Tim Williams, Managing Director at Edward Elgar Publishing explains how providing a top quality service to authors, hard work and enthusiasm are key ingredients for a career in independent academic publishing.
1. What is your job title and company? And roughly how many people work for your company?
I am the Managing Director of Edward Elgar Publishing, an academic publisher based in the UK and US. We employ 70 people and publish books and journals across the social sciences, management and law.
2. What are your qualifications and working background, and when and how did you take on your current job?
I joined Edward Elgar Publishing, which is our family business, eight years ago as the Law Publisher and took over running the business with my brother-in-law Alex on Edward and Sandy Elgar’s retirement a few years later.
I originally studied physics at university and started my working life in consumer marketing and business development. From there I moved to a consulting firm working with various media and retail clients before finally joining the publishing industry with Lexis Nexis.
3. What does your average working day entail?
My day starts at 8 to 8.30am with a 5 minute cycle to work at our Regency offices in the centre of Cheltenham. We are very fortunate in having beautiful offices here, in Camberley and in Massachusetts in the US. Each day is very varied, often I’m working with colleagues, helping with urgent day to day queries or discussing the key projects we have underway. Increasingly my time is spent on the digital publishing side where we are about to launch a new mobile platform and are also developing sales models to broaden access to our book titles. I also spend time reviewing proposals or contracts from business partners. At least once a month I attend customer conferences, visit libraries or authors, often with our international sales team or local partners in Europe, Asia, North America or the Middle East.
4. What do you enjoy most about your job?
Receiving feedback from authors and customers saying how nice Elgar staff have been to work with and how professional and responsive they are. This is something the large commercial publishers will never be able to replicate and is the foundation upon which we’ve built the company. It gives me faith in our future as an independent publisher.
5. What achievements are you most proud of?
The transition we made to digital publishing a few years ago. It is now a central part of our business but at the time it affected every department and I was immensely proud of how colleagues took to the challenge. At a time of rapid change in the industry it is great to know that we have such a talented and committed team.
6. What are your biggest challenges?
Digital business models are changing the academic book publishing industry, providing incentives for many publishers to increase their scale and commission ever more books whilst reducing the level of editing and marketing.
As an independent with an eye to building a reputation for quality over the long-term, Edward Elgar Publishing’s strategy is exactly the opposite, to increase the quality bar every year through our investment in thorough peer review and a high quality production service.
One of our biggest challenges is communicating this successfully to potential authors. Reputations and the prestige of academic imprints are often built over generations and whilst we celebrate 30 years of independent publishing in September, this still makes us a relative baby among academic peers.
7. What have you experienced in your job and publishing that you didn’t expect?
Publishing is a remarkably congenial and open industry compared to other sectors I’ve worked in. Even direct competitors are happy to share their experiences and give friendly advice. The IPG has done a wonderful job contributing to this environment.
8. What is the best thing about working for an independent publisher? (And if you have previously worked for a larger company, how does your current job compare?)
So much, I’m not sure where to start – often a more collegiate approach, fewer meetings, no pointless power point slides, more doers than managers, good long term decisions, anyone at any level can make an impact, jobs are less siloed and more fluid, greater sense of a shared interest, departments are more joined up, and there are definitely better cakes.
9. How do you switch off from your work?
Three small children provide plenty of welcome distraction!
10. What advice would you give anyone wanting to start or progress a career in publishing?
It may sound obvious but it is important to tailor your CV to the company and the role; highlighting your love of journalism writing or children’s books makes us worry that we are a third choice employer. Academic publishing may not have been your passion at school, but for those of us already here it is a fascinating industry to work in.
Once you’re in, take time to really master your first role, try to understand how your tasks affect other departments and ultimately the author’s experience. Good processes are the life blood of publishing and proactively working to improve how things are done across departments will really make you stand out. Ultimately, hard work and enthusiasm will shine through.
Me and My Job: Tim Williams originally appeared on the Independent Publishers Guild Blog