Projects for pages: PRINCE2 and book publishing

Pile of books in library on table in front of bookshelves with book on top open with pages spread

Sifting through an influx of unsolicited manuscripts…

Negotiating rights deals at the London Book Fair

Juggling overlapping deadlines…

A multitude of authors raising royalty and advance queries…

Book publishing is a busy, blossoming industry. Publishing has undergone considerable changes over the thirty years, from the emergence of digital content, the rise of imprints dedicated to commissioning BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) authors, to the surge of co-publishing partnerships intent on delivering thought-provoking and absorbable content.

Project management has been a comparatively linear process throughout the publishing industry used within commissioning, manuscript development, production, and, eventually, publication. I asked David Atkins (Content Delivery & Production Manager), Richard Bell (Senior Commissioning Editor) and Craig Smith (Managing Editor) to draw upon their experience to consider how PRINCE2 can be tailored to a publishing project: how the principles, themes and processes can be utilized to publish a book.

In your previous roles, what sort of project management methods did you use for editorial project management?

David: I used PRINCE2® at MacMillan and Oxford University Press. Like AXELOS, they had a dedicated PMO team, which makes publishing a book much more effective as it allows you to focus on the workstream.

Craig: I never knowingly used PRINCE2 at any of my previous publishers, working on the sales, marketing and editorial side of things. However, every publisher used processes and best practice that align with PRINCE2. For example, once a book had been published for six months, we would evaluate its sales and social media success, to see what we could learn for future projects. This is the equivalent of a lesson learned log.

How does AXELOS use PRINCE2 for a publishing project?

David: We tailor PRINCE2 to deliver the project through waterfall or agile. Waterfall means that we complete the project in phases and each phase depends on the deliverables of the previous one. Agile means that the project is completed in small sections or iterations. The approach becomes waterfall once we pass our books onto our co-publishing partner, TSO, for typesetting and printing.

The project to develop and write the ITIL 4 core guidance was an example of PRINCE2 working very well. The entire company was aligned and understood their role in the creation of the finished manuals, the accompanying certification, supplementary content and marketing collateral.

Craig: Core guidance was not a business as usual project. It is imperative that PRINCE2 is tailored in order to deliver effective editorial project management.

Richard: We do not apply the full weight of PRINCE2 to our core guidance. We focus on communications management, and stakeholder engagement in author relationship management. It’s a refined and organized way to manage author relationships.

How could we use the PRINCE2 method more effectively?

David: We need to remind ourselves that the project does not finish on publication day. The market feedback needs to be absorbed and implemented during our 1st/2nd/3rd impression. There needs to be an entire process for this.

Richard: PRINCE2 is a collection of best practices, so yes, we have curated and refined it for developing a publishing a book. One area we could improve is to think through and document the processes for creating new impressions and new editions of the guidance.

How could book publishers benefit from implementing PRINCE2 to solve typical publishing problems, e.g. submission deadlines, author management?

David: Because editors have a variety of responsibilities, it is often wise to combine roles. For example, sometimes the roles of development editor and copy editor are covered by one person.

Also, publishers should give serious thought to the adoption of agile delivery (PRINCE2 Agile). For example, they could work cross-departmental as they prepare a book for publication, such as editorial working closely with sales and marketing. It would allow the publisher to react quickly to lessons learned during the development process, which might help shape a marketing campaign.

Craig: Editors invariably have many projects on the go at once. Though every project is different, they invariably have processes in common. There is a lot of delegation involved, passing work to authors, reviewers, typesetters, etc. Each delegation is a work package that can be managed individually, with an individual sign-off.

Richard: The biggest risk we take as publishers is frequently the choice of author. The IP that we want to create is literally coming from them. We need to secure their engagement. Microsoft Teams is an effective platform for communication and is embedded within our communications management approach for working with authors. It manages the risk of miscommunication.

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