Tag Archives: project management

A week in the life of a freelance editorial project manager

What does editorial project management actually involve and where do copyeditors and proofreaders fit into the process? In this post, Julia Sandford-Cooke describes some of the typical tasks she undertakes as a freelance editorial project manager working on educational projects.

The week begins with a review of my To Do list and a check of schedules because To Do lists and schedules are at the core of editorial project management. I’m currently an editorial project manager (EPM) on two large educational projects and I spend a lot of time checking, updating, ticking off and fretting about dates. These days, the scheduling software Smartsheet defines the work of the whole team; some projects have five or six separate schedules for different components, all feeding into each other, dates turning red if one of those components begins to run late.

In fact, if you run your own editorial business you’ll already have skills in getting tasks done on time and within budget for external clients.

I’m drawing attention to this straight away because newer editors sometimes feel that they lack the experience to take on a project management role, that they don’t have the right qualifications or enough in-depth knowledge of how publishing works. But, looking back at my early days as an editorial assistant at an educational publisher, I realise that I’ve been a project manager for most of my career – certainly before I began to define myself as a hands-on ‘editorial professional’. If you’re able to organise, schedule and write polite emails, you’re halfway there – in-house experience isn’t necessary, although admittedly it can make finding project management work easier, not least because of the network of contacts you’ll have built.

What does an EPM do?

So what do I do in a typical week? Well, it depends on the project – I work in educational publishing and a teacher resource is quite different to an online lesson or a printed textbook – but, in general, an EPM is expected to:

  • maintain schedules
  • keep track of spending, including maintaining budget records and raising purchase orders for freelance work
  • commission freelancers, such as copyeditors, proofreaders, fact-checkers and indexers
  • communicate with typesetters or digital teams and make sure they follow the brief and stick to the schedules
  • keep the client informed of progress, via emails and meetings (yes, an EPM does have to be prepared to attend and contribute to weekly or fortnightly video meetings)
  • collate proof comments from the project team – it’s not uncommon to bring together and streamline corrections and queries from the publisher’s content manager, designer and commissioning editor, the awarding body (if the resource is being endorsed), the proofreader, the author, the fact-checker and an internal peer checker, all within a single PDF proof.

I have to fit all this in among other, smaller, editing and proofreading jobs for other clients – yes, back to scheduling again!

Who do EPMs work for?

Most EPMs either work directly with a publisher or – more often these days – work for a ‘packager’ or publishing agency that is contracted with the publisher and completes the projects using a mixture of their own employees and freelancers like me. Examples of UK-based educational publishing agencies (who, incidentally, all have friendly and supportive staff) are Haremi, Just Content and Newgen.

EPMs may be given a company email address while they work on their projects, which I have to admit goes against my sense of being a self-employed person with my own brand identity. However, it does reinforce a feeling of teamwork with colleagues on the project – whether in-house or freelance – and means that people you contact know which business you are representing.

Typical task: commissioning and briefing freelancers

Which brings me to today’s pressing task. I need to commission a proofreader to start next week. As a freelancer myself, I know that ideally jobs should be arranged a few weeks in advance but, of course, the unexpected often happens – projects run late, someone gets Covid – so unfortunately I’m finding it a challenge to identify someone suitable at short notice. I prefer to use an editorial professional who I know will do a good job, who I’ve worked with before or who is recommended by a colleague. When I was looking for an indexer, a team member said, ‘Use this person – she’s awesome!’ And indeed she was. That’s the sort of recommendation project managers look for, and that gets freelancers repeat work.

In this case, the proofreader also has to fulfil certain criteria. They must:

  • have access to, and have previously used, the client publisher’s online systems. Getting set up is a long and complicated business, even before you are confronted with what could be a new and bewildering interface, and time is not on our side.
  • be on the packager’s freelance database. This means they’ve (probably) passed the editorial test, signed a confidentiality agreement and been added to the finance systems so that a purchase order can be raised and they can invoice.

I only contact one person at a time – it’s probably not the most efficient way of working but I don’t want to ask several people and then have to let them down in the admittedly unlikely event of them all being available for the job. It’s made me realise, with my freelance editor hat (tiara?) on, that EPMs value a quick response, whether it’s yes or no, so that they can keep their project moving.

I have adapted the brief to meet the needs of this resource and contact three potential proofreaders. The first is too busy, the second will be on holiday and the third is going on maternity leave. I make a cup of coffee and collate some proofs while I consider who to contact next.

Typical task: collating proofs

This is one of my favourite jobs, especially now it’s done on PDF on my screen and not on a desk covered in reams of A3 pages from five different sources. It’s where my editorial skills come in handy, as I assess all the comments, take out duplications and make a judgement on which corrections to ask the typesetter to make. As I work through, I compile a query log where, for example, the fact-checker has raised author queries or where the designer and the content manager of the publisher have suggested different solutions to overmatter. I upload the PDF and query log to their online system and let the content manager know it’s ready for her to check. She is very efficient so I know she will consider it carefully and get back to me with any questions.

Typical task: checking a digital project

Now I need to check that corrections have been made to my other project, a digital resource, so I log out of one system and log into another. This type of resource is new territory for the whole team so there’s been a constant stream of online messages as colleagues ask for advice. Digital projects will become more common as publishers innovate to meet the needs of the market (in this case, blending remote and classroom learning), and publishing agencies often put out requests for people with skills and experience in digital publishing and associated platforms. Freelancers who have worked on this project and others like it – whether over the longer term as EPMs, or on specific tasks such as proofreading – will be in demand for similar jobs in the future.


Editorial project management can be tiring, frustrating and stressful. On the other hand, it’s exciting and satisfying to see a project through, to watch it develop and to help shape it to be as good as it can be for the market and for the client. If you like a challenge – and what editorial professional doesn’t? – and, of course, if you thrive on schedules and To Do lists, it’s definitely worth considering. Check out the CIEP’s Editorial Project Management course if you want to learn more.

About Julia-Sandford CookeJulia Sandford-Cooke

Julia Sandford-Cooke of WordFire Communications has 20 years’ experience of publishing and marketing. She has written and edited numerous textbooks, specialising in vocational education, media studies, construction, health and safety, and travel.

 

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

Find out more about:

 

Photo credits: calendar by rattanakun on Canva, laptop by Jessica Lewis Creative on Pexels.

Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

Agile approaches to publishing

Many publishers use a traditional model of project management that can make the publishing process slower and less responsive. Steve Martin argues that adopting an Agile approach can benefit both editorial professionals and their publisher clients.

The benefits of Agile approaches

Most publishers use a traditional project management model. Although there are benefits to this approach, there are drawbacks, such as:

  • complex, difficult to understand plans
  • enforced long-term commitments that set rigid expectations
  • a lack of autonomy and empowerment for project managers
  • inefficiencies, especially at scale, including:
    • work passing through too many hands, resulting in miscommunication and rework
    • people doing too many concurrent tasks, leading to mental overload
    • multiple documents doing the same thing
    • problems getting sorted after the fact rather than before
    • difficulties changing direction
    • lots of ‘wait time’.

These issues are usually coped with (at the cost of money, time and quality) and this approach has been around for a long time so isn’t going away. But alternative approaches have evolved over the last few decades, moving away from fixed plans and rigid control structures to a more dynamic approach to change.

One of these is an ‘Agile’ approach to change. It isn’t just a project management methodology – it is a philosophy for effective teamworking. It is described in the ‘Agile Manifesto’, which was created by a number of thought leaders in the technology world. Its principles are as follows:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.
  • Working deliverables over comprehensive documentation.
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation.
  • Responding to change over following a plan.

Underpinning these principles are more detailed and useful mechanisms, such as TIA:

  • Transparency – ensure the information about a project, for both assets and performance, is continually captured and accessible.
  • Inspection – analyse and understand the state of the project at any point in time.
  • Adaption – make remedial changes in real time, ideally proactively, to keep things on track.

Agile doesn’t mandate what is done but how it is done. Examples of implementations are ‘Scrum’ and ‘Kanban’, which will be explained below.

The Agile approach goes a long way to minimising the drawbacks of traditional projects. It was, after all, one of the reasons why the Agile Manifesto was created in the first place!

Traditional projects tend to deliver in large chunks, often after long periods of time, meaning customers only start to profit at the end of a project or phase. Agile projects deliver rapidly and incrementally so that customers can start profiting far more quickly.

Finally, given that one of the fundamentals of the Agile Manifesto is empowerment, people who work on Agile projects often get a greater sense of ownership and job satisfaction.

All in all, it is an approach that has potential for the publishing world.

How can editorial project managers, editors and proofreaders benefit?

The publishing world tends to use traditional project management, often working with packagers and third-party service providers. There are reasons why things are as they are, and these evolve in the long term, but for now, a sensible attitude for anyone interested in Agile approaches is to ask: ‘What can Agile do to help me, within wider industry constraints?’

Here is an explanation of a couple of terms mentioned earlier:

Scrum

This uses timeboxes (short periods of time, for example two weeks) by breaking up work items (the backlog) into batches that the team focuses on as their primary goal while also refining requirements for the next time box. The work items as a whole are also looked at in the background to maintain their priority and relevance.

Kanban

A Kanban (or Kanban board) is a pipeline-based approach (like a car production line). Teams pull work items from a backlog in priority order and push them through various customisable work stages until they are done. The backlog is maintained in a similar way to the Scrum one. Free tools such as Trello can be easily set up to operate a Kanban. The picture below shows how a Kanban might look (in this case for someone taking on too much work!).

Personal workload

One of the challenges for a publishing professional is how to track work in a simple way. A to-do list is OK, but a Kanban has advantages. A simple ‘To Do, Doing, Done’ Kanban would show at a glance what is on the go at any time and what stage it is at. A more elaborate Kanban may add workflows that cover each process step – there may be a need for separate boards for editing and proofreading, as their workflows may differ.

It is possible to flag work items as blocked, as a reminder to chase people. To track the personal financial side, project managers can add additional terminating columns for (eg) ‘Send invoice, Awaiting payment, Paid, Done’. Horizontal ‘swim-lanes’ can be used to divide up the work between, for example, different clients.

Work in progress (WIP) limits

A Kanban can help manage overload. One way is by tracking WIP limits. It has been proven that the ‘keep chucking new work in at one end and get it moving to appear busy’ approach is a terrible idea. Finishing work, not just starting it, is what adds value. High WIP means swapping between different tasks (‘context switching’), which has a negative impact on productivity and quality. It is far better to finish five jobs in sequence effectively than five at once badly. Unfortunately, the second approach is sometimes necessary, but a Kanban highlights this and allows time to be better managed and, perhaps, trigger negotiations with clients. Over time, sensible WIP limits will become clear, and when to say ‘no’ or ‘not yet’ will become a more empirical decision.

Throughput

In Kanban, throughput – the amount of work delivered over a given period – is as important as deadlines. Monitoring throughput and proactively fixing problems improves the chance of hitting future deadlines. More advanced Kanban tools provide reports such as cumulative flow diagrams to show at a glance whether someone is productive or ‘stuck’, and if so, where. These have a learning curve so a simple ‘green’ or ‘red’ flag, or counting task completions per month, might give the project manager insight while they learn how the graphs work.

Project management

A client may permit the use of a Kanban tool, even if it is to simply mirror their main Gantt chart. If so, once such a board is created, team members can be invited to join it to collaboratively manage work and update progress. Most Kanban tools allow attachments, comments, sign-offs and more. Having everything in one place reduces email chatter. This gives a holistic view of where people are, who is overloaded, who is stuck and what is going slowly.

If the project involves sensitive documents, it will be necessary to talk to the IT department about what can and cannot be stored externally at online providers to ensure security requirements are met (one could store links to internal document libraries as a compromise).

Collaboration opportunities

The collaboration aspect of Agile methods can also bring benefits. Here are some examples:

  • Progress coordination – in a fast-moving environment where many people are concurrently involved, having a daily ‘stand-up’, in person or online, works far better than written progress reports in terms of keeping people on track. All or some of the team assemble every morning to share what they have completed, what they are working on and what impediments they face. The meeting should be no more than ten minutes so any detail would be discussed away from the stand-up.
  • Key delivery meetings – Project launch, planning, and other meetings (face to face or online) should include as many involved parties as sensibly possible, even if just for scheduled timeslots within the meeting. This means that queries and issues can be discussed in person and written communication should, where possible, be relegated to confirmation and follow-up.
  • Quality management – Regular (eg fortnightly) retrospectives (QA reviews) reviewing what went well, what did not go well and what can be improved are recommended to ensure lessons are learned while they are fresh in the mind as opposed to waiting until the end-of-project review.

Hopefully, this gives a flavour of what Agile is and how it can help publishing projects. The best way to start is to do a little more research and dive in. Good luck!

About Steve Martin

Steve recently moved into the publishing world after many years gathering experience in Project Management, mainly in and around the IT industry. He has completed the CIEP’s first two proofreading courses and the Editorial Project Management (EPM) course, and as well as now being able to engage in a fresh and interesting career where he can make use of new and existing skills, he is very, very pleased to have finally understood why MS Word kept auto-replacing the hyphens that he typed with long dashes without asking it to.

 

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

Find out more about:

 

Photo credits: cranes by Mike van Schoonderwalt on Pexels, Kanban board by Dr ian mitchell, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons, team meeting by fauxels on Pexels.

Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

Freelancing from the publisher’s perspective

Jen Moore is an in-house editorial manager for the publisher Thames & Hudson. In this post she discusses what types of jobs they use freelance editors for, how they find new editors, how they determine fees, and what qualities turn a freelance editor into one of their trusted favourites.

Thames & Hudson is an independent publisher of illustrated books that publishes books on art, architecture, history and visual culture of all kinds. We have an expanding children’s list and a division producing textbooks for the American college market, but in the main our books are trade titles aimed at readers with a general personal or professional interest (but not necessarily a specialist academic background) in a particular subject area. In-house editors generally manage between four and six titles at once, which they will often – but not always – copyedit themselves. When they don’t, and for titles not managed in-house, we are reliant on freelancers.

When and why do we use freelance editors in favour of in-house staff?

The economics of publishing, and especially illustrated publishing, are getting tougher, and the number of full-time in-house editors has gradually declined over the past few years. But as a house we publish more books than ever (around 200 a year), and good books still need thorough editing, so it’s inevitable that we are using more freelance staff than before.

But it’s not just a question of in-house capacity. There are also positive arguments in favour of using freelance staff. For one, freelancing is an excellent way to keep a very clear handle on the costs of a project. Working with freelance editors means that someone has to prepare a brief and propose a fee, analysing the materials that the author has supplied very thoroughly and estimating how many hours it should reasonably take, and the appropriate budget. The efficiency savings of all that up-front thinking and planning can be considerable.

Some books are much better suited to freelancing than others. In some cases, the text, images and layout come together by an organic, interdependent process, and the different roles and stages in the production workflow cannot be clearly defined. These projects generally require close teamwork by a very hands-on, in-house team and are not suited to freelancers.

The most straightforward books to freelance are those where the author submits a complete manuscript; a picture researcher gathers images according to a pre-determined list; and these elements will be brought together into a layout by the designer. Usually we will copyedit the text in Word while the images are being assembled – in that case the editing is ideally suited to a freelancer. Some titles follow an opposite track: images are arranged in a layout, then the text is written to fit the space allowed. These titles are also straightforward to freelance, except that they have to be edited in layout, so we need editors with the skills and software to do that.

What tasks do we offer freelancers?

The most obvious one is copyediting, whether this is to be done in Word or in InDesign layouts. That may entail just a light review for consistency and typos, or it may involve extensive rephrasing, rewriting, abridging, fact-checking, plagiarism-checking and drafting captions. Generally, we prefer the copyeditor to liaise with the author directly to secure approval of the edits. This is more satisfying and gratifying for the editor; and it represents a big in-house time-saving. We also offer proofreading and indexing work to freelancers.

But actually, from our point of view, the copyediting is often the most straightforward part of the editorial job. All books also need an editorial project manager, someone to:

  • discuss and agree the layouts with the designer and author
  • chase up captions and any missing elements from the author
  • take in proof corrections
  • compile prelims
  • commission and edit the index
  • review picture proofs, final text pdfs and plotter proofs
  • write the jacket blurb and request an author biography and photo
  • check jacket proofs.

There are deadlines for all of these tasks, and they involve liaison with multiple in-house staff across various departments. If the freelance editor is only copyediting, then all of these tasks have to be undertaken by an in-house editor who may not actually know the book that well, and so may not make the best decisions or write the best copy. To do the full project-management job requires quite an advanced set of skills – at the very least confidence in dealing with authors, designers and so on, as well as proficiency in InDesign. By and large, it requires experience of working as an in-house editor on an illustrated list.

All of this may sound like a big ask, but we do expect to mentor freelancers to get them up and running in this role. For the right people, it’s well worth the investment of our time. And project management doesn’t have to be all or nothing – you don’t need InDesign, for example, to draft a blurb or edit captions. Freelancers who want to take on more than the copyediting or proofreading should initiate a discussion about what they can offer.

How we find our freelancers

We have a list of tried and tested people, of course, but they move on, they take jobs, they get booked up. So we’re always on the lookout for new editors, and if your skills are a good fit for our list, then we are glad to receive your CV! Naturally, we are looking for people with proven editorial experience and relevant subject knowledge gained in an educational or professional context. Beyond that, we seek individuals who are happy to take initiative and work autonomously, as well as being effective communicators who will keep their in-house point of contact informed – but not over-informed! – of their progress.

We have a short, sticky editorial test. But a test is not enough to tell me whether an editor:

  • is able to exercise judgement about how much to intervene
  • has the stamina and conscientiousness to apply consistent standards across a whole text
  • has sufficient general knowledge and awareness to know what they don’t know (without having to fact-check everything), and to flag problems around sensitivity or inclusivity
  • has the flexibility to work with differing styles of writing and different subject matter
  • has the confidence and courtesy to win the trust and respect of an author
  • and has an understanding of the legalities of publishing (if our in-house reviews have missed potentially libellous content, for example, we are reliant on the freelance editor to alert us to it).

When working with a new editor, I will ask for a sample edit while the job is still in its early stages, and keep a close eye/ear on that editor’s work and their reputation among my colleagues.

How fees are negotiated and paid

To enable us to keep a handle on freelance costs, we always aim to agree a fee up-front, at the point of handing the materials and brief over to the editor. If it’s a straight copyediting job, this will be calculated on:

  • the number of words
  • the degree of complexity or specialisation of the subject matter
  • the quality of the writing and level of intervention required
  • how tidily presented the text is
  • whether there is endmatter, and how well-compiled it is
  • whether there are extremely tight deadlines
  • whether the editor will liaise directly with the author.

Determining fees is not an exact science, and depends on both parties assessing the materials in detail and agreeing to the estimate of how much work is required. There is often room for negotiation, but if I don’t think the job is worth any more than I’ve put on the table, I won’t shift on the fee. I will, however, revisit an agreed fee if the project proves more complicated than could have been anticipated at the briefing stage. But it’s really important that the freelancer alerts their contact as soon as this is apparent. Our budgets are tight, and must cover many more elements than the edit.

Making the transition from trial to trusted freelancer

We’re looking for people who do an excellent, accurate, timely, thorough, professional job of the editing. Truly talented editors are rare. When we find them, we stay in touch. And if it’s been a while between jobs, I am very happy to receive an email reminding me that you are out there, or an updated CV letting me know what you have been up to!

About Jen Moore

Jen Moore is the Editorial Manager of the History & Archaeology list at Thames & Hudson. She studied Archaeology & Anthropology at the University of Cambridge, specialising in Egyptology, and has been working in publishing for eight years.

 

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

Find out more about:

 

Photo credits: canvas by Steve Johnson, person working by Vlada Karpovich, books by Jonathan Borba, all on Pexels.

Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

Flying solo: Turn hindsight into foresight with checklists

In this new column, Sue Littleford looks at running an editorial business and how to make things more efficient and effective.

Checklists. Write them for your processes, use them consciously and keep them updated. Don’t try to make one checklist work for every type of job.

I could stop there, but we’re learning that the active use of checklists is a gamechanger in avoiding mistakes. In 2009, one of the drivers behind the checklist movement in medicine, Atul Gawande, published The Checklist Manifesto. Malcolm Gladwell is a fan. Also in 2009, Apollo astronauts called checklists their ‘fourth crewmember’. In 2019, Scotland reported that, since introducing checklists in 2008, surgical mortality rates had fallen by 37%. Checklists have been applied to air safety since the 1930s with great results.

Lives have been saved, money has been saved, time has been saved, reputations have been saved. What’s not to like?

Checklists help in three ways

  1. You need to think through your processes. Once you see them laid out in front of you, look for gaps and replication, and streamline your systems. That’s an immediate efficiency gain on every single job you do.
  2. They keep you focused. Don’t just glance down a checklist you’ve used a gazillion times and say to yourself, ‘Yeah, that looks OK, I’ve probably done everything’. Pay attention as you work through the list, and tick off each item deliberately. (Like exercise equipment, it doesn’t work if it stays in the box.)
  3. They reduce cognitive overload and anxiety. No need to rely on memory for all the steps, nor to worry you’ve missed one.

You could cover your processes for:

  • taking in a new job and setting up your skeleton records
  • communicating with others
  • doing the initial clean-up
  • converting US to UK English
  • maintaining adherence to the client’s style
  • maintaining consistency between chapters
  • final checks and polishing
  • handover and invoicing.

I’m sure you’ll think of more, relevant to your own practice.

Tailor your checklists to suit each client and their workflow, and each type of job. A proofreading checklist will look very different from a copyediting checklist, which will look very different from a manuscript critique checklist.

The cardinal error is to aim for one big checklist to cover everything. That’s a bad idea for two reasons:

  • you simply can’t cover everything. The unexpected happens, the novel happens; and
  • long checklists are confusing and difficult to follow. They become wearisome and self-defeating.

Instead, have a separate, short checklist for each part of a job.

What a checklist is not

It’s not a list of instructions. It doesn’t contain the detail of how you do your job. It doesn’t remove your autonomy (after all, it’s your checklist and you can change it). It’s also not your first attempt – you will find you need to refine it quite a bit, initially, as you figure out what you need to be reminded about to work well and consistently, as well as what you never forget, and therefore don’t need to include.

What a checklist is

It’s a set of reminders to do the stuff that would make you look stupid if you missed it, and to do the stuff you find you often forget, even though you know you should always do it. It’s your failsafe. And it’s a timesaver, as you work efficiently consistently.

What a good checklist is

It’s a practical, precise, brief and unambiguous reminder of the essential steps you need to take. It underlines your priorities, it stops you forgetting the important stuff in a moment of inattention and it makes you look good to your client or boss.

The big secret: checklists go out of date

I have a client that I’ve worked with for several years, starting out on books and then becoming the sole copyeditor for a journal. I could use the same checklist for both, right? Same publisher? Every time, I sighed heavily about bits of the checklist that were irrelevant, and about the extra bits I needed to remember to check, different for the journal and books. Then the publisher updated their style guide – about a fifth of the checklist was defunct.

Finally, I decided it was time to review the checklists I use most often. I realised that the core of my final-checks checklist had stayed essentially unchanged for about ten years. Ouch. What I’d needed to spell out for myself back then, now only needed a short reminder or could be omitted altogether.

I’d been dotting about the checklist because the flow was no longer logical now I’d matured as a copyeditor. If you’re jumping around your checklist, it’s no longer methodical; it’s an accident waiting to happen.

A checklist for checklists

1. Document your processes

  • List out what you do for each stage of each type of job and for each client.
  • Do you tackle these tasks in the most efficient and logical order? Shunt things around until the sequence is right.

2. Write a checklist that’s no more than one page long

  • If it’s longer, ask yourself why. Are you trying to write an end-to-end checklist? Stop! Short checklists work better than long ones. Don’t include details.
  • Write the checklist as bullet points, and use the empty checkbox symbol as the bullet (I like Wingdings character codes 113, 109 and 114. In Word, Insert tab > Symbols > Font > Wingdings > Character code).
  • Or set out the checklist as a table. I do that if I have to change a bunch of chapters from US to UK English, for example, with the chapters as the rows and each feature that needs attention as the columns.
  • Print out the checklist to use it. Physically tick things off as you complete each task. Your eye is less likely to betray you than working down an onscreen list, but if you’re really trying to reduce your use of paper, use highlighting or set up checkbox content controls in each list to ensure you miss nothing.

3. Set up each checklist as a template

  • As you start each job, open the final-checks checklist you’ll be using and save it specifically for that job. As you work on the text, add to the checklist any tailored checks you need to make at the end of the work – author’s tics, layout issues, anything at all that will add to the accuracy of the finished job.

4. Keep the checklist fresh to your eyes

  • It’s easy to stop paying attention to something you see all the time. To stop your checklists from becoming wallpaper, change the typeface every few uses.

5. Review your checklists

  • How well did the job you just finished go?
  • Were there any catches made at the last moment that could usefully be added to a checklist?
  • How well did the checklists support each aspect of the job? Has this client changed their style or requirements?
  • As you become more experienced, can your checklist be condensed?
  • Have you started using a new tool that should be added to a checklist – a new macro, perhaps?

6. Review your processes

  • You’re not standing still: with every job you gain experience and increase your competence. Review your processes periodically to check whether you’re being as efficient as you can – diarise reminders to do this, or maybe add it as the final item in the last checklist for any given job.
  • Review constantly: be alert to your weak spots. What does your eye tend to glide past? What tasks do you like least and may be inclined to skip or rush? What feedback have clients given you?

Thoughtfully crafted and well-maintained checklists turn hindsight into foresight. And that’s invaluable.

Sue LittlefordSue Littleford is the author of the CIEP guide Going Solo, now in its second edition. She went solo with her own freelance copyediting business, Apt Words, in March 2007 and specialises in scholarly humanities and social sciences. Before that, she had been the payroll manager for a major government department for some 14 years. Her whole career had been markedly numbers based – both in central government and in the private sector – even though she became the go-to wordsmith everywhere she worked. She eventually switched to words full-time, transferring her skills and experience to hone her business efficiency and effectiveness.


Photo credit: hand-written checklist by StockSnap, both on Pixabay.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

Not working with words

By Liz Jones

An editor attempting to describe their job to a non-editor will often talk about ‘working with words’. This is essentially what we do: we take a client’s raw text, and we make it fit for purpose. But working with words is not all that an editor does. This post looks at some tasks editors might do as part of an editing job, as well as separate but related roles.

Non-textual editorial tasks

There are many things an editor might do in the course of a typical editing job that have nothing at all to do with words.

Checking illustrations, photos and other figures

Many of the things we work on involve pictures and diagrams, whether we’re editing books, websites, marketing materials or annual reports. Sometimes we’ll be specifically briefed to check the figures in a document, especially if they do contain text, but often this expectation will be implicit, and it’s down to the common sense of the editor to make sure that if the text mentions five green apples, the accompanying image doesn’t show three red tomatoes. It’s common for photos to appear with a wrong caption, or for annotations to be misplaced.

It’s also sensible to check that photos haven’t been flipped – which might be fine, but not if they depict something that includes lettering, such as a shop sign, or people carrying out activities that have a specific orientation, like driving cars. Other things editors need to be alert to are items that look out of place or even inappropriate – like red telephone boxes in a publication with a global audience, or people drinking alcohol or smoking in a book for children.

Checking numbers and dates

Many editors say they love words but hate numbers – but still it’s necessary to engage with numbers in all forms, in most of the work that we do. Folios need checking for a start, and cross-references. The degree of elision in number and date ranges must be consistent, and this will often be specified in a house style. Many numbers that we encounter need sense-checking, too. For example, would it be feasible to describe a 1,500km car journey as having taken four hours? Could that historical person possibly have died before they were born? And in certain types of work, such as medical editing, numerically expressed quantities are literally a matter of life and death.

Checking typographical details

Meanwhile, being able to spot a rogue italic comma is not a matter of life and death, but it is arguably still important in its way. And the difference between a hyphen and an en dash may seem trivial to some, but a document that has all its typographical details correct will somehow seem more finished, more credible, than one that has been carelessly formatted – even if the reader can’t quite put their finger on why. Typographic details help to signpost the reader – often unconsciously – and when correct they all add up to a seamless reading experience, enabling the message to be imparted with minimum fuss and maximum accuracy.

Checking layout features

An important part of editing – and proofreading in particular – is ensuring that the layout of a piece of text, along with any accompanying images and graphics, makes sense. You’ll need to develop an eye for ‘page furniture’, whether you’re working in print or online: running heads, menus, pull quotes, breadcrumbs … Often different elements within a larger document will work together and interlink, and each will have a particular meaning, which may be more intuitive than explicit to the reader – but as the editor you will need to understand the rationale behind such design decisions, to be able to assess whether all layout features are present and correct.

Bear in mind, too, that it’s easy when editing to be great at spotting the tiny textual details, and then overlook a typo in a title ten times the size of the rest of the text. Or not to notice that a box or a panel is the wrong colour for its function, or that an entire section of a book is labelled wrongly. One of the hallmarks of an outstanding editor is the ability to step back and see the bigger picture as well as focusing on the tiny details.

Related roles

Some editors take on roles that are related to editorial work and may even be combined with it, but use a different set of skills.

Permissions

Many of the documents editors work on include images or text that come from somewhere else. Sometimes they can be used with a simple acknowledgement, without asking for permission from the rights holder. But depending on the context, and the amount of material being reproduced, often it will be necessary to seek permission. An editor might be asked to handle this aspect of a project alongside their editorial work, or it could be subcontracted as a discrete job. Either way, it’s a useful skill for an editor to be able to offer, and the CIEP now runs a course on copyright for editorial professionals.

Picture research

Sometimes, editors go beyond just looking at pictures, and help to choose them. Picture research can be a really interesting facet to our work. Just as when you’re checking images that have already been placed, you’ll need to keep an eye out for details that fit with the text that needs to be illustrated. Consider the audience, and ensure that any picture you use works as hard as possible to support or augment the text, to ensure maximum value of paid-for images. Some images are free, or may be used freely with a credit (see for example Unsplash or Pixabay). Others must be paid for, and the cost per picture will depend on the size of the image and the type and reach of the publication.

Project management

Many freelance editors are employed to manage editorial projects. This can involve setting and monitoring budgets and schedules, as well as commissioning contributors such as authors and illustrators, and freelancers like designers, editors and indexers. Attention to textual detail is still important, but at this level of work you’ll need to be able to cope with tight schedules and increased responsibility, as well as keeping a range of people updated on progress at all stages of the project. You’ll also need to assess the work of others and provide feedback where necessary. The CIEP offers a course in editorial project management, and it also publishes a guide to this subject if you want to find out more.

 Liz Jones has been an editor since 1998, and has worked on thousands of projects, involving millions of words and a whole host of other variables. She specialises in highly illustrated non-fiction for a range of clients, and also works as a commissioning editor on the CIEP information team.

 


Photo credits: open book – Blair Fraser; letters – Octavian Dan, both on Unsplash.

Proofread by Victoria Hunt, Intermediate Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

Building the best team for editorial project management

What is editorial project management?

bringing the pieces together

Editorial project management involves taking a piece of content (primarily words, and related images and figures) from its raw form to its published state – whatever content that may be, and however it is published. Traditional publishing companies have in-house editorial project managers (EPMs), as do many corporations, charities, government bodies, research institutions – any organisation that wants to disseminate information. Those EPMs come with a plethora of job titles: publishing manager, desk editor, content specialist, project coordinator, content lead, development officer. Some organisations use freelance editorial project managers, expanding their publishing team without longer-term overheads.

Editorial project management is, in one way, similar to copy-editing and proofreading: every organisation will do it slightly (or completely) differently. A different workflow, a different content management system, a different scheduling tool, different reporting mechanisms, different responsibilities. Even within one organisation, no two projects will be managed in exactly the same way.

In many other ways, of course, editorial project management is a whole other beast. Whereas copy-editors and proofreaders often work almost in isolation – taking content, doing the necessary task and then returning the content – EPMs have to collaborate with internal stakeholders and external suppliers over schedules that cover a few, or many, months. That collaboration relies on the softer skills: communication, time management, the ability to quickly adapt and learn, cooperation, delegation, networking, organisation, and the ability to prioritise. Technical expertise is less important, but experience and training in other areas of the editorial process can be an advantage when briefing suppliers and checking their work.

Training for editorial project management

A lot of EPMs learn those skills and gain their expertise through on-the-job experience and training. Experience from life outside work – volunteering, running a household, playing an active role in a community – also contributes to building an EPM’s repertoire. To support that knowledge, or to provide a strong foundation on which to build a project management career, the CIEP has an Editorial Project Management course. This online course uses two fictitious projects to guide students through the publishing process and understand what an EPM does. The Publishing Training Centre offers classroom-based and online courses covering different aspects of project management.

What does an editorial project manager do?

The actual tasks involved in editorial project management vary depending on an organisation’s needs, but it’s very likely that, over the course of a project, an EPM will need to arrange for the content to be copy-edited, typeset, proofread (at least once) and indexed. That will involve sourcing, briefing and feeding back to the specialists carrying out those tasks. There will be liaison with the author(s) – perhaps also the commissioning team, rights and permissions experts, designers and illustrators. An EPM has to keep all these people and their related tasks (and budgets) on track, being aware of any issues and risks; if issues do arise, they need to be addressed appropriately and quickly so that they don’t snowball into bigger problems.

Building your team

building a team

Freelance EPMs – whether an individual or a company – can be an excellent, flexible resource, enabling organisations to share the workload of a busy team for a specific time period. Those EPMs bring with them a fresh pair of eyes and experiences from other organisations and projects, as well as a network of trusted suppliers. They may also be able to take on other specific tasks in the workflow, such as copy-editing or indexing. Many freelance EPMs are CIEP Advanced Professional and Professional Members and have a listing in the CIEP’s directory.

A knowledgeable and approachable EPM can make a big difference to a publishing project – getting content out into the wider world requires more than box ticking. The right EPM for a project will not only produce great content but will also build good relationships and unite a team – it is the ultimate exercise in editorial collaboration.

Abi SaffreyAbi Saffrey is an Advanced Professional Member of the CIEP. She project manages, copy-edits and proofreads a cornucopia of fascinating material in her editing shed in Essex. Her office assistant, Gaston the Cat, provides no useful editorial support whatsoever.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

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 CIEP 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 the Wordstitch blog and tweets as @WordstitchEdit. Find her at ciep.uk/directory/hazel-bird and wordstitcheditorial.com.

Posted by Margaret Hunter, CIEP marketing and PR director

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.