by Associate Agent, Veronica Park
As any savvy business person will tell you, project management is the practice of initiating, planning, executing, and finalizing the work of an individual or team to achieve specific goals and success criteria within a specified amount of time. As any publishing professional will tell you, project management is also one of the most crucial skill sets to develop and perfect for a successful career in this industry. The challenge of project management is achieving all of the project goals within the given constraints. In other words: doing your best, while being on time.
To illustrate why this can be a challenge in our industry, let’s play a quick round of Two Truths and a Lie:
- Publishing operates on a schedule, with narrow margins of error, given production requirements.
- Creatives are inherently flexible, as a rule, but often struggle with discipline under pressure.
- Real life never interferes with productivity, creativity, or deadlines.
Can you spot the lie? Given recent events, it should be fairly obvious. (Hint: it’s the last one.)
In my career in Publishing, I’ve come across many logical fallacies that have caused a kind of mass cognitive dissonance in understanding how real life and the publishing industry interact. My least favorite of these fallacies is: if you know what you’re doing (for the most part,) and you remain calm (when possible,) and you follow the rules (which are pretty much constantly changing in this business, and frequently have exceptions,) everything is going to work out fine. Mostly because, well, look at all the parentheses I had to use to avoid perjuring myself back there. The point I’m making is this: you can’t be a successful manager of anything—including a project, a career, or life in general—if you’re following someone else’s path, and failing to account for the facts that are true in your situation.
Above all, it’s important to acknowledge and understand why not all projects or processes are created equal, nor do they all exist in the same reality. Publishing doesn’t work the same for everyone, at any level. No two authors will have the exact same path to success. No two editors will acquire based on the exact same criteria. No two agents will sell a manuscript the exact same way. There are numerous factors in each person’s equation, and these are important to consider when managing your projects. Access, timing, ability, prejudice, saturation, past successes, past failures, promotional opportunities, systemic obstacles, marginalization, economic inequality, global pandemics, etc.—all of these factors exist, and apply differently to each person’s process, whether we want them to or not. Once you factor these in, you’ll be less likely to fall victim to pitfalls like comparing your own success to others, or failing to recognize how circumstances (like timing) were responsible for past failures, instead of the process itself.
Once you’ve figured out how to successfully incept, plan, execute, and finalize a project (ideally, on time,) the next logical step is figuring out how to replicate that success. Not just once, but again and again, for the rest of your career as an author/agent/editor/publisher/etc.
Sounds simple, right? Just do all the stuff you did last time—if it worked—and don’t repeat any of the other stuff that you did before that didn’t work. Right? Easy peasy. (There’s a term for that, by the way; figuring out how to replicate your successes while also minimizing your failures. It’s called process control, or process management.) Process management refers to aligning processes with an organization’s or individual’s strategic goals; designing and implementing process architectures, establishing measurement systems that align with organizational goals, and delegating others to help manage processes more effectively in the long term. Once you’ve successfully streamlined your process, the next step is to learn how to tweak it as needed, to adapt to changing circumstances, industry climate, shifting goals, etc. So simple! …Just kidding. Things aren’t always simple, but if you take things one step at a time, almost anything can be do-able. Just like everything in life, as they say, “it’s a process.”
Too much boring business jargon? No problem. Let’s recap, in listicle form:
- Once you’ve successfully finished a project, take a step back to figure out what worked, what didn’t work, and make a list of things you’d like to do with the next project.
- Remember why you’re doing all of this in the first place, so you don’t lose perspective.
- Treat every project like it’s part of a whole; a Big Picture Plan, where everything you do or make is another step in the same direction, another brick in the foundation you’re building.
- There are no “perfect” projects, or “magical” shortcuts to success, so the Best Process is one you custom create to fit your unique skills, circumstances, goals, and limitations.
- Asking for help is an important (and inevitable) part of any process. You don’t have to plan alone. The more data you collect, the better!
- Whatever else you do, please remember to keep your [social] distance, and wash your hands. Stay healthy, friends!
Veronica Park is an associate agent, journalist, and marketing consultant with more than 10 years of experience writing and editing for publication. Before joining Fuse, V worked as an acquisitions editor and PR director at REUTS Publications before joining a New York literary agency in 2014, where she represented nonfiction and fiction authors with projects from middle grade to adult. V is also the CEO of VPA Consulting, LLC, a brand strategy and process consulting firm. She graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in print/broadcast journalism with an emphasis in linguistics and business marketing.