New beginnings and grand plans

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!

Posted on 14 Jan 2014
Written by John Pettigrew

Hat wearer, recovering editor and now CEO & Founder of We Are Futureproofs, John Pettigrew has 20 years of experience in educational, illustrated and academic publishing, and a history of successful print and digital product development.