From Journal Staffer to Vendor: A View from Both Sides

Jennifer Fleet has worked for the Journal of Neuroscience, The Plant Cell, and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. She has also held a marketing position with a large commercial publisher. Currently, she works in customer service for a vendor of software for scientific, technical, and medical publishing. Here, she shares her views from both sides.

Christina Sumners: How would you describe the work you did for these journals?

Jennifer Fleet: When I worked for journals in the past, I was the one in charge of managing vendors and making sure that the work got done, including production and subscriptions.

CS: What is your job now?

JF: For the last 5 years, I have been director of customer services for Aries Systems Corporation, a vendor that provides software solutions for both peer review and production. I’m on the customer-service side, and I provide answers to people who are currently in the roles I used to be in— production managers and managing editors. Instead of doing it on a day-to-day basis myself, I’m dealing with the people who are doing it on a day-to-day basis.

CS: What insights do you have about the relationship between journals and vendors?

JF: I have the perspectives of both sides, so when I encounter people who are really upset about things, I can easily commiserate! I know exactly what it’s like.

CS: Is there anything that you would do differently if you were working on the journal side again?

JF: I hadn’t recognized the importance of clearly expressing my needs and expectations and would expect my vendors to know my changing priorities intuitively.

CS: What advice do you have for those working at journals?

JF: Communication is key. Especially if it’s a major project for you, have a scheduled, routine meeting with your vendor to make sure that things are happening according to schedule. It’s important to keep the lines of communication open. Express your expectations clearly on a continuing basis.

CS: What is the most effective way of expressing your expectations?

JF: Sit down and talk about what the end result needs to be and work backward from there. Make sure that your vendors know about any pertinent timelines that are coming up. Make it clear what the business need is at the end of the day, but be open to suggestions and different interpretations of how to get there. There’s a reason you partnered with the vendors. They’re the experts in that field and are well versed in providing the service or product in question. They usually have good ideas; call on their experience. Approach the relationship as a collaboration; you ultimately get more out of that approach—more efficiency and more functionality.

CS: What should editors do if they are having problems?

JS: Don’t let issues or concerns get to a critical point before discussing them with your vendor. Feel free to ask your vendor for metrics of some sort. Looking at it on paper, you usually can see a trend that can be resolved if there is a problem, or it may turn out that it was just a blip and that there is no problem. It’s important to collaborate on a resolution, instead of finger pointing. That’s how you get things done most productively and in the most mutually beneficial way.

CS: Do you have any other advice on improving communication?

JF: Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Your vendors want to make you happy.

Christina Sumners, a science and technology journalism graduate student at Texas A&M University, prepared this piece while a Science Editor intern.