Eva van Emden (she/her), freelance editor

Certified copy editor and proofreader


October 15, 2015

Project management at Beyond the Red Pencil: Editing in the 21st Century

I really admire how good project managers keep their eye on the goal. If someone doesn’t do their job or a problem shows up, it’s easy to get upset and hung up on the problem; project managers stay calm and focus on what has to be done to make the project succeed. To find out more about how project managers do what they do, I went to the panel discussion on project management at the Beyond the Red Pencil: Editing in the 21st Century conference.

How do people get into project management?

It seems there’s a certain personality type for people who become project managers, so if you organized your toys when you were five, you may have what it takes. One panellist said he became a project manager out of self-defence. When he was an editor, he would go around the office and hurry up the writers so that he could go home on time. If you want to move from another type of work into project management, pay attention to the project management tasks you already do and claim those as expertise.

Some project management skills and strategies

  • Maintain a real respect for everyone in the project. The project manager needs to know how long tasks take and what’s involved, and most of all, respect the work.
  • Be very understanding of other people’s challenges.
  • Take note of the things that repetitively take your time, and take the time to automate or streamline those tasks.
  • Prioritize the trade-offs between cost, timeline, and quality.
  • Ignore problems until they go away. No, really. Have a contingency plan, but remember that some problems will be cancelled out by other problems.
  • See problems before they happen. Consider what can go wrong and what you can do about it.

Project managers and freelancers

Working with freelancers is a special challenge for project managers because freelancers are only available for certain blocks of time. If your schedule changes, it often means having to find a different freelancer to do the work.

To stand out as a freelancer, don’t just do the work on time. Check in before the project starts to let the project manager know you’re on track and find out whether anything has changed. If you finish early, deliver early! If you’re going to be late, tell the project manager as soon as possible. Provide a realistic later delivery date, or provide options for having someone else take over the work. And a little secret: yes, a Friday afternoon delivery is probably functionally the same as a Monday morning delivery. Ask for the weekend if you need it.

The freelance project manager

  • Fees: you may charge an hourly rate or make the project management a percentage of the project fee.
  • You can present a menu of services, but can get too detailed and complicated. Keep the description of your services fairly simple.
  • Whether you charge an hourly rate or not, always track your time so that you learn how long things take.

Project management tools

Most of the panellists used fairly simple software support, generally something based on a spreadsheet that could be printed on a big sheet of paper. One panellist had experience with a complex time tracking system, but found that it was too time-consuming to use; people either didn’t use it or entered fake information to match what their supervisors wanted to see.