HPSC0044 Science and the Publishing Industry (Teaching)

HPSC0044 Science and the Publishing Industry, UCL Department of Science and Technology Studies (STS)

The publishing industry is enormous. It shapes science communication in fundamental ways. This module explores publishing and the creation of products associated with science communication. How does publishing work? How does publishing shape science communicating? The module covers a wide range of outputs: trade books, textbooks, peer review journals, and additional products. It examines topics every publisher needs to know about as well as some of the contexts that are key for interpreting trends. How does marketing and selling shape publishing as an 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, data science, rights management, and more. This module also will integrate key STS themes, asking: how do those themes help us understand publishing. The module will ask students to develop practical projects, including a book proposal, a product pitch, and a market analysis. 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).

We’ll use these required textbooks:

  • Clark, Giles and Angus Phillips. 2020. Inside Book Publishing. 6th edition (London: Routledge). ISBN 978-1-138-57791-6. (DOI for ebook)
  • Thompson, John B. 2012. Merchants of Culture. 2nd edition (Cambridge: Polity). ISBN 978-0-74566-106-3. (UCL Library)

You can access these through UCL Library. To purchase new copies of these books, you might use these retailers:

They also might be available on the secondhand book market:

In the past, we used this volume as a textbook:

  • Guthrie, Richard. 2011. Publishing: Principles and Practice (London: Sage). ISBN 978-1-84787-015-5. (UCL Library)

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.”

Assessment

Three items of coursework:

  1. preliminary book proposal (20% – 1500 words) – The aim is to produce an initial prospectus for their project, sketching the plan for content and market
  2. presentation (20% – 5 minutes) – The aim is to pitch a proposal to a commissioning editor: convince them to add your book to their List
  3. full book proposal (60% – 3000 words) – The aim is to produce a viable book proposal suitable for submission to a professional publisher. This will speak to key elements of publishing, including development, production, marketing, and distribution. By design, the full proposal will include revised elements of the draft proposal.

In the future, the 20% preliminary proposal will be formative assessment.

Syllabus

Aims

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.

Objectives

By the end of this module, students should be able to:

  1. identify major elements of the publishing industry involving the development, production, marketing, and distribution of science books and peer-review journals
  2. relate book and journal publishing to fundamental themes in science communication and STS
  3. describe major recent changes in the industry – e.g., open access, print-on-demand, automated translations, and tablet reading – and discuss possible impacts
  4. describe entry-level positions and career trajectories available within the industry
  5. reflect on how they might best become involved in the industry and later improve science communication overall
  6. develop practical projects, including a book proposal and a product pitch, suitable for submission

Module plan

Student responsibilities in this module involve three components: in-class sessions, assessed projects, and independent learning.

In-class sessions

This module has twenty one-hour in-class sessions, including:

  • face-to-face sessions: We meet on UCL Bloomsbury campus. Rooms are assigned on the UCL Common Timetable:
    <tinyurl.com/time0044>
    In the 2022 session, COVID will constrain our ability to meet face-to-face. Look for adaptations and substitutions. We must put safety first.
  • online sessions: We use Zoom for these sessions; links are on the Moodle page:
    <tinyurl.com/moodle0044>

Each week is themed. Instructions will be provided for each individual session. Look on Moodle. The aim is to post all materials for a week’s activities by Thursday noon of the preceding week.

Students will be expected to complete all required activities prior to the indicated session. Supplemental activities also will be provided as appropriate. Supplemental activities are optional and need not be completed prior to the indicated session. The purpose of supplemental material is to enhance and broaden engagement with a topic for those who seek it. This could assist with elements of the assessment. It also simply adds to the general learning aims for the module. Students also are encouraged to add supplemental materials of their own selection. Introduce these to the Moodle Forum.

Assessed projects

Assessment focuses on one project, produced through individual work, and consists of three pieces of coursework. In brief, the project requires students to develop, produce, market, and plan for the distribution of a book of their own design, within certain constraints. Criteria for assessment will be posted on the Moodle site and will be discussed in class well in advance of the deadline.

The required coursework includes:

  1. preliminary book proposal (20% – 1500 words) – The aim is to produce an initial prospectus for their project, sketching the plan for content and market
  2. presentation (20% – 5 minutes) – The aim is to pitch a proposal to a commissioning editor: convince them to add your book to their List
  3. full book proposal (60% – 3000 words) – The aim is to produce a viable book proposal suitable for submission to a professional publisher. This will speak to key elements of publishing, including development, production, marketing, and distribution. By design, the full proposal will include revised elements of the draft proposal.

Importantly, coursework develops a proposal, not an actual book. Thus, students will be allowed a certain degree of creative licence in their efforts, provided this is accompanied by supportive research and justification. Proposal writing is a form of speculative development that is common in non-fiction publishing.

Independent learning

As with all HPSC modules, HPSC0044 expects students to dedicate no fewer than 60 hours during the term, approximately 6 hours per week, to independent study and skill development towards module objectives. 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. Or, a fair number of podcasts are available relating to the publishing industry and its many parts. Publishing also requires a wide range of technical skills, such as use of Excel or InDesign, and self-guided training is available through LinkedIn Learning, for which UCL holds a subscription. Students are expected to show initiative with self-development. This is expected of all professionals.

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.

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