List building

This week in our editorial module we learned about building a list. Important things to consider when building a list are:

  • finding  an area
  • deciding on the book selection
  • making a convincing list
  • appraising other publishers

List building  needs to be in line with company strategy which is defined by the people above you.  This can be where they want to go, where they want to secure an advantage, e.g. they want to be third largest uni press by 2018 or to be recognized as a world class university press (which is one of the strategy statements at MUP).

List-building strategies:

  • set your goals before you start commissioning
  • develop an identity of where you want the list to go in terms of content
  • consider how you want to developm the list over three to five years
  • how many titles you want to sign up that will do well initially
  • and signing some titles with “a longer tail” that are good for backlist sales
  • talking with people who want to do a series with you
  • keep a shopping list of things you want to bring in

Looking at what rivals are doing is an important part in developing a strategy. For example, if Pearson comes out with textbooks that are full color, loads of images and extra material online, you might decide to pull out if your title can’t compete.

Pre-existing lists:

  • look at what is selling  and what isn’t
  • the market share
  • what’s been commissioned/in the works,
  • unit sales, etc.
  • do a SWOT analysis
—> a SWOT analysis

Every 2–3 years it’s good practice to take stock of your list and do a SWOT analysis. It’s also good to take advantage of any opportunities, such as reprinting a 1918 book, with powerful intro that contextualizes it, and releasing it for an anniversary.

The financial side of things is important for a commissioning editor; and knowledge of Excel is useful in both editorial and production departments. Commissioning editors have to fill out Profit and Loss sheets for all their titles.  MUP aims for a 65% gross margin.

Gross profit margin = (revenue – cost of goods) / revenue

Net profit margin = (revenue – cost of goods – operating expenses – other expenses – interest – taxes) / revenue

For more details on gross vs net profit margins, read Investopedia’s article.

Want to get more insight into editorial? Read this publishing intern’s account.


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