the UK need to focus on what we actually need.

David Sweeney, Research England – Thanks particularly to Michael for an excellent piece of research. However, the challenges highlighted in the report are very scholar-centric. This sits uncomfortably with the AHRC focus on scholars developing a wider influence in the UK as a whole. The breadth of the contribution of our research to our national culture needs to be as important for humanities scholars as it is for science.

Answer from Michael Jubb: lots of sympathy with that view, which is why the report emphasises the importance of quality of research output, and that the book should be a partnership between the author and the machinery of publishing (ie dissemination).


Shearer West, Provost and Deputy Vice-Chancellor, University of Sheffield –

This is a huge subject, so to finish, and inspired by Jenny Holzer and her “Truisms”, which are short statements encapsulating sometimes uncomfortable truths, here are 10 statements:

  • Libraries have adapted more radically to changes in the digital environment than either publishers or academic authors.
  • The reports are relatively silent on readers, apart from noting that both students and academics prefer hard copy academic books to digital ones, but with little indication as to why.
  • The desire to get published by well-known university presses appears to be as much a concern about academic reputation than a concern about rigorous peer review. The brand becomes a proxy for quality.
  • The continuation of the print book is increasing supply led rather than demand led.
  • Supply chain complexities mean that publishing is a discrete set of processes and services rather than a single event.
  • The sluggish pace of open access developments in monograph publishing suggests that the right audience for an academic book is more important to authors than a large audience.
  • True Innovation in the format of academic books is not scalable.
  • There is increasing strain in the relationship among stakeholders in the academic book supply chain.
  • It is more difficult to preserve digital books than physical ones.
  • The hard copy book serves as a monument to the author.

Turn, Click, Swipe: the next chapter for academic publishing – some notes

I attended the LIBF Tech Tuesday event held in Oxford earlier this week – a lively conversation about the future of academic publishing – and I share my notes here. The panel discussion was chaired by Jacks Thomas (LIBF) and covered print vs ebooks, social media, business growth, open access, and various topics in between. The speakers were David Taylor (Ingram), Rachael Lammey (Crossref), Pippa Smart (publishing consultant), Andy Redman (OUP) and Chris Fowler (Oxford Brookes University Library).

Does the academic book have a future? 

The answer from the panel was yes. Long form publishing is turning around, and the consensus is that print will be around for a long time. Readers are willing to use e, but the preference is still for print, so we will have both. And we still need library shelf space for books! From a technical perspective, discovery and layering content is adding value. People want to link to different parts of a text. Being able to find different research in whatever medium is future proof. From a commercial point of view, POD means that publishers don’t have to make the decision about which format will win. Do both e and print and allow the customer to have a choice.

The monograph is still a valuable form and, as noted in the Crossick report, remains the most effective way to present sustained research over many years. The monograph allows the space to express an argument fully.

More and more is being published, and it’s now a real problem to review all the relevant research. Historically, it has been possible for authors to go back and read every primary document mentioned in relation to their book. That’s a challenge for the future. Of the scholarly output from the last 50 years, 70% of the output has been in the last 15 years. Future academic publishing needs to address that.

What is the role of Social Media?

Students and researchers don’t use publisher websites to discover information, they use “the web”. People incrementally pick up information, and social media is a very important element of that. It allows people to discover things by accident, serendipity. We are in a search environment, and people do directional searching in Google.

A very relevant example of the value of social media in academia is the very recent UK supreme court decision about parliament’s role in triggering article 50 for Brexit. The decision cited the UCL Constitution Unit blog. It’s very notable for a blog to be cited in a legal case. A blog can pick up issues very quickly, 24 -48 hours after events. Social media is a good way of providing a first-pass synthesis of emerging trends. With new applications of law, for example drone strikes, scholars get to grips with these issues much more quickly on social media than they do via monographs or journals. Social is also beginning to have an impact on promotion and career development. There is a problem with persistence though – links deteriorate, information disappears. We need to ensure stuff is still discoverable. There are initiatives to try and tackle this, for example the wayback machine.

As well as discoverability, it’s also worth thinking about access to content via social. Students expect access. Why can’t they access an ebook from Facebook?

Ingram have recently introduced an interesting commercial model related to social – Aerio. This is a C to C (customer to customer) model, allowing connections to grow between people who have the same interests. Aerio is essentially a widget which allows people to add a “bookshelf” to an online page (website, blog etc) with a direct link to buy the books. It’s available in the US but not yet in the UK.

How can publishers grow in this time of change?

It’s a challenge. We should not hold onto the old ways of adding value, and we need to think about new ways of adding value. Try looking at the content supply chain from the academic’s perspective. Work towards open systems, open standards. Think about new ways for the publishing process to add value, for example through enrichment. Publishers should free up resources to work with authors and content creators to add value. With so much research available you need expert curation, and publishers can provide this.

Consider using every available format, so people can have what they want. Don’t pretend to know what the customer wants. By and large, publishers are reported to have come to this conclusion.

A librarian’s perspective

The plethora of different formats is very confusing for libraries. In many cases libraries need to buy both print and e because students want both: e for getting at information quickly, print for in depth study. Libraries look at overall value for money. Often e is very expensive. Also e pricing structures vary. A single user licence almost renders the ebook not an ebook. And it doesn’t work if multiple students need the same book on the same day, for an exam.

The librarian needs to consider and prioritise value for money. Patron-driven acquisition has a tendency to use up budgets fast, and can result in an unconvincing range of purchased titles. Evidence-based acquisition, where purchases are driven by usage levels, seems more promising. Libraries can agree with the supplier in advance on how much to spend, then, over the budget period, choose what to buy.

The challenge of increased technical know-how for journal publishers

Technology appeared to offer solutions; you don’t need publishers, societies thought. But things now seem to be flipping back. The case was cited of an association which brought things in house 5 years ago. They now have a successful journal, but have got to the stage where they can’t do it anymore and are looking for a publisher to work with. With journals these days there is a requirement to provide additional information – ORCID iDs, information about funding sources etc. There are tools to help, but it does need a level of technical expertise. Small publishers don’t have this. The big publishers know they need to develop skills and are investing in technical staff.

Open Access

Open Access is about a change in access and funding models, but there’s an inherent conflict between principles and pragmatism. There are two main strands – gold and green – which by itself causes stresses. Which is the version of record? There is conflict between local models and global models. The research councils have put HE institutions in the front line because of their funding requirements. OA is the direction of travel, and many publishers are constructively engaged, but there are real questions about what is achievable. Creation, enrichment, retaining accessibility – these all have costs. If customers don’t pay, what is the sustainable model?

The rise of sci-hub can be seen as an indicator of a dysfunctional publishing environment. Publishing shouldn’t be as expensive as it is. Publishing companies are expensive to run. Are we overcomplicating things? If we want OA we need to find an easier, cheaper way, and we haven’t found it yet. We need to find a better way of enabling access, but we need to pay for it.

A major problem with OA for publishers is that they have no idea how to make money out of it. Is there a workable, robust business model? Many universities are doing their own publishing but this is problematic too. It comes back to funding, to sustainability.

Promoting your academic book with a blog post

Has your publisher asked you to write a blog post for your book? If so (or even if they haven’t) I would encourage you to do so. Having spent so long writing the book itself, it is worth spending two or three hours on something which will persuade people to read it. If you want help to get started, or even to convince yourself that it’s actually worth doing, read on…

Writing a blog post is a great way of making your research more discoverable to others. As the author you are the expert on your book, so it is more effective if the post is written by you rather than by your publisher. A blog post provides an opportunity for you to highlight the key findings and features of your book in more detail than the standard book jacket or website blurb allows. There are no absolute rules about how long a post should be, but 500 to 1000 words is usually about right.

Blog posts should be readable and informative, and the aim is to encourage people to seek out the book by highlighting key points of interest.

In a blog post, you can reach beyond your peer group, and the text should be made as accessible and readable as possible with this in mind. Librarians and others outside your specific sub-discipline need to be able to judge whether your book is of relevance to them.

The information here is intended to provide guidance and advice to help you prepare a post.

Where do I start?

You have probably already produced an overview of your book in its introduction, so one option is to review and re-purpose this.

Or, you could use a Q&A format for the blog post, which is a good way to highlight specific aspects of the book, and which also produces text in short chunks which are easy to scan on screen.

A third option is to produce something completely new, which might be good if you want to write about something related to the book or to your wider research. For example, you might want to focus on a related conference presentation or discussion.

Re-purposing the book’s introduction

The introduction to your book is likely to contain a lot of text which can be re-used in a blog post, but is likely to benefit from a reduction of the word count and some re-ordering. People have short attention spans when assessing content online. They will scan quickly to see whether it’s of interest, so you should start with the most interesting information, presented succinctly. After that, once you have their attention, you can expand on your main points and ideas. You may find it easier to write the expanded text first, then write the succinct overview, which you can then place as your first paragraph.

Once you have some basic text, you can expand on it by adding extra content, for example illustrations or photographs, and by providing links to additional information or resources.

Some pointers:

  • Start with a short paragraph explaining why the book is interesting and what the key conclusions are. Make an immediate impact. Hit them with the good stuff first.
  • Follow this up with a few paragraphs expanding on the main ideas and arguments. Draw the reader in and provide a bit of context. Keep it interesting.
  • Perhaps include some personal comments about your reactions to your findings. Did something in your research surprise or delight you? Have you had any notable feedback from others that is worth sharing?
  • Aim for clarity and conciseness and keep complex vocabulary to a minimum. The reader may not be a specialist in your field (for example they may be a librarian or bookseller) or they may not have English as their first language.
  • Do not include information about your methodology or a review of how your findings fit into the wider literature. Concentrate on telling your story.
  • Come up with a narrative headline for your blog post, one which conveys your essential message. It is often easier to write the headline last, once your post is complete.

Further reading: Patrick Dunleavy has a very useful article on Medium about how to convert a journal article into a blog post, which contains some excellent and wide-ranging advice.

Using a Q&A format for your blog post

Many blog posts use a Q&A format, and it’s easy to see why. It provides an onscreen layout that is easy to scan, and the discussion element brings the text to life. It’s also easier to write, because the questions act as a prompt and help to kick start the process of formulating answers.

For a blog post relating to a scholarly book, try these questions for starters (but feel free to add your own):

  1. What is the main argument presented in your book?
  2. Can you summarise what your book is about? What are its findings?
  3. What inspired you to write this book?
  4. What was the most surprising or exciting thing that you discovered during your research?
  5. What impact do you hope that this book will have?
  6. What are you currently working on?

Sample blog posts with a Q&A format:

Author insights – Gavin O’Toole

Five minutes with Paul Dolan

Writing a blog post from scratch

Writing a completely new piece of text for your blog post is in some ways the hardest thing to do. But it can also be the best option. It gives you the opportunity to talk about one particular aspect of your book, or perhaps something related but which didn’t quite fit into argument or narrative of the book itself. You might want to write about how your book has been a catalyst for a new direction in your research.


  • Make it interesting! Why will a reader be drawn to your text? Highlight the best bits.
  • Have a focus, a key idea, and structure the post around that. Make sure the blog post title reflects the main idea.
  • Have an idea of what you want the reader to do once they have read the post. Do you want them to click through to more information about the book, or to buy it? Do you want to direct them to further reading or supplementary material? Do you want them to find out more about you and your research? Add links that enable this.

An example: Global Capitalism, Fan Culture, and (Even) Stranger Things

General blog post tips:

  • Short paragraphs are good, as are short sentences and bullet pointed lists. Remember that people want to quickly scan the text before deciding whether it’s worth spending time reading in more detail.
  • Include keywords that are relevant to your argument, but not to the extent of damaging the readability of your text. Concentrate on conveying your message and making your meaning clear.
  • Add links to related information or online resources. Google judges the quality of blog posts partly on which other online information they link to (and which link back to them). Links to university pages are particularly valuable.
  • Add images or photographs. Visual elements make the post more attractive to the eye and help to break the text down into smaller, scannable chunks.
  • Tell people about your post by sharing a link on Twitter, Facebook or other networks. If you tweet, include a hashtag such as #twitterstorians to broaden your reach.

Still not convinced? Read these…

Why should academics use social media?

Are you skilled in the dark art of social media?

Yes, Serious Academics Should Absolutely Use Social Media


Marketing tips for freelance copyeditors and proofreaders

I was recently invited to give a talk about marketing to one of my local SfEP groups. Here are the tips I put together for them. I hope you find them useful too.

Marketing does not need to be scary or complicated. Keep it simple, and do what works for you. You can have a website, a blog, be active on social media, attend events, join freelancer networks, have an email mailing list, phone potential clients. But you don’t have to do all (or any) of this if you don’t need to. But what you do need is to get and maintain a sustainable level of paying work.

In essence, marketing can be explained very simply – it’s the process by which you put your services in front of people who want to buy them, and finding a way of persuading them to buy from you (much like in a street market). You want to get noticed, and even sought out, by prospective clients.

Three questions:

  • What services are you offering?
  • Who are the people who will buy your services?
  • How can you persuade them to buy from you?

What services are you offering?

Are you a generalist or a specialist? As a specialist you may find it easier to stand out from the crowd, and you may also be able to charge higher rates. As a generalist, you might be able to get more variety of work, or more regular work, but you will probably have to work harder on your marketing to persuade people to use you rather than others.

Who are the people who will buy your services?

People might know what they need and seek you out (or someone like you), or they may not realise that they need you and perhaps might be persuaded to use you. If you are a specialist, you need to know your specialist market – who they are, and how they commission specialist work from freelancers. And you need to make yourself visible, through your online profile or through outreach, to your specialist market.

How can you persuade people to buy from you?

If prospective clients are considering whether to use you or not, they will want to know if your skills are relevant to their requirements, and whether you will do a good job at a reasonable price. Client recommendations, online information about your specific services and specialisms, and who you have worked for can all help. Try and put yourself in your client’s shoes to understand why they might need your services. Why should people employ you? What problems do you help them solve?

Getting your name in front of potential clients, and persuading them to use your services.

As an independent freelancer your product is YOU. If the term “marketing” seems a bit salesy, maybe think of it as personal public relations, and establishing a soft-sell platform for yourself.

How should you present yourself online?

Have a look at what other freelancers do. Look at their LinkedIn profiles, their websites, Twitter feeds, Facebook pages. What do you like? What do you dislike? What do you think they are trying to convey? Are they doing this successfully, or are there things which you think could be clearer. Use your editing skills to analyse how successful the text is! Looking at how others present themselves online can give you an insight into what kind self-presentation feels right for you.

Freelancer networks and directories

There are various professional organisations and networks through which you can reach your potential market. Many have directories of members where you can be listed. The obvious one is the SfEP, but others include Find a Proofreader, Reedsy, Whitefox. It’s also worth looking at Book Machine.

Think carefully about the keywords you use in directory entries, especially if you have a particular specialism. For example, in the SfEP directory there are only 17 people who come up in a search for “Mathtype”, and only 2 people with “Sibelius” in their directory entry. These people have a very high likelihood of being found by anyone searching the SfEP directory for freelancers with these skills. Again, it’s a question of knowing what you offer, and then making sure you make yourself visible to potential clients by making sure the text about you contains the kind of keywords your clients might search on.

Websites and blogs

Should you have a website?

Probably. It doesn’t have to be extensive, but a website is a very good shop window for you and your services. If you want to create your own website try WordPress, which is a very user-friendly platform – blog-based but with fixed pages too. is free (you can pay for enhanced features, but the free version has lots of features and an extensive range of designs to choose from). Other well-regarded website building platforms include Squarespace, Weebly and Wix. It’s quite straightforward to build your own website using one of these platforms, so there is no need to pay a web designer.

Advantages of a website:

  • Having your own website gives you professional credibility
  • You can link to your website from other online places, providing more ways for people to find you.
  • Raises your online presence, and helps you be discoverable via search. Relevant content and keywords can enable people to find you.
  • Provides an excellent platform for posting information about your specific services, client endorsements, FAQs, case studies, information about your fees and how people can contact you.
  • Can be updated with new information at any time.

Should you blog?

A personal blog is an excellent way of raising your profile. Blog posts can give people a clear idea of who you are and where your expertise lies. The downside is that you need to be prepared to write posts regularly (at least quarterly), and you may not want to commit the time to doing this. Try writing guest posts for other blogs before deciding whether you want to set up your own.


LinkedIn can do many of the things that a website can. Your LinkedIn profile can include details of your specific services, endorsements, contact information. You can provide a link to your website. You can share updates with your connections, and you can also write longform posts. Posts become part of your LinkedIn profile, get shared with your network, and also reach the wider LinkedIn community. See this slideshare for more information.


Should you use Twitter?

It’s a misconception that if you use Twitter, you have to have something to say. Many people do not tweet things themselves, but use Twitter to hear what others are saying. How useful Twitter can be for you is influenced by how well curated your “following” list is – who you choose to follow. If you follow key people who have interesting information to share, then Twitter can be a really useful source of ideas and information. You can think of it as a headline service with links.

Try these for starters:

SfEP Official @TheSfEPthe SfEP official Twitter feed

Oohpub @oohpubOut of House Publishing. Producing books, journals and digital content for busy academic and education publishers.

Manual of Style @ChicagoManualClear, concise, and replete with commonsense advice, I offer the wisdom of a hundred years of editorial practice.

Guardian style guide @guardianstyleThe Guardian style guide editors on language usage and abusage, and lots more

Susie Dent @susie_dentThat woman in Dictionary Corner

Babel @BabelzineBabel is a language and linguistics magazine for both experts and non-specialist readers

If you find someone you want to follow, take a look at their Twitter profile and see who they are following, and who follows them. This is a great way to find more useful people to follow.

Also, look to see if useful Twitter accounts have created any lists. Twitter lists group together tweets from a curated group of Twitter feeds. So, for example, @copyediting has a list called “professional-orgs” which brings together tweets from 15 organizations for editors and other publishing professionals. The SfEP has a list of members who tweet.

Twitter hashtags are also useful. A hashtag is a word preceded by a # symbol, which Twitter automatically turns into a tag, so if you click on a hashtag you will see all tweets that have been given that tag. Hashtags are often used for events so, for example, people are tweeting about the 2016 SfEP conference using the hashtag #sfep16. There are also hashtags relating to activities, such as an #amediting one. Simply type the hashtag into the Twitter search box to bring up the related tweets.


I’m not a fan of Facebook for business purposes. I prefer to keep Facebook for personal use. Facebook posts do not come up in Google searches, and in my experience the set up process for business pages is not intuitive – if you make a mistake it’s not easy to fix it. Facebook is useful for local businesses though, so if you have a local client base then you may want to look at Facebook.

Outreach: emailing, attending networking events

Emails are a good way of keeping in touch with existing clients and also a way of reaching out to potential new clients. Consider sending regular emails, perhaps every couple of months, to keep your name and your services in front of people. For existing clients, don’t forget to mention other services that you offer. If a client uses you for proofreading, they may not realise that you also offer substantive copyediting, so why not remind them every now and then? For potential new clients, mention work you have recently done for similar customers, perhaps point them to a case study on your website.

Use a simple customer database system for keeping track of existing and potential clients. Insightly is very good, and the basic version is available free (click on the grey “sign up free” button bottom left on the pricing page). Insightly also links with Mailchimp, which you may find useful if you email groups of contacts regularly.

Networking events are a good opportunity to get away from your desk, and broaden your horizons. Meet other people with similar challenges to yours. Meet people from different but related industries who provide a different perspective. Hear about industry developments and new technologies.

Some examples of websites and blogs from copyeditors and proofreaders:

Louise Harnby:

Louise’s blog:

Beverley Sykes:

Clear and informative website, includes testimonials and also has a good FAQ page. Beverley is @BevSuperscript on Twitter.

Kate Haigh:

Lots of endorsements on the site. Also a very good blog, with contributions from other proofreaders. Kate tweets as @Kateproof.

Denise Cowle:

Denise also has a good blog on her website. See this recent post about marketing.

Katherine Trail:

Kat has an active blog, and her website also includes a video! She also has a resources page where she shares things with other editors, including a time sheet template, a quote calculator, a Microsoft Word styles tutorial video and a guide to KDP and Createspace. Offering free resources (and regularly pointing people towards them via social media) is a good way of increasing the number of visitors to your site, and this in turn will improve the site’s search ranking with Google, so this is quite a clever thing to do. Kat also has a Facebook page.

Further reading:

Louise Harnby has published a book about marketing your editing and proofreading business. You can read an extract through the “search inside” facility on Amazon.

Some Thoughts about Impact (and Open Access) for Humanities and Social Science Publishing

My background is in Humanities and Social Science publishing, and that’s the key area of focus for the majority of university presses. Attending a couple of sessions on Open Access and Open Science at the London Book Fair last week reminded me just how different things look from the perspective of the STEM subjects and the major journal publishers. A session on crossover academic books, and an inspiring talk from the founders of the new Goldsmiths Press brought some other thoughts into play too. A common theme was impact.

For academics, the measure of success is prestige. Have you changed the conversation? Have you changed the world? This idea came up in the session on the crossover book (the academic book that crosses over into a wider market). Penguin Press has published serious books by academic authors which have sold more than 100,000 copies. The question was posed in the session: as an academic why wouldn’t you want to reach 100,000 readers? If you want your work to have real impact in the world make sure you write well and concentrate on communicating your message. Penguin is highly selective in its commissioning, but then really gets behind the marketing for each of its books. Its academic authors include Daniel Kahneman and Paul Dolan. These authors have genuinely made an impact, and the huge success of their books must bring fantastic prestige to their institutions. I was left pondering the contrast with Open Access publishing, through which as much research as possible (rather than selected research) is made available (rather than actively promoted).

With the rise of Open Access, there is a commercial imperative to issue as much OA material as possible. This was from the “What is a Publisher Now? It’s Open, but where on earth is it?” session. Funders are providing money for Open Access publishing, and publishers seem very happy to take the money. A lot of money is being poured into the development of new platforms, and the big publishers are becoming content providers rather than book and journal publishers. With more and more research being published, discoverability is becoming a key issue. Metadata and semantic search are buzzwords. Is there an element of re-inventing the wheel here? Google is the expert in semantic search, and Google is widely used by academics for search purposes. In the future, will scholars search within several different platforms to find what they’re looking for, or will a single search portal (like Google) become dominant?

In STEM subjects, articles rather than books are the dominant form. Article Processing Charges for OA mean that there is a shift in where the value is perceived to lie, away from the journal (the publisher) and towards the article (the author). Articles can be published before the journal publication date. There is a move towards article-level metrics, which would mean that prestige (the academic’s measure of success) is tied in with the impact factor of the article, rather than the journal as a whole. In this scenario, what is the purpose of the journal? What is the purpose of the publisher? Are they now simply platform developers?

The fact that for STEM subjects OA is moving towards content held on platforms provides challenges for research that does not fit into the journal article mould (aka books!). Rupert Gatti (Open Book Publishers) and Lara Speicher (UCL Press) both spoke of the difficulties of finding the right business model and of getting Open Access books to the reader. Open Access books typically have free versions and also paid-for versions (for example you can access the pdf free online, but you can also pay to buy a print edition). Retailers (such as Amazon) and library suppliers are happy to list information about the books on their systems, but they don’t label them as being Open Access. So how does the reader know that a free version is available? Open Access book publishers need to find new channels. Publisher platforms, websites, OAPEN, DOAB and social media were all mentioned. For smaller publishers, without the scale and finance to develop sophisticated platforms like the mega-publishers, and without the routes to market provided by established commercial distributors, this seems very challenging. It’s often repeated that making books available as Open Access does not have a detrimental impact on sales of the print or ebook versions. I’m now wondering whether this is significantly influenced by the fact that distributors who sell the book do not mention the OA version. Are buyers ordering books through their usual channels not even aware that they’re paying for books that are OA? As OA becomes more widespread, surely this will change?

The newly launched Press at Goldsmiths is format agnostic. They are taking a critical attitude to Open Access, not saying yes, not saying no. For co-founder Adrian Driscoll, a key issue is sustainability. Open Access is very reliant on continued funding, which seems risky for a university (and therefore a press) which has a liberal arts focus. Sarah Kember, the Publishing Director, wants to think about different communication formats that are suited to subject specialisms which include arts and performance. She thinks Open Access does not work for the liberal arts. OA belongs to the STEM subjects, and publishers’ systems are being developed for those subject areas where the article is the main communication vehicle.  Goldsmiths Press wants to push the barrier between academic and trade, to focus on the needs of authors and scholars and on supporting the aims of their institution. They are asking whether impact can be measured in new ways.

Advocates of Open Access talk about increasing the impact of research, getting it read by more people. The speakers in the crossover books session were talking about that too. Mathew Lyons spoke about it being important that academic humanities should be a vital contributor to the national conversation and be part of the wider political and cultural debate. Sarah Kember from Goldsmiths spoke about finding the best way to maximise impact for different areas of research. There seems to be wide agreement about the importance of impact, of changing the conversation.

At the University Press Redux conference In Liverpool in March, Mandy Hill from Cambridge University Press expressed a worry that Open Access might mean that some research might not be able to be published. I read a tweet from a librarian who was in the room, reacting to this idea with astonishment, and thinking that he must have misheard. But there are costs associated with publishing research, whether those costs are paid by the publisher, by institutions or by external funders, either through processing charges or through funding a university (or library) press. If institutions and funders are paying article and book processing charges, and the publisher is supplying a content platform instead of making commercial decisions about what to publish and what not to publish, where will this lead? For research which may not have an immediately apparent commercial value (STEM research receives a lot of commercial funding, humanities and social science research does not) will there be a limit to how much will receive OA funding for publication?

Liz Allen from F1000Research spoke about the outbreak of the Ebola virus providing a strong impetus to get the latest research published fast. Open Science is ideal for this kind of research and information sharing. But maybe a different approach is more suitable for the communication of humanities and social science research, one that is more focused on proactively engaging with the national conversation, communicating ideas and research in ways that will advance culture and policy.

Reflections on The University Press Redux

The University Press Redux conference was held in Liverpool on the 16th and 17th of March. Organised by Anthony Cond and Liverpool University Press, it brought together 150 delegates – all with a stake in the future of scholarly publishing – and it was a hugely stimulating and thought-provoking couple of days. Having had a couple of weeks to digest what I took in from the conference, I’ve now put together a few thoughts on the key themes that stood out from my perspective. My perspective being that of someone with a background in academic monograph publishing in the Humanities and Social Sciences…

Here are the themes that stood out for me:

Energy and commitment –

There is a palpable energy, and lots of new ideas, in university publishing. New presses are springing up, with a focus on Open Access, and with close connections to the university library. New conversations are happening between longer-established presses and their home institutions. There seems to be a renewed sense of mission – “how can we best support the publishing needs of the academic community”. We heard that 40% of US university presses got a new director in the past 3 years, bringing new energy and new perspective. In the UK, five new presses have been established in the past 12 months. Established presses are being innovative, and are winning awards (Liverpool University Press, Policy Press).

The importance of reputation, especially for early-career researchers –

Early-career researchers still need to be published by a reputable academic press, and preferably a university press. This is crucial for getting a job. A book published by a university press also remains the gold standard for more established researchers, especially in the UK, where the REF is a dominant presence. Will the new university presses be able to develop a strong reputation for academic excellence? Will they be compromised by their focus on publishing their own faculty rather than from a more globally diverse base? Or should the reputation of the home institution be enough of a guarantee of excellence for their research output, without the need for endorsement from a publisher?

A crisis of readers? –

Researchers need to publish for career development, so there is no shortage of new book projects for publishers to choose from. But library budgets are (as always) under pressure, and libraries are also increasingly moving to patron-driven acquisition rather than buying books “just in case”. Are there more people wanting to publish than are wanting to read?

Discoverability (and sustainability) –

No-one will buy or access books if they don’t know they exist. Publishers with a strong reputation in particular subject areas, and with established sales and communication channels, may have an advantage here. Open Access research is achieving impressive download numbers, but this (so far) is based on a small level of output with a high level of energy (and funds) being devoted to publicity. Will this prove to be sustainable? As the amount of open access research increases, how will people decide what they should be reading? Will there be an ongoing need for gatekeepers, curators and sales people (the role that publishers have played and continue to play)?

Collaboration and outsourcing –

There is a notable increase in collaborative activity; a sense that smaller publishers can punch above their weight and gain mutual advantage by working together. And there is also an increasing number of companies offering specialist services to those who may not have in-house resources. We heard from collaborative organisations: ALPSP, AAUP, AEUP; and from publishing service providers: Ubiquity, IPR Licensing, Turpin Distribution, EBSCO. There are also presses or institutions working together, such as White Rose Press in the UK, and Lever Press in the US.

Who pays? And will there be a limit? –

There is no such thing as free research, and to publish it requires investment. In the traditional publishing model, the press covers the cost of publishing via revenue primarily from sales. The developing Open Access model involves financial investment from institutions, either to support publishing in-house, or to pay Article or Book Processing charges to external publishers or publishing service companies. There is also experimentation with subsidies from library consortia. Will these new models be sustainable? How much research output will OA funders be prepared to subsidise?

Let me know your thoughts via the comments…

Further reading:

University Press Redux: Preserving Heritage, Charting The Future (Alison Mudditt)

The University Press Redux: Balancing traditional university values with a culture of digital innovation (storified)

Pathways Forward: The University Press in the 21st Century (Alastair Horne)

2016 to be ‘tough’ year for CUP Academic (Mandy Hill)

Writing for Survival: Publishing & Precarity in the Lives of Early-Career Researchers (Nadine Muller)

Laura Portwood-Stacer – 7 mistakes I made when I published my academic book

This post from Laura Portwood-Stacer originally appeared on Medium

Laura Portwood-Stacer is a freelance editor and consultant for academics working toward publication. For more see


I’m proud of the book I published from my doctoral dissertation, really I am. I think it’s well researched and well written. I think it does justice to the topic — the politics of subcultural lifestyle choices within the modern-day US anarchist movement — and to the people among whom I did my fieldwork. But I have some regrets, not so much about the book’s content, but about things I didn’t do during the publishing process. Maybe that’s why I eventually decided to make a livelihood of helping other academics navigate the journey from proposal to publication — I want to save people with great book manuscripts from committing the same errors I did!

In order from most regrettable to least, here are 7 mistakes I made along the way:

Mistake #1: Not spending more time on the cover copy

Cover copy is that paragraph-or-two that appears on the back of the paperback consumer edition of the book. I think I always assumed that publishers had a staff of copy writers who would carefully read the books and generate snappy, engaging blurbs for the backs. Um, duh, that is not how it works. Authors write their own cover copy. When I was asked to do this, I dashed off a few paragraphs and sent them to the publisher, now making the erroneous assumption that someone would vet this draft, edit it, and let me know if it sucked as cover copy. Once again, nope! What I gave them is what ended up on the book, and I cringe every time I see it and imagine potential readers picking it up in the bookstore and then… putting it right back down, with a combination eye-roll/yawn. And guess what else, that cover copy is also what gets posted as the synopsis on online retail sites and the publisher’s own website and the little snippet that comes up when you post a link to it on Facebook. So it haunts me. Everywhere.

What I should have done: at the very least, ask someone to look over my cover copy and tear it apart before letting me submit it to anyone who had the power to put it into print. Better yet, I could have paid someone with more distance from the book’s material to write the cover copy for me. Someone who understood that it’s less important that the cover copy perfectly summarize the academic content and contribution of the book, and more important that it gets people to freakin’ read the book.

Mistake #2: Not being a little more difficult about the cover design

Sometimes I see the spine of my book on my bookshelf and think, “wait, what book is that?” Ok, not really, because I’d recognize those blurry, illegible letters anywhere. But the average customer perusing a shelf in a bookstore or library? They’re not even stopping to think “wait, what book is that?” because they’ve already blown right past it. The front cover has the title and my name in a sort of hip, two-tone, graffiti-style typeface, which honestly does look kind of cool. It is pretty readable when the letters are an inch high. It is totally not readable when squished onto the spine of the book. I don’t know how this design got past the production team, but when it got to me for approval I should have insisted that it be changed. I probably didn’t say anything because I didn’t think I had a say, but I regret not at least making the argument.

Mistake #3: Not hiring someone else to do the index

Just as there’s no crack team of cover copy writers on standby at your publishing house, there’s no expert indexer waiting in the wings to pore over your text and create a beautiful catalog of all the nouns in your manuscript. This is another thing that you, the author, will be asked to do or arrange for on your own. I had visions of an index full of thought-provoking cross-references and clever little “see alsos,” and so I decided to create the index myself. The secret I discovered: once your mind is numb from deciding which terms will get entries in the index and finding all their locations in the page proofs (and no, you can’t just use ctrl+F because you have to think conceptually, not literally), you will have no energy left for jokes. You will want to never look at the thing again. Now I realize that I should have paid someone else to do the first pass. Then I could have come through and finessed it with my sparkling wit and high-level understanding of the nuanced relationships between concepts. (Of course, approximately 4 people would ever have noticed, so maybe this one should not be so high on my regrets list. Whatever; I would have been able to take pleasure in my charming little index.)

Mistake #4: Not doing more “publicity”

I think a lot of academics (especially those most vulnerable to imposter syndrome) struggle with the whole “self-promotion” thing. I’m not against self-promotion in theory, and I honestly admire the many friend-colleagues I know (shocker: mostly white guys) who promote the shit out of their new books with a seemingly endless stream of public lectures, well-placed op-eds, media appearances, and blog posts. Why didn’t I do these things to promote my own book? Mostly, I find that stuff exhausting. But there’s a little part of me that was afraid, if I appeared to be too confident in my book and too insistent that it become well known, I’d become a target of unkindness. This was clearly silly, since I’ve not heard a word of harsh criticism about the book; even the few people who reviewed the book for journals, and by definitionhad to say something critical, didn’t come up with anything that was so mean or unfair as to hurt my feelings.

Even if my particular personality is not suited to a full-on book tour and media blitz (it isn’t), I could have at the very least written a blog post for the publisher’s website when they suggested it. I kind of didn’t want to do it, so I told myself that if it was really important they would follow up and make me do it. But, of course, that is not how it works. Adults make themselves do their own damn blog posts, and I really should have done the thing.

Mistake #5: Not knowing how to respond appropriately to reader reports

Here’s the process of scoring a book contract (at least this was the process for me): send informal letter of inquiry to series editor(s); send formal proposal and sample chapters to acquiring editor; wait for anonymous reader reports on proposal and sample chapters; write competent response to reader reports that communicates your capacity to address any concerns; acquiring editor uses your response to make a compelling case to her editorial board that they should offer you a contract. Can you guess where I messed up? Yeah, when I got the reader reports back, they made sense to me and I knew I could easily incorporate their feedback into my revision of the manuscript. Except my response basically just said that, rather than demonstrating, in precise detail,how I would improve the manuscript. I realize now that “Hey guys, I promise I know what to do and the next draft will be better” is not actually enough for the acquisitions editor to build a convincing pitch around.

Fortunately, my series editors gently suggested that I might want to have another go at the response to the reader reports, and I came back with something that showed, not told, that I could produce a kick-ass manuscript. Unanimous approval from the editorial board = book contract in hand, cha-ching. This mistake is very low on the list because obviously it all turned out fine, but had I been more prepared I could have saved everyone a step (and myself some momentary embarrassment).

Mistake #6: Not shopping my proposal to multiple presses

This one isn’t a full blown mistake per se, because I’m happy with where the book ended up for a lot of reasons that are more personal and political than professional (see below for one of them). I submitted my book to the series I did partly because the series was a perfect fit for my subject matter and I (correctly) anticipated that I wouldn’t have to do much revision of the dissertation to get it published there. At the time, I was on the academic job market and I figured having a book contract in hand as soon as possible was the key thing. With the wisdom of experience, I now see that this may not have been as strategically advisable as it seemed at the time. Yes, I had a contract in hand, but it was with a hybrid academic/commercial press (Continuum, which became Bloomsbury Academic), on a list outside of my field (my book is on Bloomsbury’s Politics list, but the jobs I was applying to were in Communication and Media Studies), in a very niche series (Contemporary Anarchist Studies) that isn’t exactly screaming “marketability” to hiring committees.

Had I submitted a proposal to one of the highly respected university presses in my field, I might have had to do more work to score the contract, but I would have had the prestige, and more importantly, academic confidence, that would come from the imprimatur of one of those presses. In the end, maybe I wouldn’t have gotten a contract from one of those presses anyway, and even if I had, it still might not have translated to a tenure-track job. I’ll never know, so I’m going to call this one less “a mistake” and more “something I still wonder about sometimes.” If I were advising a first-time author today, I’d tell them to at least submit proposals to a few different kinds of presses and see what kind of response they get. You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take, etc. etc.

Mistake #7: Not publishing Open Access

Psyche! One of my favorite things about my book is that it’s completely accessible. This was one of the (aforementioned) reasons I went with the press I did: the series editors had already negotiated with the publisher to have the books in the series be accessible and downloadable via the publisher’s website. Because the topic has to do with radical activism — and the book contains the voices of so many activists who freely gave me their time — it would have been a real shame if the kind of people I wrote about couldn’t freely access the material. This is probably my favorite thing about the publication of my book, and it almost cancels out any other regrets I have about not shopping the proposal around. That said, more and more presses are offering options like this these days, so it’s worth asking about it wherever you end up taking your manuscript.

If you’re getting ready to publish your own academic book, I hope you’ll avoid the pitfalls I didn’t. If you’d like to be extra sure, you can always drop me a line at I promise to tell you if your cover copy sucks.

Which Open Access licence is best? What’s the difference between CC-BY and CC-BY-NC-ND?

Open Access is a fast moving area, with different publishers offering different options. If you are considering publishing your book open access, it will have a Creative Commons licence attached to it. The terminology surrounding this can be confusing. CC-BY, CC-BY-NC, or CC-BY-NC-ND – does it matter which one applies?

There’s a very good bullet-point listing on the Manchester University Press website of how the licences differ. It’s part of their general Open Access glossary, which I would recommend taking a look at if you’d like some guidance.

Here’s the bit about the licences…

CC-BY licence

  • Anyone is free to share — copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format.
  • Anyone is free to adapt — remix, transform, and build upon the material
  • Appropriate credit must be given to the author.
  • The license must be linked to.
  • Commercial re-use is allowed.

CC-BY-NC licence

  • Anyone is free to share — copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format.
  • Anyone is free to adapt — remix, transform, and build upon the material
  • Appropriate credit must be given to the author.
  • The license must be linked to.
  • Commercial re-use is not allowed without permission.

CC-BY-NC-ND licence

  • Anyone is free to share — copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format.
  • Appropriate credit must be given to the author.
  • The license must be linked to.
  • Commercial re-use is not allowed without permission.
  • Remixing, transforming, and building upon the material are not allowed without permission.

CC-BY is the licence favoured by Open Access purists, as it’s the least restrictive in terms of allowing people to share and develop the content. However, CC-BY-NC-ND is an attractive option for authors in the humanities and social sciences, who may be less comfortable with the idea of their material being remixed and transformed.