Dr. Daniel Boswell is a Senior Teaching Fellow on the Publishing Masters course at University College London.
You’re a Senior Teaching Fellow on the Publishing Masters course at University College London. What inspired you to teach publishing?
Well, I studied publishing for my own postgrad and, after successfully applying to undertake a PhD within the Scottish Centre for the Book, I became more involved in teaching, not just out and out publishing, also bits of book history and other related disciplines. I loved that experience, and realised that I wanted to be more involved in delivering this kind of training, particularly the theoretical sides of literary culture. I also learned more about my own interest in publishing through my doctoral studies and realised that I actually enjoyed being involved with the sector as a whole far more than my experience of working closely with any single organisation. As an academic, my concern is with augmenting understanding of processes which involve the entire industry. This is very rewarding for me. As a teacher, I get to communicate challenges that things like digitisation and globalisation present, but I’m removed enough from industrial pressures to pivot my own views on these and share them with students who will one day shape their outcomes.
In your opinion, what are the merits of publishing education?
When you study publishing, you learn about creativity and communication. I think that is, in a sense, a given. It is what most of the students who apply for these courses consider themselves to be, and it is the romantic ethos of the profession. But beyond that, you learn how to shape creativity to practical and commercial outputs. You learn how to sell books but, more importantly, you should learn how to sell yourself. One of the biggest challenges I notice for new students each year is making that step from being an undergraduate with no experience of working as a career professional to being someone who can successfully fit into any organisation. It is every bit as much about getting the life skills down and we try to embed this in our teaching. Beyond that, grandiose though it may sound, the story of the past and the story of the future are both, essentially, types of message. Publishing is all about how to harness these messages.
Your students will be well aware that you hold a special interest in comic book publishing – where do you see the comic publishing industry going over the next few years?
That’s a wonderful question. You know the temptation here would be to make some hi-tech predictions about the ways in which new technologies will affect development. But, truth be told, I don’t think new technology will have the most significant impact on comic book publishing in the close future, at least not directly. I think reversion of the print market is and will continue to happen. Much like the vinyl resurgence in the music market, people love print comics, and since certain types of sales started to rise in the market during the naughties, the demand for ever higher quality hardback and TPB (trade paperback collected editions) has continued to grow. So I think an enhancement of that will continue when we are talking about the mass market stuff in the anglo-American tradition. That is true of the Marvel/DC/Dark Horse/Image world, and it’s true of Rebellion’s 2000ad and its properties in the UK. For UK children’s comics though, the market is down and things are moving online. So that gives you a hint as to how the demographics of the market are segmented.
But that is just one side of comics publishing. In the independent, more European market for comics, the Graphic Novel is constantly evolving as an art form and medium and that is perhaps where the innovation will occur. I wouldn’t want to predict what that may look like but I can’t wait to see. Companies in London like SelfMadeHero and Nobrow really push these boundaries. And I won’t even go into webcomics, there’s too much to discuss there!
You also specialise in different national markets. Do you see Brexit changing the UK publishing market in relation to the wider European market, and if so, how?
That’s a tough one to call. The PA has already been offering some useful comment on this and institutional reports are indicating that a massive skills gap will be worsened with the loss of access to more diverse international workers. In the publishing industry that has impact in a variety of ways, from the opportunity for rights negotiations to the choices and styles commissioning editors adopt. We know all of this, and it is a fairly obvious challenge to everyone paying attention. At the same time, there is a huge global demand for the books being published in the UK – cultural change and challenge can be a longer, more fluid process. So I’m not sure how much variation we will see in reading habits and demand in the UK compared with Europe. And that is not to say that keen distinctions in the markets do not exist already. I do think that the internal culture of the publishing industry will be affected (and I sadly feel for the worse) by the changed pool for intake of employees. It’s a big, difficult question and I don’t have any particular clarity on the issue, but I do think it is a challenge that we can’t avert our eyes from. Discussion must be had.
What is your favourite thing about teaching aspiring publishers, and what advice would you give anyone looking to get into the industry?
There are many things I like about teaching aspiring publishers, but I think the greatest benefit/reward for me is simply the size of the network I get to engage with, and it is wonderful to see people you’ve had sat in a classroom go on to work on the release of books and journals that you buy, read and love. And, let’s just say I accrue lots of books these days. The type of students who apply for publishing courses has been changing over the last few years and that has had an interesting affect also. It used to be primarily literature and some history students, and there is nothing wrong with that, it’s a natural pathology. However, recently more and more students have been applying with scientific backgrounds and other varied disciplines (I enjoy having art students come on the course as well). That is changing the underlying knowledge the students start with and allows us to vary our delivery and try new approaches. That’s very rewarding.
My top tips for getting into the industry – well, other than applying for the MA at UCL – it’s important to show relevant transferrable skills in this industry, and set yourself apart from others. Right now I’d suggest that aspiring publishers could do worse than learning some coding, or Mandarin.