Support for staff
This section of the toolkit provides an overview of the support provided to staff during the project, and in particular to authors.
About this guide
This section includes reflections on how this could be improved to ensure staff are adequately supported through the publishing process. It should be read at the beginning of a project to ensure that suitable support is in place for everyone involved.
It is aimed at management within institutions considering e-textbook publications as well as project managers responsible for the publishing process.
Support for publishing staff can take a number of different forms depending on the circumstances of individual institutions, regardless of whether they already have an established press or whether they are coming to publishing for the first time. In the context of institutional publishing where authors are often fellow colleagues – academics at your institution – support for authors also needs to be considered.
While they will receive support from the publishing team during the publishing process, other forms of support might be needed, such as time away from academic duties. The key to providing adequate support for staff is to ensure that your textbook initiative is well planned, that the resources, skills and time required for the job are well understood and provided for, and that there is wide buy-in for the idea at the institution. This planning work is described in more detail in the why publish section. Such planning can help to avoid unexpected situations or problems for staff along the way.
- What do we mean by support for staff?
- Questions to consider
- Roles required
- Understanding your resource needs
What do we mean by support for staff?
Support for staff can vary significantly from project to project, from institution to institution. If your institution has a university press, then the support required will be very different to an institution coming to e-textbook publishing for the very first time.
Support can be:
- Undergoing training courses or receiving help and advice when needed from other departments at your institution
- Acquiring leave from other work duties to undertake the project or employing external partners to undertake some of the specialised tasks
- Receiving clear guidance to follow and flexibility, for example over schedules due to unforeseen delays
- Arranged at the beginning of the project and planned in advance or be provided on an ‘ad hoc’ basis
Support for staff allows them to feel part of something worthwhile, even during tasks where there is significant autonomy. It is important to ensure that staff are valued for their input and given encouragement during the process, especially when some of the tasks may seem very different to their other work duties. Some of the challenges identified by the institutions in the Jisc institution as e-textbook publisher project can be found in the challenges document.
Questions to consider
There are a number of key questions that should be addressed at the beginning of an e-textbook project in order to understand the skill set of the staff involved and identify any gaps where support is required. This should then be aligned with the workloads of those involved in order to understand the time investment required to undertake the tasks involved.
What are the tasks involved to publish the e-textbook and who needs to be involved?
Depending on the size and scope of the institution involved and the e-textbook being published, there will be some tasks that are specialised (e.g. copy-editing) and others that are non-specialised (e.g. project management). Creating a clear outline of the tasks involved and identifying who can complete these tasks in your institution is the first part of this process. The other sections in this toolkit, such as but not limited to publishing process, technologies, and marketing and distribution, provide insights into the variety of tasks undertaken during e-textbook publishing, which can help you identify early on the people who should be involved in the publication.
What training or specialised knowledge is required?
Once you have a clear breakdown of the tasks involved and who will be working on the publication, identifying early on any gaps in the knowledge required for the publishing process is crucial. From this, the decision should be made as to whether staff will be trained in these areas or whether external partners will be employed to undertake this work. If you are planning to do many publishing projects, then investment in staff through training courses makes sense in the long-term; if this is a one-off project to test the publishing process, then it may be more suitable to use external partners for specialised tasks.
At this stage it is important to identify whether there is any in-house knowledge of the publishing platform you wish to use. If not, then this should be addressed as soon as possible. An area that is often overlooked is digital accessibility. Implementing the right practices can make the difference between a highly flexible, accessible digital product and one that excludes disabled students, creating additional costs and legislation risks for organisations.
Is there long-term support for the project?
The publishing process can be quite lengthy, so whilst initial enthusiasm is crucial, successful and sustainable projects require more than a few passionate individuals volunteering their time. Over the course of the project, people can move on to other jobs or face changes in their existing role or home life that could endanger the project. Establishing a model for contribution, adopting a team based approach and being transparent about the commitment required with individuals and their line managers will help to mitigate these issues.
There are a variety of roles (some of which can be combined) that can be identified during the publishing process. These may require varying degrees of support:
Having someone to manage the process (often the commissioning editor in a publishing company) is crucial to ensure the project is on target, on budget and fulfilling its objectives. Support for this person would be providing knowledge with regard to publishing contracts, guidance with time management (an Open Page Project Plan can help) and being granted leave from other work duties in order to complete the task.
It is also important that this person is encouraged to engage in academic publishing networks to develop their contacts. This can be done by attending the REDUX University Press conferences that are held every two years, joining The Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers or Society for Scholarly Publishing, and scanning a number of open access journals that cover this area, such as the Journal of electronic publishing or Insights.
For every publication there is an author(s) or an editor(s) and possibly contributors. Support for this person or persons could include: leave from teaching or administration duties as well as guidelines on writing and submitting the work (see the writing section in the publishing process section of this toolkit). Financial incentives can also be helpful. However this will not give the author more time, which is often the most valuable commodity.
If an author/editor is behind schedule, consider contracting a co-author or co-editor to take on some of the writing tasks, or a picture researcher if images are required. Relieving the author/editor of some of their duties or rethinking what is expected from them in terms of submission can be very supportive. Flexibility is key here as what was envisaged at proposal stage may not be feasible in reality. In addition to this, writing can be a lonely experience. Support for authors should also include regular communication from the project manager as well as encouragement from your institution and backing from peers.
Also look out for the findings of the Jisc Collections research project on author motivation for writing textbooks.
Marketing and dissemination
A key component of the publishing process is the marketing of the e-textbook to ensure it is discovered and used. A helpful guide to this part of the process can be found in a study conducted by the University of British Columbia Press.
Creating clear guidelines in the form of a realistic marketing plan and marketing budget will support staff working in this area. Training can also be provided or an external marketing agency or freelance marketing consultant can be employed.
Your library is likely to be a key partner in this project – they may well be the ones managing the e-textbook publishing programme. Your library may also be providing the content to be published, from archives or special collections, and if so, staff time and specialised scanning knowledge (if providing images) will be required. They will also be knowledgeable on issues such as copyright, competition analysis, library acquisitions, cataloguing, metadata, market analysis based on usage statistics on titles in a reading list as well as discoverability of library systems.
Many library services would be able to advise on the accessibility of the product. Support for library staff include leave from other work duties as they take part in the project, training in specialised areas and this toolkit can help provide a general overview on the publishing process.
Understanding your resource needs
The experiences of those who came before you can be helpful, but no advice is one-size-fits-all and the more you tailor your publishing practices to fit your university’s needs, the more you’ll find yourself doing things other publishers have not. This can make gathering support challenging. However, knowing what kinds of questions to ask, and understanding how you can begin to answer them yourself can provide your institution with a realistic picture of what it would take to publish your own textbooks.
Below is an article written by Errol Rivera at Edinburgh Napier University, who sought to look back at the project and understand exactly what would be required to keep the publishing going. This began as four simple questions:
- What did we think it was that we needed?
- How did we actually use it?
- What needs did we discover on the way?
- What did we already possess that turned out to be useful in ways we didn’t expect?
This process was meant to provide university leadership with a way of quickly understanding what it would take to bring a pilot project into full time university operations. The questions it asks and the lessons learned can help formulate a realistic and achievable plan for getting your own pilot off the ground, as well as what to do when it lands.
You can find this paper and others on costs in this insights into the costs section document.
Furthermore, you may want to consider whether the plan is to create a set of companion web pages (an example is the companion web page for the undertaking your research e-textbook) or other resources to accompany the e-textbook.
In summary, the key elements to supporting staff are:
- Planning in advance the process, tasks and people involved
- Effective time management to ensure everyone knows what is happening and when
- Clear communication throughout to ensure no one is struggling and to keep enthusiasm buoyant
- Flexibility, as plans do not always work out despite best intentions; and finally
- Calling on additional support when needed such as a co-author to help an author make a deadline, a temp to relieve a colleague of some admin duties so they have more time to invest in the project, and employing freelance publishing professionals for specialised tasks