Episode 9 - Working Outside Traditional Publishing
Guests: Julie Willis, Editorial & Prepress Director, River Editorial
Tyler M. Carey, Chief Revenue Officer, Westchester Publishing Services
[00:08] Rosie Stewart: Hi, and welcome to Westchester Words UK. I'm Rosie Stewart, editorial and prepress director at River Editorial, a division of Westchester Public Publishing Services UK. At Westchester, we work with over 500 clients across many different areas, and today we're focusing on our work with foundations, institutes, and charitable organizations. I am delighted to welcome two guests to this discussion. Joining us today we have Tyler Carey, chief revenue officer of Westchester Publishing Services in the US. And Julie Willis, my fellow editorial and prepress director at River Editorial, based here in the UK. Welcome, Tyler and Julie.
So let's kick off with our first question. Can you both tell us a bit about your experience working with these types of organizations?
[00:59] Tyler M. Carey: Sure. Thanks for having me, by the way, Rosie. So my background was in legal publishing and custom publishing, often with nonprofits, before joining Westchester. So there were a lot of analogs in my prior work that lend themselves to understanding the needs of nonprofits and policy organizations. There's a lot of overlap with the needs of legal publishers as well, and also a lot of that kind of comms type needs the nonprofits have and their content that they share with their members, store donors and others within their communities.
[01:27] Julie Willis: I've worked with specialist institutions for civil engineering and building services engineering, producing their reports and publications. I also work with a rail network operator managing the proofreading of documents prepare for the Department of Transport. And I have another client that's an independent social change organization working to solve UK poverty. I produce their report, same policymakers and the public.
[01:53] Rosie Stewart: That's so interesting. Thank you both so much. It sounds like you've certainly been keeping busy and you have a very broad range of experience between you. So you've both mentioned reports and policy documents. What other types of material are you seeing in this area? Is there growth in particular areas?
[02:10] Tyler M. Carey: So there was a boom of infographics several years back. A lot of policy groups were trying to put out things that they felt were visually digestible very quickly, to take complex topics and put them into a visual frame that seems to be being replaced again with shorter form white papers and reports by a lot of the clients. The dozens of policy groups that we serve within Westchester's, US. Headquarters, there's still a tremendous emphasis on data viz or data visualization that kind of gets married with another topic, which is that in the States we have a government requirement called plain language, which I understand. There's similar requirements in the UK and EU. And for plain language in the States, basically any public facing government document or content needs to have a summarized, easy to understand, summary or adaptive version that's jargonfree and makes the points clearly for the public.
[03:01] Rosie Stewart: That's interesting. To come back around to jargon again, which seems to be coming up again, is quite a key role in this and the idea of data visualization. Julie, did you have any thoughts to add to that point?
[03:15] Julie Willis: Yeah, Tyler did mention that a lot of the reports he's dealing with are published online. There are a lot of my clients that only publish their reports online, and that means that they have to be accessible. The reports that do have figures in, and often there are quite a few figures that we redraw as well. We also have to have alt text provision so that screen reading software can read them out, read out the descriptions of the figures. Other outputs are short guides available in PDF format to download, and they're often behind a paywall. And for the rail operator, the reports vary in size and complexity, but they're all out put into a PDF and delivered to the Department of Transport in that way.
[04:07] Rosie Stewart: So important to think about the end user here, isn't it? There seems to be lots of emphasis from both of you about who is going to be using this product. Will it be understandable, and increasingly, will it be accessible? And we're no longer just seeing the same types of repeated products that we maybe would have seen in the past, are seeing lots more variation. So what sorts of skills and expertise do you think are particularly relevant to this type of work? Tyler, what are your thoughts on that?
[04:34] Tyler M. Carey: Well, I certainly don't have the editorial depth that you and Julie do, so I'll defer to her on the editorial side, about the nuts and bolts of how it all should work. But I can just say from the kind of client management side, what we're often being asked for are editors who have a keen understanding of how policy makers and the public will consume this content. The clients in the space and the policy group space really want strong skills brought to the table to help with these sorts of publications, specifically not just kind of editors who might be able to handle a variety of content. They really prefer specialists. So something where we spend a lot of time building a very deep bench of editors, freelancers proofreaders indexers designers who are used to handling this kind of content. And it is a different skill set in some cases, rather than, say, developmentally editing and managing a children's book project which has its own challenges and opportunities.
[05:29] Rosie Stewart: Julie, I know a lot of your work is quite specialist as well. So have you come up against the same kind of needs?
[05:36] Julie Willis: Yeah, I mean, I didn't go when I was thinking about how to respond to this question, I didn't think about the specialist editorial needs. I sort of took those for granted, really. But the first thing we have to do is immerse ourselves in the house style. And for some institutions, that can be a book in itself. And sometimes, actually, initially, we will work with an institution or an organization on their house style, just to hone it a little bit and make sure that it makes sense for us. And then once we've sort of got a handle on that and we've got editorial staff that are committed to that particular account, obviously we've as a group have got to manage that large number of freelancers as well as the stakeholders within the institutions, and there can be quite a few, as I alluded to earlier. So we have to have really good organizational skills and remember that the stakeholders and institutions are sometimes not, well, mostly actually, and are not publishing professionals themselves. And so we need to get across our expert knowledge whilst obviously respecting the client's specialist knowledge and needs as well. So it's a balance between not interfering with the work too much, but polishing it and giving advice on layout, punctuation, grammar, readability, and also managing the schedules, of course, and advising on that.
[07:07] Rosie Stewart: Yeah, so it's really a collaboration, isn't it? It's really making sure that we can bring the best out of the work that the client has done and advising them on the areas that we specialize in, while very much deferring to their unique place in their own marketplace. So this has come up a lot already, but just to really drill into it, Tyler, could you share a bit more about the challenges that these types of projects bring?
[07:32] Tyler M. Carey: Well, I think Julie was spot on talking about the schedules, dive deeper into that. I mean, quick schedules could be a challenge for any publication, but we work around that by building a dedicated, trained, skilled bench of freelancers and staff for each of these clients who really know their particular content needs, style and vernacular. That's something that makes it possible for us to take a 120 page white paper, let's say, or a report that might normally be two months of time if we did a traditional publishing schedule, and we can condense it down to as short as one to two weeks if needed, which makes it possible for very urgent information to make it to the public and policy makers while still using the appropriate tools to ensure that editorial and production quality. It's very exciting work we get to do in this area. So being able to build a system that supports that kind of rapid turn has been something that's been really exciting over the past several years.
[08:29] Rosie Stewart: Yeah, certainly sounds like a very fast paced environment. Julie, is there any other types of challenges that you've come across?
[08:36] Julie Willis: Yeah, there are quite a few technical challenges. A lot of non publishers still work with Word templates, which can prove unstable and cause all manner of issues with the presentation of the text. For example, on the report I was working on recently, we had a blank page 22 that the client was seeing, that I wasn't seeing, and that was caused by uploading to a sharing site, or at least we think it was.
[09:02] Rosie Stewart: We may never know.
[09:05] Julie Willis: We've become very good at unpicking the messes that this can cause. Version control is part of that technical challenge and that also is affected by the number of stakeholders. So we've had to develop robust processes and systems to ensure that we're always working on the correct version. And of course, the tight turnaround times do exacerbate all of the above a little, but that's just the nature of the work and something that we have learnt to cope with. As Tyler says, this is exciting work and just recently I was waiting for Liz Truss's changes to UK policies and I was taking in those changes to a report as they were being made, which felt quite important and relevant work and I was proud to play a small part in that.
[09:59] Rosie Stewart: Yes, I mean, it really is up to the minute, as we said, just for those who might not know, Liz Truss is the UK Prime Minister as of today, and she has now resigned today. So very much up to the minute updates in this type of work, which is what makes it so exciting. So there is one point that we haven't touched on, which I would like to touch on today, just brief answers on this one, if you could, just to do with confidentiality. This type of work can be highly sensitive and we're very aware of those needs. So, Tyler, just have a few comments, share about confidentiality and how we manage that.
[10:33] Tyler M. Carey: Sure. I wish Deb Taylor, our VP who oversees it, was on because she could certainly talk in great detail about all these security protocols we have in place. Essentially, any work that Westchester handles through any of its divisions is always treated as highly confidential. We're handling upcoming bestsellers in the trade market, we're handling academic titles that are going to be sold into the textbook market, where, I mean, there's been concerns, not within Westchester, of course, but I mean, there's been concerns just in the industry of the piracy of textbooks, online editions, things like that. But when you're dealing with policy content that can deal with national security and things, there is a greater level of responsibility that a vendor like Westchester has to treat that content appropriately. So it is something where understanding of clients needs. Is this something that is just going to be a public white paper that's going to be issued for anybody in the public to read? Or is this something that's going to be behind closed door meetings? Nothing so exciting as Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy, of course, but there are certainly things that are more confidential than others, so we have to be very respectful of how that content is handled in us.
[11:37] Rosie Stewart: Yeah, absolutely. And Julie, I know you're really aware of this as well. Was there anything that you wanted to add from your site?
[11:43] Julie Willis: I am NDAed up to the eyeballs, nondisclosure agreement to explain there, so I'm not even naming my clients as you may have noticed. We have security measures that we have to take part in and the documents are deleted from our hard drives, we collect them and post them back to a specific site as well and the freelancers that we use are also NDAed to comply with that part of the security.
[12:17] Rosie Stewart: Thank you both. Thank you. Really appreciate your thoughts on that. That brings us to the end of our discussion. So thank you so much for joining me, Tyler and Julie, it's been brilliant chatting with you both and having this fascinating discussion. For more podcasts from Westchester Publishing Services UK, just search Westchester words on Spotify, Apple or Google podcasts or find us on our website.