How agile can we be? An editorial perspective – Part 2 of 3

In the first part of this mini-series we discussed the complexities of ELT publishing – focusing on publishers’ growing need to get courses to market quickly without losing quality. To do this, the supply chain for larger projects is often made up of smaller companies and individuals, all of whom are going to be working on more than one project at any given time.

We touched briefly on the need for suppliers like emc to be able to mitigate potential issues that can be caused by condensed schedules and last-minute changes.

This week, we’ve asked Lyn Strutt, an experienced ELT editor, to give us her thoughts on the impact tightened schedules can have on projects from an editorial point of view and how to minimise its effect on quality and accuracy.

In my experience, there are often times in a standard ELT publishing schedule when everything seems to be on a collision course or feels suddenly rushed. A compressed schedule can make the whole project feel like it’s on this kind of footing.

It’s really important that everyone is committed to the schedule and perhaps to a different way of working – and that may mean working longer days. If one person misses a deadline in a compressed schedule, it means another person is under extreme pressure to do their bit in an even shorter time, and may require them to work very antisocial hours to catch up.

There are positive aspects to a compressed schedule: if you’re getting your second proofs back only ten days after you sent off your first proofs, it does mean that there’s no time to ‘forget’ what you did last time, or what the series style is. If you’re working on several levels of a book on this basis, it can get a little overwhelming, but you do very much have your finger on the pulse of the project and this can be very satisfying. Additionally, if you have the hours available, you may find that you can earn quite a chunk of money in a short space of time!

The reality of a compressed schedule is that there is often too much work for one person to do – be that author, content editor, copy editor, proofreader – either because it’s not humanly possible, or because it’s difficult to find people with the level of availability required. Many freelancers will be working on several jobs and alternating between them, so they will not have a solid block of days or weeks to give you unless you book them well in advance and do not change your dates – both things less likely with this kind of schedule.

An important point here is that, unless your style sheet is very comprehensive and very strictly adhered to, there is a risk of things going adrift. That means it needs to be referred to and updated regularly by all parties, rather than written once and then held in everybody’s memory. With more people involved, there’s a higher risk of one person making a new style decision and not informing others, or of ‘remembering’ the style differently and making changes on one component that do not follow through to the others. And on a compressed schedule, there is not an individual who has the time – or the opportunity – to check every component at this level of detail.

Because the freelancer is not in-house and not attending meetings or copied into email, it’s easy to get missed out of the loop. This has always been the case, but it has more immediate consequences on a compressed schedule. So good communication and collaboration is very important. In-house editors often feel relieved when they have sent work out of house to freelancers, to get it off their desk and know it’s in safe hands – to forget about it for a bit, if you like. But I think perhaps this attitude needs to change, and especially so when a schedule is compressed. The freelancer needs to be seen more as part of the in-house team, and there needs to be an open, two-way channel of timely communication. A compressed schedule means the product is ready more quickly and possibly at a lower cost, but the quality is at risk. Less time available means less time to waste.

What do you think?

Next week, we will conclude this series (but hopefully not the conversation!) with some ideas on how we might be able to work together to become more agile – both as individual suppliers and as an industry. So if you have any thoughts or tips on working with condensed schedules or within an agile workflow, let us know in the comments!

About emc design

emc design is a leading print & digital design agency for publishing.
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5 Responses to How agile can we be? An editorial perspective – Part 2 of 3

  1. Karen White says:

    Interesting. What happens if “working longer days” and “very antisocial hours” aren’t options for the editor? Are the publishers paying editors more to work like this? Not in my experience.

  2. emc design says:

    Hi Karen, thanks for your comment and good question! In our experience it’s a ‘no’ too!

  3. It’s a really interesting post. I think quality can suffer if projects stretch resources to the max without enough breathing space between ‘sprints’. Looking at screens for more than 5 hours a day is a risky strategy. I agree that the best projects are when everyone feels part of a team.

  4. Pingback: How agile can we be? Top 5 tips for working together in a global publishing industry – Part 3 of 3 | emc design ltd

  5. Pingback: Where does a design agency fit into publishing? We explore this as part of the PA’s #workinpublishing week | emc design ltd

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