Editorial project management: what, who, how?

By Hazel Bird

project managementAn editorial project manager (PM) can have a lot of control over how a book turns out. As such, project management can be a rewarding and enjoyable way for experienced copy-editors and proofreaders to expand their editorial horizons. For less experienced copy-editors and proofreaders, it can be beneficial to have an understanding of everything that PMs juggle when working on a project. But what does project management involve, who does it, and how does a copy-editor or proofreader get started on the path towards working as a PM?

What is project management?

In publishing, project management refers to the tasks involved in overseeing the journey of a manuscript from the end of the writing process to printing and/or electronic publication. However, within that broad definition, there is great variety in what a PM might be asked to do. Tasks may include some or all of the following.

Dealing with freelancers and other suppliers:

  • arranging for a manuscript to be designed, copy-edited, typeset, proofread, indexed, and converted to electronic outputs
  • creating briefs for each person carrying out the above tasks
  • maintaining a list of freelancers and suppliers
  • giving feedback
  • approving invoices and making other financial arrangements.

Dealing with authors and other stakeholders:

  • keeping everybody and everything on schedule
  • attending project meetings
  • keeping stakeholders updated
  • negotiating solutions when problems arise
  • sourcing and checking permissions.

Taking overall responsibility for quality and consistency:

  • sourcing or chasing missing content
  • collating corrections, arbitrating where necessary
  • checking that corrections are made and managing any knock-on effects
  • maintaining a project-specific style sheet and/or ensuring a house style guide has been consistently applied
  • checking artwork
  • problem solving – both by anticipating issues and fixing unexpected blips.

Who does these tasks?

Traditionally, project management was almost entirely carried out in house. However, changes in the publishing industry mean these tasks are now sometimes sent out to freelancers and other entities. Other changes have led to entirely new roles being carved out.

  • In-house person: Some publishers still keep all project management tasks in house. Others might keep certain aspects (e.g. creating a typespec or design; sourcing permissions) in-house and engage an external PM to manage copy-editing, typesetting, proofreading, and indexing.
  • Freelance project manager: A freelance PM may be briefed by an in-house editor to do some or all of the tasks above. The PM may work with a high degree of independence or may work closely with the in-house contact, who may be managing other aspects of the project simultaneously (see previous point). A freelance PM may also be the copy-editor, proofreader, or typesetter of a project.
  • Packager: Often a typesetting company, a packager usually manages large numbers of titles for publishers, often fairly independently after an initial workflow has been agreed.
  • Copy-editors and proofreaders: Increasingly, copy-editors and proofreaders who work with self-publishers are finding themselves doing – or deliberately setting out to do – tasks reserved to PMs in more traditional publishing workflows, even if they’re not providing a full project management service. For example, they may do the copy-editing themselves and then arrange for proofreading. Alternatively, independent authors often want an editor who can provide a whole package of services, right up to uploading the final files and helping with details such as Amazon author pages.

How do I get started?

Becoming a PM requires a lot of experience and knowledge, and excellent organisational skills. While publishers who hire PMs will almost certainly have their own comprehensive workflow documents for you to follow, it’s still important to have sufficiently broad experience and training to enable you to properly plan a project and manage issues as they arise; as the above list of tasks implies, project management is a lot more than following a checklist.

Butcher’s Copy-Editing (UK-oriented) and the Chicago Manual of Style (US-oriented) both contain a great deal of general information on readying a manuscript for publication. In terms of training, the Publishing Training Centre (PTC) runs courses on digital project management and editorial project management, and these can help to boost confidence in one’s skills. You can also get training in Agile and PRINCE2 qualifications (not specific to editorial work but recommended by editorial PMs Emily Gibson and Zoe Smith).

There is no single way to find project management work, just as there is no single way to find copy-editing or proofreading work. Advertising in the SfEP Directory or another professional directory may lead to clients finding you, though many PMs seem to enter the field via a chance encounter or incrementally through offering additional services to existing clients. Experience in house isn’t essential, but it does seem to be common.

Project management work can be rewarding in terms of the breadth and depth of involvement it allows. And, even if you don’t aim to offer a full project management service, it’s still beneficial to be aware of what it involves.

Hazel BirdHazel Bird is a project manager and copy-editor who handles over 5 million words per year, mainly in the academic humanities and social sciences. She started out managing encyclopaedias at Elsevier and went freelance in 2009. When she’s not editing, she is generally roaming the Mendips or poring over genealogical documents.

She blogs at Editing Mechanics and tweets as @WordstitchEdit. Find her at sfep.org.uk/directory/hazel-bird and wordstitch.co.uk

Posted by Margaret Hunter, SfEP marketing and PR director

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP

2 thoughts on “Editorial project management: what, who, how?

  1. Melanie Thompson

    Nice post, Hazel 🙂

    Not sure if it is still available, but Barbara Horn’s book Editorial Project Management is a very useful summary/refresher of all the tasks involved. It includes test-yourself questions and model answers.

    Reply

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