Team Work: 6 Ways to Succeed in a Big, Sprawling Writing, Editing, and Publishing Project

Working on big projects with many writers, reviewers, advisors, and editors, with co-publishers, and many revision cycles can be hell. However, over 20+ years and confirmed by a recent project (with a wonderful team), I’ve learned there are ways to make big projects work well. Here are 6 of the many ways:

  1. Clarify the basics when you start and refer to them regularly.
  2. Know your job and do it efficiently and well.
  3. Know who is playing what other roles and the process.
  4. Communicate clearly and purposefully.
  5. Email effectively.
  6. Keep learning.
  1. Clarify the basics when you start. Often in big projects, there are pauses in development, people are brought on to the project at different stages, and key information can be buried, if only temporarily. Even when that is not the case, it’s easy to lose the forest for the trees when deadlines loom. For example, what is required content vs. desired content, what is the prior knowledge or language level for the target market, what is the target number of visuals per chapter or web page, and who tracks the photo budget? Having that basic information from the start and stepping back from the project regularly to look at the big picture can save many false steps.
  2. Know your job and do it efficiently and well. Part of this means not stepping on toes; part of this is simply effective teamwork; and part of this is gaining experience and constant professional development. For example, sure, an editor must provide the design team with design specifications to do the design job and then the editor must get out of the way, but the editor can legitimately comment about reading ease in design samples.
  3. Know who is playing what other roles and the process. Ironing out who is doing what, their focus and expertise, what is expected at each stage, and who signs off at each stage is vital—especially when those involved have different levels and types of experience. With each publication, the process might need some fine-tuning, but that’s part of learning from experience (#6).
  4. Communicate clearly and purposefully. With many players, this is critical. It helps people make decisions effectively and on time. Tell people what you need and when. Make life easier for the skimmers. For example, “Here is the 2nd draft of Grade 11/Chapter 8 (Justice) for your review. For comments to be considered, we need your review by next Wednesday noon (December 22). Please review for errors in fact, possible bias, omissions, and curriculum match. Also, if other concerns or questions occur to you (e.g., reading level), please let us know as part of this review stage. This is the last stage for recommending or requiring new content or content revisions, so please take your time. If you have big concerns or any questions, please call or email before the Wednesday deadline. If you would like to see the last draft and summary of review comments for context, please see the FTP site….” or “Here is a first draft for the “Faux Wood” web page. Please note…” and create a bullet list for each key point.
  5. Email effectively. On big projects, especially those with far-flung team members, email becomes the communication method of choice. Do yourself and everyone else a favour: write one email per subject; use a clear, focused, searchable subject line; change the subject line if the subject of the thread changes; limit the cc’ing to those who need to know.
  6. Keep learning. Last of all, and I think this applies to all work that writers, editors, and other communicators do—heck, it applies in every walk of life—learn from each and every project and person. I’ve been lucky to meet many wonderful, knowledgeable, committed people in my work and I’ve learned something new with every project. Humbly accept that you do not ever know everything, embrace the challenge to learn, and get to it.
© Laura Edlund 2010