Category: Academic


Inside freelancing: Louise Le Bas, Editorial

Louise Le Bas is a Senior Associate at Just Content, with experience across the broad range of formats, media and sectors spanning academic (books and journals), professional and education. Here Melody Dawes interviews her.

1) What do you offer and who are your clients/have you worked with?

I specialise in education and professional publishing, though I do also do a bit of work on the academic side of things. Most of my clients are education or vocational skills awarding bodies or publishing houses whom I offer a range of services from a classic commissioning and development editing service to project management, and from time to time the odd research and consultation report. I also do a fair amount of work on digital products which includes e-learning project management and website management and development. 

2) What’s your background/experience and what made you make the move to freelancer?

I’ve worked in publishing for coming up to 14 years now and taken a fairly traditional route really – from Editorial Assistant to Co-ordinator, to Publishing Editor, Commissioning Editor, Publishing Manager and Publisher. A move to the north from London (I live in Leeds) and the desire for a more flexible lifestyle was the catalyst behind my change from in-house work to the freelance life. I also found the constant change between projects and changing quite appealing as it keeps things varied.

3) What are your greatest achievements so far?

It has to be the volume of projects I’ve covered in the last few years – a few of which have been pretty large undertakings for high profile clients. I think the best thing about freelancing for me has been the exposure to a wide range of different project and client types which has enabled me to get a really wide range of different experiences and really added to my knowledge, skills base and confidence. 

4) What are the challenges you’ve faced?

I think when you first start out it’s important to put boundaries down in terms of how much work you feel you need to take on – there is always the temptation to say yes to everything in case that’s the ‘last project you ever get offered’ – it never is! I think there is also the need to develop a slightly different way of manning your finances along with balancing off the busier periods with the quieter ones – but these are very navigable once you get in to the flow of things and change you mind set.

Other challenges are probably around getting the contacts and leads and building your confidence around negotiating terms and fees. It’s key to remember the skills and experiences you have and to be confident.

5) What’s changing within your area of freelancing, and how do you see the role of freelancers in this area developing?

It feels like the types of work needed by freelancers tends to go in waves – I think that recently there has been a wave of development support and list research needed but this now seems to be levelling off a bit in place of the need for more general edits and project management. Education publishing tends to be dictated by government funding and qualification review schedules so you can almost set your predicted busy periods and types of tasks by the types of reviews likely to come up. 

It does feel like there is an increasing trend for publishers to use freelancers as the amount of change and uncertainly we’ve seen in the economy in the last few years has made it much more appealing for publishers to have less fixed costs. That said, whilst I ‘d like to see this continue, there is some uncertainty in the education space at the moment which may well effect the amount clients have outspend on product development an freelance support. Let’s hope not as I really think having a pool of experienced, flexible resource is vital and compliments an in-house team well when work peaks hit….

6) What tips would you give to someone wanting to go into/who’s new to freelancing?

I would probably say don’t do it too early in your career. I personally think a lot of the value I have to add is the years of experience I have, especially the thorough understanding of how the in-house processes work so that I can best slot seamlessly in to these and really support the client.  That said, when you do reach the right time (for both professional and personal reasons) definitely go for it as it offers a completely different professional experience which allows you to experience a wider slice of the publishing landscape than you’d perhaps get if you are working in the same one role for years. 

I’d also say make sure you have a good network of possible clients (old employers, contacts in other publishing houses) before you take the plunge, and if possible line up your first project/contract.  You need to make sure you have a financial barrier in place as you get started and be ready to plan your finances a bit more once you get on your feet (tax returns, pension plans, do you want to be self employed or start a limited company).

I’d also say think about where you want to work and ensure you’ve got the right facilities and equipment so you can get started. Do you want to work at home or rent some communal working space? Is it viable to split your working time between home and a cafe maybe? 

I think the key thing to realise is that it really is possible to be self-employed and continue building your career. With a bit of luck and good portfolio of clients and different types of projects you can, in fact learn more, more quickly than you did in-house. 

This is a guest interview from Melody Dawes. Melody has over 15 years of education publishing experience and is the Managing Director of Just Content, a freelance services consultancy working mainly with education publishers.

bookmetrix logo

Startup snapshot: Bookmetrix

Martijn RoelandseMartijn Roelandse was a publishing editor at Bohn Stafleu van Loghum, a Dutch Springer subsidiary, and later for Springer. Since 2015 he has been working as Manager of Publishing Innovation to develop new projects. One of those is Bookmetrix, a platform developed by Springer and Altmetric that offers a comprehensive overview of the impact of a book.

1) What exactly is Bookmetrix?

Developed in partnership between Springer and Altmetric, Bookmetrix is the first platform of its kind to offer integrated traditional and non-traditional metrics for books and chapters. Designed to give authors, editors and readers easy access to this combined data all in one place for the first time, Bookmetrix helps to set a new standard for monitoring and reporting the activity surrounding a book post-publication. It’s picking up notice, too. It was announced as a finalist for the 2015 ALPSP Awards for Innovation in Publishing and the 2016 Quantum Publishing Innovation Award.

2) What problem does it solve?

Up until recently, book authors and editors would be updated on an annual basis on the downloads of their ebook. As many books are not indexed in either Scopus or in Thomson Reuters Book Citation Index, authors knew very little about the impact and reach of their book. We think the story behind a book isn’t finished when it’s published; a book and chapters, like journal articles, are discussed both in the academic realm and in society. We therefore now offer book and chapter level metrics for all our 200,000+ books and 3,600,000+ chapters. For each one of them, if available, you can find citations, online mentions, Mendeley readers, downloads and reviews. If you are interested in the story behind Bookmetrix, do read this excellent blog post from Altmetric’s Jean Liu.

3) Who is your target market?

The scope of Bookmetrix is wider than existing initiatives in the market: it covers substantially more books and goes beyond pure citation data. Bookmetrix dovetails with Springer’s ambition to drive more industry-wide initiatives to support the work of authors and researchers.

4) What results do you hope to see over the next few years?

Ultimately we hope to solve two problems. First, recognition is needed for the work of authors of books and chapters, just like authors of articles. Especially in humanities and social sciences, publishing books is the modus operandi for communicating with peers, but they are often not included in research evaluations. Second, people should stop judging books by their covers. Bookmetrix helps readers identify the right book for them within a discipline, high-impact ones with many citations, very useful ones with many downloads, or ones that are highly discussed online with many mentions. The choice is theirs.

5) What will be next for Bookmetrix?

At The London Book Fair this year we launched a first pilot with another scholarly publisher, Brill, to offer Bookmetrix for their books. In addition, we will be adding new features and functionalities to Bookmetrix over the next few months, so stay tuned!


9 commissioning tips: educational, non-fiction trade and all-rounders

Becky Lovell has been a Commissioning Editor for 6 years across both educational and non-fiction trade publishing. She is currently Commissioning Editor for the international Humanities list in the education team at Cambridge University Press.Here are some tips that she’s picked up over the years.

Adaptability is a useful skill for a commissioning editor. Being able to respond to differing customers and markets is important. The following core principles have really helped me to manage a variety of lists in different publishing sectors.

Top 3 things to share from educational commissioning

1) Know what you’re up against

In order to create USPs that are genuinely ‘U’, you need to know what the competition is doing and how you stand out from them. Educational publishing is highly competitive with publishers often targeting the same customers at the same time, so honed USPs are critical. Get stuck in; in addition to keeping spreadsheets tracking competitor products, I have a bookshelf of key competitor titles that I can flick through and evaluate.

2) Help keep projects on track

Everyone in educational publishing is racing to publish before competitors. If you achieve this, you should see increased sales, but the process is rarely easy! Commissioning is only one link in the chain and so regular communication with the rest of the product team is essential. Brief authors clearly, contract them swiftly and help the production team where you can.

3) Overcome any fear of data

Number crunching doesn’t come naturally to me – I’m a literature graduate. But I’ve learned that sound data analysis is a great tool to back up your proposals and guide your thinking. It’s easy to get a bit lost in numbers, so stick to the data that will help you make effective decisions or ‘tell the story’ behind product proposals – namely the numbers that tell you how big the potential market is, and how well (or not) you may already be selling to these customers.

Top 3 things to share from non-fiction trade commissioning

1) Understand the power of good marketing

You could commission the best book in the world but it will ultimately be unsuccessful if nobody knows it exists. Your product should jump out at customers, especially if you are targeting ‘browsers’ rather than ‘searchers’. Grab customers’ attention with striking cover design (I’ll admit to frequently judging a book by its cover) and copy that pops. Collaborate with the marketing and design teams to make sure that customers understand what you are offering them.

2) Don’t neglect your backlist

The temptation with commissioning is to get caught up developing new concepts. But don’t do this at the cost of neglecting your backlist. A brand new travel guide on Bhutan, whilst fascinating to work on, is unlikely to bring in as much revenue as an updated edition of a Paris guidebook. Be aware of your bestsellers and water your backlist to reap a steady revenue stream which will allow you to explore and invest in those exciting new opportunities.

3) Think beyond traditional authoring

There are now many ways to write and publish. Whilst you should always maintain a pool of tried-and-tested book authors, consider approaching appropriate bloggers for discrete, low stakes projects. Recruiting a more modern breed of writer can build flex into your author pool and widen your contact list.

And what never changes…

1) Appreciate your authors

Always cultivate good relationships with your authors, no matter what sector you work in. Spend time earning their trust and the whole process will be much easier.

2) Keep it all in focus

Knowing what not to commission is as important as knowing what to commission. Any new product proposals must be in keeping with your list strategy.

3) Do your research

Market research methods vary across sectors, but any way to gain insight into who your customer is and what kind of products they want to see will always be valuable.

Giving it away: the magic of content marketing

Evie Prysor-Jones is Content Lead at Optimus Education. She’s a big fan of data driven digital marketing and alliteration. On Tuesday Evie will be speaking at the London Book Fair (5.30pm, Children’s Hub) about how to engage hard to reach audiences with content marketing. Here are some of her insights and tips ahead of the event.

Do you remember your first teacher?

Perhaps you remember them as Miss Honey, all smiles and supportive. Or, perhaps you still quake with fear as you recall your school’s very own Miss Trunchball. In reality, they were probably very similar to how you are now but with more grey hairs, larger bags around the eyes and spend much less time reading interesting blogs.

Lack of funding and support mean that, for some members of staff, using a computer requires elbowing colleagues out the way to get to the shared one in the corner of the staffroom and bringing a crank to get it vibrating away as it brings up the oldest version of Internet Explorer still allowed.

For us working in the education publishing world, this is our market.

Yes, there are many very well-equipped schools and some very digitally savvy staff, but you can be sure that staff apparatus and updating software will not be the top of the spend list.

Give ’em stuff for free!

My genius, yet by no means original, idea is that to start a conversation with schools we need to give them stuff for free and, because we’re publishers, by ‘stuff’ I mean content.

In the publishing industry, giving words away for free is a scary business. There are plenty of arguments against it:

  • It devalues the content.
  • It will be copied.
  • People will take it, read it and never come back!

All of these are true to some extent, but there are also plenty of counter arguments:

  • The rewards for your business will regain any value conceived to be lost.
  • Of course it could be copied, we copy each other all the time. That’s why you need to be the first out there with the story, write it in the most engaging way and market it better than anyone else can.
  • Yes, about 80% of people who take it and read it will never come back. But what about the 20% who do? You’ve got yourself engaged customers willing to be loyal in that 20%. They are worth more to your business than come-and-go-ers.

What are we talking about when we talk about free content?

I don’t count blogs as free content. Yes, blogs are content and they’re free, but they always are and that’s the point of them. At the top of your sales funnel you’ve got your traffic drivers (social media, email campaigns), so blogs sit on the second step of your funnel – awareness. Your customers have discovered you, through Twitter perhaps, now they want to increase their awareness of your company by reading a bit more about what you think and where you stand on issues important to them. I.e. your blog.

Free content sits happily on the next step – increased awareness/approaching consideration. (I admit by steps need catchier names). This is content that plays to one of the three human weaknesses: money, fame and access. In this case, access. People will go to extraordinary lengths to get to the next level, whether it’s attending the glitzy Hollywood party normally behind closed doors, skipping to the front of the check in queue or being able to experience something before everyone else. In our case it’s as simple as letting them have access to content that they would normally have to pay for.

Don’t overstretch yourself

What’s brilliant about this content is that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Usually, the content can just be stuff you already have that you can reformat in a new, shiny way. HubSpot are great for this. At Optimus Education, we’ve followed the same principle with content from our Knowledge Centre. If we have several articles or resources on a particular topic that will fit together well, these can be recycled into a PDF ‘toolkit’ which we can then use as content marketing. For example, our Prevent toolkit.

Checklist for using free content to reach your audience

While we’ve been discussing all this, our teachers are still waiting for their browser to load. So how will free content engage this audience if it’s digital? Make it easy.

  • Ask the audience: The idea for your content needs to come from them. No one wants to struggle through the quagmire of having a product, even a free product, which no one wants to read.
  • SEO: no, it’s not sexy, but it is vital. Teachers are short of time and need instant results. Once they’re on the Internet then your page needs to be the first page they find. Spend half a day sorting out your keywords (long tail and short) and Adwords.
  • Create a landing page: don’t make them search your site for what they want. For each campaign you need a new page.
  • Marketing plan: Use your personas. Teachers are not all the same (duh!) so think about who is the content is for (you should already know this from the first point). What channels do they use? Are they using the staffroom wind-up computer, the one in their office or do they use their smartphone?
  • Google Analytics: Yes, it’s the worst user experience in the world and you can feel like you’re drowning in numbers, but get it set up, all your goals in a row and track the hell out of your campaign. The numbers will tell you where to make changes and when.
  • Optimise your landing page copy: When people land on your page they should only need three seconds to work out what you do, what you’re offering them and what they need to do to get it. Test everything.
  • User journey: We know our teachers, so we know how many touchpoints we need to have with them before passing them to our sales team. When your customer has downloaded your content that should be the beginning of your activity, not the end. Will you email them? Give them something else? Map it out.
  • Review and reuse: Exploit your content as much as possible. If it’s an ebook, could you create a new blog about it? Could you take samples out as teasers? Are there images to use on Instagram? Is there a checklist or resource to be made from it? There shouldn’t be a shelf-life on a piece of content and a little refresh can take much less time than writing something new.

Transferring this to the book world

I grant you this is more difficult when the issue of copyright is entered into the mix. We own the copyright of all the content we have so splitting it up and chopping it up as we wish is no problem. However, in the age of digital innovation there are so many new reading models and platforms that the humble book does not always have to stay as it was. I think Inkle is a great example of exciting and new content mediums. Now is an exciting time to be creative and test new ideas, so just because an audience is hard to reach, it doesn’t mean they’re worth giving up on.

academic cover design

Cover design for academic publications

Steve Thompson is a freelance cover designer. Here are a few of his thoughts, insights and tips for designers and those who commission them.

Books vs. journal covers

Many academic journals use a standard generic cover which is overprinted each issue with details of volume, date and sometimes article titles. That design can be retained for many years, acting as a umbrella brand identity for all the articles over that time. The importance of this design can be reflected in the care and time taken over the design and decision-making process. It’s also worth mentioning that a journal cover designer will usually just design the front cover whereas a book cover designer will be required to design not only the front but also the spine and back cover of the publication. The front cover is required quite early on, for advance marketing purposes, while the full cover for print is often put together a few weeks before actual publication.

The brief

It’s good to have, in the first instance, as detailed a brief as possible, and ideally to get input from the author as well as the publishing editor. Many of the publications I’ve worked on have been highly specialised and, while the designer can do a lot of productive research and image sourcing, guidance and suggestions from the ultimate specialist – ie. the author – can save a lot of time and designing up blind alleyways.

Designing for online

With the current importance of online sales and online publishing, the small thumbnail version of the cover is extremely important. On a platform like Amazon, this small image can be one of the key selling points of a book. And for a journal, where a reader requires only online access to articles, it may indeed be the only version of the cover that they ever see.


An obvious point, but keep abreast of current trends in cover design. While little is genuinely original and ground-breaking in academic publishing design, it’s also true that much of the best design successfully adapts and updates design trends from the past. Keep your own file of examples that you think work so you can learn from them and adapt them yourself.

Provide options

Aim to produce a wide variety of cover concepts. While the publishing editor will probably be familiar with your previous work, and how it may fit into the company’s visual identity, it’s less likely that the author will know it and their decision may well be the defining one. An initial varied selection of good ideas makes you look professional and will maximise the chances of everyone finding something they like that can be developed further.


Finally, wherever possible, try and get to see the printed publications. Particularly if you’re a freelancer, not all clients will send you a printer’s proof nor a copy of the publication. Worth a trip to an good academic bookshop once in a while and pull a load of books and journals you’ve worked on off the shelves, admire the work and learn any lessons.


academic cover designSteve Thompson has been a cover designer for fourteen years – seven as a salaried designer with a leading publisher and nearly seven as a freelancer. Clients have included Reed Elsevier, Wiley-Blackwell, Bloomsbury, Oxford University Press and Emerald. Visit his site or follow him on Twitter.


FutureBook 2015: Our recent posts on the academic book of the future

At yesterday’s FutureBook Conference 2015, Sam Rayner chaired the discussion: ‘The new publishing: the academic book of the future’. The panel was comprised of Richard Fisher (Formerly of CUP), Suzanne Kavanagh (ALPSP),  Lara Speicher (UCL Press) and Anthony Cond (Liverpool University Press).

To join in on the action, we’ve collected together some of our best posts on the future of academic publishing:

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How readers will become curators and resellers [OPINION]

It’s easy to think that today’s ebook is as good as it gets. Publishers are mostly satisfied with the current print-under-glass model and, unfortunately, flattening (or declining) ebook sales trends aren’t likely to drive investment in digital innovation.

What if readers could help drive some of that innovation in the future? Here’s why that’s a viable scenario…

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Book publicity: trade vs. academic publishing

This is a guest post by Mollie Broad. Mollie is a PR Assistant at SAGE Publications, a leading independent publisher of journals, books and digital media.

The publishing industry encompasses hundreds of different roles within countless disciplines and subjects. Across the industry, PR works to draw attention to the respective publishing programme. However, when generating publicity for books, it is in the approach where the differences between academic and trade publishing lie.

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14 things we learnt about the future of academic book discovery

On Tuesday night London Book Fair held their Tech Tuesday event during Academic Book Week. With the overarching question: ‘Academic book discovery; will the role of the publisher enhance discoverability in the future?’ The panel was comprised of Tom Hatton, founder of RefME; Simon Kerridge, Director of Research Services at University of Kent; Martha Sedgwick, Executive Director of Product Innovation at SAGE, and Simon Tanner, Digital Humanities academic at Kings College London.

The panel discussion was guided by 4 key questions. Here are our 14 top things that we learnt from the night.

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Making the big move to Open Access publishing

This is a Guest Post by Alison Norwood, Publishing Manager at the Institute of Development Studies.

What’s an academic journal to do when its editorial team find themselves in the position of having to turn the business model on its head? When the journal in question, which has been published continually since 1968, faces serious questions about whether it can continue in the wake of unmovable demands for Open Access?

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Business books

The next 5 years of publishing: Alison Jones interview

In the run up to Publishing: the next 5 years, BookMachine will be featuring a number of opinions about what might be next for the industry. Alison Jones will be speaking at the Cambridge event. Alison is a business and executive coach, content consultant and publisher. After a 23-year career in trade and scholarly publishing working with major publishers such as Oxford University Press and Macmillan, during which she pioneered digital publishing, she set up Alison Jones Business Services and the Practical Inspiration Publishing imprint in 2014.

Here Stephanie Cox interviews her about the last 5 years in publishing and her thoughts on the next 5.

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membership economy

Open access matters to more than academics, and here’s why

This is a guest post from Alison Jones. Alison is a business and executive coach, content consultant and publisher. After a 23-year career in trade and scholarly publishing working with major publishers such as Oxford University Press and Macmillan, during which she pioneered digital publishing, she set up Alison Jones Business Services and the Practical Inspiration Publishing imprint in 2014.

Scholarly publishing – the making public of research across the various fields of science, social sciences and humanities – has been in a state of disruption for decades now. The classic outputs, little changed for centuries, have been the journal article and the monograph, and the traditional customer and curator of the content remains the university library, but the World Wide Web – originally designed for the communication of scholarly material, of course – disrupted the established print models, and publishers and academics alike have been exploring, exploiting and expanding the possibilities ever since.

But why should you as a non-academic pay any attention? Well, if you care about communicating your ideas, and the most brilliant minds in the world are focused on communicating their ideas in new and innovative ways, it’s probably worthwhile seeing what they are coming up with.

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Marketing Academic Research

Marketing academic research: Kat Palmer interview

Kat Palmer is Content Marketing Executive at Emerald Group Publishing. Here Stephanie Cox interviews Kat about marketing in the publishing industry and the challenges of marketing academic research.

1. What attracted you to working for an academic publishing company?

Education has a huge, everlasting impact on our lives – whether you received a good or bad education has an influence on your career choices, development, and to certain extent happiness.

To be a part of an organisation which influence the best research for higher education students, as well as developing our knowledge and growth both economically and socially across the globe had huge appeal for me!

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