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The PTC’s Copywriting for Publishers

On a cold day in November, I was lucky to be the first person clicking on a button that said I want to win! Actually, I’ll be honest, luck had very little to do with it! When I read that BookMachine was offering someone the chance to win a 1-day PTC course in copywriting, I knew I was going to do everything in my power to be that first person!

I’d like to get into technical copywriting and have had some amazing inspiration and influences. Why technical writing? If there’s one thing I’ve always appreciated, it’s clarity with words. Years ago, as a census enumerator, I remember explaining to residents how to complete the census form. The census forms bore the Crystal Mark of the Plain English Campaign. I understood the process a publication needed to undergo to earn that symbol. I loved that! I loved that something had to be written, edited and simplified, and made jargon-free so that Joe Bloggs down the street could understand it – in essence, so that it was foolproof.

Working in the NHS, I’m sorry to say, means that unfortunately, like anyone working in a massive organisation, I’m relentlessly exposed to jargon. I HATE jargon! Can’t understand it!

And so, back to the course. PTC’s Peter Mackay introduced Bev Legge, our trainer. With years of experience – both in journalism and publishing, he had plenty to share (and divulge!). Everyone else attending was in in-house publishing, so I was a bit of a fish out of water. From the outset, we were prompted to think about good copy vs bad copy. Faced with a blank screen? It doesn’t matter – start typing, even if it’s bad copy! There’s never a positive to come from staring at a blank screen for more than 15 seconds.

A useful – and very personal – aspect of the day was the ‘Reviews’ we did on each other’s copy. As a way of breaking up the theoretical learning, we each studied examples of our own work – for appraisal and feedback – not alone from Bev, but from each other. This was eye opening and constructive.

Bev got us working in small groups and alone, simplifying, slashing and editing, making huge changes to swathes of copy: face the fear and do it anyway! (Who said that?) Some of his veritable nuggets of creativity were the links and tools for searching and inspiration, especially the Google advanced searches and settings – I didn’t realise till then how limited my own Google experience had been.

No-one walked away hungry – with gourmet snacks and drinks at every break and a sumptuous cooked lunch, not to mention sweet jars strategically placed on our tables, temptation lurking for even the hardiest of healthy-eating fanatics!

I came away from the day, head swimming with ideas and inspiration, the seeds sown for my career leap into copywriting.

Become a BookMachine member to be in with a chance of winner a prize like Anna did.


Anna Nolan is a proofreader, copy-editor and paediatric dietician. She is a member of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders and is a volunteer on their social media team. She’s just starting her copywriting career and juggling these jobs with bringing up two feisty kids! Find her on Twitter and LinkedIn.

It seems that there’s not a publishing skills shortage at all

Peter McKay is Chief Executive of the Publishing Training Centre. He joined the PTC in 2011 after 34 years in educational, scholarly and professional publishing. The PTC, an independent charitable foundation established 40 year ago, is a network of over 50 publishing and training professionals focused solely on delivering training courses for the publishing industry and developing publishing skills.

In the 21st century, book publishing companies seem to be investing less in the skills training of their employees than they used to, can this be right?

How does the Publishing Training Centre see it?

Such a picture seems evident when viewed through the lens of the Publishing Training Centre (PTC). At the turn of the century the PTC offered 82 individual, Open (classroom) Courses; in 2017 we offer 22.

In the year 2000 the PTC scheduled 381 days of training and trained 2,117 participants; in 2017 we have scheduled  74 days with a capacity of 714.

Why might this have happened?

Acquisition and consolidation of independent houses into imprints of bigger companies has certainly impacted the number of people employed by publishing companies.  (Not to mention one company shedding 500 UK employees is response to a weak global performance.)Fewer employees, less training needed.

The larger companies have turned increasingly to In-Company (exclusive, in-house) training rather than sending employees to external courses. 2013 was a turning point for PTC when, for the first time, we trained more people In-Company than on the Open Courses.

A recent survey of small to medium sized publishers reported that, whilst about half of them claimed to use external training courses, only one in seven admitted to having a specific training budget.  Four out of five companies use on-the-job training and one in two companies use coaching or mentoring.

What about freelancers?

There is a “skills counter-balance” and that is the long standing trend to outsource parts of the publishing process to freelancers and offshore companies. This trend accelerated after the 2009 economic downturn and is reflected through the PTC prism; we enrol an average of 70 people a month onto our editorial skills, self-study, courses.

The vast majority of self-study students are either freelancers or working their way to being one. These are people who have decided to take responsibility for their own skills development and also taken control of their working lives.

Let’s not forget the universities

The earliest degree courses in Publishing certainly date back to the early 1980s but it is true to say that the 21st century has seen a major growth in post-graduate and undergraduates gaining degrees and joining the workforce. Graduates of all hues have always represented a significant percentage of new recruits to the industry. One estimate is that one in ten of new recruits in any one year are grads and post-grads of publishing courses. It will be believed that this cohort will require less “training input” from their new employer than the generalist of old.

Does any of this matter?

For anyone looking to start and then grow a career in publishing it matters a lot. Publishing is about people and talent. Talent needs fostering and appropriate training at the right time has a powerful effect – and you might just have to go find it for yourself.

Digital publishing

Digital publishing is now “fabric”, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy

This is a guest blog post by Steve Connolly, Publishing Director for FE and Digital at Hodder Education. This blog post first appeared on the Publishing Training Centre Blog.

When we pause for thought to contemplate the evolution of digital publishing, it is clear that a revolution has taken place in the way that content is produced and consumed. However, it is equally remarkable (and healthy to note) that print product still drives much of what the publishing industry produces and monetises. The most notable player in terms of driving the eBook revolution (now slowing to an evolution) is Amazon: a major disruptor in online retailing, positioning and recommending product, manufacturing innovative hardware (yes – Kindle was innovative in terms of adopting established technology and making it a mass market device), driving down prices and providing publishers with new ways of packaging and distributing their IP. In addition, mobile technology is now so prevalent worldwide that it cannot be ignored as a means of consuming content.

So, other than driving this rapid growth in digital consumption that can’t be ignored, what does mobile technology represent for publishers? It has promoted the creation of universally adopted (adapted in Amazon’s case) standards in the shape of ePub, and has forced us all to think in terms of the creation of our content in new ways. Any publisher who fails to think in terms of scalable and standards-driven workflow / outputs is not necessarily going to go out of business, but they will seriously hinder their ability to leverage their IP to its greatest potential. Others who have posted on this site have pointed to the ways in which copy-editing has evolved, with most editorial tasks now being completed on screen, including standard mark-up and tagging of content using consumer tools such as Word. This is a quiet but fundamental shift; and where we start to standardise the ways in which we describe elements of content (form and function), we have the foundations of a workflow that results in content that can be re-used with greater efficiency in a myriad of contexts – print, online, mobile, XML, interactive games and assessment etc.

For many of us working in what is ostensibly a creative industry, standards can seem to be the equivalent of watching digital paint dry. In my journey from being a print publisher to someone who creates and helps others create interactive content, I have discovered the importance of standards (tagging, XML, epub etc.) in the planning, generation and distribution of a range of published products – from interactive etextbooks to standardised assessment engines. All of this originates from a set of principles that were agreed across our business and were applied at each point in the supply chain. Some of what we do is driven by international standards and some by our own proprietary rules, allowing us to provide the market with innovative and high-quality content-led services at a faster rate and at lower cost than would have otherwise been the case.

Decisions on “digital” require a multi-component model that considers at least eight aspects, such as:

  • Developments in technology – what’s important and (importantly) what’s not?
  • Market expectations
  • Business expectations and rules
  • Analysis of the competition
  • Defining your product
  • Workflow and content creation
  • Return on investment
  • Marketing and selling

Steve is a tutor on the PTC’s flagship course for editors in the educational, academic, scientific and professional sectors, Commissioning and List Management (CLM) happening next on September 25 – 28 2017.

social media

Can social media make a difference for your authors?

This is a guest post by Alison Barrow. Alison is Director of Media Relations at Transworld. You can find her on Twitter @alisonbarrow. This blog post first appeared on the Publishing Training Centre Blog.

“Really? 140 characters or links to images or a blog are crucial influencers in promoting and selling books? It’s just a load of old blather isn’t it? Can social media really help publishers?

“So, first up, this is a short blog. I’m speaking solely on the account of a publisher. I’ve been given about 400 words to sum up why social media is important – more than 140 characters, but still, not much – so here’s some key pointers and examples of how vital it is…

“Twitter, Facebook, GoodReads and Instagram are essential for Communicators. Readers speak with authors, who connect with bookshops and bloggers, and a whole conversation ensues. It’s a feat of choreography to avoid repetition and remain interesting and relevant, but by snapshotting these images and posts publishers capture that previously elusive word-of-mouth and demonstrate to a wide online audience enthusiasm and positive reaction to upcoming books. This creates interest and demand.

“PRs and marketeers are Sharers – when the supportive chat online about a title and author builds, this is communicated to sales teams who pass on to the booksellers. A huge number of successful publications over the last five years have seen their campaigns play out to great effect over social channels – think The Snow Child; The Miniaturist, The Lemon Grove, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, The Girl on the Train, The Widow. The author doesn’t need to be in that space – campaigns for Maggie O’Farrell and for Kate Atkinson are propelled by publisher in tandem with book trade, bloggers, fans and media.

“Social media posts can be like pinboards – Collators of print coverage, an event in a local bookshop, a soundbite from an author, an image of a location which inspired a book, collecting offline nuggets and creating a display of praise and popularity. Reviews in papers and magazines, articles written by authors can be showcased to a targeted audience.

“Last week, a BBC radio producer emailed to say that the presenter had been reading the lively Twitter exchanges about a novel, and wanted to book the author on a show. Many are watching, not overtly participating – which is also why it can be tricky to chart a journey to a book sale.

“It’s an Educator – with one or two clicks publishers can check on what their peers are doing. We have learned so much from other authors’ book tours, rooftop book events, partnerships with influential bloggers and media. We watch how others secure word of mouth and connect readers with writers, and we learn, and fashion elements for ourselves.

“It’s a great big Thank You card too – writers and publishers send appreciation back to those who have joined in the cheerleading… and the whole positive reaction is captured and continues…”


Six gems about Marketing that may seem obvious, but are you really acting on them?

This is a guest post by Rachel Maund. Rachel is is Director of publishing consultancy Marketability (UK) Ltd and a tutor at the Publishing Training Centre. This blog post first appeared on the Publishing Training Centre Blog.

1. ‘Marketing isn’t a department, it’s a state of mind’

This was a mantra of an ex colleague, and very irritating it was too. It was only years later that I realised she was right. An editor visiting a lecturer is marketing just as surely as the marketing manager sending an email campaign.

2. Marketing isn’t clever, or technical, or expensive

The best results invariably come from what’s most obvious. What one business author I worked with called ‘opportunity spotting’. When I review marketing questionnaires returned by authors, their connections will often dictate the direction of the marketing plan. If they’re organising a conference for 2,000 people, then that’s where my resources will be concentrated. If they run an influential blog, I’ll be talking to them about how to promote their book there in the most appropriate way.

3. Really effective marketing is invisible

Everyone welcomes relevant content but nobody wants to be marketed to. Marketing fronted by authors is perfect, putting your expert directly in touch with their audience. We do all the back-end stuff (this really isn’t about avoiding doing the work), we just put their name to it rather than our own.

4. ‘There are two motives to action: self-interest and fear’

… said Napoleon Bonaparte. Spot on. Readers will buy/act when they’re persuaded that they personally will lose out if they don’t, so we need to be hard-hitting and confident about benefits.

5. The human attention span is now shorter than that of a goldfish

It is 8 seconds (2014 survey by the National Centre for Biotechnology). So give readers keywords that prove relevance and cut the waffle (fluff). Deliver messaging in chunks – including images – that can easily be scanned. Nobody’s reading paragraphs, trust me on this one. Did you know that Taylor & Francis are now producing cartoon abstracts of scholarly journal articles? Good for them.

6. What customers want lags behind the hype

Fact. In publishing we are constantly working on new formats and innovations, but our customers are living in the here and now. We need to be wary of investing in the ‘next big thing’ until our audiences are there. Just this month a schools publisher told me that a significant percentage of their orders from schools were online order forms that had been completed and then FAXED. Yes, really.


Win a place on ‘Copywriting for publishers’ worth £435

If you work in publishing, you are already familiar with the power of words. Whether you have to write advance information sheets, catalogue entries, back-cover blurbs or taglines, direct-marketing letters, newsletters or website content – you know that your choice of words will impact your business.

BookMachine are partnering with the Publishing Training Centre to offer one lucky BookMachine member (individual or promoted) a free place on the ‘Copywriting for publishers’ course on 21st February 2017.

The workshop shows you how to harness that power to create copy that inspires persuades and sells.

By taking the course you will learn how to…

  • write copy that connects with your readers
  • exploit powerful techniques used by top professionals
  • apply these techniques to a range of copywriting tasks

The competition is open to BookMachine Members only – and you can join from only £3/month. We would very much like it if the winner wrote a short write-up of the course for the BookMachine site (read by 11,000 people a month) with their new found copywriting skills – but you don’t have to do this.

Next Tuesday morning all BookMachine members will be sent an email with a link. The first person to click on the link (hint: it will be sent in the morning) will win the place on the course.

BookMachine members get 15% off all Publishing Training Centre courses – useful if you aren’t the lucky winner and still want to take the course.

2015 Kim Scott Walwyn Prize opens for nominations

This year’s Kim Scott Walwyn Prize, celebrating the achievements of women in UK publishing, is now open for nominations and entries. Those looking to nominate a co-worker or other acquaintance should complete a nomination form online by 5pm on Friday 30 January, to allow said nominee time herself to complete an entry form by 5pm on Friday 20 February, alongside anyone immodest enough to skip the nomination stage and go straight to the entry form. The shortlist for this year’s prize will then be revealed in April, before the winner is announced at a ceremony on Wednesday 20 May.

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Story time for digital publishers

This a guest post from Simon Appleby, who runs Bookswarm, a digital agency specialising in delivering projects for authors, agents and publishers. Simon has 15 years’ experience of scoping, pitching, architecting and delivering digital projects. He has worked for a number of digital agencies, and more recently has worked client-side at Octopus Publishing Group (a division of Hachette UK), where he ran the e-book conversion programme and worked on a number of iPhone and iPad apps. His first course at the Publishing Training Centre runs at the start of October with co-tutor Zelda Rhiando.

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin…

Human beings love stories. Narrative is central to how we make sense of the world around us. It explains religions, superstition, myths and legends, and it’s core to our culture. In fact, in one of my favourite popular science books, The Science of Discworld II: The Globe, the authors, Terry Pratchett, Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen, devote themselves to the importance of narrative (or narrativium, as they would have it) to the world, and suggest that instead of Homo Sapiens, a better name for the human species would be Pans Narrans – the Storytelling Ape.

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Why Copy-Editing Skills is the ideal course for anyone looking to break into publishing…

When I left university I knew I wanted to work in publishing. I jumped straight in and got in touch with The Publishing Training Centre and luckily secured an internship. One attractive benefit of being an intern at The Publishing Training Centre is that you are allowed to attend a course of your choice. Having editorial work in mind, I chose Copy-Editing Skills, a three-day intensive course that covers everything you could possibly need to know about proofreading and copy-editing, which are two of the main duties of editorial assistants.

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Five reasons to take a publishing course

We all know that training is good for us, whether that be joining a gym or learning a new skill, but if you already work in publishing and have already studied publishing, should you still do additional courses?

Here are five reasons to do vocational training…

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