Editorial Project Management

Abi Saffrey (SfEP Guides, 2019), 44pp, £6/12 hard copy, £5/10 PDF (members/non-members)
ISBN 978 1 9161481 0 9 (hard copy), ISBN 978 1 9161481 1 6 (PDF)

Reviewed by Nik Prowse

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In this guide Abi provides a comprehensive introduction to the world of editorial project management. At 44 pages the treatment was never going to be exhaustive, and this is much less a manual for current PMs than a well-rounded overview of what it's like to run an editorial project for those who have never done so, but who would like to expand their services and offer project management to their clients.

What makes it special in my view is the insight given into the 'hidden' aspects of the job. These include the need for resilience to cope with problems when they arise, an ability to communicate in an open and friendly manner with all involved on the project and a willingness to admit one's own mistakes when (not if) you make them.

Abi precedes the main discussion with a glossary of terms, some of which stretch into the wider world of project management and scary-sounding systems such as agile management. She then starts with the very basics. What is project management? What is editorial project management? What is a project? Although the answers to these questions may seem obvious it's well worth outlining the scope of these terms. PM work is finite: it covers the lifetime of a 'project', in this context a publication of some kind. It starts when the idea is formulated and the client decides to set the train in motion and employ a PM. It finishes when the product is ready to be published (online or in print).

The guide then moves on to scheduling, making it clear from the outset that good scheduling requires a clear understanding of the publication process: what happens at every step and how each part is related to the whole. This covers critical paths (those tasks that are essential in the timeline of the project, and which must be completed before the next step can be taken, such as copy-editing). It also touches on software for keeping an overview of a project and its progress.

Briefing gets detailed coverage: both your brief as PM and the ones you will write for the assembled members of your team. Abi recommends using the acronym SMART for use in briefing: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-specific. Although I have never consciously used this acronym when writing briefs I think that mine cover all of those points, which was gratifying to realise! Budgeting is covered next, and although many clients will retain control of the budget and pay sub-contractees direct, all scenarios are covered in the guide.

The last two sections are less about specific aspects of a project and more about the qualities that a good PM will bring to a role, and the wider skills needed to be an effective PM. Communication is key in all aspects of a project: in the initial commissioning of editorial professionals (you probably won't choose the author or designer but you will most likely hire the copy-editor and indexer), in your dealings with the client through regular reporting and in your monitoring of how team members are progressing. 'Being an editorial project manager', the final – and most valuable – section, covers those personal traits that are so important in being a good PM and for coping with all that a project throws at you. Points covered include communication (repeated here because it is a vital part of the role), apologising and moving on when you make mistakes (as inevitably you will), learning from each job (I take at least one thing forward from each PM job I do) and, my favourite, being human. In this Abi covers the personal touches that make dealings with sub-contractees and other team members pleasant on a daily basis, and which ensure that relationships are maintained for the good of the project (and, one hopes, for the future).

In sum, if you are contemplating dipping your toe into the muddy waters of editorial project management this guide would be a very good initial source of advice and guidance. The ‘Resources’ section at the end gives key information on the crucial next steps. This guide won't make you a PM, and, as the various testimonies attest, there is no firm career path into PM work (especially as a freelance), but if project management is a something that interests you the guide is sure to give you some encouraging pointers in the right direction.

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