Friday, November 28, 2008

Reader response to the Green publishing post

Going through my spam infested inbox today, I came across a response to a past post about the environment and publishing. I'm reposting it here in the hopes that we can have a discussion about the topic which interests me enough that I'll be doing my dissertation/major project on it.


Hi Chantal,
I've just been reading your blog and tried posting a reply, but being the non-blogging luddite that I am I decided that email was easier anyway!
I was also at that seminar (I was the one asking about the impact of ink and water usage). What struck me as surprising is the seeming acceptance of inaccurate print runs. In all my experience of publishing, including a few yeas of postgrad study in Australia, I've learned that getting your print runs right first time is a crucial factor to running an economically viable publishing business. In the old days of printing from film it used to be much cheaper to do a short print run and then do a reprint when your stock ran out. Nowadays with computer-to-plate (CTP) processes it costs much more to do a reprint because the plates have to be reproduced.
What we were taught in my postgrad program is that a smart publisher gets their print runs right first time - don't print too many or too few. Pulping also costs money, and is obviously a huge waste, and I'm quite surprised to hear that it may be common practice (maybe it is here in the UK more than Australia). If publishers want to be good, they have to do their research before they sign off on their final print run. Pulling numbers out of thin air is not good business practice. Researching the market and knowing that you can sell every single copy of your print run is good business practice.
Perhaps pulping should be more expensive, or perhaps should be penalised more. Perhaps publishers/editors who end up pulping their stock because they've printed too many should be penalised by having their performance bonuses reduced.
There are many things we can do to make a difference (even if it's only a small difference; it's better than sitting back complaining and doing nothing).

Good luck with your publishing career (and studies).



Now that our classwork revolves around calculating costs, I understand what you mean about the cost of plates. It is pretty high and printing more seems to be almost always more economical than printing less. I think most people would rather just overestimate the number of copies they can sell rather than run the risk of missing out on sales when booksellers run out of stock.

I like the idea of coming up with some kind of punishment for waste although I don't know how it would be enforced fairly. Everyone will be trying to assign blame somewhere else, "the publisher overestimated the number", "the bookseller didn't do their part in the marketing process" etc. I think people won't try hard enough until they care about it for their own sake/conscience. I guess I'm still very naive :)

Thursday, November 27, 2008

End of the Semester funk

I've been feeling horrible for most of the past 2 days. I skipped only one class though and managed to make it through yesterday's without being seriously unhappy. Then something like two hours of work in the Publishing IT room.

Time is running out (we have only two weeks left!) and we have a lot of group projects to hand in. Yesterday, I went to work early and finished putting in the pictures for our Design group's InDesign project. The assignment was to design a fashion book and my group picked Ethical Fashion. I was skeptical about our work at first but it's really come together. I did the page layout and inserted the pics. It's more work than it sounds really. However, there are two girls in my group (we're 4) who have very dominant personalities and basically they've taken over most of the work. They're not really teamworkers. Trouble is, we have to write a little about what we each did... It's not that I wasn't willing to do my share it's just that one of them stole most of my share. At least stuff gets done. There are groups out there who are way behind whereas we're practically done. It still is the most unpleasant of our projects (well, not counting marketing, haven't even started that yet!) but it's crazy how far we've come! It actually looks professional! Not very experienced maybe but definitely pro.

I can design a book!

In editorial class, we have to come up with a book proposal as if we were editors in some established UK company. We picked Random House because we wanted to do a book by Jacqueline Wilson. Easy you say. Not so much :) We picked something somewhat risky and interesting but that could pay big. A sex ed book for 9-11 year-olds. This is more like group work in that we each have a task we're expected to complete. Some work harder than others because they're more interested and it's coming a little bit slower than design but at least I don't dread every meeting (and it has nothing to do with my boyfriend being in the group). I have to do the costings. How many books should we print? How much of an advance do we offer the author? What percentage of royalties? How profitable is it likely to be? etc. Basically, is it worth the expense of using an author as expensive as Jacqueline Wilson?

It's very interesting but fairly labor intensive. I've been trying to get into the Nielsen BookScan online database but my name and password aren't working. A lot of people have been having trouble with the thing but it's got almost everything you could ask for, money wise anyway.

I also spent yesterday pm after class helping boyfriend out with photoshopping the cover art he made for the project. He doesn't know photoshop and I'd been using it for years. I'm no great digital artist but I can fiddle ok and they are looking better than okay if I may say so myself! He was geeking out on his covers :D More points for me, I hope.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Answering Questions

I'm posting here a conversation I had through Facebook (oh, how I love thee Fb!) with Julie (check out her very informative comment on Books Don't Need to be Perfect, btw). She's currently an editor in South America considering coming to Oxford Brookes. Welcome to the blog Julie, hope you stay, I'd love your insight into the realities of working in publishing, in South America or elsewhere :D


Hi Chantal. It's nice to hear from another south american young publisher :P ((Chantal: I am half Uruguayan))

I have lots, and lots, and lots of questions, the first one (two in fact) would be the obvious one(s): why did you go to Brookes? Why an MA in Publishing?
Oh, I am not sure if you want to write in spanish or english, so I just did in english, but whichever one is ok for me.

Thank you for your kind answer :)


To answer your questions, I've been meaning to go into publishing for at least the past five years (that's why I did my B.A. in English). [...] I figured with an M.A. I'd probably get interviews fairly automatically, not to mention better paid. The M.A. shows commitment and it counts as serious work experience too.

I looked up other places like City University London. I got interviewed as well. In the end though, Brookes won out because the lecturer who interviewed me was very informative, the program sounded great (they help you get work experience, seriously, within the first 2 weeks I was working at a local small publisher!), the lecturers are all currently working in the industry, they have guests over all the time and it's in Oxford ;) I found out when I got here that Brookes' is pretty much the best publishing program in the country and one of the best in the world too. Some of my coursemates are working for HarperCollins, Oxford University Press and other big names. The classes are very practical with one half being theory and the other all practice.

The price is steep for sure especially if you don't have a student loan (I don't) but I definitely don't regret it. Everything about England is expensive but I'm finding once you get into the rhythm of things, you can manage.

From a more human side of things, I've never been as happy as I am here. Yeah, there's some downsides (like costs and being away from family and friends) but the people in my course are so much fun. Everyone is very nice and although there's starting to be a couple of conflicts between some people (sometimes it's a downright "telenovela"), we go out together a lot, we can talk comfortably, we even help each other out when someone has financial problems. It's like nothing I'd ever gone through before. The lecturers are very friendly and available and hilarious (some of them make us laugh all through class). They're a little quirky sometimes (if you come and meet Leander you'll see what I mean :D) I honestly think OBU is the best choice when it comes to publishing programs.

From what you say I guess in South America is easier to get a job in publishing than in Europe (that kind of scares me, hehe). I got my current job without even meaning to, without even knowing what I was getting myself into. However, there are indeed fewer publishing houses. But there are also a lot of different kinds of always-available freelance jobs (translations, proofreading, evaluation of new material), and if you know the right people you'll almost always be required as a freelancer. Anyway, I am on the "lucky" side of the permanent staff of a publishing house, so I don't have to worry if there's job available or not :)

Which leads me to ask: what kind of work experience (what kind of tasks) have you had in Brookes? For how long? Are they paid? Are they compulsory for the masters?

Also, which of the masters are you taking? Why? I see at the website that there are different paths, like European Master in Publishing, Publishing and Language, International Publishing, etc, etc. It's kind of confusing to tell which one would be suitable for me (something related to language sounds perfect, but all of them are soooo appealing :P).

I started at the end of september at a small academic publisher. I'm doing mostly marketing there, every monday 9-5. What you'll be asked to do depends on the where you're working but everyone's been talking about lately about how they give us an aweful lot of responsibility for interns and they ask for and trust our judgement.

Work experience isn't paid but most of them will reinburse any traveling fees (bus etc) to and from work. Mine even pays for my lunch :) They're not compulsory and I know plenty of people aren't doing any but they are highly recommended. Of course, since you already work at a publisher, you don't really need more experience.

I'm doing the simple "M.A. in Publishing". The others are interesting but I plan on staying in the UK or go to North-America afterwards anyway. They're all good and really, mostly the same. Right now, semester 1, we're all doing our classes together. In semester 2, those in European etc have 1 module that's compulsory to them that my group doesn't have. It's really the only difference.

One last question that I thought of today: what about entrepreneurs? are there any students whishing to stablish their own publishing houses? Any special approach that you've seen?

Oh, there are quite a few who would like to start their own publishing house someday. Not right at the end of the M.A. I think but after they have some experience.

One of the girls in the course runs her own charity in Africa and is doing the course so she can use it to support it. Oh, now that I think about it there is one person who's studying so she can open her own company in Macedonia but she's been working in publishing for a long time.

Honestly, we learn so much, we could probably handle a small publishing house on our own but experience is really important so I don't think we'd do it so well. Better to work for someone else for a while.

Julie has a blog (in Spanish) at in which she sometimes posts the funny things that happen to her as an editor.
I know I haven't posted about the paper issue. Sorry! In my defense though, I found a chapter of a book that ties in really well with that lecture. I'll read it through and come up with a decent post that's extra informative to make up for it.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Paper, it is clearly evil

I'm writing to you as a way to procrastinate on the incredibly annoying production cost estimate exercise I woke up early to do. It is evil if only for that. I believe in sleeping until noon at least, of course, I haven't actually been able to do that since the beginning of the semester. Have you ever gone to a real crazy Halloween party, gotten completely pissed and then waking up at 8 am anyway?

It's not human.

Basically, I'm coming up with an estimate of how much it would cost to produce a particular book in a certain number of copies. I'm doing 8000, 12500 and 16000. It's all straightforward enough except when it comes to paper.

I have to calculate how much paper to buy and how much it will cost me except the prices on the sheet we've been given are per 1000 copies of a 320 page book. My book is 688 pages. Too many numbers for me to juggle!
Have I mentioned I failed every class in High School that involved numbers? (actually, there was this one year where I failed everything except P.E. That was a straaaange year...)

Speaking of paper, we had a pretty interesting lecture last week on paper and ecology. I'll write about it maybe later today. It's a little on the other side of the "paper : bad or okay" argument.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Books don't need to be perfect

I bet you authors are getting all angry at me for the title. Don't worry, as far as your part of the work goes, you don't have to change your work ethics. Make your manuscript as good as you can make it.

There are some reason why a book doesn't have to be worked to perfection by the editor and subsequent fiddlers. Well, one main reason anyway, MONEY! (bet you didn't see that one coming)
Editing, copyediting and proofreading take time and with a tight schedule, there can come a time when the editor says "screw this, send it to the printer". Writers get nervous about their manuscript and would probably go on editing and tweaking forever if their editor didn't stop them. During the copyediting (in which the content is edited) stage this is what's supposed to be done. However, the work moves on to proofreading stage after the typesetting. This stage is to fix miskeyings etc NOT CONTENT. The author gets to look at the proofs and mark mistakes however, unless there is a huge mistake in the content (like placing one country on the wrong continent), this is it, you don't change anything but the typos. Sorry, move on.

So: copyediting = content change
proofreading = typo repair

Depending on what type of book it is and how much it's going to cost at the end, the proofreader might do a more or less intense job. This is why you sometimes come across typos and nasty spelling errors, bad punctuation, rotated letters etc. when you're reading a book. It's not that the proofreader is bad or that the author sucks. It's just that it was decided that the book didn't need that kind of quality and investment. It's not that it's a bad book. It's just, as a reader, you expect certain novels to be at certain price. Well, we gotta get it to be that price and still make a profit, we spend too much on it, we're going to pass that on to you, the customer.

Oh, here's a little something I don't think most authors know. Of course, when your book is being published, the money should go towards the author. However, at proofreading stage, there is a small percentage of costs that are allowed for the author to make changes to content, once that bit of money is spent, the author can be asked to pay for any additional costs due to their changes in the text. This is to curb the authors natural instinct to play with their work. At this point, you just have to trust that it's as good as you're going to make it (this time around anyway). Nothing sleazy about the practice.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Maybe that's why I don't get a lot of traffic here...

I was just looking through site stats and one of the search terms that brought up my blog was "hotties Oxford".

I'm flattered I guess and it's not last month's "im dieing" but that's not the kind of people I'm hoping will read my blog :D

Heheh, I'm a hotty.

It's November! Yay!

Yes! It's NaNoWriMo!

I don't know why I get ridiculously excited about it when I'm not going to be participating (much). I love NaNoWriMo but this year there's too much work and a new boyfriend I'd rather not ignore for the sake of bad prose. Or maybe we could co-write a really bad, sappy romance novel... hmmm...

This has been reading week and it has not been relaxing in spite of not having classes. We had a value engineering exercise assigned. Value engineering is about as exciting as it sounds. Basically, it's all about calculating what happens to costs when you have longer or shorter print runs and when you pick certain formats and types of papers.

It's all very boring spreadsheets and Excel work.

However, it is interesting to see how the unit price of each book goes down when the number of books go up. Basically, the more books you print out, the lower the price of each individual book. And this is because there are set initial costs for setting up the printing equipment as well as set editorial costs which are what they are regardless of whether you print 10000 or 1000 books.

They look something like this: 850GBP for the first 1ooo copies

But then, for a certain amount extra (the run-on), the price is much lower, e.g. 35GBP per 1000 run-on.
The figures are examples only, there's no set amount as it depends on many factors such as paper, format, printer etc.

This is tricky in a way because although more books means you can sell each for less (usually good marketing-wise), you also have to pay more in advance before you see any money back from the book sales. It's a balancing act between how much you want to spend outright, how good a book you want to produce and what you want the retail price to be. I might post my spreadsheet after everyone's handed theirs in if anyone wants to see what it looks like and make their own conclusions from it.

It's really quite interesting but I was promised no maths and I was clearly lied to.

I think it might be informative for authors in particular as there are figures about royalties. They can also see who's really making money out of their prose (and it's not really the publisher, sadly).