6 Things I Learned From Being a Production Editor

I know I have constantly mentioned in this blog that I worked as a production editor for a UK-based publishing company for four and a half years (until I finally quit in July). Although I am no longer affiliated with the said company, I would like to keep its identity classified. I was part of the Social Sciences & Humanities department, hence all 11 journals under my name were mostly about law, medicine, politics, and psychology.

Before anything else, what exactly does a production editor do? A production editor is responsible for the entire publication process of manuscripts from beginning to final publication. He works closely with authors, typesetters, editors, and vendors to ensure a smooth transition from a document to its delivery to the readers. A person in this position must keep communication flowing between all necessary departments. I have compiled a list of six (6) things I learned from this experience:

Communication is key.

Dealing with several contacts—both internal and external—meant getting in touch with them by email 99% of the time. Email content varies from time to time, but the most common ones are inquiries on the current status of their submissions and additional instructions to take note of. It is also worth noting that response to each email depends on the message’s content, so it is highly advisable to read it thoroughly before hitting the reply and send button. Responding to emails, and responding to them in a timely manner, is very important. Contacts seldom calls, but when they do, it could mean that something’s out of place.

Be mindful of turn-around time (TAT).

Most people working in the production industry will agree to how important this is. Production editors are expected to respond to emails (whether important or not) within 24 hours upon receipt. Most of my colleagues from another team struggle with this because they receive thrice as much emails I go through on a daily basis. However, responding to emails promptly is critical; not only does it give the impression that everything is under control, it also builds rapport with significant and highly-sensitive contacts.

Having a previous background or experience in publication is unnecessary.

Take my word on this. I graduated with a degree in Industrial Engineering, and yet I stayed in the same company for longer than I had expected nor planned. I have zero background or experience, although at the time this project was brought to the Philippines, we were fortunate enough to have been trained by colleagues from Singapore and the UK. Being pioneers of this project meant a lot was expected from us. With proper training and management, things were executed well. At least during the first few years.

Get this—graduating with flying colors does not guarantee excellence at work. While this is an added bonus, sometimes this becomes irrelevant when you’re already on board. I think having the right attitude and diligence towards work are what makes a person successful.

It has sharpened my proofreading and copyediting skills.

As production editor, not only did I oversee the entire production process, but I also developed an exceptional skill in proofreading and copyediting. My eyes were trained for spot-checking trivial typographical or grammatical errors, which readers will not normally even notice. I was quite notorious on this particular issue because whenever I see such errors, which should have been picked up during the initial stage in production, I report them as feedback, and pressure the typesetters to resupply the proof accordingly.

In addition to these, I have also been more conscious with my writing that I tend to apply the rules I learned from using the content and technical journal style sheets as reference. A common example of which is my appropriate usage of dashes on when to use a hyphen, an en dash, and an em dash. I know blogging should come off anything but stiff or uptight, but one can’t really blame me for practicing what I have grown accustomed to.

Time management and good organization skills are vital.

Okay, these are not entirely exclusive for those in the publishing industry, but I think these are necessary. When I say time management, this includes my work schedule preference. I was lucky to have worked for a company (and client) that allowed me to choose a work schedule that was most convenient for me. On top of that, we were entitled to a flexi-time that grants us the liberty to come to work anytime within the three-hour grace period without worrying about being late. I have always preferred working early in the morning (anytime between 5 to 7 o’clock) when I feel most productive.

I usually begin by going through all my emails before getting on with my tasks for the day. This is where good organization skills come in. I kept a notebook, a calendar, sticky notes, and different colored pens for a reason. While I read through and respond to pertinent emails, I took note of important things to do that required immediate action, and could not wait until the following day. These were obviously in my top priority list, and must be completed or at least attended to before I clock out from work. My daily to-do’s such as proof collation, revised proof checking, and QA checking of electronic deliverables must be done to prevent them from piling up by the end of the week. Clearly, putting off today’s work for later was not my thing.

It is okay to be a non-conformist, but only to a certain degree.

This also has something to do with time management and good organization skills, but I want to focus more on a personal thing I swear by. I like working with minimal-to-zero supervision. Modesty aside, handling 11 journals at once without major guidance from my immediate superior was a remarkable feat. I basically functioned and managed my titles with my own strategy. Despite this, I always ensured that my goal was met in the same way that I adhered with the company’s expectations.

Since I have established my journals well enough, I preferred working in advance. I took time in reviewing my production planner, schedule, and list of available materials on days when I have lesser things to do to figure out which issues I can pull forward. I normally had these issues compiled at least two weeks ahead of time despite a distant actual publication date. Doing so allowed me to get them out of the way, and enabled me to focus on more important issues or those at-risk of slipping from its original publication schedule. This strategy worked for me, and it didn’t affect the company’s service level agreement, so it was definitely a win-win situation.

These are only a few of the many things I learned from working in the publishing industry. Like I said earlier, these are not restricted to production editors. I firmly believe that these are also applicable to whatever career one is currently in. I really enjoyed this profession, and had I not come to terms with a major life decision, I would have stayed longer. I am not only bringing wonderful memories from working with authors and editors alike; I will also take with all that I learned from them for future reference.

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