Client Talk features interviews with the those who commission editorial freelancers – the people on whom many of us depend to make our businesses viable. These experienced publishing professionals discuss the production process from their side of the desk – the joys and challenges of their work, new technologies and procedures, and their work with editorial freelance staff.
In this interview, Jo Bottrill talks about life in the busy project management agency Out of House Publishing.
Louise Harnby: Thanks for agreeing to talk to the Parlour, Jo. First of all, can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into the publishing business?
Jo Bottrill: I lead the Out of House team in helping academic and education publishers produce books and digital content. I have worked as a production manager with some of the leading scholarly publishers, working across print and digital media. For much of my career I have worked with XML and I am excited about the opportunities for bringing print and digital production together.
I enjoy finding solutions to the challenges publishers face. It's important to me to keep things simple and efficient – by doing so we can do more with less. My interest in publishing started at school, where I was torn between my love for the sciences and English literature – I decided to follow the science route but resolved to get into publishing or journalism to marry the two. I started my career in science publishing but now work across all the academic subjects.
LH: Could you tell our readers a little about the company you run? What services do you offer and in which subject areas do you specialize?
JB: Out of House Publishing is a publishing production company based in Stroud, Gloucestershire. We specialize in producing books and digital content for academic and education publishers, organizing every aspect of the production process from manuscript development to final delivery. We understand the demands publishers face and tailor our services to anticipate their needs. We help produce over 200 new titles each year across a wide range of subject areas – I looked at our list this morning and we have titles ranging from Optical Magnetometry to a study of the Victorian novel, and everything in between.
LH: Editorial freelancers who’ve never worked in publishing are sometimes unaware of the procedures and pressures of that production staff face. What are the main challenges you have to deal with in your business?
JB: We’re working hard to produce high-quality books in a reasonable time and for the best price possible. While we put the quality of our work at the forefront of our efforts, we neglect schedules and budgets at our peril. Our customers depend on absolute timeliness and are working to very tight margins, as are we. What’s more, we have the good name of our publishers to uphold – not only are we producing books, we’re also looking after authors – making sure they are justifiably proud of the book we've produced together. It’s important that they look back on the production process fondly. In all of this we are looking after people and that’s our biggest single challenge – making sure that everyone is happy and that where things have gone wrong we put them right quickly.
LH: What about new developments in the industry (e.g. digital production). What changes in the publishing world are having the biggest impact on you and do you see these as exciting opportunities or are they sometimes obstacles?
JB: For me, the most exciting opportunity is in bringing print and digital production together. Having our editors and proofreaders getting their hands dirty with content gives us a perfect opportunity to think about how digital versions are going to work, from simply checking that cross-references are correctly hyperlinked, to identifying opportunities for adding enhanced content such as video, audio or animation. Start-ups and visionaries are pushing the boundaries of technology; our job is to make sure the simple things work, that end-users receive high-quality content that will work on their preferred devices. There’s a temptation to overcomplicate these things – my interest is in building efficient workflows that produce without too much fuss!
LH: So, when you’re hiring a new editorial freelancer what are the primary qualities you’re looking for and how do you assess these? Do you expect them to have a particular training background, previous experience, or knowledge of the subject areas in which you work? Are there are other factors that are important to you – references and testimonials perhaps, or a specific educational background?
JB: Training. Experience. Test. Those are the three hurdles we need freelancers to cross. We can be flexible – some of our most trusted freelancers have little or no formal training but bucket loads of experience and a great reputation. We really only take Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) and Publishing Training Centre (PTC) courses seriously – they both seem to give people a genuine feel for the needs of their future customers. We do take degree and postgraduate qualifications into account when considering which subject areas a freelancer will be best suited to. Experience must be relevant, we won’t be recruiting a copy-editor experienced in editing novels to copy-edit a complex humanities title with short-title references.
LH: One of the things I've been most struck by (and find most useful) is the detailed feedback that the members of your in-house team give your editorial freelancers. Is this something that’s house policy and if so what was the driving force behind this?
JB: Sending feedback is a definite house policy – we encourage all of our project managers to pass constructive feedback to our suppliers; and we seek the same feedback from the customers and authors we work with. We’re very deliberate in the way we take on freelancers – modelling our pool of suppliers to the volume and type of content we expect to be working on. In so doing we’re aiming to build a team of people who understand our business, and who in turn we understand and respect. Equally we rely on our freelancers to point out where we’re going wrong, to help us improve our service and to keep things as efficient as possible for everyone involved.
LH: How to you find your editorial freelancers? Or do they find you?
JB: Freelancers increasingly find us, and we do carefully consider every approach from a prospective supplier. We have advertised with the SfEP in the past, and if we have a shortage in a particular subject area we will search the SfEP and Society of Indexers directories.
LH: You’ve told us about the challenges and pressures of working in the publishing project management business. What’s the nicest thing about your job – the element you enjoy the most?
JB: Getting excellent feedback from a happy author is the best feeling. Meeting an impossible deadline also gives me a real buzz, but best of all is taking pride in the team we've built under the Out of House banner – both in-house and freelance.
LH: From your particular business point of view, what are the most exciting developments taking place in publishing at the moment?
JB: There are too many to mention. Digital is clearly opening up so many new opportunities for selling and consuming content. With opportunity comes risk and we need to be wary of the disruption digital developments will bring to the supply chain and respond accordingly. If we’re passionate about getting good content out to people who want to read it then we should be excited about the future. In that vein, Open Access is a major force that will play a big part in moulding and disrupting the industry that gives us our living. Consumers of scholarly books and journals are pushing hard for more open-access content. There are numerous models for funding this but it’s likely that we’re going to be working more closely with the scholarly community in quite different ways very soon. Changes in the classroom promise to shake things up too – Apple iBooks is only just getting going and digital textbooks, elearning and remote teaching all have the potential to significantly change what we produce. We’re at the coalface of content production and that puts us in a great position to take the lead.
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