Towards a Productive Assessment Practice

Towards a
Assessment and the Expanded Text Consortium
Higher Education Funding Council for England
Fund for the Development of Teaching and Learning
Aims and Outputs
Towards a Productive Assessment Practice is a series of four case studies designed to help staff make
Student centred
Pedagogically useful
Appropriate for subject review students achieve their full potential.
Project Team
Lead Site:
University of Northumbria at Newcastle
Dr Philip O’Neill, Dr Rebecca Johnson
Staffordshire University
Dr Siobhán Holland, Dr Aidan Arrowsmith
Sheffield Hallam University
Ian Baker, Phil Bannister
University of East Anglia
Julia Bell
Prof. Christopher Bailey (University of Northumbria)
David Baume (FDTL co-ordinator)
Jon Cook (University of East Anglia)
Prof. Geoffrey Doherty
Dr Jeremy Gregory (University of Northumbria)
Prof. David Punter (University of Stirling)
Prof. Shaun Richards (Staffordshire University)
Prof. Roger Sales (University of East Anglia)
Dr Kay Sambell (University of Northumbria)
Prof. Judy Simons (De Montford University)
Prof. Roger Webster (Liverpool John Moores University)
Further Information
Dr Philip O’Neill, Project Director
Tel: 0191 227 4995 Email: [email protected] Fax: 0191 227 4630
School of Humanities, Lipman Building,
University of Northumbria, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 8ST.
How to
Cook a Book
Written for the consortium team by Julia Bell and Julian Jackson
(University of East Anglia)
© University of Northumbria at Newcastle 2000
Published by:
Assessment and the Expanded Text,
School of Humanities,
University of Northumbria
Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 8ST
How to Cook a Book
ISBN: 1-86135-078-3
Text editor: Rebecca Johnson
Copy editor: Publications Office, University of Northumbria
Designed and produced by the Department of External Relations DER: 2163HCA/5/00J
Project mission statement
In-house publishing initiative (<texts>)
i) Impact on students
ii) Interview with tutor
iii) Recording the process
Going Public, Getting Published: student guide
Publishing course
i) Introduction
ii) Design – example of student work
iii) Production
iv) Editing
v) Evaluation
vi) Marketing
vii) Distribution
viii) Evaluation
Final Project
i) Sample student work
ii) Assessment criteria
Impact on students
Further references
About the authors
i) House style: Tindal Street Press
ii) Copy text: ‘Girlfriend’ by Gemma Blackshaw (Sample)
Project mission statement
he Assessment and the Expanded Text Consortium is a project directed by the
English division at the University of Northumbria. It involves collaborating
with colleagues who teach English courses at Sheffield Hallam University,
Staffordshire University and the University of East Anglia.
We came together three years ago to build on existing relations between our various
institutions, relations which often developed from the role of the external examiner
and as a result of the Teaching Quality Assessment visits to our various
departments in 1994/5.
We recognized from the very beginning that our work on assessment in English was
particularly timely, given the changes in the English curriculum identified in the
Council for College and University English’s report to the QAA (CCUE/QAA:
1997). Our focus on the expanded text was our recognition that the traditional
curriculum had expanded to include, amongst other topics and subjects, aspects of
cultural studies, literary theory and creative writing.
We wished to take the opportunity to clarify the role of assessment in our teaching
and integrate it much more with student learning. This was often not so much a
return to first principles, but rather a learning process which required us to be more
explicit about our implicit expectations in the assessment of student work.
The result was four case studies in productive assessment practices for both
traditional and newer areas of the curriculum.
Our case studies are designed for use by the tutor who wants to change and develop
assessment practice to improve student learning. Each one aims to clarify what
makes a successful match between the learning promoted by a diverse range of
approaches to literary study and the assessment practices used.
Our selection was made carefully and, in many respects, was embedded in the
findings of the English subject review exercise of 1994/5. For the first time, the
subject community was asked to explain why it assessed in the way it did, and to
evaluate the quality of that practice in relation to student learning. We determined,
therefore, to be as explicit as possible in our assessment procedures and to identify
and develop assessment practices which made student learning a central theme.
Since then, the Quality Assurance Agency has taken over the process of subject
review and the assessment for learning agenda is even more clearly centre stage.
New impetus is also filtering in from other initiatives.
The recent draft statement on benchmarking standards for English (CCUE/QAA:
1999), for example, identifies critical reading, engagement and self awareness as the
key characteristics of an English degree. While these outcomes may be reached by a
variety of routes, the benchmarking document simultaneously states that:
‘assessment inheres in and informs the learning process: it is formative and
diagnostic as well as summative and evaluative, and the process should provide
students with constructive feedback.’
It is clear that this benchmarking document both supports and defends our agenda
and that assessment continues to be an important issue for the subject. It is both an
interesting and contested area, requiring imminent clarification and resolution if we
are to match exciting developments in the curriculum with evolving assessment
practices which further student learning.
All the case studies in the Towards a Productive Assessment Practice series are
designed to guarantee that:
assessment enhances the process of student learning
the purpose of assessment is clearly understood by students
effective feedback is an essential part of the assessment and learning process
assessment methods arise out of the specific learning objectives of the discipline
thinking about assessment can contribute to good teaching practice
a well-balanced programme of assessment comprises a combination of the
traditional and the innovative, the formative and the summative
assessment processes are equitable and transparent, and encourage active
involvement on the part of learners.
Increasingly, colleagues teaching English become involved in paper trails, (more
accurately paper chases), teaching larger and larger groups of students and
simultaneously finding themselves, and their work, more and more accountable to
an increasing range of academic and administrative managers.
The material produced by the project is directed at these colleagues. From the
beginning, it was agreed that each guide would contain: an introduction showing
the relevance of the individual case study to the overall project mission statement;
a narrative of the assessment method in practice; details of impact on staff and
students and appendices containing examples of any materials handed out by tutors
to students or example of student work. Within these guidelines, the authors were
given the freedom to develop their case studies in their own way. All the material
included has been tried and tested by various staff, working in a variety of
conditions, to various student constituencies.
If you would like to cut and paste our examples, to adapt them for your own
individual contexts, you might wish to access the project’s Web page at All four case studies can be downloaded as
PDF files, and some of the materials for students are viewable as Web documents.
The site also includes a sample demo of computer assisted learning for assessment.
Furthermore, there is a searchable collection of other productive assessment
practices which have been collected from across the higher education English
subject community.
his case study details our experience of, and assesses the learning gained in,
making the practice and production of the text available to a wide range of
students within the School of English and American Studies at the University of
East Anglia (UEA).
The School of English and American Studies at UEA has a reputation, unparalleled
by other universities, for attracting students of the highest calibre to its writing
courses at both postgraduate and undergraduate level. The MA course, started by
Malcolm Bradbury in 1971, has produced many notable prizewinning authors. The
culture of creative writing within the university is also further embedded into the
English curriculum at undergraduate level.
Creative Writing is offered as an option to students on all courses within the
university and also, as a more specialised subject, to students on the BA in English
Literature and Creative Writing. The students on these various courses produce a
great deal of writing, but this work is only ever disseminated within the context of
the creative writing workshop. The idea of offering a course that focused on the
production of a text, was that it would compliment and expand the work being
done in the creative writing workshops. We decided that students would experience
editorial, rather than critical roles towards the work of their peers, and would learn
how to manage the production of a text from manuscript to finished product.
A concentration on the
practice and production
of text was an appropriate
proposition for the
Assessment and the
Expanded Text project for
two reasons. Firstly, the
high levels of literacy and
presentation which a
publishing project demands
are transferable skills
which we felt could benefit
students in all areas of their
degree, as well as equip
them for both life-long
learning and employment.
Secondly, asking students
to produce their own
publishing project was an
example of the type of
active learning we were
looking to foster and
reward. It was student
centred and pedagogically
There were two phases to the creation of our publishing course. Firstly, there was
the creation of a mock publishing house for the creative writing students and the
subsequent publication of their work in the <texts> series. Secondly, we wrote
How to Cook a Book, a student guide to publishing work, which could be used by
both creative writers and those completing a publishing project for the new unit.
In-house publishing initiative
‘We started out publishing ourselves. That’s how good writers emerge, publishing
each other.’ (Michelle Roberts)
he <texts> publishing house publishes work by students and staff. In most
cases the pieces are designed and produced by the writers themselves. The
editorial choices about who and what is published are made by a loose editorial
board of the creative writing staff at UEA, and to date ten books have been
published, with two more to come. Over sixty students have been involved with the
<texts> series, either through production, marketing or contributing work. The
most popular book, Lava, which was an anthology of six pieces of student work,
edited by creative writing tutor Anna Garry, was on the Waterstone’s bestseller list
at the University of East Anglia. Students were working with us quite freely, for
example the students who edited the Sex <text>, did this over their summer
holidays with some help from the team, but ultimately they were entirely
responsible for the content of the book. We wanted to give each author as much
responsibility for his or her text as possible. We also evaluated the experience to
determine what kinds of things would be needed on a publishing course that
followed this model. The process generated materials and examples – which we
later used in the course (and archived on the Web and elsewhere) – and a buzz of
expectation. An important output of this experiment was the guide, How to Cook a
Book, which we also embedded into the course. We set up templates for the books
in Quark Xpress, and replicated the ‘house style’ of Tindal Street Press (a small
Birmingham co-operative press).
Impact on students
Interviews conducted last year amongst creative writing students, to determine
whether there was a demand for a publishing course, as well the <text> initiative,
suggested that students wanted to experience a production and practice approach to
literature. When asked what such a course would offer they replied:
‘A greater understanding of the process of the production of the text from pen to page.
Because I don’t have much insight into publishing, I think that anything connected
with writing is beneficial.’
‘To see that you’ve produced, as part of the course, in print, and to be involved in
that process, is invaluable to the learning experience.’
Interview with tutor
Anna Garry teaches creative writing at the University of East Anglia and edited
Lava, <text 8>, an anthology selection of undergraduate stories. The submissions
were ‘blind’ so there were no names attached to the manuscripts. A transcript of an
interview which took place to evaluate Anna’s experience of editing is reproduced
below. This highlights some of the issues which arise for tutors who edit, as well as
assess, their students’ work.
Q. How did you feel about the process of editing Lava, did you find it was different
from marking undergraduate work?
‘Yes it was very different in the sense that I was looking at the fiction purely for
fiction, if that makes any sense, whereas often when you’re marking stories you have
a connection with the students. Of course, I did think about the writers, being a
writer myself, but my responsibility as a teacher wasn’t there. I was being an editor.
I was thinking in terms of the final product, something that lots of people were going
to read, not just something between the student and the teacher.’
Q. So you would not say that you look at student work in the same way when you
assess it?
‘No, I think about their work in terms of their development as a writer, as a
technical relationship.’
Q. So ‘publishability’ is not part of your criteria when you assess work?
‘Well obviously it isn’t the first thing I think, because we wouldn’t be teaching if we
did that. I think, basically, if we used that as our only assessment criteria we would
be saying that some of you are publishable and the rest of you are no good. I think at
the end of a class a student can be a competent writer, but they might not have found
that extra spark to make them publishable. I think publication depends on what you
actually choose to write about to demonstrate your skills.’
Q. So how do you feel that publication fits into the assessment culture at UEA?
‘I think it is interesting because it takes students that further step forward. It gives
people the possibility of a bigger readership. Basically, there are a number of stages
that a writer goes through: you write alone, you show it to your friends, you go to a
class, you start showing your work around. And then there is a whole range of things
you can do with your work when it’s done: read it aloud, publish it, photocopy it etc..
I think our role is about diversity and the development of creativity, so what the
project is doing is exciting, because it’s creating an energetic environment that is
catering for lots of student needs. Which inspires people to work harder. I have a
problem with publishing too much mind, the anarchist idea of ‘let’s publish
everything as a kind of anti-publishing idea’, because I think you lose a sense of
standards. For example, there was an anthology published in Manchester by Irish
writers and there was a sense of “oh poor minority group, let’s give them a space to
say something”, and there was no editorial control, it was patronising. I think what
is good about this, because it has been set up so professionally, to mirror a
professional experience, is it makes it possible for the students to take themselves
seriously at a young age. It is an achievement for them and for us.’
Q. So how did you feel about the experience of editing the anthology? Did you feel
it extended your experience as a writer and a teacher?
‘Yes it was interesting to be on the other end of the process. It made me think about
how you choose what is publishable, and “what will my colleagues think of my
choices?” It put me “on the line” too, in as much as I knew I would be judged on it
just as much as the students. It was partly why I wanted to do it, because I had to
make public my choices and allow myself to be judged on them. It was a challenge to
write the introduction too, I had to ask myself what it was that made them work and
articulate that. The ones that I rejected had not got any depth, or risk, or range.
The book seemed to come together organically from the submissions. I deliberately
wasn’t looking for a theme because I was quite interested to see what came back. It
was exciting to see what they thought was publishable in their submissions.’
Q. A lot of these pieces, as we know, were written for final assessment, so it is quite
interesting to see that we are actually producing writing from the undergraduate
courses that we think is publishable; so that the standards that we are setting in our
assessment criteria, and in our teaching, are actually helping people jump that ‘gap’
from writing to publishing. Do you think that is true?
‘Well all the stories I chose have got first class marks from their tutors, so yes, but I
think in our teaching we want to get them to learn some specific things, good practice
in writing etc.. I like our assessment criteria, because they are broad enough to allow
for lots of different creative voices to develop. That’s our big strength, I think and you
can see it reflected in the book.’
Recording the process
The booklet, How to Cook a Book: Going Public Getting Published, was produced as
a direct result of the experience that we gained from producing <texts>. It
became a ‘thumbnail guide’ to the processes we were introducing the students to.
One of the main purposes of the publishing course was to allow the students access
to a process that they could see happening around them. Another was to expand
their understanding of the production and editorial processes of publishing books.
The booklet was a distillation of the activity that we were engaging in, and offered a
quick checklist of the main components of the process.
These ingredients can obviously vary, but this is a good solid recipe for a basic
Content: What do you want to publish?
What and why you want to print should dictate how you decide to publish. Is it
text? Text and images? Text as images? Is it colour? Black and white?
How are you going to get the text? Is it ready already? Do you need to advertise for
submissions? Do you need an editorial board? If you are going to advertise for
submissions who is your target market? Students? Children? The general public?
Are you going to sell it? Or will it be free? (If you are going to sell it, the printing
and production costs can be higher than if you’re giving it away for free.) Are there
going to be restrictions on word-length or subject material? For example, in our
anthology, Lava, we asked for submissions of between 2,000 and 5,000 words. We
chose six pieces in all, amounting to 90 pages, with roughly 200 words per page.
Deciding on length is vital at this stage, as it will dictate costs later on.
Remember to allow for readability when calculating your desired length. Squashed
text will be unreadable, too much white space, scrappy, too large and it will run to
hundreds of pages. Look at other publications for ideas.
This is the planning stage of your publication. It might be useful at this point to
make a time-scale sheet, so you know exactly how long you have to put the book
together. A traditional book publication (about 250 pages) takes about six months
from conception to publication. A small pamphlet (like this one) can be done in a
couple of days.
Equip: Do you need to equip yourself?
To publish, all you need is a typewriter and access to a photocopier. Some students
have produced books by gluing, sticking and photocopying. For more formal
publications you will need access to a computer with desktop publishing (DTP)
software, for example, QuarkXpress, Pagemaker, Microsoft Word, Claris Works
etc. – any software that allows you to manipulate the layout of the words on the
page. Coupled with that, image-editing software like Photoshop or Illustrator is
useful for cover designs and images, and access to a scanner can prove useful for
importing images and text.
This is probably one of the major costs of publishing. But a computer with DTP
capability need not be that expensive. (For example you can buy a second-hand
Macintosh computer with DTP facilities for under £500.) Also you may well find
plenty of people with computers that have these facilities that aren’t being utilised.
Any PC running Windows ’95 can cope with basic DTP software.
Using the software isn’t as complicated as it may seem. If you can use a basic word
processing package then you will already have some of the skills needed to use DTP
Alternatively, we did an anthology of work at Birmingham University by
photocopying the student typescripts to make a fanzine.
Cost: How much will it cost?
The cost of your book will depend on what you want to produce. A booklet like
this one, with a card cover, costs about 30p a copy if you print more than twenty of
them. For a book of 250 pages with a full-colour cover, you are looking at paying
about £2,500 for a print run of 1,000.
Our <texts> series – small books of 12.5 x 16cm – are cheaper because we are
only doing small print runs of 250 copies. Our printer charges £450 per print run,
which is a discounted price because we’re printing four books together (it is £1,800
for a print run of four). To print one book on its own would normally cost £550.
The major cost in printing is the paper and the colour processing of the covers. If
you’re on a tight budget, a duotone cover (black and white and one colour) will
significantly reduce your costs.
Recycled paper is often cheaper than dense, top-grade paper. Also, books cost less
per copy the more you print, so if you think you can sell them, print runs of over
1,000 are more likely to allow you to make a profit, or at least, cover your costs.
To produce 1,000 copies of a standard paperback book of 250 pages you will need
around £3,000 and some equipment to produce it. For a small pamphlet of poetry,
or a single short story, £50 will be enough.
Sourcing the funding for your project is obviously the biggest headache of all, but
there is money around for publishing projects. Try your Regional Arts Board,
Lottery Grants, or approach local businesses for sponsorship. Do you have a local
paper? They may be able to help with printing. Or you could sell advertising space.
You may want to invest some of your own money if you are sure you are going to
sell the end-product. Don’t be too ambitious, work to a budget you are sure you
can manage. Our printer (Biddles Ltd) specialises in small, cheap print runs – shop
around for a printer who will work to your requirements.
All of this is assuming you are going to have negligible labour costs (that you’re
giving up your own free time to produce the book). If you include paying for
editing, layout and designing, your costs will become too high to manage on a small
print run. To cover these costs, and make a profit, you will need to print and sell
over 3,000 copies at, at least £7 each.
Style: What do you want your book to look like?
Are you publishing one book or a series of books? If it’s the former, then you need
to ensure consistency throughout the text in terms of grammar, layout, pagination
etc.. If it’s a series, then you will find that you’ll need certain design consistencies,
usually called the ‘house style’. Style sheets allow you to double check every
publication for things such as spaces after full stops, protocol for commas and full
stops and a font that suits your requirements.
For example we use Futura Book which looks like this:
This is Futura Book
Faber and Faber use Palatino:
This is not a Faber and Faber Book
There are lots of different styles to choose from – you will want something which
reflects the content and potential market of your publication.
Here are some more examples:
These are just a few of the thousands you can buy. Something which is easy to read
is always a good idea.
Edit: How are you going to choose and correct the work?
Editing a text is a personal choice about content, grammar, style and audience. The
editorial process involves allowing for proofreading and copy editing (unless you
don’t care about such things), to ensure that the text is clean. Decisions about
spelling – American or UK, or intentional mis-spellings – need to be decided,
however pedantic or petty they may seem.
An editor should control the actual content of the book, deciding on what gets
published and where. If you have a book of short stories for example, what order
will they be in?
You may want to employ a copy editor at this point, someone who will check your
manuscript for inconsistencies and grammar and help you stick to your house style.
Check out the example below, taken from a student typescript. How many mistakes
can you spot?
I’ve been mentally ill and socially introverted, selectively paranoid, although I’m
not sure how selective I was. I just loathed everybody for a while. I’ve had a
persecution complex, have suffered catatonic episodes and was diagnosed mildly
schizophrenic. I had hallucinations without drugs, (I’ve had halluciniations with
drugs, but believe me this was far worse). Rooms moved, walls shovelling their
way towards me. Even water stopped flowing once as I stood on a bridge over
the seine, as it happens looking at the river. Beneath me the water slid to a
chocolate meringue, fixed coffee halt. I wanted to jump into it because it looked
so comfortable. Beneath me the water slid to a chocolate meringue, fixed coffee
halt. I wanted to jump into it because it looked so comfortable. On to the
hideoussness of sitting in a doctors waiting room noticing this man’s nose start
to grow slowly out from his face in spooky little stops and starts until it reached
a rather ridiculous optimum size.. I blinked and it didn’t change. I would have
almost been happier if it had suddenly snapped back into place. I had to close
my eyes for a good few minutes to make it go away
Design: What do want your book to look like?
At this stage you may want to find some designers, or if you’re doing it yourself, to
decide what you want the whole book to look like. Cover design is all important if
you’re aiming your publication at the bookshops. You’ll want it to stand out, look
professional, have a desirable ‘feel’. We use a matt laminate on our covers to give
them a silky, tactile quality – it makes people want to pick them up and handle
them. At this point it’s useful to try and visualise your book as a three-dimensional
object, not just two-dimensional images and text.
How big will your book be? Will it be a paperback? A hardback? A magazine? Will
it be perfect-bound or stapled? Will your cover be full-colour, duotone or black and
You will want to choose a printer who suits your requirements too. With 1,000
copies of a 250 page book, with a full-colour cover, you will need to use litho
printing. For pamphlets or booklets, photocopiers or design and print shops can
cope with small print runs.
How your text looks on the page will be crucial to its readability, how the cover
looks, to its potential sales. Point sizes and line spaces are vital. Look at these
This is too small.
These lines are too close together
These lines are too close together
These are too far apart
These are too far apart
Consistency in your story headings and page numbers is vital too – choose a font
and a size that will match the body-style of your text.
Also, you might want to choose the paper you are going to use to print the books
(any publisher will send you a set of stock samples). Brilliant white paper makes
text hard to read and can make the overall effect quite cheap. Off-white or recycled
paper often looks much better.
Tweak: Are you happy with what you’ve got?
At this stage in the production you may want another opinion on your book. If
you’ve been looking at it for weeks it might be hard to see any mistakes in it. Pass it
around your friends for an opinion, get feedback on the cover design and the
layout. Once the book has gone to the printer it will be too late to change anything.
If you’re not happy with something, however trivial, it’s always a good idea to
double check it. ‘Tweaking’ your cover and your layout will ensure that you get
what you want.
Proof: Is it perfect?
This is the last stage of the production process. Proofreading is boring, labourintensive work. You need to read through the text to ensure that there aren’t any
mistakes that have been missed at an earlier stage. Is it 100 per cent? Are you sure?
Are you happy with it? It might be useful to look at a book about proofreading and
copy editing to familiarise yourself with the short-hand symbols that professional
editors use.
This is a paragraph from one of our <texts>. It has already been copy edited, but
it needs proofreading. Can you spot any mistakes?
On Saturday 23 September 1988, I woke early unable to sleep with the
knowledge that in twenty four hours I would board a plane at Dayton
International Airport, the first of three all in the same day and make my way to
Coleraine, Northern Ireland. It was also the dawn of the equinox and the
morning of my twenty first birthday.
I dressed in cut off blue sweats like knee-length surfer pants, thick white
cotton socks, and brand new Timberland hiking boots, half leather half Gortex,
a perfect fit at $150. On top I wore my two sizes to big Ocean Pacific beach shirt
(white with little wave symbols tumbling all around), Bee Gee hair and beard
and black plastic glasses with clear circle lenses. Wondering if I’d get a watch, I
stepped into the kitchen.
‘Morning, Mom.’
‘Morning, son, and happy birthday.’
‘Thanks, Mom.’
‘Here’s a card.’ She had her teeth in but wasn’t wearing her glasses yet.
Standing big and warm in her night-shirt and housecoat she was making coffee
in the little but spotless kitchen.
Of course there are always going to be mistakes in your book – there are in the
books in Waterstone’s – but to make something both satisfying and professional,
attention to the detail of the text is vital.
Print: Who will print my book?
There are different types of printers for different types of print jobs. For a big print
run you will want to use a litho printer who will print onto rolls of paper. With a
small print run something such as DochuTech is a brilliant development for small
publishers. Basically, it means that pages are photocopied (at a very high resolution)
rather than printed – making it as easy to print one book as it is to print a hundred.
We use DochuTech for our <texts>, which means we can keep our costs low.
When you send your text and images to the printer it is vital that you remember to
include a disk with all your images and fonts, as well as a hard copy of your cover
and contents, so that the printer has something to refer to in the printing process.
Make sure to include clear details of what paper you want and what laminate you
want on the cover etc. Most printers will help you choose and will provide samples
and details of how to send your work to them. Remember to choose a printer you
like and one you feel will do a good job for you. Ask for samples of other work
they have done, so you can see what kinds of books they do – an odd size or a
complicated cover might need specialised equipment. If you get the book back, and
you’re not happy with the job, yet you’re sure it’s not your fault, the printer is
legally obliged to reprint the run for you.
When you plan your publication, you will need to allow at least a month for your
printer to turn your book around. It is also a good idea to book your slot with the
printers a few weeks ahead of delivery, so you get your book back in time.
Publish: What do I do now?
Now that you’ve got your books back, they look lovely and you’re really happy
with them, you’ll want to sell them. How are you going to distribute your book?
You might want to use a distribution agency, and for this you will need an ISBN
number (International Standard Book Numbering) which will register your book in
the British Library Catalogues and allow bookshops to look your book up on their
computers. A distribution agency is only useful for print runs of around 1,000.
They will take 45 per cent of your cover price, but will ensure that your book goes
to bookshops nationwide. They will expect you to submit an advance information
sheet at least three months before publication, with a cover image for their
catalogues, to show that you are chasing some national publicity. Turnaround
Distribution Agency, based in London, are specialists in dealing with one-off
print runs and small publishers. (This kind of service will eat into your profit
margins though!)
Publicity is really a question of try and try again. To promote your book to the
national review pages is a question of sending out a press release, following that
with a phone call and then, if you get some interest, a copy of your book. Don’t
waste precious copies on people who are only going to leave them lying around the
office. Who do you know? Who do your friends know? Lean on any contacts you
might have for publicity. Newspapers rely on people to make stories for them, so
remember to write a press release that has some ‘story’ base – something that can be
cannibalised to make a good article in the papers.
Organise a book launch and a reading. Invite the local papers, get someone to take
pictures. Your book will sell best in its local environment first – don’t expect to get
national sales straight away.
One successful publication is likely to lead to others, so ensure that there’s a market
for what you’re doing before you print thousands of copies.
The publishing course
ur primary aim was to offer a publishing course to undergraduates, in the
context of the culture that had been created by the publication of the
<texts>. The course was offered to creative writing and literature students only
because the demand for places was so high. The take-up on the course was over one
hundred students for fourteeen places, which then rose to sixteen, and we had to
find a fair way of restricting access. We were happy for this to be a multidisciplinary
class, because, although we were using some of the principles of creative writing in
the teaching, we felt that the skills that were being offered were applicable to
creative and critical processes. To make the course effective we felt we needed to
focus on the more abstract critical skills of editing, designing and project
Although the initial idea was to provide creative writers with opportunities to
develop their understanding of the production and practice of texts, in order to
improve their creative writing, the course was never for them alone. Here was an
opportunity to embed practices traditionally associated with creative writers into a
multidisciplinary arts curriculum, in ways which made those specialised skills
accessible and useful to literature students too. And in practise this is what has
happened. We have been very influenced by Rebecca O’Rourke’s study at Leeds on
using creative writing strategies within English teaching (O’Rourke, 1997). What
we are doing which is different to Rebecca O’Rourke is that, where she was
embedding workshop behaviour and practice writing into a course of Canadian
Fiction (i.e. creative writing pedagogy), we were taking a different focus – the
practice and production of the text. We do not require these students to write
creatively in their projects, which is why the course can bridge the creative writing –
critical gap.
The course was structured around one two-hour seminar every week, with the
expectation that at least two hours a week would be spent becoming familiar with
the technology. Special training sessions were timetabled to allow for this. The
course ran to the twelve week structure briefly outlined below. The main parts of
the course were the editing and designing components. Students completed these
tasks alongside the work that they were producing for their final projects.
Assessment for the course was as follows: 30 per cent based on a redesigning
exercise; 70 per cent based on a portfolio of materials and/or finished products with
a progress report or diary evaluating the process. Students were encouraged to
reflect upon the problems they encountered and their own role within the structure
of the publication.
Introduction (Week 1)
The focus of this first session is to introduce the class to the course and its
assessment, and to clarify the purpose and function of the design exercise which
comprises 30 per cent of their final mark. This assessed piece of work is due in at
the end of week 4.
Task 1
At the end of the session students are asked to bring a book design they like to
the next week’s class.
They consider it as an object, rather than just as text. Conversely, we also
wanted to see something that they considered to be poor, both in design and
Task 2
Students are asked to redesign the cover of the book that they dislike, producing
a mock-up cover spread and a justification for their design choices. They are also
asked to provide an appraisal of a book that they consider to be an example of
good practice. To help them, tutors outline the requirements for the first piece
of assessed work.
Design (Week 2)
Using the students’ examples from week 1 as a starting point for discussion, this
class aims to cover the basic elements of design. Students and tutors examine font
usage, layouts, cover images and style in relation to a reader’s first impressions of
the content and readability of the book.
To come up with a project brief for their portfolio, to be discussed in class the
following week.
This year, in-class discussion was generated around the critical elements of design.
The Penguin Classics and Wordsworth Classics series were taken as examples. Why
put a piece of art on the cover of something that is a ‘Classic’? What is the design
trying to say? Who are the implied readership? One student noted that book designs
brand the idea of Literature, like ‘baked bean tins’.
In the design seminar, the students also considered the influence of the first Penguin
paperbacks and the advent of cheap paperback books. They considered how this
had affected our idea of Literature.
We then asked them to consider how their ‘redesign’ repackaged the book they had
chosen. It was interesting to note that many of them chose books that they had
studied for their Literature courses.
To give the students a working knowledge of the design software available, we
decided to provide three two-hour computer training slots. However, from the
outset we stressed that they were not going to be graded for their expertise in
Quark Xpress. We told them that if they did have software problems they should
design the work manually, and hand in any plans and drawings of what they were
planning to do. However, proof that Quark Xpress can be mastered through a good
read of the manual and some concentrated work is The Bedside Book of Panic (See
page 27, Final Project: Sample Student Work). This was designed by Louisa Pini,
who had no prior knowledge of any desktop publishing software.
Outside class, the students complete their own assessed design exercise. We devised
quite distinct criteria for this exercise, which had to include:
reproductions of the books being redesigned/discussed
a redesigned cover
redesigned signature pages and first/sample page layout
justifications for the drafting process/design decisions
discussion of an effectively-designed book (500 words minimum)
discussion of the book to be redesigned (500 words minimum).
Completing these design exercises requires the students to consider the image of the
book, how it fits into an historical idea of Literature and how, in the age of big
book shops and internet sales, what is on the cover often becomes more important
than what is in the book. The purpose of these in-class and assessed design exercises
are twofold. Firstly, they help to give content to the computer training sessions that
are offered alongside the course – the tasks give the students something to work on.
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, they require the students to justify their
Students responded well to the exercises. Mo Herdman’s redesign of William
Empson’s Seven Types of Ambiguity was a good example of what we were looking
for. She took a very old, dusty, Penguin version of the text and repackaged it
using an old typewriter font. She did something simple, well within her abilities
with the technology, and more importantly, she had really thought about the
context and content of the book. She then justified her decision by arguing that
Empson’s work should be considered as a critical classic, and as such she intended
her design to be part of a series that could include Northrop Frye, Coleridge, and
Spenser among others.
Another excellent piece of work was James Goffin’s assessment and redesign of
Martin Amis’ Money. His assessment of the way in which the original version
skewed the presentation of the text and his justifications for his elegant redesign
was exactly the kind of self-conscious, investigative work we were hoping for.
Example of Student Work
Production (Week 3)
The aspect of production we chose to focus on in week 3 was the management of a
publication, including the importance of scheduling and flowcharts. This session is
also the students’ first opportunity to present their ideas for publication projects to
their peers. The meeting is a chance for them to decide on the publications they
want to work on, and to put into practise the management skills which are the
focus of the first part of the session. We made tutorial time available for the
discussion of these projects, expecting them to be finalised by week 4.
Each member of the class is given four short stories that have been previously
published in either <texts> or Pretext, the University of East Anglia’s literary
journal (Bell, 1999). They are asked to read them and consider which one they
would choose to publish. The stories are given out unassigned, with no author’s
name on the manuscript, to prevent against a prejudicial reading of the text.
Bradford, R. (1999) ‘Skipper Ned’ in <text 9> , University of East Anglia:
EAS Publishing.
Smith, R. (1999) ‘Ringers’ in Hard Shoulder, Birmingham: Tindal Street Press.
Blackshaw, G. ‘Girlfriend’ (unpublished short story).
Almond, D. (1999) ‘Middle of the World’ in Pretext, University of East Anglia:
EAS Publishing.
This part of the course is designed to extend and comment on the practice that
takes place in creative writing workshops, where work is submitted for review and
discussion. It asks students to participate in the publication culture around them,
and to be critical of a tutor’s editorial choices.
This is the students’ opportunity to have an opinion and to justify it. Attention to
copy editing, paragraphing, grammar, layout and style are skills most of them have
not encountered before. One student quite delightedly informed us that they could
now use these skills in their essay-writing, as they had been marked down before for
poor presentation of work. In one seminar we generated a lively debate on
standards in publishing, with students bringing in books they had found with
mistakes in them. In one instance from E. Annie Proulx there was a ‘though’ on the
first page which should have been ‘through’. This completely changed the meaning
of the whole paragraph.
All our seminars set out to engage the students in the editing process. We want our
students to consider, not just the pressures that impact upon editorial choices, but
how a text should be rendered for the page. In the first session, students are given
four pieces of work that have already been published by their tutor (Julia Bell) in
Pretext, Hard Shoulder (a collection of stories from Birmingham publishers Tindal
Street Press) and the <texts> series. The work is handed over ‘blind’ and the
students are asked to consider each story on its merit and consider it for
publication. The following week students are asked to consider themselves as a
publishing house and to choose, by consensus, one story to publish. This generates
a heated debate in the class, not only about the functions and purposes of an
editorial role, but also about what it means to consider a text to be publishable.
Interestingly, in the end the students decided on something that was not their
favourite but which they considered would sell.
The second session on editing focuses the students’ minds on copy editing and
preparing a text for publication. On reflection, we would like to restructure this
part of the course. The tutors found themselves spending much of the session
recapping on basic English grammar (essential as good copy editing is dependent on
a firm understanding of the basic principles of English grammar). The students then
copy edit the piece they chose for publication. Although this works well in getting
them worried about whether or not they have got it ‘right’, we did not feel we spent
enough time discussing the nature of what was right and wrong. We used the Tindal
Street Press house style notes as a basis, but it would have been more productive to
get the students to consider and agree on their own house style after reading
through the work they were correcting. This is something we will factor into the
course next year, in order to get a more discursive approach to the idea of copy
editing and its function regarding the uniformity of textual representation.
Editorial 1 (Week 4)
This class takes the form of an editorial meeting, in which the students have to
make a case for the story they want to publish from the four they have been given.
Everyone is encouraged to validate their choices and a vote is taken to ‘green light’
the chosen piece and put it into production.
Tindal Street Press house style notes are handed out. We ask our students to
read these in order to familiarise themselves with copy editing practice.
Editorial 2 (Week 5)
To focus the students’ minds on the processes a manuscript has to go through to be
prepared for the printed page, we ask them to read Gemma Blackshaw’s
unpublished short story ‘Girlfriend’. The workshop task is to put this text into
paragraphs and to identify as many copy editing changes as possible, using the
Tindal Street Press house style notes as guidance for their decisions. We also use
the opportunity to highlight more basic grammatical terms.
Editorial 3 (Week 6)
In the week following the copy editing exercise, ‘Girlfriend’, is transferred to Quark
Xpress. The students are then asked to proofread the text they have copy edited the
week before. We attend to the basic proofreading symbols and discuss their useage
and meaning.
To prepare an evaluation report on the progress of their projects to bring to
class in Week 8.
Reading week (Week 7)
Evaluation meeting (Week 8)
In this session we ask our students to bring along and share any problems they are
having with their projects and/or to update the group on progress. The session is
also a chance for tutors to monitor progress and for the students to share ideas and
To bring a completed press release for their publication to class.
Marketing (Week 9)
In this session we look at publisher’s catalogues and consider their effectiveness in
presenting the lists the publishers are promoting. We also consider the planning and
implementation of a marketing strategy. Students are given a ‘classic’ text (Jane
Eyre, Middlemarch) and are asked to come up with a fifty-word ‘blurb’ on each
book. We also discuss their own marketing campaigns for their projects, including
national and local press, flyers, posters, Web marketing and readings.
To produce an advance information sheet for their imaginary distributor.
Distribution (Week 10)
In week 10, we ask the students to consider two questions: What is the
distributor’s role? How does a distribution network work? This focuses their
attention on the importance of distribution to the success of a publication.
Evaluation meeting (Week 11)
This is the last chance for the students to present a progress report on their projects
to the class. We discuss problems and solutions and give the class a chance to share
experiences. (In future years we hope to be able to invite a guest speaker from the
industry to talk in week 11 and hold the evaluation in week 12.)
Evaluation (Week 12)
As this is a new course, we used this class as a second chance for the students to
feedback to peers and tutor about what they had learned and the highs/lows of the
Final project
he main aim of the course is to enable students to create and reflect upon a
publishing project of their own making. We have specific qualities and skills in
mind which we want our students to learn from project work. Their publishing
project should include the following:
evidence of progression from project brief to completed work, including drafts
a commentary on the process, including justifications for decisions made
a clearly defined role – for marketing, design and editorial – within the project
analysis of the problems encountered and how they were tackled
justification of editorial content, design, layout, time management and
marketing strategy
a self-reflective conclusion, summarising what they had learned.
To this end, we ask our students to set themselves a project brief at the beginning of
term. Then, for their final assessment, we ask them to present the work produced
with a commentary that appraises their own success or failure in living up to their
original ideas. Each of them has to decide on their appointed role, especially within
the collaborative projects, and set out clearly and self-consciously what they have
learned from undertaking this role within the context of their projects. We use class
sessions to discuss the various roles the task invites them to perform: editing,
marketing, designing and management. Each student is expected to identify how
their role fits in with and overlaps these categories. As well as effective management
of time and resources, we are also looking for a design which is well-matched to its
content, and content that has a justification for being published.
In the final analysis, the projects were, for the most part, very impressive. Rachel
Crookes and Louisa Pini’s Bedside Book of Panic is a good example (see page 27,
Final Project: Sample Student work). That so much was produced in such a short
space of time was testament to good project management, as well as some good
ideas in gathering texts. Rachel, for example, gave her peers in a creative writing
class a hypochondria-based exercise to generate text for the book. Louisa’s design
was proof that you can learn Quark Xpress from scratch when you spend a bit of
time reading the manuals. The other projects that got good grades displayed a
similar coherence. Andrew Walker and Liam Slattery’s Website Retard Scolaire was
another good example of content that was coherently thought through and
intelligently matched to its design. ( A personal
critical voice comes through their on line articles on Freud, Chechnya, McDonalds,
and intertextuality. Overall, the best projects allowed the students to investigate
authority and express quite radical ideas and deconstructions.
Sample student work
Assessment criteria
Our criteria for both the design and the publication project were as follows:
All prerequisites present.
Strong evidence of personal/group investigation of the subject.
Clear evidence of drafting.
Clear and original presentation.
Good copy editing skills and/or a clear and effective marketing strategy and/or
a high standard of design work.
Evidence of creative problem solving in the progress report/diary.
Inconsistency in discussion/justification of drafting, editing or marketing.
Less convincing ideas/arguments.
Lack of originals or examples.
Confusion as to their role within the project.
Mistakes in the presentation.
A lack of conviction or confidence in their critical analysis.
Prerequisites not complete.
Work of a mediocre standard.
Large parts of work missing, e.g. no project brief included, failure to provide
drafts etc..
Major conceptual, content or design flaws, e.g. an impractical marketing
Little or no copy editing.
A brief and sketchy progress report, no evidence of creative problem solving
or teamwork.
Presentation of work lacks consistency.
No self-awareness of problems encountered/solved.
Work of a low standard.
Sloppy or short work with no evidence of involvement or teamwork.
Major prerequisites missing.
Lack of originality or creative response to the project.
Evidence of ‘eleventh-hour’ or rushed work.
Lack of involvement in approach, production and analysis.
No work.
In essence, we were looking for coherence, confidence, creativity and a lateral
approach to problem solving. The best pieces showed all these and more.
Impact on students
he response from the students has been very positive, and though there have
been problems, these were mainly to do with not getting equipment – i.e.
additional computers needed to run the course – on time.
Here are the highlights from the students’ self-assessment forms:
Teaching was informal but relevant.
I feel I have been taken inside the publishing process and have learned about
The computer, design and proofreading skills will be extremely valuable, a very
good course for practical skills.
The more vocational aspects of the course meant using skills and computers etc.
in a way that may well one day be useful in the ‘real world’ – a change from
the abstract study usually found in EAS!
I have learned a lot about the publishing industry and about what specific roles
are involved.
Very work-relevant – publishing and journalism skills. The proofreading and
editing skills also relate to essay writing.
It was clear from the beginning what we were working towards, and we did.
A nice, relaxed, but not silly, atmosphere.
The different exercises really gave a taste of all the roles involved in publishing.
I feel more competent.
Clear, useful, focused comments and suggestions on project work.
Very useful on practical and technical skills. Good emphasis on the world
outside academia.
he first class marks gained on this course were awarded in equal measure to
students taking predominantly creative and critical programmes of study.
Louisa Pini and Liam Slattery are straight Literature students. Some of the creative
writing students gained some of the lowest marks, so we feel that this course,
though using creative writing techniques, doesn’t depend on creative writing in
order to make it work. It is a course that is open to anyone who wants to
investigate the production of books.
We hope that, as this course becomes integrated into the School of English and
American Studies English programme, it will offer a challenging and rigorous
approach to notions of publishing and publishability, and that it will make students
self-conscious about the process of their work and inspire excellence in the work
that they produce. The feedback from the students has been very positive, from
saying that the copy editing gave them a headache, to the fact that they feel as if
they’ve really achieved something.
Seven of the students who took the course are now working on the next two
volumes in the <texts> series, If Not Love, an anthology edited by visiting writer
Ali Smith, and the Drugs <text>, a companion volume to the Sex <text>.
Further references
Butcher, J. (1992) Copy Editing. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Intended
for novice and experienced editors, this book covers all the processes of manuscript
handling, from author to pre-press. The author was formerly head of copy editing at
the C.U.P.
Feather, John (1988) A History of British Publishing, London and New York:
Fowler, H.W. and Burchfield, R. (eds.) (1998) The New Fowler’s Modern English
Usage, Oxford: Oxford University Press. Modernised third-edition of this classic
grammar/ syntax usage and abusage reference guide. More international and
conscious of the rapid changes in standard English and word creation than its
previous editions.
Goldberg, N. (1998) Writing Down the Bones, London: Shambhala Publications. An
internationally popular book covering practical and personal/psychological aspects
of creative writing. Its American-based author was internationally recognised after
this publication.
Hart, H. (1983) Hart’s Rules for Compositors and Readers at the University Press,
Oxford: Oxford University Press. A useful reference guide for editors and
Ritter, R. (ed). (2000) The Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors, Oxford:
Oxford University Press. Basically an in-depth exploration of the OUP house style
(formulated through the dictionary and academic titles departments).
Turner, B. (ed.) (1999) Writer’s Handbook: 2000., London: Pan/Macmillan. (1999)
Writers and Artist’s Yearbook 2000, London: A&C Black.
White, A. (1999) Type in Use: Effective Typography for Electronic Publishing, New
York: W.W. Norton & Company. A contemporary guide to the various elements
and reasoning of modern typography.
About the authors
Julia Bell is a freelance writer and editor based at the University of East Anglia.
Recent editorial projects include, The Creative Writing Coursebook (Macmillan
2001); Devolutionaries, New English Writing (Gollancz 2001); Hard Shoulder
(Tindal Street Press 1999) and the literary journal Pretext (UEA 2000). She is
currently completing her first novel.
Julian Jackson is a writer and artist based at the University of East Anglia, where he
is an assistant tutor on the publishing course and production manager of all the
project publications. Current projects include Pretext and First Reactions the new
UEA poetry anthology.
Thank you to Bill Bigge for technical support, Rebecca Johnson for advice and
feedback, Jon Cook for letting the project evolve and clutter up the department and
Val Striker for always finding an answer to the most insurmountable problems.
Thanks are also due to the following authors for allowing us to use their work.
Eroica Mildmay, David Allen Lambert, Gemma Blackshaw, Rachel Bradford, Rob
Smith, David Almond and Penny Rendall at Tindal Street Press.
Appendix (i)
Appendix (ii)