Five tips for managing editors

Editors are, on the whole, a fantastic and dedicated group of people. But they can be a little trying – detail-oriented, pedantic and often obsessive, they always find the flaws in everything! When you find yourself managing editors, try these tips to avoid being eaten.

I spent a decade avoiding management. I just wanted to get on with the editing – fixing content, helping authors and learning interesting stuff. But, seven or eight years ago, I found myself responsible for a team of five editors. Fortunately, I got some good advice, and I learned a few things along the way, too.

So here are five of my top tips for people who find themselves managing a team of editors.

Let them eat cake

Literally, take cake to meetings. Or cheese and crackers. Whatever takes your fancy. The point is that editors tend to work alone, focusing on their particular projects. If you can help to build a sense that there are other people around who understand their problems, that can make a huge difference.

Having regular team meetings helps, and it helps even more if those meetings are enjoyable. I found that people found it useful to share experiences (good and bad), discuss common interests (like suppliers) and spending time talking about issues that matter to them.

But mostly, you know, cake.

Send them home

When I started being a manager, I got sent on one of those training courses with a section called ‘how to motivate your team’ about how to make sure your team worked their full hours or volunteered for overtime. That wasn’t my problem as a manager. Rather, my problem was how to motivate my team to stop working and go home!

Full workloads coupled with editors’ tendency to care about their projects can produce a nasty tendency for working days to be ten or even twelve hours. In short bursts, this doesn’t cause too many problems. But let it go on and your team will burn out. So, you should create a culture where the team are expected to go home on time. Lead by example!

If the work isn’t getting done, there can be only two reasons – your team isn’t good enough or there’s too much work. In either case, it’s your problem as a manager, not the team’s problem!

Help build bridges

One of the paradoxes of the editor’s life is that they are responsible for ensuring that their books are appropriate for the reader, but they rarely get actually to meet the readers! Sales teams meet customers all the time. Marketing meets customers. Commissioning (hopefully) talks to customers. But the editorial and production teams don’t.

The best way to get your team some exposure to their actual readers is to build bridges with those other teams. Arrange trips out with sales reps. Observe (or even take part in) focus groups with marketing or commissioning. Get the team out of the building!

And don’t forget to reciprocate. Those other teams can be surprisingly unaware of what actually goes on in editorial, and are often very pleased to be included and made aware.

Care about the details

For managers who’ve come up through editorial, this is probably second nature (being an editor-type yourself!). But a lot of management advice is to focus on the ‘big picture’ and leave the details to the workers. Now, I wouldn’t for a moment suggest that you should be micromanaging your team, but never forget who you’re managing.

Editors are detail people. So, if you don’t care about the details, it looks like you don’t care about what they do. So, make sure that there is space to talk about details – even to stress over them. And back your team to the hilt when there are disagreements between teams over priorities. You are there to support the team, not the other way around. (They’re doing the actual work, don’t forget!)

 Trust them to know their jobs

There’s nothing more poisonous to the relationship between a team and their manager than lack of trust. It shows in all sorts of ways but, most fundamentally, it means letting people get on with what they’re doing without continual monitoring and interference.

Certainly, it’s your job as a manager to know how things are going and to talk to your team about their work. But the reason for this is to find and to help eliminate problems, alongside your team. Assign tasks, distribute projects, be there for your team to ask for help when they have an issue they can’t deal with by themselves. But don’t interfere wantonly.

So, that’s my list. Do you agree? Or disagree? And what are your tips for people trying to manage teams of editors?

Posted on 15 Jun 2015
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.