How to be the project manager’s favourite editor

Most of my work as a freelancer involves putting together teams of editors to work on multi-level, multi-component courses for ELT (English Language Teaching) publishers. Here are some of my top tips for getting to the top of my go-to list.

7
Let me know you’re getting my stuff.
 I don’t want to hear from you every five minutes, but I do want to know you’ve received the brief, successfully downloaded the files you need from the FTP site, and know when I’m expecting to receive a handover from you.
6Keep up to date. 
I expect team members to be comfortable with Word styles, comments and track changes. Knowing how to share your Skype screen, do PDF markup, and use Google Docs and Dropbox are also fairly fundamental these days. For anything else, there’s training.

2Know when to get in touch. Got a query about the brief? Let’s get to the bottom of that before we get underway. All clear? Great. Off we go. There are bound to be questions that come up, but it would be much more efficient all round if you sent them to me on a daily basis or a couple of times a week. Please don’t email me every time you come across something you’re not sure about. Chances are, if you press on a bit, you’ll work it out. If not, I’ll be happy to help, but not ten times a day.

5Tell me if you’re running late. The project manager’s job is to keep things on schedule. If we haven’t been in touch otherwise, I’ll drop you a line each week to check in and make sure everything’s going smoothly. I will ask you if you’re on track for handover on the agreed date. At this point I need to know if you’re not going to meet that date. Telling me everything is fine when it’s not doesn’t help either of us. Now is not the time to be economical with the truth.

1Don’t make excuses. There are a lot of medical conditions that I didn’t know existed before I starting project managing. I’ve learnt a couple of new ones in 2015. I don’t need to know any more in 2016.

4Tell me if you’re going over budget. One of the project manager’s other key jobs is to keep things within budget. If the number of hours agreed for the current stage of the project is 50 and you’ve already done 40 hours and are only half the way through, we’re going to go over budget. We need to talk about why this is. Does the manuscript need more work than anticipated? Do the proofs have a lot of overmatter? Are there a lot of facts that need checking? The next thing we need to do is agree whether the client is happy with the additional hours, and we need to do this in good time before the handover date.

3Keep it real. If you’re working on a long-term project, chances are that there will be some times when you’ll want to snap your laptop lid shut and walk away. (Please do a quick save before you do that.) Take a break, have a change of scene, do something else for a bit. But come back and drop me a line rather than get trapped in a spiral of bad feeling towards the project. It’s good to talk.

That’s what I’d like from you. What can I do for you in return?

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22 thoughts on “How to be the project manager’s favourite editor

  1. Great post! What can you do for me? Add me to your go-to list! 😉 Check in with me from time to time, and remember that I don’t know everything that’s going on in your head. Check that you’ve passed on all relevant information!

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  2. Thanks for another great post. What can PMs do for their teams? (1) Include the key areas listed above within the intial brief (2) Set clear expectations at the start (3) Give a list of project-specific tools for editors (such as Jing) (4) Send constructive feedback once a major milestone is achieved.

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  3. Thanks for this. As an editor new to freelancing side of things it’s good to confirm what project managers are thinking! Fortunately, it seems I think along the same lines, which is perhaps unsurprising having done project management in-house.

    One thing I’ve been thinking about recently is how to get across on a CV the things you mention in the ‘Keep up to date’ section. I had put something about digital literacy on my most recent CV but a contact gave me feedback suggesting that this sounded a bit like something from school – what do you think? I think this is really important, as many freelancers aren’t and it’s something I’d like to focus on to help me ‘stand out’, but I’m not sure how to describe these skills.

    Any advice much appreciated! 🙂

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    1. Hi Richard. Thanks for commenting, and I hope you’re enjoying freelancing. I hadn’t thought about how to show digital literacy on a CV or profile, because I think I take it for granted in editors I work with. But now you mention it, it is something that is worth showing clients. Perhaps a list of bullets listing the software/apps you’re comfortable with, but perhaps not including Word and Excel? I’m going to ask this question on the White Ink Facebook page later this week and see what response I get. I’ll be in touch again shortly.

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  4. All spot on, Karen! Projects where the brief is unclear or emails haven’t been answered have been the hardest to work on for me. and it’s vital with a large projects that editors keep the project manager updated about any style changes, etc. I like your ‘Keep it real’ point. Sometimes you do get a project that stretches you to the limits. It can be hard to admit this and you valiantly try to soldier on, thinking you alone have to sort it out. Feeling you can phone/email the project manager and be honest on these occasions is very useful. 🙂

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  5. All spot on, Karen! Projects where the brief is unclear or emails haven’t been answered have been the hardest to work on for me. and it’s vital with a large projects that editors keep the project manager updated about any style changes, etc. I like your ‘Keep it real’ point. Sometimes you do get a project that stretches you to the limits. It can be hard to admit this and you valiantly try to soldier on, thinking you alone have to sort it out. Feeling you can phone/email the project manager and be honest on these occasions is very useful. 🙂

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  6. Great post, Karen. Thanks! I did slightly balk at your ‘don’t make excuses’ section. Isn’t one persons’ ‘excuse’ another person’s ‘explanation’? What someone is suffering from is relevant for planning and could affect the whole project unless measures are put in place – nasty headache? They’ll be fine tomorrow. Arm fallen off – that’s going to slow them down a bit both short- and long-term! 😉 I’ve worked on projects that have almost fallen apart because someone on the team didn’t dare admit they had a problem. I wondered how you square the ‘I don’t need to know’ point with your final words: ‘it’s good to talk’?

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    1. Thanks Diane! I’m contrasting an excuse with a genuine issue here. I have definitely managed projects where team members have consistently missed deadlines and the excuses get increasingly exotic. I’m always going to be sympathetic to genuine issues, but what I’m saying is that I’d rather hear ‘I’m really sorry, I totally misread the schedule and won’t have the work done by tomorrow’ so we can work out how to deal with that, than something far less believable. If the project manager is approachable, it should be possible to have an honest conversation rather than the whole project collapse unnecessarily.

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      1. Thanks, Karen. Gotcha! And sorry to hear you’ve been serially disappointed by people to the point of loss of trust. Having worked with you, I know approachability will *not* have been the issue there!

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  7. I’d like to feel that I can speak to you, for real, on the actual phone, without feeling awkward or guilty about disturbing you. This will only happen if I’m really stuck at the beginning of a project and because, just occasionally, speaking is in fact a more efficient use of time – it helps me resolve any confusion very speedily, eliminating the need for a long-winded email so that I can get on with what you really need me to do ….

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      1. Fab. My point of course is that, as a managing editor and I were agreeing (on the phone!) just a few weeks ago, there’s occasionally just no substitute for actually talking to someone. I know one wouldn’t do this routinely, but I’m guessing that some editors are sometimes reluctant to pick up the phone, under any circs, for fear of being rebuffed a little (‘could you just put that in an email next time …’, is not an unusual response I don’t think, but sometimes we Eds. just want to resolve something quickly, as we might have done in an office environment)

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      2. I agree with you. I think we’ve all stopped using the phone – I can’t remember the last time mine rang with a work call. Some people might like an email along the lines of ‘are you around if I just give you a quick ring at 10am to clarify something’, but not always necessary. What we don’t want to encourage is picking up the phone at the drop of a hat.

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  8. Yep of course, ‘nuf said, nothing more annoying! 😉 But in this digital world we all now inhabit, I think F2F (or voice to voice) contact is becoming, perhaps unwittingly, frowned upon, and I don’t believe that’s always helpful… .

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