Editorial Project Management

by Barbara Horn (Horn Editorial Books, London, 2006): 192pp, out of print, ISBN 0 9553404 0 3.

Reviewed by Anne Waddingham

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In an article called 'Why did I do it?' (Jan/Feb Editing Matters), Barbara Horn wrote about her experience of self-publishing – this is the book of the article. Barbara is a very experienced project manager, and author of the Publishing Training Centre's distance learning course Editorial Project Management, upon which this book is based. Its target audience is freelance and in-house project managers who have experience of publishing and familiarity with the principles of editing.

The aims of the book are stated succinctly by Barbara herself: 'Editorial Project Management will guide you through acquiring the skills you need, and the information underlying them, in seven chapters, with the unsurprising titles: Scheduling, Budgeting, Assessing projects, Managing resources, Briefing, Supervising, and Feedback. Each chapter has three to five self-marking exercises to help you to test your understanding, and there is a glossary of important terms.' (There is also a thorough and informative index prepared by Michèle Clarke.)

A wide range of skills

Project management can be a rewarding job, both in terms of personal satisfaction and financial reward. The challenges are greater than that of the editing or proofreading roles alone but, as tutor of the SfEP's Project Management course, I often find myself trying to persuade people that they already have most of the skills required but lack only the confidence to take control of the whole job.

They are often performing many of the tasks already, as adjuncts to their editorial duties – for example, assessing the project, working out and keeping within their own schedules and budgets, liaising with authors, and preparing handover notes for designers, artists and even typesetters.

A wide range of skill sets are needed, but as Barbara emphasizes throughout the book, good communication is key. Barbara is a great communicator; the book is practical, down-to-earth, pithy and easy to understand.

On-screen editing

There are some slightly surprising (to me) statements about on-screen editing – one tenet being that heavily edited texts, particularly books, need to be marked up on hard copy and rekeyed. This contradicts my own experience, which is that hard copy is useful for assessing the text and doing a rough edit – noting places where major restructuring is needed, for example – but that the many editing tools in Word make heavy edits easier on-screen.

There is a mention of Paperless Proofs, a proprietary system for using BSI marks in PDFs and not, so far, very widely adopted. So its matter-of-fact inclusion is a little unexpected, but perhaps its day is still to come.

Late payment and data protection

The useful websites list comprises mostly editors' organisations worldwide, so presumably the book is intended to find an international audience, which explains why relevant UK legislation is not mentioned, particularly that relating to late payment and data protection.

The section on finding freelances recommends looking at those records held by a publisher on 'the quality of the [freelance's] work and his or her strengths and weaknesses'. In the UK, we all have the right to view our records, so negative evaluations could put the publisher in an embarrassing position if not backed up by evidence. A freelance could sue for compensation if it could be shown that earnings were lost because of an unfair assessment.

The reader should be aware that the provisions of the Data Protection Act apply to records held by freelance project managers too. They should also be aware that bills not paid on time are liable to interest on the debt and compensation, in this country at least.

Good advice

The book has many strong attributes, and has much good advice to offer project managers working both in-house and freelance. The exercises demonstrate the salient points nicely and are well chosen and thought provoking. It would help to have a subheading flagging the explanatory text that follows the exercise; I found myself reading the interpretation of the answers before I'd studied the exercise, because I wanted to finish the section first, but I soon got the hang of it.

Notably, Barbara repeatedly pointed out eventualities that I hadn't thought of, or got me thinking back to past projects. Best of all, she makes it all seem such common sense and fires one's enthusiasm for the tasks.

Feedback

In the Managing resources chapter, we should all note that Barbara sensibly recommends starting negotiating the fee 'somewhat lower than the maximum to allow room for bargaining'. (And how often have you accepted the first sum offered?) However, on the next page, she points out the false economy of choosing the cheaper but less suitable outworker, saying that consequent remedial work costs more and causes delays. Clients, please take note.

I will certainly be recommending this book on my future courses. It should help to give more freelances the confidence to dip their toes into project management waters, and provide in-house staff with a best-practice model to follow in terms of choosing the right person, preparing briefs, nailing budgets and schedules, checking quality and giving feedback.

Editor's note: Editorial Project Management is an SfEP recommended reference book.

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