21 top tips to make the most of your project manager or managing editor

Suggested by the SfEP's community of freelance and in-house members and the result of years of experience, these tips highlight the points that are important to consider when producing a readable publication without breaking the bank.

Here we present tips from the perspective of a project manager or managing editor for anyone brought into an editorial project for a specific copy-editing or proofreading task. They detail the most important things that, from the manager's point of view, are required to produce the best publication possible, and give an insight into what a manager appreciates, expects and desires.

These tips complement the set compiled by the SfEP that reflect the requirements of freelance copy-editors and proofreaders in their relationships with project managers, editorial managers and authors.

When taking on a project

  1. When taking on a project, be realistic about the time you have available. Manuscripts are almost always delivered late so you may have to overlap projects, but watch out for potential logjams. Tell me when you expect to start, because I'll know if the text can't sit around for a week. And if you really don't have time, say so: you'll be respected for your honesty.
  2. Use your common sense and don't accept work that's beyond your expertise.

When receiving the work

  1. As soon as you receive a job, check that all the material is present and review the brief thoroughly. I've put time and effort into making the brief as clear, comprehensive and concise as possible and every detail is relevant to your task. Make sure you understand the brief and ask sensible questions where necessary – if you don't understand it, the chances are someone else won't either. Let me know immediately if there's anything missing or if you need additional information or are in doubt about what to do or what areas your role covers. I can deal with these things only if you let me know.
  2. Please contribute your expertise. If you notice aspects of the job that aren't covered by the brief, or a better way of working presents itself on reading the material, discuss this with me as soon as possible and tell me what needs to be done. On second or subsequent proofs, however, don't contradict style decisions already taken; this raises new problems and increases the time and budget for corrections.

While doing the work

  1. Retain the author's voice, even if you prefer a different way of expressing things: it's their text.
  2. Keep a style sheet, listing your decisions regarding spelling, capitalisation, hyphenation, etc. as well as any assumptions and decisions you've made during the project. Please include this when you return the work.
  3. Communication is an important element of the editorial process, so make it a rule to keep everyone informed. Give regular progress updates and tell me about any discussions with the author.
  4. Please keep me informed about the quality of a manuscript, particularly if it's in a poorer state than you've been led to expect and it will take longer than anticipated to pull together. If the work is taking longer than expected, tell me as soon as possible, giving reasons and evidence. That way there's scope to renegotiate the timing and/or fee we'd previously agreed, if appropriate, and consider any impact on production schedules.
  5. Please do ask questions about the work, rather than struggling in the dark and hoping you've made the right decision. But use your judgement: be sure to make the decisions it's your job to make and don't question every tiny detail. When you have queries, assess whether you should get in touch straightaway or whether you should wait until you've stored up a batch, to avoid asking isolated questions. Remember, some problems will resolve themselves as you become more familiar with the text and you'll probably get to know it better than I do. But if an issue is crucial or affects the whole book, getting advice early on will save everyone time and avoid a last-minute headache. Please keep your communications succinct, giving examples and precise references.
  6. If you need to phone because an issue is complicated and/or urgent, please remember that I'm working on lots of projects, so tell me who you are and which project you're working on and check that I'm free to talk before launching into a long discussion.
  7. When sending me a list of queries, give me enough time to respond. Queries are usually tricky and I may need a few days to contact publishers, commissioning editors, authors, etc. in order to get the right answer.
  8. It's good to notify me and let me step in if authors are not responding to queries, etc. I always tell them when I've sent a book to an editor, so authors should have cleared some time as per their contract.
  9. Be economical with my time. If it's obvious that I'm snowed under, please save that not-so-crucial question for another day.
  10. Be a team player and remember that everyone is under the same pressures as you. Establish a good working relationship with me and with all other freelances and third-party project members, such as graphic designers and typesetters, so that I don't get embroiled in differences of opinion. Be quietly confident in your own skills and expertise and express your views fairly without being too insistent. Be aware that we all have complementary talents to contribute according to our particular tasks.
  11. Please be tactful and patient with authors and phrase your queries so that they're quick and easy to answer. It's helpful when you suggest solutions to which authors can say just yes or no. The same applies to the queries you present to me.
  12. Be reliable: always meet your deadlines without being chased. This will also help your reputation. Keep me well informed of planned holidays and let me know about unexpected illness or absences as soon as possible: I'm usually understanding of personal circumstances but more likely to be supportive if I'm aware of the situation upfront. A bit of flexibility is also appreciated at times – for example, working a bit later than usual to finish a job. If it looks as though you'll miss the handover date, let me know at least a few days in advance: I may need to advise others, reduce your workload or find someone else to complete the job.

When returning the project

  1. When returning a job, please list what you're sending back so I can check that I have it all. Draw my attention clearly and succinctly to any important issues, such as outstanding queries or design issues. Don't return a job on the deadline saying you haven't had time to check it thoroughly: this leaves me doubting the state of the manuscript with no time to rectify it. Rather ring in advance to negotiate an extension, or specify the tasks you won't be able to complete, so that another person can be briefed.
  2. If not specified in the brief, check how the work should be returned. Reliable and timely delivery is crucial so I may have assumed you'll use Special Delivery if returning hard copy.
  3. Even when you meet a tight deadline, please understand that, because I'm dealing with many projects at the same time, I can't give you feedback as quickly as both of us would like.
  4. When you're chasing up payment, I'll usually help you, but try to get a named contact in the finance department to deal with your enquiry.
  5. It's good to remind me if you're available for work, but try to avoid 'spamming' or over-frequent phone calls soliciting assignments. This takes up my time and may be counter-productive for gaining future work.