Content Producers, Take a Page From This Editor’s Book
One book, 101 volunteer contributors. An editor shares some tips on managing a large-scale publishing project that compiled the work of 101 volunteer authors in just one year.
Project management is not for the faint of heart. Executing a large project, such as a 530-page resource book for the deaf and hard-of-hearing community, takes extreme organization, diplomacy, good communication and collaboration, and passion—as one editor demonstrates.
When Warren Estabrooks, an international consultant in the listening and spoken language community, pitched the idea for a book—which would feature 101 common questions asked of auditory-verbal professionals when treating children—to the Alexander Graham Bell Association, he knew he was committing to a potentially chaotic project.
“When I approached AG Bell with this project, I think it came about in a moment of temporary insanity,” said Estabrooks, who also manages a busy consulting career. But the editor was passionate about creating a new resource for parents and professionals in the listening and spoken language community, and AG Bell was interested in publishing the book.
“We thought it was a good project,” said Susan Boswell, CAE, AG Bell director of communications and marketing. “AG Bell has a small bookstore operation, and we do not typically take on book publishing projects, but the idea captivated us. We thought this was a good and worthwhile project that would move our field forward.”
Once he had a publisher on board, Estabrooks began his search for contributors, and he would need 101 to fill out the book: 101 Frequently Asked Questions About Auditory-Verbal Practice.
To begin, Estabrooks posted a discussion on a closed, community listserver asking professionals to submit questions they’re most frequently asked. He got about 300 questions and narrowed them down to cover the nine domains of listening and spoken language practices that form the core of the AG Bell Academy, a subsidiary organization of AG Bell that offers professional certification in the field.
Next, Estabrooks posted the narrowed-down question list with a call for authors who would write responses to the questions. The entire process came together pretty quickly—from start to finish it took a year—and without any major hiccups.
How did he manage to run such a relatively smooth process in such a short amount of time with so many volunteer contributors? Estabrooks shared a few tips for managing a large-scale editorial project well.
“First thing is to choose your contributors wisely,” he said. “Make sure in your conscious that they are the best people to do the project.”
Second, give everyone working on the project clear and specific guidelines for what is expected of them from the start. “Ask them upfront, ‘Do you think you’ll be able to do this based on these guidelines?’” he said. “And if so, I welcome you on the project, and if not, thank you very much for your interest but we can’t manage your contribution unless you’re able to meet the deadline.”
Estabrooks also advised being specific about the style of writing that is expected and that all copy is subject to editorial style changes.
As for how to gracefully handle articles that come in without matching those specifications, take a note from Nike, Estabrooks said. “If there is content that I don’t want in there, I do my Nike thing, which is I just do it. I go right to the point and say ‘You know this doesn’t really fit.’” He then offers authors a chance to convince him that their articles are relevant to the project, and they can then work together to make it fit better.
While that didn’t happen with this particular book, “There was some discussion about a few issues, and some discussion where I won ultimately” Estabrooks said. “You have to do that as an editor. I didn’t lose anybody in the process.”
Another important component that helped the process run smoothly was the passion behind it.
“We had the most outstanding people collaborating on a project of huge substance and good will,” Estabrooks said. “There is within our profession enormous passion in working with families of children who are deaf and hard of hearing, with the children themselves, with the parents, with the allied professionals. People view this as a global team of professionals that are moving this forward everywhere.”
Have any more tips for managing a large, contributed project? Let us know in the comments.