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20 June 2024

Why good project management matters

Editor or project manager?

The job titles will vary – you may come across desk editors, production editors, project editors, editorial managers and/or managing editors – but project management is at the heart of what most editors do. They will possess excellent editorial skills, but their expert eye for detail will also be useful for overseeing multiple projects, ensuring that schedules are kept on track and within budget. Liaising with the author (or sometimes multiple authors), commissioning editor, designer and production controller will be key, although editors may also need to work with illustrators, typesetters, photo researchers and sales, marketing, publicity and rights teams.

For editors, there is usually the e-book edition to consider, and sometimes the audiobook too. Especially in education and academic publishing, the print title could be accompanied by online resources, such as quizzes, worksheets and audio-visual resources. Plus, there’s the online side: databases that feed online retailers, sample chapters, covers for websites, and as promotional materials for social media. Depending on the company, one project manager might need to oversee all this, or these aspects will be looked after by different people, who might be freelance or in-house. Either way, there are a lot of moving parts to consider, even with just a single publication!

Why project management is important

For my role as fiction managing editor for a trade publisher, strong project-management skills are essential. I have around 100 books within my remit, and I’m responsible for ensuring that they are scheduled, copy-editors and proofreaders are booked, and corrections are checked, liaising with authors as appropriate. I meet our editors regularly to confirm that manuscripts are on track for copy-editing, and I sometimes need to revise schedules. For example, an author might need more time for rewrites; we need a bound proof for an event; or the copy-edited manuscript has to be ready for a foreign publisher by a particular date.

Project management isn’t just about dealing with issues here and now; it’s important to think ahead and imagine any future problems should a schedule change. Some things to consider are whether that impacts the editor’s workload; the author’s time, especially if, for example, they are expected to edit book 2 at the same time as promoting book 1; or the copy-editor and/or proofreader’s time, because they might not be able to accommodate a late project due to prior commitments.

Schedules and spreadsheets aren't everyone's cup of tea. However, schedules are essential for meeting important deadlines, while spreadsheets are handy for keeping numerous tasks or books on track. Embrace these tools and you will be a more effective project manager.

For me, a spreadsheet is invaluable. I record all schedules (as well as details such as the names of the author/copy-editor/proofreader and the print deadline) in a single shared grid, which the editors can also access. I can filter by each editor’s name so that we can focus on their titles in our catch-ups, but I can also see all the schedules at a glance in my weekly catch-up with the publisher.

I also witness good project management within other departments too. Here are some examples:

  • The rights team need to liaise with editorial teams to gather materials to take to book fairs. They then have to gather sample chapters and manuscripts to share afterwards.
  • The marketing team need to liaise with various editorial teams to agree on titles to submit to The Bookseller’s September Children’s Previews, and then co-ordinate with the editors, designers and myself to collate the material.
  • The in-house designer has to liaise with multiple illustrators, ensuring that the cover, art briefs, rough art and final art are briefed and delivered on time. In some cases, they might need to work with the illustrators to create a staggered schedule for artwork delivery, and ensure that layouts are ready for samplers and book fairs.

Even in my capacity as a freelance copy-editor, project-management skills are essential to manage my own workload, especially when schedules slip.

Whatever your role in the publishing process, it's incredibly useful to be aware of the project-management skills required to keep things moving, whether it's the bigger picture or how your particular role fits within the process.

If you love a spreadsheet and being organised, you just might love project management. But what if you don't? Give it a go – it's always worth building up your transferable skills!

Wendy Shakespeare

Wendy Shakespeare is a Managing Editor for Scholastic UK and a freelance editor and consultant. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.

The PTC runs a number of open courses on project management for those working in digital, editorial and other areas. The e-learning module Essential editorial project management takes you through the process of managing a publication from start to finish.