The publishing industry is enormous. It shapes science communication in fundamental ways. This module investigates publishing. How does it work? How does it enable and shape science communication? The module covers a wide range of outputs: trade books, textbooks, peer review journals, and ancillary products. It examines topics every publisher needs to know about, as well as contexts key for interpreting trends. How does marketing and selling shape the industry? What careers are available in science publishing? In recent years, major changes in the industry have been nothing short of revolutionary: open access, print-on-demand, automated translations, tablet reading, and more. The module also will integrate key STS themes to the subject: how do they help us understand science publishing. The module will ask students to develop practical projects, including a book proposal, a product pitch, and a print-ready book manuscript, which could be published. They also will have opportunities to meet professionals in the industry.
Professor Joe Cain teaches this module at UCL Department of Science and Technology Studies (STS).
“The history of publishing is the history of civilisation.”
We’ll use these required books:
- Guthrie, Richard. 2011. Publishing: Principles and Practice (London: Sage). ISBN 978-1-84787-015-5.
- Thompson, John B. 2012. Merchants of Culture. 2nd edition (Cambridge: Polity). ISBN 978-0-74566-106-3.
To purchase new, you might use:
- Waterstones Gower Street (If you shop at Waterstones, consider their Plus-Student discount scheme here.)
- Hive.co.uk (supports independent bookshops)
- BookShop.org (supports independent bookshops)
On the secondhand book market:
Comments about the module
From the external examiner (2019)
“An excellent module, with a valuable and practice-focused project, which is a very useful integration of theory and practice. The criteria for the assignments are useful and clear. The provided rubrics provide clear scaffolding on which students can work. The level of feedback is clear and, again, useful for the student and encouraging also for the best students. The grades are high overall, but appropriate, as I found the standard of work to be excellent.”
From the students (2018)
“Really interesting and practical module, good inclusion of theory. Very Enjoyable! Brilliant career focus.”
“Would have been nice to visit a publishing office such as Penguin. Can make anything interesting, best lecturer in the department by a mile.”
“My favourite module this year so far. Joe is the perfect tutor for this module, not only does he have extensive knowledge of the publishing industry, but he has this ability to inject excitement and enthusiasm into the learning material. I have now been inspired to pursue a career in the publishing industry.”
From the external examiner (2018)
“This is an innovative and engaging module that demands a lot from students. … I was impressed with the finished products. The skills of presentation, packaging, and pitching are important it is good to see them laid out here in reference to a concrete piece of work. The involvement of professionals in the book trade is a bonus. To me, it is unlike any module the students will do – and that is testament to its originality. … An excellent module overall.”
Three items of coursework:
- book proposal (60% – 3000 words) The aim is to produce a viable book proposal suitable for submission to a professional publisher.
- book production (20% – 1500 words) The aim is to produce a full and complete book, ready for publication and sale. The body of the text will be provided, or you can propose a text of your own choice, within certain constraints. The rest of the production will be up to you.
- presentation (20% – 5 minutes) The aim is to pitch your proposal to a commissioning editor – can you convince them to “buy” the book?
- 2018-19 syllabus (most recent offer of this module)
- 2021-22 syllabus (to come in September 2021)
This module aims to introduce students to publishing as an industry, focusing on the development, production, marketing, and distribution of science books and peer-review journals. It aims to relate this activity to fundamental themes in science communication and STS. The impact of major changes in the industry – e.g., open access, print-on-demand, automated translations, and tablet reading – will be examined, too. The module aims to dissect the industry and expose students to some of the many possible entry-level positions and career trajectories available within the industry. With such knowledge and understanding, students can consider how they might best become involved in the industry, and later develop it towards improving science communication overall. The module will ask students to develop key and practical skills through the creation of practical projects, including a book proposal, a product pitch, and a print-ready book manuscript that could be published.
By the end of this module, students should be able to:
- identify major elements of the publishing industry involving the development, production, marketing, and distribution of science books and peer-review journals
- relate book and journal publishing to fundamental themes in science communication and STS
- describe major recent changes in the industry – e.g., open access, print-on-demand, automated translations, and tablet reading – and discuss possible impacts
- describe entry-level positions and career trajectories available within the industry
- reflect on how they might best become involved in the industry and later improve science communication overall
- develop practical projects, including a book proposal, a product pitch, and a print-ready book manuscript suitable for publication
Student responsibilities in this module involve three components: in-class sessions, assessed projects, and independent learning.
This module is centred upon ten in-class sessions lasting two hours each. These are themed. Each has associated required readings. Most have supplemental activities, which will be discussed in the sessions. Students will be expected to have perused required readings prior to each session, then follow the session with more thorough engagement with that material. Discussions of specific readings will be announced in advance via the Moodle site.
Students will be assessed on the production of one project, which consists of three elements. In brief, the project requires students to develop, produce, market, and plan distribution for a book of their own design.
Criteria for assessment will be posted on the Moodle site and will be discussed in class well in advance of the deadline.
- book proposal (60% – 3000 words) – The aim is to produce a viable book proposal suitable for submission to a professional publisher.
- presentation (20% – 5 minutes) – The aim is to pitch your proposal to a commissioning editor – can you convince them to add your book to their List?
- book production (20% – 1500 words) – The aim is to produce a full and complete book, ready for publication and sale. The main text can be provided, or you can propose a text of your own choice within certain constraints (e.g., it must foster science communication). The remaining development, production, marketing and distribution plans will be up to you.
In addition to 20 hours in the classroom, the module plan expects students to dedicate no fewer than 60 hours in the term, approximately 6 hours per week, to independent study and skill development that forwards its objectives. This is similar to all HPSC modules. Students rarely make good use of the tremendous range of assets UCL makes available for independent learning. This module will use the Moodle site to direct students towards some valuable digital and print resources they can use for independent learning, but students are expected to press further by researching topics on their own initiative. For instance, UCL Science Library has a print section dedicated to publishing, and the UCL e-journals resource holds a subscription to Publishers Weekly. Students are encouraged to explore such assets, as any professional would be expected to do.
Students are welcome to suggest additional materials via the Moodle site’s forum. And students are welcome to draw on the expertise of the module tutor, and others in and around UCL, for the purposes of independent learning.