New university press toolkit

Supporting and giving guidance to new university presses and library-led publishing ventures.


This toolkit will support and give guidance to new university presses and library-led publishing ventures as well as those with a hybrid model, who publish open access and non-open access material. It is free-to-access under a CC BY 4.0 licence, independent and interdisciplinary with articles written in English. 

The toolkit is for institutions with existing new university presses (NUPs) as well as those planning to launch or investigate whether to establish a press. It is aimed at all staff who may have an interest in the area of new university presses and library-led publishing. Depending on the size of the operation, the press itself may only have one or two dedicated staff so other staff may be involved. Specific sections of the toolkit will be of use to:

  • University press staff
  • Information professionals (subject liaison librarians)
  • Library directors (wishing to set up a press and inform senior university staff)
  • Educational technologists
  • Scholarly communications managers and research officers
  • Academic staff (both as authors, editors and publishers)
  • Senior university staff (heads of department, PVCs for research)

It is initially aimed at UK institutions, but will draw on international best practice and case studies and will appeal to a global audience (although reference to policy will centre on UK policy in the first instance).

Why start a new university press?

There are lots of reasons to start a university press. This section looks at common drivers, such as support for the dissemination of research, engagement with the wider open access agenda, and helping academics meet funder requirements as these increasingly include open access publication.

Another driver is the growing need to evolve the publishing ecology to make academic publishing sustainable for publishers, academics and institutions given the growing costs of resources and tightening institutional budgets.

About university presses

University presses have traditionally been, and continue to be, central to academic publishing. Some of the largest and oldest publishing houses are university presses, and publishing with a university press is seen as evidence of the quality of that scholarship.

New university presses aim to bring the same level of quality and academic rigour, but offer different publishing models designed to disseminate the scholarly content as widely as possible. There are a range of drivers (Lockett & Speicher, 2016) that can lead an institution to form its own university press and, usually, more than one will be relevant. Direct support for scholarly publishing ties into many related goals as universities increasingly engage with core values.

Challenging the traditional publishing ecology

One of the drivers behind the first wave of new university and academic presses was the growing dissatisfaction with the traditional publishing model. This is still relevant as the costs of content for libraries from commercial presses continue to rise steeply with institutions now having to make hard choices about which resources to invest in.

Combatting high licensing costs

In particular, the shift to digital has seen high licensing costs and expensive package deals, which limit what libraries can offer.

It can be frustrating when the author of publicly funded research or research from within an institution chooses to publish with a commercial press and therefore makes their research inaccessible due to paywalls. University presses – especially those who operate an open access model – offer an alternative to this.

Avoiding the paywall barrier

There are a range of open access funding and revenue models in use among the new university presses and established non-profit university presses that have been launched over the last ten years, all providing digital content without paywall barriers (Penier et al., 2020).

The challenge this has brought to the traditional publishing model has resulted in a change of thinking and practice among some academic communities. Institutions that share these goals and values have recognised the advantages of being part of this discussion and supporting change through founding their own university press.

Increasing academic choice

A further issue with the traditional publishing structure is the increasing lack of choice and diversity.

Over time, mergers and buyouts have seen a reduction in the number of publishers, with many becoming imprints of larger publishing houses. This limits academics choice in terms of where they publish, especially for monographs in less commercially viable disciplines.

In terms of publishing open access monographs, the funds for an institution to pay for book processing charges (BPCs) to publish with a commercial publisher are often limited. Establishing an open access university press of its own can be seen as a more beneficial model.

Institutions that support their own university press increase the diversity of the publishing environment, and create new publishing opportunities. In some places, academics have led the push to create a local university press. For example, academics from the universities of Leeds, Sheffield and York reported a lack of appropriate and high-quality publication venues, which led the libraries to found White Rose University Press (WRUP).

Elsewhere, the drive has come from libraries or from senior management at the institution supporting a wider open scholarship mission.

New university presses adopting open access

A number of new university presses and academic-led presses have launched with an open access model, or adopted a shift to open access.

These include:

  • University of Huddersfield Press
  • University of Westminster Press
  • UCL Press
  • White Rose University Press
  • Open Book Publishers
  • Open Library of the Humanities
  • Stockholm University Press
  • University of Michigan Press
  • California University Press with the Luminos platform

Supporting the wider scholarly communications agenda

Some institutions feel that a university press links to the wider mission of advancing the scholarly communications agenda. Particularly with open access presses, the link to supporting open research and open data are clear.

It also increases the capability of the institution to support academics through the scholarly communications landscape, with first-hand experience of the publishing process. This can be especially valuable for early career researchers (ECRs), exposing them to the often-opaque mechanics and timescales involved in scholarly publishing, and in particular giving them an insight into the peer review process (Barake & Welsby, 2021).

Publishing with a university press could enable ECRs the opportunity to make connections with editors and other academics, as well as giving them first-hand experience of peer feedback and how that might inform and improve their own work.

The growth of demonstrable in-house library expertise around open access licensing, the support needed for academics looking to better understand and engage with open access, and how open access publishing works in practice is very valuable. Rightly or wrongly, academics often see information coming from a publisher as having more authority. Establishing a university press can help to bring a different perspective to the research office or library.

Dissemination of scholarship and support for its reuse

An institution may set up a university press to support the dissemination of research and academic content via a publisher that shares institutional ethics and values.

Depending on policy, this could be focused on the academic content of that institution, or across academia more broadly. It brings control of what is in scope and worth commissioning within the institution, and decisions may be made using different criteria than the traditional commercial model uses.

Open access presses are not driven by sales targets, so they are able to commission based on academic quality alone, making it possible to publish more specialist works. Depending on the business model used, the lack of paywall means an institution can use its open access press to publish high-quality scholarship, supported by peer review, adoption of publishing ethics and other quality measures, available to all. For example, academics in institutions with low library collection budgets, policy makers and practitioners, as well as globally by increasing the diversity of readers, particularly in low-middle income countries (Springer Nature, 2020).

It also allows the interested public to access scholarship first hand, through citizen science projects, for example. This is very important in terms of outreach and engagement at a time when universities need to demonstrate clearly their value to wider society. Indeed, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the importance of making scholarship open access was demonstrated. However, many of the resources that were made open access during the widespread library closures are now back behind paywalls.

Reputation and identity

An institution may decide to start a university press because of the benefits this brings to its reputation and also the demonstrable global visibility for, and usage of, its research when made openly available (KU Research, 20165 Springer Nature, 2020).

It shows the institution is invested in engaging with the wider academic community, expanding its remit to include different ways of disseminating content in ways that speak to its core values. Having a university press can demonstrate commitment to supporting the institution’s academic community, which can help attract academics to roles and distinguish a university from other similar institutions.

Engage with research funder policies

(This section was adapted from Ball, et al. (2021) under a CC BY 4.0 licence.)

While this is not a reason in itself to start a new university press, funder policies increasingly require open access dissemination of content.

This began with journal articles and is most clearly articulated by the ten principles of Plan S (pdf). The focus is now shifting to include scholarly monographs, edited collections and book chapters.

Early adopters include Austria, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the Wellcome Trust in the UK and the Swedish Research Council's intent to extend its policy to monographs and book chapters at a future date. In 2020 the Dutch Research Council (NWO) announced its renewed policy for open access monographs together with a funding scheme. In 2021, a new monographs-inclusive policy from UK Research and Innovation and cOAlition S guidelines on their policy regarding open access monographs (pdf) will be launched.

In anticipation of further funder policy announcements, a Knowledge Exchange conference paper gave a call to action for libraries, publishers and funders to support open access for books.

These are just some of the reasons why universities look to start their own presses. A good starting point is engaging with the advantages an open access press can bring to the institution and the ways in which it can strengthen its activities. A university press with a different publishing model can support academics to publish open access and help them meet funder requirements, although this does come with significant commitments to invest in resources and operational costs.


Set the goals for the press

When setting the goals of the press, it is important to consider the mission statement and aims. This should outline:

  • Who the press will publish (all academics, UK and international, or academics from the local institution only)
  • What to publish (specific disciplines important to the institution, or all subject areas which receive submissions like UCL Press)
  • The type of work to be published (monographs, edited collections, textbooks, journals, policy briefs of reports or a combination)
  • The publishing mode and format to be implemented (open access, paid for, static publications in the form of print, or living digital publications, or a combination)
  • The financial model publications will work with (including subsidy from the parent institution or other partner(s), support through income from sales, offsetting against other paid for services the press can provide, or a mixed portfolio of income streams, also how many staff are needed to deliver these plans)
  • Goals or considerations for growth and scale (how many books/journals does the institution want the press to publish per year? How many can it sustain?)

An example is the goals of the University of Westminster Press.

Creating a mission statement

The importance of a clear mission statement linked to specific aims and goals will support the commissioning of publications by the press. This helps to shape the future identity of the press.

Essentially, the mission statement and aims provide the backbone to the business plan and strategy. These should be set for a minimum of five years, with specific targets outlined within the plan. It should clarify not only how the works will be funded initially, but the scalability of the model and how this will be sustained over time. Planning also needs to take into account how any success will be evaluated.

Publishing is a long-term investment and planning should be flexible enough to accommodate varying and often unforeseen changes to publication timescales. These can range from one year or less (if in receipt of a short, straightforward manuscript that receives positive peer reviews) to extending into several years (if a work requires substantial editorial support, further revision or review, or an intensive copyedit or design).

The 2016 Ithaka S+R report (pdf) provides an insight into the varying publishing timescales of 382 publications by 20 US academic presses, which inevitably impacts the costs, targets and overall business plan of a press.

Setting realistic time frames

Fundamental to the planning of a press is the recognition that it takes time for a new press to establish itself amongst its peers, to attract authors and solicit submissions, and to demonstrate to their parent institution a return on investment. It is important in the planning stage to identify what the institution's desired return on investment is and what the measures of success are. This will enable the institution and the press to know whether they are achieving what they set out to do and to recognise and address issues quickly should they arise.

It is therefore imperative that the press is given long-term internal support by its institution beyond the initial first phase, with realistic time frames for set-up, commissioning, production, marketing and analysis taken into account. This then leads into the second five year plan and hopefully the growth and success of the press.

Establish a business/revenue model

(Part of this section was adapted from Penier et al. (2020) under a CC BY 4.0 licence.)

The press will need to establish its business or revenue model, regardless of whether it seeks to make a surplus or not. The 2020 report from the COPIM project makes a distinction between the two terms. Business models account for all costs, including staffing overheads etc (discussed below).

A revenue model refers to the means of generating income within a business model. The report is an extensive guide to revenue models for monograph publishers. It describes a number of revenue models that are particularly pertinent for New University Presses. The report goes on to perform a SWOT analysis of the models. The first two (below) are just as applicable to journals as monographs.

Library-based publishing

Library-based publishing is a supply-side model in which the press collaborates with the university library. They share resources, making open access financially feasible.

This model often involves sharing one budget between departments and a delineation of responsibilities according to each party's expertise. Resource sharing is often both in-kind and financial.

A subsidy model

A subsidy model is a supply-side model in which a university/faculty/research centre and/or library subsidise a university press directly or indirectly (financially or through facilities, equipment, or personnel, ie in-kind institutional support).

This differs from library publishing (above), as it refers specifically to funding a university press as a separate entity. There are some overlaps, such as the fact that a university press may report to a library.

A hybrid of digital and print

A hybrid is a demand-side model that uses the dual formats of digital and print, which are priced by "media preference".

For example, the priced version could be a print edition, while the online version is offered as open access.


Costs of production and publishing are a much debated topic. However, widely quoted research (Maron et al., 2016) does not clearly indicate the affordable production options now available via online platforms, service providers, nor the options available for groups of authors or institutions with some publishing expertise.

Potential costs you need to consider

New university presses need to consider the following potential costs and overheads, whether handled internally or with external providers:

  • Commissioning
  • Peer review placement and process management
  • Metadata creation
  • Proofreading, copyediting, indexing; editorial checking of these
  • Illustration and permission fees (or work to ensure such is avoided)
  • Typesetting, file creation for digital and print formats
  • Cover design or template; other design elements if demanded
  • Printing, storage and distribution (if providing printed copies of published works)
  • Hosting costs/and or work with existing platform
  • Direct overheads or expenditure covering eg sales, distribution, marketing, author liaison
  • Finance processing
  • Governance
  • Contracts and administration

In addition, there are indirect overheads or savings (according to how they are accounted), such as:

  • Rent
  • Salaries
  • IT services
  • Website costs and software
  • Maintenance costs: heating, lighting, photocopying, stationery, postage, office supplies (desks, chairs, phones, computers)
  • Travel and expenses of staff to attend events or training
  • Subscriptions to industry organisations and publications
  • Finance processing costs (such as bank charges, currency conversion fees, audit costs)

Staffing costs

It is possible to share job roles and functions within a library publishing setting or to benefit from academics in scholar-led settings familiar with (for instance) copyediting practice. For example, many digital first ventures, either as a workaround or as part of a strategy of building capacity, share tasks across a wider pool of library and academic staff.

However, it has not been unusual to assume incorrectly at the start of the publishing venture that no formal staff time needs to be allocated to overseeing the publishing workflow, before discovering otherwise.

Publishers themselves point to the high costs of "curation" and handling, but overheads can take a variety of forms all of them involving time, some of which might formally need to be accounted for forming an entire job description or parts of several roles. Many new university presses in Europe have staffing levels that do not exceed 1-1.5 FTE (Taylor, 2019), whereas larger operations vary and usually have more dedicated publishing staff. However, there are external providers that can absorb some of the roles, at a cost (see platforms and publishing services).

Terms of reference

Ultimately, the question of costs returns to the terms of reference set up for a new press. What does it set out to achieve and are resources sufficient for these aims? For a "flash" or one-off project, working with an external provider would likely be more beneficial, unless this is also seen as an experiment or pilot. Building capacity and researcher capability around scholarly communications and open access would require more investment over the long term. A considered process around budgeting titles individually or as a list, overseen by a designated person (or people) would help to build scale and sustain momentum that might otherwise easily be lost.

Setting up the press

Establish a governance structure

A good governance structure is essential, and needs to be considered from the start. It needs to work for the specifics of an individual press and the requirements of the host institution, and will not necessarily be the same for all presses. 

Press boards are key to the smooth functioning and growth of a press in a variety of ways. Boards benefit from terms of reference that can define the way they work and the areas of responsibility and membership (including length of terms of service etc). For example, the terms of reference for UCL Press (2014) are as follows:

  1. The UCL Press Board shall be constituted as a Working Group of UCL Library Committee
  2. The Board is to be chaired by the Vice-Provost (Research) or their deputy
  3. The Board will formulate medium-and long-term policy and strategy for the UCL Press
  4. The Board will keep under review developments in publishing, particularly in respect of university presses and campus-based publishing activities
  5. The Board will identify strategies for funding and staffing to enable developments along the directions identified in the clauses above
  6. The Board will act as an advocate for UCL Press to prospective authors in UCL and to the wider community of scholars outside UCL
  7. The Board will oversee the budget and fundraising activities of UCL Press
  8. The Board will make regular reports, and submit its Minutes, to UCL Library Committee

Starting up

During the start-up stages of a press, it might be helpful to have a project/start-up board in place. This can map the preferred governance structure for the press.

It can be useful to separate operational decisions about the scope, funding, business model, and running of the press from the editorial decisions about content. A project board can recruit members for management and editorial boards (or their equivalents) to take the press forward, and can define initial terms of reference for these boards as well as the relationship between them, and with the press' parent institution. 

Recruiting governing board members

There are things to consider in general when recruiting members to any press board. They will set the tone for the press, as their values, beliefs and preferences will shape all the decisions made. Diverse boards will represent a range of views and perspectives, and bring balance in that area. It is important to recruit people who can dedicate the required time. It's also important to recruit from appropriate levels from within the organisation (and beyond, for your editorial board/s - see also publishing journals and publishing books). This brings authority, experience, visibility and relevance to the press.

Setting up a press management board

The management board (or equivalent body) is usually responsible for decisions about the running and operation of the press. This could be at the day-to-day operational level, or focus more on policy setting if there is a press manager in place with hands-on responsibility for the press. Depending on your institutional structure, it may be useful to have representatives on this board who are:

  • From the executive/leadership team
  • Involved in the scholarly communications landscape
  • From the research support team
  • Have financial or business related roles
  • From the legal team
  • From the communications/marketing team

Having academic members of the management board ensures that perspective is also included. Some presses do not have dedicated management boards, as these elements can be incorporated into other management structures. 

Recruiting your press editorial board(s)

The board (or boards) with responsibility for commissioning/quality control of press output are an important and visible part of a press' commitment to academic quality. They are a requirement for a publisher wanting to list content in indexes such as the DOAB and DOAJ.

Depending on scale, you may have:

  • A single editorial board to review all proposals
  • One board for book proposals and one for journal proposals
  • Different boards to look at proposals in different subject areas

Normally, these boards would be primarily made up of academic members. Senior academic colleagues can bring lots of experience of publishing to boards, and also make the press attractive to potential authors. This is also where external membership of the editorial board can be very valuable - there should be at least one external member in order to ensure that the strategic direction of the press is open to examination and benefits from an external perspective. Including academics at other stages of their careers can help bring other perspectives, and maximising diversity of the board(s) as much as possible is also key. The editorial board can be great advocates for a new press across the academic community, so recruiting enthusiastic colleagues who will speak about the press is useful. 

Examples of governance structures and editorial board

It is also good practice for there to be editorial boards or the equivalent for individual journals or book series. These should be independent from the publisher, but adhere to publisher policy about what is required.

Read more about the role of editorial boards and journal governance, and publishing book series.

Choose a platform

The publishing platform a press chooses will depend largely on its aims and scope and a particular provider's offer. A minimum requirement is a website, platform or hosting service to display books and journals, to describe the press and provide resources, and link to the download or copies for sale.

There are a range of options available, including both commercial and open source.

Open source platforms

A press looking to host journals or monographs might simply choose to manage open source software on behalf of its researchers. For example:

However, some providers offer additional services, which support the entire publications workflow.

Perhaps the two most commonly used open source options are Open Journal Systems and Open Monograph Press from the Public Knowledge Project (PKP). Both systems provide the platform and publishing services for managing the entire submission, editorial and publishing workflow. Because both systems are open source, they can be downloaded and installed locally or hosted by PKP for a fee. 

Using institutional repositories

Using the institutional repository as an overlay for a press is another option. It was pioneered by the EPICURE project and further developed by the University of Huddersfield Press (Stone, 2011). Both presses have now moved on from solely using the repository, but it is now undergoing a resurgence in the United States with the Next Generation Library Publishing project (Educopia Institute, 2020).

"White labelled" hosting platforms

So called ‘white labelled’ hosting platforms from external partners are becoming widely available. One of the most popular solutions for many presses is the Ubiquity Press platform, which hosts many presses from around the world. Other options, such as Janeway are also becoming available . UCL Press uses a website that links to content hosted on other platforms - for books, the link is to the institutional repository, while journals are hosted on Science Open.

It is important to note that journal and monograph publication workflows are very different and not all systems and suppliers support both. Presses may want to select different platforms to support each one separately, although a central website for accessing information about the press and its publications will still be needed. Furthermore, the workflow for both books and journals can be very modular and presses may not want to outsource the entire workflow.

Top tip

As small scale open access publishing increases, other solutions are being developed. Many of these can be found at the Radical Open Access Collective list of publishing tools.

Choose a publishing service

While the platform provides infrastructure to support the publication, the press will need to consider how it will undertake the full publishing workflow, and which aspects it will undertake in-house and which it will outsource. There are very few suppliers who provide services for the entire end-to-end workflow.

However, it is not necessarily desirable that a press outsources everything - certain parts of the workflow are very particular to a press' mission, such as commissioning (including peer review) and marketing. Most presses would therefore want these to be undertaken in-house. Creation of metadata may also be provided by the library. In general, the publication workflow for both books and journals includes the following areas, which have also been used to create this toolkit. 

Publishing services include:

  • Setup, administration and general support
    Processes and specifications for the set-up, administration and support of publishing services
  • Commissioning
    The procedures and processes offered around author submission, calls for papers, the peer review process, author contracts and post-contract author support
  • Editorial and production
    The processes offered in the production process including copy-editing, design and typesetting, proofing, indexing, cover design, metadata and format creation and electronic and print publication
  • Dissemination
    Publication activity such as library and discovery service integration, sales channels (for print books), abstracting and indexing, dissemination to external open access and other publishing platforms
  • Preservation
    The approach to digital preservation of published outputs
  • Marketing
    Marketing activities, such as social media, mailing lists, and book reviews
  • Analytics
    Methods of reporting on usage, sales and other metrics as citations and altmetrics

Finally, before engaging in the procurement of a publishing platform, it is important to brief the institution's own procurement department in order to understand internal procurement rules. Any invitation to tender should be very clear about which of the processes listed above are in or out of the procurement process.

Attracting authors to your press

When taking the decision to set up a new university press, a key question to consider is how to attract authors to publish with the new press. Given the extensive range of alternative publishing options, many of them long-established and well known, why should an author decide to take the leap of faith and publish with a new press that is essentially an unknown entity? This section tackles key questions about common open access misconceptions, areas for legitimate concern, what authors are looking for in a press and how a new press can quickly establish those essential qualities that will reassure and appeal to authors. 

Open access myth-busting

This section on myth-busting was adapted from Collins et al. (2013; 2015) and Deville et al. (2019) under a CC BY 4.0 licence and from the OAPEN open access books toolkit (2020a,b,c) with permission from Open Access Publishing in European Networks.

It is important to dispel a number of myths and address some legitimate concerns around open access. The issues below have all been raised in recent open access workshops and discussions and are questions that all open access publishers will face.

Are open access publications peer-reviewed?

Peer review is seen as a mark of quality. However, regardless of the mode of access (print, digital, open access) or publisher (commercial, university press, open access publisher), not all books and journals are peer-reviewed. Regardless of this, peer review is highly recommended. For example, both the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) and Books (DOAB) require presses to be open about the peer review process. Membership of both enhances discovery and prestige for the press, so this is a must have. DOAB stipulates that all books are "subjected to independent and external peer review prior to publication". In addition, the OPERAS Certification Service will soon be available "to certify publishers at both the publisher level and the individual publications level" for Humanities and Social Science (HSS) publications.

Perceptions about lack of quality and prestige

Open access does not result in an overall lack of quality. The publishing process for open access is almost identical to the traditional publishing process (Barake & Welsby, 2021). The press should also highlight to potential authors that inclusion in DOAJ/DOAB indicates that a publisher has met quality standards. In the early days of a press, membership of the Open Access Scholarly Publishing Association also shows that the press has a strong commitment to quality, as does a good governance mode with transparent processes.

Prestige is a different matter and can differ between disciplines and even individual researchers. Perceived lack of prestige can be an issue for any new publisher. Indeed, Nordhoff (2018) lists "creating prestige" as the first task that needs to be undertaken by any new press. However, as increasing numbers of institutions implement the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA) principles, which look at the quality of research rather than the prestige of the publisher or brand, it is hoped that this culture will begin to change. Major funders now require open access and the fact that many presses do not charge fees also helps. There are also many articles on the benefits of open access (Willinsky, 2006; Ferwerda, 2014; Ferwerda, Adema, & Snijder, 2013 (pdf)Lucraft, 2018; Ottaviani, 2016).

Paying Article or Book Processing Charges (APC/BPC) is the only way to publish open access

This is untrue, as there are many ways to publish open access. Potential fees (if charged) will depend on a press's business model. Even if presses do recover some costs, they are often far lower than commercial publishers and this might be attractive for researchers looking to publish open access.

Isn't an open access university press just vanity publishing?

Open access publishing has fallen foul of accusations of vanity publishing. A downside of the no fee offering is that this often leads to the assumption that the press is just a marketing exercise for the university. The flipside to this is the assumption that paying a fee means that there is no quality control. As long as a press can evidence transparent processes and that quality measures are in place, this is easily dismissed.

Does open access mean the end of print?

Regarding journals, the tipping point from print to digital is believed to have happened over 10 years ago. Digital is now accepted as the norm for the vast majority of disciplines. For books, print is still the gold standard and open access and print can happily coexist. Indeed, the Universities UK evidence report stated that "there will always be a need for print purchases, and it is not the intention of open access to replace physical copies". For example, you may want to print copies for sale alongside the open access publication.

Creative Commons (CC) licences prevent the use of third-party copyright material

In brief, third party material can be used in books and journals published under a CC licence subject to the content owner's agreement and as long as it is acknowledged correctly. A press will no doubt need to support its researchers in this area, as correct use of copyright is not widely understood. Refer to the OAPEN toolkit, which includes sections on Choosing a licence and third party permissions.

Does open access lead to increased plagiarism?

Plagiarism is often confused with copyright infringement. However, plagiarism is primarily an issue of academic ethics. Although there is no evidence that open access leads to more plagiarism (content can be plagiarised regardless of how it is licensed), it is wise to understand the host institutions plagiarism guidelines and to link to them so that if it does occur, policy can be enforced.

How to attract authors to publish with your new university press

During the planning stages, more immediate and tangible considerations such as budget, staffing, governance, operations and platform choice are more likely to be at the forefront of people's minds. The question "why would an author publish with us?" could easily be overlooked. However, it is perhaps the most important question of all.

The considerable time and expense that will be involved in setting up a press will need to deliver a healthy flow of new publications in order to justify the initial investment and fulfil the press' mission. This does not mean that the press needs to compete against other publishers. Creating prestige (for this is what often attracts authors) is more about the professionalism of the press and its place as a real open access alternative to traditional publishers. However, simply offering open access, possibly funded by the institution, is by no means the only thing that matters to authors. 

Provide an exceptional experience

Experienced authors who have already published with other publishers will usually be seeking something comparable to, or perhaps even better than, their previous experience. This will apply to the entire publishing process, right from the commissioning and peer review of books and new journal titles through editorial and production and then marketing and dissemination.

As a start-up press, this is one of the most challenging tasks. The press will need to be promoted to prospective authors on the promise of an excellent all-round publishing experience, but without any track record to show them.

This requires dedicated activity to drive author interest within the institution in the first instance (such as the commissioning editor role for books). Members of the press board should be asked to assist in this process. 

Build a good reputation

A new press needs to ensure that promises are backed up with the highest quality publishing services that stand up to comparison with any other press. This is what publisher reputation is built on.

Jane Winters, professor of digital humanities in the School of Advanced Studies, describes the publishing process as a collaborative one, in which personal (and personable) contact with the publisher, and communication, efficiency and quality at all stages of the process, are essential for making the author feel valued and to make them want to publish with you again (Winters, 2018). 

Show that you provide good levels of care to authors

This level of author (or editor) care is potentially a plus point for a new university press as they are often familiar with their authors and their research areas if part of the same institution.

Small university presses can have an advantage in being able to offer a dedicated service limited to a single point of contact at the press. This is especially true of early career researchers who may not have had much experience of publishing and who might welcome the personal contact (Barake & Welsby, 2021).

Many authors stay with the same press for several books, or even their entire career due to building such a strong relationship with their editor. This can happen at small and large presses, demonstrating that service levels are a major factor in attracting and retaining authors. 

Make sure you publish high quality work

For both books and journals, a new press should have a very clear plan for what will be accepted for publication. Evaluating quality is critical for establishing a "list" and helps to signal quality and areas of specialism to prospective authors.

The press might be offered a range of quite unexpected manuscripts and ideas for books and journals, and opportunism is a valuable strategy in the early stages of building a press. It may also be expected to publish "anything" by some academics who might view the press as a marketing outlet for the institution.

It is important to consider that these early books and journals will set the tone for the future. Therefore, it is important to stick to the agreed mission in order to build a strong, quality programme. It is unlikely that the press will have the means to publish everything that is offered, so it is important to have a common understanding with the institution and the board about the purpose of the press and the types of books that will be published, so that there is a transparent selection process.

The snowball effect

With all this in place, the first publications are building blocks. The press can promote their success - hopefully, they will get reviews and will attract strong download figures, and a press' published authors can become its greatest advocates. If their experience of publishing has been positive, they will hopefully recommend the press to colleagues and come back with their next book.

As the body of publishing grows, and other authors see that quality books are being well received and are attracting attention, interest and confidence in publishing with the press should increase. Hopefully, the press will be rewarded with a snowball effect of interested authors.

Publishing journals

Many new university presses publish open access journals, using models ranging from offering hosting services to providing full publishing services. It is important for any new press to ensure that its journals operate transparent and constructive processes. This is usually the responsibility of the editor-in-chief and the editorial board, while the publisher has the responsibility for overseeing that this is undertaken in line with agreed policies and with a rigorous and measurable approach.

Models for journal publishing

The models for journal publishing can vary significantly from one organisation to another. It can involve a basic level of support by the university library, such as the provision of a hosting and publishing platform along with publishing advice. In such cases, the university library does not necessarily name itself as the university press.

For other presses, the model can extend to a full publishing service where the publisher provides editorial and production services and marketing, and sometimes wider support to the editor-in-chief (EiC) and the editorial board. In these cases, the press applies its imprint. The choice will depend on the institution's mission and requirements.

Where the press offers a full publishing service, the key activities will involve supporting and encouraging the EiC and the board with a range of matters including admin, agreeing strategic plans, monitoring performance, editorial and production services and marketing.

While the majority of the work involved in driving and evaluating submissions and undertaking peer review will be done by the EiC and the board, the publisher's role is important in supporting these activities and in the overall development of the journal to help ensure its quality and reputation. These respective responsibilities should be captured in a contract but, as with book publishing, it is generally a very collaborative process.

Some presses have a dedicated journals manager when their portfolio grows to a significant enough size to warrant dedicated staff, for many presses this is another role for the press manager.

Top tip

Agreeing to take on a journal is a long-term commitment - presses that decide to develop a journals portfolio should ensure that their business plans extend to several years in order to be able to plan effectively.

Journal governance

This section on editorial boards was adapted from University of Stockholm Press (2020) under a CC BY 4.0 licence.

A journal editorial board serves to oversee the strategy, development and quality of a journal. The journal editor-in-chief leads the journal and appoints and chairs the editorial board. The editorial board (including institutional affiliations of all members) is a requirement of the Directory of Open Access Journals and many indexing databases. Boards usually hold regular meetings during the course of the academic year, often attended by a representative from the press.

The role of the editor-in-chief

The editor-in-chief (EiC) is ultimately responsible for the journal practices and publications.

The EiC holds overall responsibility for major decisions and has responsibility for the quality of peer reviews and publications. The EiC is often the academic that brought the proposal for a new journal title to the press. They will be familiar with the specific field of the journal and are responsible for appointing members of the editorial board (although this may be reviewed by the press at the journal submission stage). They will create an active working environment in the processing of article submissions and reviews. Although team roles within the board may vary, common examples are appointing section/handling editors, copy-editors, editorial coordinators/assistants etc.

The press should provide support to the EiC so that all editorial and technical questions can be resolved as quickly as possible. It is advisable that the EiC position is contractually agreed with the press.

The role of the editorial board

Having an active and suitably skilled and qualified team in place greatly enhances the likelihood of the journal being a success. Therefore, it is recommended that members of the editorial board are selected for their academic excellence in the field, and that the group covers all aspects of the journal scope.

The editor-in-chief (EiC) should also ensure that the entire editorial team, as well as reviewers and authors, follow the Committee on Publishing Ethics core practices (COPE, 20171). An active editorial board is vital for the success of a journal. As such, members of the board should act as advocates for the journal, assist the editorial team to solicit submissions and safeguard the journal's reputation. Board members can help with seeking suitable peer reviewers and may act as reviewers themselves.

Membership of the board

Membership of the board should be reviewed regularly to ensure that all are actively engaged. Although board members do not need to have a maximum tenure, the EiC may want to consider their length of membership during a review.

Members can be added or removed at any time, upon request or need in order to prevent stagnation and to promote new ideas (within the remit of the journal's aims).

Any review should involve removal of some of the existing members (particularly if they are not performing their duties), extending some memberships and also inviting new members to the board. High profile members of the board may help to establish prestige in the early years of the journal. However, the EiC should avoid filling the board with figureheads, who may not be able to commit to the hands-on running of the journal.

A larger board is generally better due to the flexibility of a larger network, although this does depend on the journal and the members in question. For example, if the journal has a very narrow focus and/or is a niche subject, then there may be fewer available board members.

Criteria for potential editorial board members

The editor-in-chief (EiC) should consider the criteria below when considering potential members of the board:

Area and extent of specialisation
  • Is it within the scope of the journal?
  • Is this already covered by existing board members?
  • Are they known for specific viewpoints/opinions?
  • Are they established researchers or at an early point in their career?
  • How well known is the applicant to the journal's community?
  • Would they enhance the reputation of the journal by association?
  • Are they affiliated with a recognised academic institution?
  • Are key institutions represented?
  • Where is the affiliation and is this region already well covered by other board members?
Journal experience
  • Are they or have they been on many other editorial boards?
Personal aspects

  • Gender, age, background etc can be considered but should not be a deciding factor (ie it is good to have a diverse membership to reflect as many opinions as possible)

  • Are they likely to be available to carry out the required tasks? (The more active the board members, the less work for the editorial team)
Conflicting interests

  • Are any of their other positions or responsibilities likely to conflict with the journal?

Responsibilities of editorial board members

When briefing members of the board, responsibilities that should be considered include:

  • To distribute "Call for Papers" or other important announcements from the journal as widely as possible
  • To promote the journal whenever possible in order to attract submissions, eg through conferences/events that could be used as journal promotion opportunities
  • To consider submitting their own publications to the journal (within reason)
  • To follow COPE core practices (COPE, 2017) regarding publication ethics
  • To be ready to provide suggestions on how to improve the journal, its routines and guidelines
  • To carry out peer review for the journal and to assist in locating suitable peer reviewers, when required
  • To provide occasional editorial advice/opinion to the EiC
  • To actively recruit other board members

Contracts for authors and editors

This contracts for authors and editors section was adapted from Stone (2017). The original article was licensed under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 licence. However, the author has waived permission allowing this work to be licensed under a CC BY licence.

It is important for a press wishing to publish open access journals to enter into an agreement with both article authors and journal editors. This ensures that both parties have agreed their areas of responsibility.

Licence to Publish (LtP) for authors

For authors, a relatively light touch Licence to Publish (LtP) can be used. This replaces the copyright transfer agreements that many paywall journals use to assign the rights to the publisher.

The LtP gives the press the right to first publication. However, copyright remains with the author(s). This also allows the press to license articles using a Creative Commons licence eg CC BY.

Editorial contracts

Regarding journal editors-in-chief, the press should consider whether to implement editor agreements to protect a journal from moving publishers if an editor moves to a different university or if a commercial publisher approaches the journal editors. For example, Utrecht University Press lost 10 years worth of open access investment when one of their journals became a subscription based journal at Cambridge University Press. Morris et al. (2013) give a comprehensive checklist of points for a press to use in establishing a journal editor's contract. The contract should clearly articulate each party's areas of responsibility.

Society journals

Presses also attract existing journals. For example, from society publishers wishing to move to an open access model - either from existing publishers or small, sometimes print only, specialist journals.

Acquiring content for a new journal

Acquiring content for a new journal is usually the responsibility of the editor-in-chief (EiC), depending on the division of responsibility between the journal and the publisher outlined in the editors agreement.

The question of how an EiC and the board plan to secure new content for a journal is usually probed in the initial new journal proposal to the press. A proposal from a prospective EiC should provide details about the board, the networks they will work with to promote the journal, and the strategies that will be employed to secure new submissions. Such a proposal should be subject to review by independent peer reviewers and by the press' editorial board, to ensure that it is credible and achievable before deciding to commit to publishing the journal.

Taking on a journal is a long-term commitment, and it is in the interests of the press that they take the necessary steps to evaluate a journal’s potential before committing to publishing it in the long term.

Ongoing management to support journal health

Once a press has taken the decision to publish a journal, it will need to establish protocols to review the ongoing development of the journal to ensure that it is actively publishing high-quality content on a regular basis. This can be ensured by the press agreeing long-term development plans with the EiC and reviewing these on a regular basis alongside agreed measures of success to ensure that the journal is active and is publishing to agreed standards.

The journal development plans need to articulate the goals of the journal and put in place measures to track the journal's activity and address any issues arising with the EiC and the Editorial Board. Even for an open access title where the press is not reliant on income from the journal, it still needs to ensure that the journal is healthy and active in order to justify the investment and uphold the reputation and mission of the press. Inclusion in some indexes also requires a demonstration of the journal's regular publishing activity.

Practical implementation steps for ensuring and monitoring a journal's health on an ongoing basis include:

  • Creating journal development plans with the journal EiC, to cover submission strategies and promotion, target audiences, and other strategies to drive submissions such as special themed issues
  • Making sure the press works with the EiC to ensure that the journal is publishing new content on a regular basis and to agreed standards
  • Making sure the press participates in editorial board meetings, to review submission levels and engagement and to address any issues
  • Ensuring the press can undertake direct engagement with editorial board members to encourage and support their direct commissioning activity and collaborate to address any specific challenges the board is experiencing
  • Taking agreed steps to address any issues of low submission levels. These can include reviewing the scope of the journal, reviewing the promotion of the journal and target audiences for calls for papers, exploring different avenues for securing content such as conference outputs, special themed issues, bringing additional board members in to cover particular subject/geographic areas

Creating a transparent peer review and quality process

One of the best ways to show that a journal follows a transparent peer review/quality process is to follow the guidelines at the Directory of Open Access Journals. A transparent peer review process is a requirement for inclusion in DOAJ.

Indexing and best practice

Even if the press does not intend to submit the journal to DOAJ (although this will improve discoverability), their guidelines outline best practice. For example, be clear about the type of peer-review used, and make sure that there is a clear description of which method is used, and who in the editorial board is involved in which part of the process.

Types of peer reviews

Responsibility for the peer review process usually falls in the remit of the EiC. The publisher is responsible for checking that the process is operating well.

There are a number of different types of peer review and quality processes, including:

  • Editorial review - where an article is reviewed by the journal's editor. This is likely to apply to arts and humanities journals where two editors review an article in place of a peer review
  • Blind peer review - where the identity of the reviewers is not known to the author
  • Double blind peer review - where the author's identity is also not known by the reviewers
  • Open peer review - related to the open science agenda and can mean that the identities of the reviewer and/or author are known to the other party. It can also mean that the reviewer publishes their report alongside the published article. The reviewer role could also include non-invited reviewers. It can mean all of these as well
  • Student peer review - if you have a student journal and plan to allow students to conduct peer review, it is recommended that you also have an academic advisory board to oversee operations

Other peer review practices to consider

In addition, the press should ensure that there are sound editorial practices behind the peer review process. For example, guidelines for editors on how to handle issues.

Also, the press can opt to use a submission system to track and maintain an archive of each manuscript's history and the decisions made. This could be part of the chosen publishing system or a simple spreadsheet.

Another quality stamp is membership of COPE, the forum for editors and publishers of peer-reviewed scholarly journals. COPE offers guidance and advice on all aspects of publication ethics. By signing up to COPE, a press is showing that it intends to apply the principles of publication ethics outlined in the Core Practices (2017). Presses should ensure that their journal editorial boards and peer reviewers are aware of these practices and that authors are asked to confirm that they will conform to the practices when signing a licence to publish.

Publishing books

Commissioning processes

Different commissioning strategies and approaches are needed at various stages of a press' development. At the outset, the focus will need to be on promoting the launch of the new press and encouraging submissions. As the press develops and gains visibility, authors start to send unsolicited submissions, especially if they can see other publications building up in their discipline. The focus of the commissioning activity of the press should be guided by the press' agreed strategy. 

The commissioning editor role will be referred to throughout this section. For many presses, this is just one of the many hats that a press manager will wear. The role undertakes proactive commissioning, seeking authors to write in the areas covered by the press' title list, as well as:

  • Evaluating new proposals
  • Placing proposals and manuscripts for peer review
  • Presenting proposals and reviews to the editorial board
  • Negotiating contracts
  • Monitoring manuscript submission
  • Checking manuscripts on delivery and preparing them for handover to production
  • Managing the forward programme of contracted publications

New title submissions

The initial work of promoting the press and attracting authors needs to be a collaborative effort. The press manager and/or commissioning editor needs to drive early advocacy for a new press through a programme of promotional activities at the institution. These include:

  • Direct communications to senior academic staff (eg deans of faculty and heads of department)
  • Communications via all-staff news
  • Presentations to staff meetings
  • Meetings with individual authors and key departmental contacts (eg heads of research)

This work will be strengthened by senior management support for the press and promotion of its work to academic colleagues, particularly by engagement with the advisory and editorial boards to harness their support in promoting and recommending the press to authors. 

For some presses, the work of commissioning new authors is undertaken by faculty editorial boards. These serve to advocate for the press and encourage submissions, review proposals and undertake the management of the peer review process. The publishing staff in the press then focus on editorial and production, marketing and distribution. 

Once a press is more established, title submissions will usually be generated via a combination of proactive commissioning, unsolicited proposals and word-of-mouth recommendations by published authors. The press can also establish relationships at the institution and beyond, depending on its mission, with particular institutes, societies and projects, working together to develop a programme of publications. In order to identify opportunities and build a network of contacts, it is important for the press to stay abreast of new developments at its institution and/or in its specialist subject area through conferences, new research awards, new findings and new initiatives and developments.

Book proposals

Publishers usually ask authors to complete a standard set of information about the book they are proposing. This helps to understand the scope and subject area of the book, who it is aimed at, what is important, new or unique about it, and how it differs from other works on the same subject. It gives the background of the author(s), editor(s) and contributors and provides practical information that will help with production planning and budgeting - word count, anticipated number of illustrations and their copyright situation, and when the manuscript is due to be delivered. 

Most publishers have submission forms on their website. Looking at a selection of these will help a new press to establish what questions they need to ask the author (see example proposals below). Submission guidelines can also be helpful for early career researchers who haven’t submitted a proposal before.

Examples of book proposal forms

Book proposals are initially evaluated by the commissioning editor or faculty editorial board. This is to identify whether the proposed book is a good fit for the press' programme and its mission, and whether the proposal has provided enough information or requires further development. Book proposals and sample chapters are reviewed at the point of submission in order to decide whether or not to offer the author a contract. Most publishers also undertake peer review of the full manuscript on delivery to ensure that the full manuscript has been successfully delivered in line with the original proposal.

Book series

Book series can also serve as a useful and effective way to build a publishing programme. They depend on a series editor to lead the process. This is a very different role to the one of commissioning editor, as the series editor will be an academic expert in the field. Therefore, the role is to build a list of books in a particular area of specialism, via expert knowledge of the field.

This can generate a steady flow of submissions and can help to establish a publisher's reputation in a particular discipline. Publishing staff and series editors work collaboratively to develop the series and to evaluate submission quality and quantity. 

Edited collections

This edited collections section was adapted from Brennan (2016) under a CC BY 4.0 licence

Authors may also submit a proposal for an edited collection of essays around a certain theme. For example, a series of essays that might result from an academic process, such as a symposium. Brennan (2016) suggests the following questions to ask when framing an edited collection. Can the editor:

  • Persuade busy people to spend time writing for an edited collection
  • Keep them to a strict timescale
  • Impose specific house style guidelines (if the press has them)
  • Critique, edit and even cut the work of friends, colleagues and senior figures in their field

There are four areas to consider in an edited collection proposal - "the four Cs" (see Brennan for full details on each of the Cs):

  • Coherence (how well does it all fit together as a book?)
  • Contribution (what is this book going to do, as a collection, and why does that matter?)
  • Coverage (is it as broad or as focused as it needs to be to do that job well?)
  • Contributors (who's in it?)

If the whole book is going to be the standard length of 80-100,000 words, then chapters should be 6-8,000 words, including all notes and references.

Too short implies superficiality; too long implies bloating. The introduction can be longer or shorter as needed.

The press may want to see the full manuscript before offering a contract. As a minimum, detailed chapter synopses plus a couple of sample chapters, and a very detailed summary of the introduction (the key chapter) are required. The introduction should:

  • Articulate the current state of the field
  • Place the volume within the relevant literature
  • Outline its many clear contributions to the field
  • Explain what each chapter will do to further those contributions
  • If there are gaps, it should say what it won't do and why

Brennan (2016) observes that a "high-quality essay collection can work well as a book and in some cases make a valuable intervention in a field".

Peer review processes

The press’s peer review process and policy should be displayed on the press website for transparency. Indeed, OAPEN and some other industry membership organisations require a press to describe their peer review process on their website and will review the policy before they accept to host or list open access books. Furthermore, clear statements on the press’s publication ethics or links to COPE core practices should also be provided. COPE refers to journal publishing but the concepts are transferable. 

The OPERAS Certification service is offered to publishers who have registered with Directory of Open Access Books (DOAB). The certification service is based on a review of three elements:

  • The publisher's peer review process
  • The licensing policy
  • The information on the publisher's website

Peer review policy and quality assessment

If the press wishes to proceed with a proposal, then the proposal and sample chapters, or the full manuscript, if available at the time of the proposal submission, will be sent out to a peer reviewer. Presses vary in their approach, with some presses seeking two reports for proposals and one for the full manuscript, while others seek one report at proposal and two at manuscript. The press will need to establish policies that work best for itself.

Peer reviewers can be found via a number of means. Authors are often asked to make suggestions, although these do not have to be taken up and should be evaluated by the press. Recommendations from the board, a relevant department, or other academics in the field are another way to identify reviewers, as is desk research of academics working in the field. It can take a number of attempts to find a reviewer who has the time and expertise to undertake a review. 

The press will need to have a policy for reviews of authors at the press' home institution. If two reviews are required, in order to retain an objective and transparent approach at least one of the reviewers should be from outside the institution.

Paying peer reviewers

While payment of peer reviewers is not commonplace in journal publishing, in book publishing it is usual to pay reviewers a fee for both the proposal review and for the review of the full manuscript.

At 80-100,000 words, it is considerably longer than a journal article and represents a significant time commitment for the reviewer. 

What to ask for in the review

For the proposal review, the reviewer will normally be asked to comment on a set of typical questions that cover:

  • The originality of the work and the new insights the proposed work delivers
  • Whether it meets the intended audience
  • How it compares to and differs from the existing literature
  • Any clear omissions
  • Suggestions for improvements

The review should give a clear view on whether, in the reviewer's opinion, the work is:

  • Publishable
  • Publishable if it takes on any suggested amendments
  • Not publishable

If two reviews are sought at this stage and they contradict each other, a third report might be sought in order to provide a balance of views for the press to consider.

Author responses

The commissioning editor will review the peer review reports to ensure they are clear and that they are expressed in an objective, constructive and measured tone, and will then share the anonymised reports with the author/editor.

The author/editor will be asked to respond to the comments and suggestions made in the reports, to outline how they plan to address them, and to explain the rationale for not making changes where they feel these are not appropriate.

Internal board review

The book proposal, peer review reports and author/editor responses should be submitted to the editorial board along with commentary from the commissioning editor (or series editor).

Based on this information, the board will make a decision about whether or not to proceed to contract. 

Agreeing a contract with an author

This author contracts section was adapted from and from the OAPEN open access books toolkit with permission from OAPEN.

Upon acceptance of a book proposal and after positive peer review, the press will need to agree to a contract with the author/editor. For book chapters in edited collections, this could be as simple as a variation of the Licence to Publish (LtP) for journal articles, or a longer contract for a single author scholarly monograph. A standard publication for author contracts is Clark's Publishing Agreements: a book of precedents, which provides templates for publishers to use and adapt. However, the contract should include a number of points to ensure that the work is fully open access.

The contract should:

  • Give the press the right to first publication
  • Copyright should remain with the author(s). The author retains his/her copyright and licenses specific rights, including publication rights, to the publisher. Alternatively, the author can assign copyright to the publisher provided that the work is made freely available for further distribution under the terms of an open licence
  • The work should be published under an open licence, typically a Creative Commons (CC) licence. The press may have a preference for the licence under which open access books are published, but legally this is a decision for the copyright holder (at this point you may want to refer them to the OAPEN toolkit section on CC licences. If the author is obliged by a funder or institution to make the work openly available, the agreement should conform to the requirements set out in its open access policy. This may include a provision for the type of Creative Commons licence that can be used
  • If there is any fee for publication, this should be mentioned in the contract
  • In addition, any payment of royalties (for example for print sales) should be covered in the contract

By licensing the work openly and by allowing copyright to remain with the author, the press enables the author to have the exclusive right to make copies of the work; sell or otherwise distribute the work; prepare adaptations (eg audio editions, movie adaptations, and translations); and perform or display the work publicly. The press has the right to first publication.

Please note that a different licence and reuse rights may apply to third-party material contained in the work.

Working with an author 

Clear communication with the author is key. Once the author contract has been issued, the commissioning editor continues to be the main point of contact with the author while they are writing and preparing the manuscript. This can involve guiding the author, answering queries and giving feedback about general presentation, editorial guidelines and any questions about third party permissions. An encouraging, supportive, honest and constructive approach will help to build trust and a strong relationship with the author, and will enable the collaboration and responsiveness that are needed during the book development and evaluation process. 

Preparing and delivering the final manuscript

It's important to keep in touch with the author about their anticipated manuscript delivery date and whether they are on track to meet it.

It is not always possible for authors to meet their original delivery dates, commissioning editors negotiate with authors over new dates, reviewing the "forward publishing programme" (a programme of commissioned and potential books, often two-three years ahead, which is essential for planning purposes) to see how any delays can be accommodated.

When the manuscript is delivered by the author, it needs to be evaluated by the commissioning editor before being sent for peer review. Points to note are whether:

  • The manuscript has been delivered to the word count originally agreed at the proposal stage and in the contract
  • It follows the same outline, structure and content as the original proposal
  • All the components have been delivered

They will also start the work of checking that all permissions have been cleared correctly. The manuscript will then be sent for peer review together with the original reports and author responses.

The anonymised reviewers report will be shared with the author, and the commissioning editor will check that the author implements the reviewer's comments. If the comments and suggestions are light, these can usually be checked by the commissioning editor. If the reviewer suggested the need for substantial revision, the revised manuscript might be sent back to the reviewer to check that the revisions have been successfully incorporated. 


Having strong production processes in place is essential to ensure that content is produced in a timely fashion, to high standards and within a reasonable budget. This includes use of third-party material under a CC licence subject to the content owner's agreement. This section also describes the main formats and options for a press and its chosen routes for dissemination. The section mostly refers to books, but the values are transferable to journals, particularly the final sub-section.

Editorial and production processes

Once a manuscript has been peer reviewed and all revisions finalised and approved, it is ready to move into production.

The responsibilities of the author in preparing the manuscript, such as following a house style and clearing permission for the use of any third-party texts or images should be captured as part of the book proposal process and published on the website for reference.

They should also be captured in the author contract along with the anticipated word count and number of images. This helps to ensure that the manuscript is in the best possible shape when it is delivered.

The production manager or managing editor role is responsible for overseeing the production of books through the different stages, including liaising with the author, appointing and briefing freelancers and other suppliers, drawing up the schedule and ensuring that the book stays on track, quality control and managing the budget.

Once again, this might be another role that a press manager and supporting staff in a small scale press need to adopt during the publication process.

Overseeing the stages of production

Book production usually follows set stages at which different tasks are carried out and a logical progress is followed. It ensures that all the extensive work to the text takes place before the book is laid out at proof stage, after which only minimal corrections can be made to avoid costly and time-consuming reworking of proofs.

Stages of production

  1. Internal production check on handover from commissioning editor to production
  2. Production manager draws up schedule and shares with all stakeholders
  3. Manuscript sent for copy-editing
  4. Author checks the edited manuscript and answers any queries
  5. Approved manuscript and image files sent to typesetter, with brief and with instructions for placement and sizing of any images
  6. Typesetter produces first proofs
  7. First proofs are checked by the author and a proofreader
  8. Author supplies index
  9. Production manager collates corrections
  10. Typesetter produces second proofs, incorporating combined corrections and index
  11. Author and production manager check that corrections were made correctly and author signs off proofs
  12. Proceed to publish

Scheduling and timelines

The stages of production process usually takes around six months, allowing time at each stage for the work required, and taking into consideration that the production manager may be juggling several projects at once.

Taking a methodical approach such as this means that the publication date can be reliably announced so that advance information and metadata can be released to dissemination platforms and advance publicity can begin.

Throughout the process, the production manager role is responsible for ensuring that the work is carried out to high standards. This requires a strong understanding of the editorial and production processes, providing clear briefs to suppliers, having systems in place for checking and evaluation at each stage, and having strong editorial and proof-reading skills.

This description reflects the processes for a press managing the editorial/production workflow themselves. Some presses may choose to outsource this in its entirety to a third party. In that case, the production stages outlined above will be handled by the third-party production company.

While this means that the press will not have such a close involvement in managing the process, a schedule still needs to be agreed to:

  • Provide briefs for the work required
  • Ensure key milestones are met
  • Answer queries arising
  • Troubleshoot any issues
  • Maintain contact with the author to ensure that they are happy with the progress of the book and that they have a clear understanding of the proofreading and approval stages

Liaising with authors

It is important throughout the editorial and production process for the press to liaise with the author, to share the schedule with them and to let them know what will happen at each stage, what is required of them at each stage and what the deadlines are.

Understanding this at the outset will help the author to plan the checking of the book around their other commitments and to manage their expectations.

Outsourcing and capacity planning

Professional copyediting and typesetting are an essential component of this process, and most scholarly presses outsource this work to individual freelancers or specialist typesetting companies, as this skilled and time-consuming work requires specialist experience and focussed attention.

Outsourcing also makes it easier to manage varying degrees of volume. Certain books also need particular expertise, and outsourcing offers the flexibility to allocate projects to freelancers or companies with different areas of specialism. The important work of overseeing this process should be undertaken by the press staff, whose core skills will be in project management and coordination.

A full-time production manager in such a role can usually oversee around 30-40 monographs per year full time, with the key tasks of editing and typesetting being outsourced.

If the entire editorial and production workflow is outsourced to a third party as described above, the in-house staff requirement will be less, as they will have less in-depth involvement. For a smaller press, outsourcing the entire editorial and production workflow can be a very effective approach, as it means that in-house staff can be kept quite lean and they can focus on the overall press management tasks that cannot be outsourced.

Sourcing and appointing freelancers

Publishers build up their pools of tried and trusted freelance suppliers over time. In the early stages of setting up a press, when such a pool of contacts has not yet been established, the use of publishing production companies who manage the entire process of editorial and production can be a useful resource.

Budget planning

A budget should be estimated well in advance when the specifications for the book are known, usually at the point of signing the contract. This helps with annual budget planning.

This estimate also provides a basis for negotiation with suppliers when the manuscript is delivered and the work is allocated, but of course it needs to be reviewed when the manuscript has been received, to check that it accurately reflects the actual work required.

It is essential to check that the delivered manuscript matches the word counts and image counts agreed in the contract, since any substantial deviation from this can affect both budgets and schedules adversely.

Using third-party copyright

This using third party copyright section was adapted from Collins et al. (2013) under a CC BY 4.0 licence.

Third party permissions need to be signed off at the production stage. One of the most important points to make about third-party copyright in open access publications, such as the use of images, is that they do not need to have the same licence as the published work. It is a commonly held belief by many authors that this is the case and is simply not true.

Creative Commons (CC) and rights for reuse

A Creative Commons (CC) licence only covers a new piece of scholarship, eg the work that the press is publishing. An author can only license their own work, not that of others. Third party content is therefore excluded from the scope of the Creative Commons licence attached to the new work.

If an image, graph or diagram that an author wants to use in a publication does have its own CC licence, the rights holder has made the permissions on reuse very clear and the image can be used without seeking further permission within the terms of that licence.

If this is not the case, or the proposed use is different than the terms of the CC licence allows, then the author needs to seek permission to reuse from the rights holder – often another publisher.

The press must ensure that, for any third-party material where the rights for reuse have been obtained, the copyright of this material is clearly stated. This will then ensure that the rights holder for this material is clear and that anybody who reuses the third party content without permission from the original rights holder would be violating the third party's copyright, even if they found the content in an open access publication.

Below, you can see an example from the Creative Commons wiki. There are also best practices for attribution at Creative Commons.

Example of marking your own work:

Except otherwise noted, this blog is © 2009 Greg Grossmeier, under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license:

Example of marking the differently licensed item:

The photo X is © 2009 Jane Park, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial license:

Third-party rights holders and the cost of licences

Clearly marking the excluded elements in a published work and stating the terms under which third party content has been made available may not always be enough for some third-party rights holders. This is partly due to misconceptions about Creative Commons licences. It is also a consequence of digital publishing. Third parties may be concerned that inclusion of their content may undermine their business model/revenue streams.

In the print world, if the rights holder requires payment for reuse then the number of items in the print run is often known in advance and can be costed accordingly. However, the digital world potentially provides a much larger audience, therefore costs can escalate and there could be a perception on the part of third-party rights holders that there are more opportunities for illegal misuse.

This could lead to unaffordable licences or refusal of reuse permission by the rights holder.

The simple action is to ask the author to suggest an alternative image. This is no different to current practice for third party content in traditional publishing. It is also worth discussing the situation with the rights holder, exploring their concerns and seeing if these can be allayed. 

Many rights holders in the galleries, libraries, archives and museums (GLAM) sector are becoming more aware of the benefits of open access. Indeed, many are now starting to create their own open access policies as they are often funded from public money. Of particular note is the OpenGLAM network (20203) which is working on a revised declaration and position paper. If this sector adopts a position of open access it will certainly create opportunities for the easier use of third-party material in open access publications.

Publishing formats: online and print

Different file formats are required for different publication channels:

Digital formats

PDF is the most widely accepted file type for online platforms and repositories. PDFs can be "flat" or they can be produced as web-ready PDFs, with hyperlinking of the contents page, chapters, notes, images and other types of content in the book. PDFs have many advantages, including the retention of layout, ease of use on any device and the ability to download for reading offline. Where possible, a press should use PDF/A, an ISO standard format, which enables long term preservation.

EPUB is the required format for e-books, for use with e-readers and e-reading apps. Conversion to EPUB can be undertaken by typesetters relatively inexpensively as part of the editorial and production process. Conversion software is also widely available if the press wishes to undertake the conversion themselves. EPUB files can be converted to Mobi to optimise them for Kindle use.

XML markup is required for publishing works online in HTML format. Prevalent in journal publishing, this is a less common approach for books. For presses publishing many journal articles a year, outsourcing XML markup to experienced typesetters is likely to be the most efficient route.

Print formats

As discussed elsewhere in the toolkit, the tipping point from print to digital has long since passed for journals. However, print is still the gold standard for books.

For print options, the same digital files are still used. For example, the final, hi-res print PDF produced by the typesetter (along with the cover) is the same file that can be used by the printer who will produce a print run or to a print on demand supplier. When briefing the typesetter, the press' requirements for different file types should be discussed and costed at the outset of the work.


Regarding file formats, different formats need to be delivered to the various platforms and dissemination channels that the press has decided to use. The mechanisms for doing this vary from platform to platform, and range from manual upload of files and metadata, to file transfer protocol (FTP) sites or via online portals, and ONIX feeds, which automate the delivery of metadata and files to book supply chains. 

At this point, the press also needs to consider how it will preserve its outputs as this might impact on the format types used. For example, XML is a very durable format. It allows content to be multi-purposed for a variety of uses.


Part of this section on metadata was adapted from Stone et al. (2020) under a CC BY 4.0 licence.

The importance of metadata

Metadata has been referred to as a "standards jungle" (Bull & Quimby, 2016). However, good metadata is a cornerstone to discoverability and effective linking to a wider network of relevant material. Bad metadata will result in publications being lost in the noise.

Metadata can include:

  • Bibliographic information
    Such as author(s), title, abstract, publication date, ISBN/ISSN etc
  • Enriched data
    Such as cover images and chapter abstracts
  • Persistent identifiers (PIDs)
    Such as Open Researcher and Contributor Identifier (ORCID) and Digital Object Identifiers (DOI)

However, a minimum set of requirements is yet to be agreed. Metadata and discovery is being explored by the Community-led Open Publication Infrastructures for Monographs (COPIM) project, which will undoubtedly assist presses as the project evolves.

To understand more about the importance of metadata, Gregg et al. (2019) provide an excellent overview of issues in their literature review. These include the challenges, opportunities and gaps for metadata for various stakeholders in the scholarly communications supply chain, such as publishers, service providers, platforms and tools, researchers, funders, librarians, data curators and repositories.

In addition, a 2018 workshop (Stone, 2018) including key stakeholders from NUPs, academic-led presses, book suppliers and distributors, metadata suppliers, libraries and other experts in open access publishing tried to surface some of these issues. The workshop identified a number of themes, which are explored in this section.

Creating metadata

Metadata can be created either by the press itself, by the chosen publishing service and platform (if used), or by a commercial supplier. However, at its most basic, key metadata can be captured in an Excel spreadsheet and delivered to dissemination partners in that form. Commercial suppliers, such as Bibliographic Data Services (BDS) in the UK who create metadata for the library supply chain, will own the copyright and charge the press for use.

The COPIM project is developing an open dissemination system, supported by an open source "data lake", Thoth, that will ingest metadata and provide outputs to various metadata types. The metadata will have an open licence to encourage re-use. Once completed, this could be an attractive approach for presses.

Jisc's Plan M project has also begun to address issues with metadata.

Metadata formats

Depending on the different stages of the supply chain, the press will need to employ different metadata formats to export bibliographic metadata.


Predominantly a framework for driving high street sales and is particularly relevant to books. ONIX is essential for traditional library suppliers (and the book industry in general) and is also used by platforms such as Project Muse and JSTOR. However, it struggles to handle open access well.


MARC 21 still dominates the library sector, although it is also far from perfect when dealing with open access. Full details of the MARC 21 schema for library catalogues are available from the Library of Congress. Libraries are starting to move away from MARC records in favour of using metadata from their research discovery systems, eg BIBFRAME.


Originally introduced as a potential replacement to MARC. This has not yet proved the case, although the emergence of web scale discovery systems has seen wider adoption.

KBART (Knowledge Bases and Related Tools) 

A NISO Recommended Practice facilitates the transfer of metadata from content providers to library discovery systems knowledge bases in order to support link resolvers.

Persistent identifiers (PIDs)

In addition to traditional bibliographic metadata fields, such as author, title etc, PIDs can be described as a long-lasting reference to a digital resource.

These are the five PIDs you should be aware of in the first instance - the first two are in common use, the others are in development:

Digital object identifiers (DOI)

DOIs are unique identifiers that can be given to a journal article, book or part of a book. They are essential if content is to be discovered through library discovery services and internet search engines.

Open researcher and contributor identifier (ORCID)

Helps with author disambiguation. Authors can register for an ORCID and then claim their work via Crossref. It is good practice to include ORCID in author details.

Funder registry

Available from Crossref, this PID is yet to be fully implemented. It is a freely downloadable "taxonomy of grant-giving organisations" (Meddings, 2017). which has the potential to make funder acknowledgement a simple clickable process.

Institutional identifiers

Linking an author to their institution can be difficult. Authors may affiliate with more than one institution, they may list a faculty, department or research centre in addition to the institution name, or there may be differences in naming the institution. There are a number of institutional identifiers currently available, which have the potential to make this data more manageable

Research activity identifier (RAiD) 

RAiD is an emerging PID currently used in Australia with potential to be adopted more widely. It claims to connect "researchers, institutions, outputs and tools together to give oversight across the whole research activity and make reporting and data provenance clear and easy".

Using platforms and indexes to aid discoverability

Ensuring that your open access content is submitted to key indexing services and distributed to the main external platforms where libraries and readers are likely to seek them, is essential in aiding discoverability.

Most publishers, both open and traditional, disseminate their content through a range of different channels in order to ensure that they are visible to readers. For open access, there are a number of well-established channels, some of them dedicated open access platforms and others that host a range of paywalled and open content.

List of indexes and platforms

If the press has opted to use a publishing service, they may already have links with these indexes and platforms and can distribute on your behalf.

Directory of Open Access Books (DOAB)

DOAB is the principal indexing service for open access books. Academic publishers can submit metadata for their open access books to DOAB, and this is harvestable in order to maximise dissemination, visibility and impact. Aggregators can integrate the records in their commercial services and libraries can integrate the directory into their online catalogues. Any publisher of peer-reviewed scholarly books may submit their metadata to DOAB, provided they meet the required quality standards.

Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ)

Like DOAB, DOAJ is a widely used index for open access journal publishers. Aggregators also integrate DOAJ records into their services. Any publisher can submit a journal to DOAJ, providing the journal itself meets the required quality standards.

Google Books 

Google Books allows publishers to upload metadata and files for their books. Publishers can choose whether to make part of their book free to read, or the whole book. Google accesses the full content of the book and exposes it to its search engines thereby increasing discoverability for the full book content.

Google Scholar 

Google Scholar is a freely accessible web search engine that indexes the full-text or metadata of scholarly literature across an array of publishing formats and disciplines. Google Scholar provides policy and technical information for publishers wishing to submit content.


OAPEN is a European initiative that hosts open access books and disseminates metadata through library discovery channels. It is part of the same organisation as DOAB. There is a modest charge for membership and hosting services but anything hosted by OAPEN is automatically indexed in DOAB, OCLC WorldCat and Google Scholar, which potentially saves the press time. It provides feeds to library discovery channels and also provides digital preservation options (see preservation for more).


JSTOR provides access to more than 12 million academic journal articles, books and primary sources in 75 disciplines, mostly under a library subscription model and is used by institutions globally.

Although starting out as a journal platform, in 2018 it launched an open access monograph platform that is free for any reader to access. It makes a charge to publishers for inclusion of content in its open access platform, which includes their service for presenting books at chapter level and including chapter-level metadata in its platform.


OpenEdition is a French initiative, providing open access books and journals hosting for many European university presses under a freemium model. It includes books and journals in a wide range of European languages for the humanities and social sciences.

Open Research Library (ORL)

An initiative of Knowledge Unlatched, the Open Research Library is an open access platform that provides hosting and discoverability services. ORL is a more commercial interpretation of OAPEN/DOAB.

Project MUSE

A journals and books hosting platform run by John Hopkins University Press in a library subscription model. Project MUSE now offers a dedicated open access books and journals service.

Sales channels

It may seem counterintuitive to have a section on the sale of print copies in a toolkit for open access presses - it's unlikely print copies of a journal will be produced, let alone sold. However, for books, print is still the preferred format for many researchers. It is also a valuable source of additional income for open access presses.

Unlike traditional publishers whose revenue model is based on sales, open access presses have often covered their costs before publication. This allows them to set the pricing point for print sales well below that of traditional commercial publishers.

Printing of books can be undertaken as:

  • Short print runs of 30-40 copies (which are warehoused and subsequently topped up by smaller print orders or print on demand
  • Only print on demand from the outset

Choosing a print run

When presses undertake a print run, they must estimate the number of sales they expect to achieve. The books will need to be stored by a distributor who can fulfil orders and invoice customers on the press' behalf, and who will remit revenues from sales to the press. This is best undertaken by a specialist book distributor or under the umbrella of a larger university press or publisher acting in that way.

While a press can choose to store books and fulfil orders itself, this requires a significant degree of physical space, human resource and administrative and financial support, which makes it challenging. It also creates issues over the longer term as the number of publications grow.

The benefits of using a specialist book distributor are that the warehouse, infrastructure, processes, resource and expertise are all in place. Also, by offering this service to a wide range of publishers, the distributor can achieve economies of scale for all its clients. The press pays a commission on the distribution and/or sales function for such services, which is deducted at source, meaning that there are no direct or staff costs to consider.

Some press publications may be highly specialised where the printed work, binding etc is part of the research output itself. The open access version will give access to the written content, but the print copy is the artefact. These often require a traditional print run (POD may be very expensive for single copies or simply not possible). This decision would need to be made as part of the submission process and costs included in the plan.

Choosing print on demand (POD)

For a start-up press, it can be difficult to predict the number of sales that will be possible to achieve, especially in an open access model. For that reason, printing on demand to fulfil individual orders is a better option.

POD provides an efficient and effective solution including a seamless service that can be set up to meet demand and requires little management by in-house staff. Another benefit of POD is that the book will never go out of print - it doesn't matter whether a book sells 200 copies a year or two, it can remain available indefinitely.

Most POD suppliers run services that are integrated with book metadata dissemination to the global book trade, so that book retailers can order from the POD supplier who fulfils the order and invoices the customer.

Some POD suppliers have plants in a number of countries allowing more effective global dissemination. This can be a faster and cheaper way of getting books to market than printing and shipping, especially in the kinds of low numbers that scholarly books typically sell.

Again, there are usually some percentage deductions made to revenue attached to the handling of this process when arrangements are handled by a third party for a number of publishers compared to going it alone. But these need to be balanced against the extra work of going direct with a POD printer and distributor and against economies of scale not available for the smallest publishers.  

Metadata for retailers

In order for book metadata to be visible to the full range of book retailers, it will need to be submitted to a service such as Nielsen Book Data, which is the standard source of book metadata for retailers. However, there can be some issues with the open access version being removed from the metadata.


Pricing is something that needs to be considered at the planning stage. The retail price and what it needs to cover will need to be determined by taking into consideration the particular financial model in operation at the individual press. For example, the press may be subsidised by the institution to cover editorial and production costs. If not, the retail price will also have to ensure "first copy" costs are covered.

As a rule of thumb, the retail price needs to cover the costs of producing the book and the costs of sale. This includes:

  • Print costs
  • Retailer discount (usually 30-40%)
  • Commission to distributors or sales agents, if using them
  • Postage and packing

Where titles have low sales, overheads may account for a large proportion of the revenue that needs to be earned to cover these from up to 50-80%.

It is important to know what kinds of costs may be charged to publishing operations and if a break even figure needs to be calculated when taking pricing and printing decisions.

Charging for e-books

Many presses do not charge for provision of the title for Kindle or in EPUB format, but it is possible to recoup some income this way.

For example, Open Book Publishers make available a PDF but charge for other formats, which is a good way of ensuring multiple digital formats are available and visible on Amazon and other digital sales channels. Others charge a very low nominal price as zero pricing does not function via conventional sales channels and there is convenience in syncing with readers' devices via vendor websites.

However, as with conventional academic publishing, print is still the primary income source when it comes to sales channels, with e-book sales only accounting for 10-25% of overall revenues. 

Sales agents and representatives

While it would not be efficient for an individual press to hire sales representatives, there are companies and other presses that offer sales representation to a number of clients on a commission basis.

Pooling resources in this way makes it more affordable and efficient. Using the services of such an organisation means that a press' print books will be presented to wholesalers, library suppliers, chain bookstores, specialist retail outlets such as museum shops, independent bookshops and campus shops on a regular basis, thereby increasing their visibility to retailers and customers of all kinds.