3. Publishing process


This section of the toolkit provides an overview of the process a publication goes through from conception to publication. It should be read prior to or soon after the establishment of a new press or institution publishing project as it provides an outline of what is involved in the publishing process, including the content acquisition, writing and production stages, and highlights the need to establish early on the commissioning aims of a new press as well as clear submission, review, and production procedures.


It is aimed at managers and commissioning editors responsible for establishing the protocol for acquiring new content, as well as production team members managing the production process.


This section of the toolkit firstly considers the commissioning stage, what it entails and how it should link back to the reasons for establishing a press. It addresses the need to establish clear and formal external and internal review processes for all titles to follow at pre-contract and pre-production stages, and the importance of establishing any house-style or submission guidelines for authors. Managing submission delays is covered along with a summary of the production process prior to publication (either print or upload). Finally, costs are discussed, providing a summary on the cost-bearing activities of the publishing process as well as the running costs of a publishing company.


1. Commissioning process
2. Writing process
3. Production process
4. Costs
5. Conclusion

1. Commissioning process

The first step in the publishing process is commissioning, also known as content acquisition. To publish, you require content and what you decide to publish links back to why you are publishing and the reasons for establishing a press, to ensure output is in line with your business model and statement of aims. Summaries of the business models behind the publications in the Jisc Institution as E-Textbook Publisher project can be found Business models.

1a. Content acquisition

It may be the case that you already have content and your plan is to explore ways to publish this, so commissioning new material is less of a concern. Alternatively, you may have a specific publishing aim – for example, to publish the best scholarly work in a certain subject on an Open Access basis – in which case you need to commission content that fits your remit. There are two ways of commissioning: responsive and direct. Responsive commissioning is when unsolicited proposals and manuscripts are submitted from authors and editors. This occurs when a press, list or series is established or the aims of a press make it an attractive proposition to authors, such as publishing in a niche area. Direct commissioning is when a commissioning editor actively searches for suitable content and contacts authors directly to encourage submission on a specific topic.

1b. Submission process

Whether a work has been submitted on an unsolicited or direct basis, it is recommended a formal submission form is used (see, for example, the University of Huddersfield Press and UCL Press submission forms). This ensures the author supplies all the necessary information required for a commissioning editor to make a decision about the work. A submission form should include the following: a brief synopsis of the work; a detailed breakdown of the proposed contents or chapters; an indication of the competition for the proposed publication and the target market; and finally, the estimated word length and number of images to work out the financial viability (if required) of the proposed work. If you do not currently have a submission form, then look at the proposal forms on other presses’ websites and tailor one to suit your business needs. For an insight into competition analysis, see this article by Steve Stapleton at the University of Nottingham on the Competition analysis they carried out on their two e-textbooks.

Once the submission form has been submitted, it is first considered by the commissioning editor to ensure it is suitable in terms of subject matter, quality of writing, financially viable (if necessary) and upholds the aims of the press. If the commissioning editor believes the proposed work has potential, then it is put through the submission and review process established at your press. It is essential you establish at the early stages of founding your press a clear submission and review process: for example, how many external peer review reports are required; blind peer review or double blind peer review; whether the submission requires approval from an internal committee of colleagues at your press; whether the submission requires approval from an Advisory Board at your institution. By establishing a submission and review process, your commissioning editor has a clear procedure to follow and can demonstrate to senior management or other interested parties the evaluation process every work goes through to be contracted. You can find review criteria from the Open Textbook Library here.

We hope to provide further information on structure and governance as part of the forthcoming New University Prtess toolkit.

1c. Contracts

Once a submitted work has successfully completed the submission and review process, the commissioning editor offers a contract to the author. Sample publishing contracts can be found in Clark’s Publishing Agreements, which provides model agreements to use and adapt for your publishing requirements. Jisc Collections hope to provide model licences during 2018.

Advice: if you are planning to publish a certain number of books a year, then make sure you commission at least 30% more than this figure initially, as teaching and administrative pressures on academics often means they are unable to submit their work to you on time.

2. Writing process

2a. Liaising with the author

Once a book is contracted, the author completes the work as outlined in their submitted and approved submission form by the agreed contracted date. Some authors prefer to be left alone during this writing stage, others will have numerous questions. It is advised you send to the author any writing and submission guidelines as soon as possible, preferably at contracting stage. Such guidelines should include house style notes, advice on third-party permissions and any specific submission instructions you have to ensure the material submitted complements the technology you plan to use during the production process.

At this point you may want to consider the propsed format, if the plan is to include companion web pages, then this will affect the writing process.

Advice: if you do not wish to enforce a house-style for your publications, then request the author adopts a house-style they are comfortable with that is common in their subject area – such as the Oxford Guide to Style, the Chicago Manual of Style, or the MLA Handbook – and to use this style consistently throughout their work. If one style is used throughout, then this will significantly help your copy-editor during production and reduce production costs.

We’ll be adding some sample notes for contributors at a later date or as part of the New University Press toolkit.

2b. Third party rights and copyright

Depending on the terms agreed within the signed contract, third party permissions for any copyrighted material to be reproduced in the publication will either be the responsibility of the author or the press. For a helpful summary of copyright in publishing, see this Copyright in publishing by Lara Speicher, Publishing Manager, UCL Press. The OAPEN-UK projct aslo published a Guide to Creative Commons for Humanities and Social Science Monograph authors. If you are considering publishing student work, this will also create issues around copyright

2c. Deadlines and author incentives

As previously mentioned, despite the best intentions of authors and editors, it is common for contracted submission dates to be missed. This is due to unforeseen teaching and administrative duties passed to academics after the contract was signed, as well as personal events that can disrupt the best of schedules.

Advice: If a work is not required out for a particular date, then extensions should be granted to the author. It is far better to not rush an author in the final stages of writing as this will be noticeable in the quality of the submitted work.

If time is pressing, consider whether a co-author could help with the project, whether a researcher or project manager could be employed to undertake some of the tasks or whether the project needs to be re-evaluated to fit the available time remaining. Incentives could also be given to an author to encourage submission. If royalties are paid, an advance against them (tied in to a revised submission date) could help. However, the biggest incentive is time, and if you have the capacity to offer research leave to support completion, then this would be highly valued by many authors. Summaries of the author incentives in the Jisc Institution as E-Textbook Publisher project as well as an article by an author and their motivations can be found Author incentives.

Also look out for the findings of the Jisc Collection research project on author motivation for writing textbooks, due in the latter half of 2018.

3. Production process

3a. Review

On submission of the completed work by the author, the work undergoes a final manuscript peer-review process, similar to the review process the submission form went through at pre-contract stage. This can be one external report and one internal report, or two external reports. It can be blind peer review or double blind peer review. As mentioned before, it is important all review procedures are established at the beginning of setting up a new press or an institution publishing imprint so authors are well aware of the review process and editorial staff have clear procedures to follow. Following the successful completion of the contracted manuscript peer-review process, and after any final revisions are made to the work in light of the peer review reports, the text and all accompanying material such as images, graphs, tables and maps, are passed to production. If third-party material has been acquired by the author to be reproduced in their publication, it is important copies of all permission letters are passed to the publisher so the correct captions and acknowledgments can be used.

It should also be noted that if you want to get your textbook listed in the Directory of Open Access Books (DOAB), you must have a web page that explians your peer review process.

3b. Copyediting

The manuscript is then professionally copyedited. If the author has been consistent in their use of a house-style, this should be relatively straight-forward. Copyediting queries are sent back to the author and, on completion, the copy-edited manuscript is passed to a typesetter for page design or uploading onto an e-platform (depending on the final format). Once this is complete, authors are sent page proofs, from which the index is compiled (if required), and final changes are made before the work goes to print. If the work is a digital resource, there should be numerous checks by the press and author to ensure everyone is satisfied with the resource before it is made live. Further information about the technology used in the Jisc Institution as E-Textbook Publisher project can be found here and explanations of the licences the e-textbook have been published on can be found Licensing.

A professionally designed cover is an essential part of the production process as it is often the first point at which your reader interacts with your publication. Even if the work is published as a digital resource, an image, either as a cover, thumbnail or picture icon, is crucial in providing a memorable visual identifier to your publication, as well as signifying to the viewer the type of publication it is (scholarly, textbook, trade) and the target readership of the work.

Articles on the stages of e-textbook creation for the publications in the Jisc Institution as E-Textbook Publisher project as well as some initial and revised project plans can be found Stages of e-textbook creation.

3c. Format of publication

It is importnat to consider the proposed format of the textbook at this stage too. The Technologies section explored some of the formats used by the projects.

For example, “Publication platforms also impacted on the design stage of the project, as when using third party publications platforms, they often require manuscripts to be formatted and presented in a specific way to ensure that they meet standards that will allow them to be shared with multiple distribution outlets.”

At this point you may want to consider if the plan is to include companion web pages, then this will affect the writing process.

4. Costs

4a. Estimating costs

One of the most important parts of the publishing process is working out the cost to publish a publication (in any format). This should be done at pre-contract stage to ensure the press can afford to publish the work before the work is contracted; at handover to production stage, so the production team have a breakdown of the anticipated costs before they begin and to check the costs have not altered too much since contract stage; and finally at pre-print or pre-upload, to ensure all the costs have been kept on track and the publication can move forward to print or upload.

Whilst it is relatively straightforward to work out the cost of commissioning, contracting and reviewing (peer review payments, author fees, contributor fees), production costs (fixed costs such as copyediting, typesetting, proofreading, cover design, indexing, e-book conversion charges – i.e. costs which do not change whether you print zero copies or 1,000 copies – and variable costs such as paper and printing, storage, distribution and shipping – i.e. costs which do change according to the number of copies you print), you also have to factor in marketing and publicity costs. If your press is not subsidised, then you will also have to include a contribution to overhead and running costs of the press to ensure wages, utilities, rent, general administration, postage, finance processes for the payment of royalties, software purchases and updates, office equipment, and possibly more are all covered.

4b. Hidden costs

However, these costs are relatively straight-forward ones to identify. The hardest cost to factor in is time, a hidden cost that has a direct impact on production as well as staffing. Publications of the same length and technical requirements can have hugely different levels of time spent on them due to unforeseen issues arising during the production process, which can have an impact on other costs and schedules.

Further insight into the costs behind the publications in the Jisc Institution as E-Textbook Publisher project can be found here.

To understand the varying costs of Book Processing Charges (BPCs) between publishers for Open Access publications, and in consequence gain a further insight into the costs of publishing, see this article by Dr Frances Pinter, published in the Journal of Electronic Publishing in 2018.

5. Conclusion

This section of the toolkit has shown that as long as clear procedures are identified at the beginning of the establishment of a new press or institution publishing imprint for commissioning, reviewing and production, then the publishing process should go smoothly. Whilst there can be unexpected challenges along the way – delays in submission, over the contracted word length, extensive revisions at manuscript review stage, unforeseen technological issues during production – as long as you are flexible to adapt to change, then you and your authors will find the publishing process a rewarding experience.