An editor compares print and digital in a pair of scales

New beginnings and grand plans

by John Pettigrew

Does publishing have to be painful? Sometimes, it seems like we have to spend so much effort on the day-to-day grind that we don’t get the chance to step back and think about how we do things.

This new blog exists to address a question – does publishing have to be painful? Over the coming months, I’ll be sharing some of my experiences as an editor, project manager and team leader. Once you’ve knocked around the publishing world for a while, you soon see that things sometimes run in a less-than-optimal way! But I’m going to focus on some things I’ve learned and on techniques that I’ve found to work over the years I’ve spent as part of and running editorial teams.

Learning from change

We’ve seen huge changes in what we are creating, driven by changes in technology and in what our users have grown to expect. From being generally print focused, the publishing business is moving rapidly to ebooks, apps and the web. I’ve been fortunate in having worked in fields that saw early and extensive change in these areas, but few publishing companies could really claim to have completely mastered these recent challenges.

It’s not just the product, though. When I first entered publishing in the mid-1990s, most editors still copyedited on paper, received galley proofs before layouts were done, and dealt with proofs created from film (and that was certainly how I was trained). Since then, we’ve seen the wholesale change of workflows as on-screen editing combined with the introduction of InDesign to kill the galley proof and film, and then as new technologies like content-management systems and XML changed the basis on which we related to our content.

Driving change

Of course, these changes in our product and workflows (and consequent changes in our customers and business models) have had very significant impacts on the teams who create that product. Many of the systems and processes we use will need to change – but carefully, because they have developed over decades for very good reasons. In recent years, unfortunately, I feel that most changes in our workflows have made editors’ lives more difficult rather than easier.

And that is the core reason for this blog. We all know that we need to change, to respond to these new and ongoing challenges. But if the change is all driven from the outside – if we let the story be told only by the technology companies, career managers and social-media gurus – then we lose control over what we do and how we do it. Which means that we run a severe risk of losing the key advantage that publishers have traditionally held.

Editors are important

For we are the gatekeepers, the people whose responsibility is to ensure that the books (or ebooks, or apps, or whatever our product becomes) that people buy are accurate and appealing and worthwhile. If we’re to continue serving this function then we need to evolve ways of performing these functions in the new worlds we occupy – as well as in the still-vibrant and successful world of print publishing. And bringing those new ways of working into being will be substantially easier if we clearly understand how they worked in ‘the old days’.

So, this blog is a hopeful offering to editors and publishers as they face their own challenges. My own response to the some of the challenges I see is laid out elsewhere on this site, in the Collate It platform that we are building. This is designed to help editors and project managers to deliver high-quality products more easily and quickly, by providing proofing tools that take advantage of the latest technology as well as traditional wisdom.

On this blog, though, we’ll be looking at other issues and other possible solutions, and I hope that you’ll join me on this journey through the heart of publishing. If you have any thoughts about the issues or ideas about other areas we should cover, please do let me know.

The first proper article is now up here, and my hope is to continue posting every other week. Please do come back soon and join the conversation!

About the author

Hat wearer, recovering editor and now CEO & Founder of We Are Futureproofs, John Pettigrew has over 15 years of experience in educational, illustrated and academic publishing, and a history of successful print and digital product development.

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Comments

 Justo Hidalgo – January 15, 2014

John, congratulations on your blog. I think your idea is not only good, but necessary. Considering myself as ‘a technology company’-turned ‘half-tech, half-publishing company’ ;), your points of view, someone with publishing experience but with an eye for what’s going on with the industry, is something I miss. I hope your next posts deal with this vision that is, in most cases, in the blind spot.

Good luck!

     John Pettigrew – January 16, 2014

    Thanks, Justo. There’s an awful lot happening in the industry and it sometimes seems to me that much of the conversation is very strategic and not very focused on the realities of actually delivering the product. And that’s what I’m hoping to think about here. So hopefully we’ll start to reduce that blind spot a little!

 Suzanne Kavanagh – January 15, 2014

This is what we are typically woeful of doing as an industry. We need to focus on describing – in straightforward terms – what we do and how/why we add value. It’s all too easy to gloss over the editorial skills that transform words and other media into something compelling. It’s not an either/or debate between traditional skills and new technology, but a nuanced integration of the best of both to move forward in new and exciting ways. I’ll look forward to reading more – good luck!

     John Pettigrew – January 16, 2014

    Thanks for dropping by, Suzanne, and for articulating what I’m planning to talk about here. I’m really passionate about a lot of what we do – often those boring, everyday skills that people exercise to such good effect. We need to keep applying them to all our products, rather than letting them get lost in the rush to the change.

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