How to hire a freelance editorial project manager

Last updated 13 June 2023

So you need to hire a freelance editorial project manager. Perhaps you have an overspill of work from your in-house editorial team, or perhaps your business needs expert editorial help with a major project (such as the creation of a new website or the ongoing management of a journal). Whatever the case, you may be wondering how best to find a person who will be a good fit for your company and processes.

I’ve been working as an editorial project manager for around 15 years so I have a good idea of the components that make up a good client–project manager relationship. This post gives some suggestions about how you can find, research, brief and hire a freelance editorial project manager. But let’s first establish what such a person does.

How to hire a freelance editorial project manager
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What does a freelance editorial project manager do?

A freelance editorial project manager works independently on a project-by-project basis to deliver text-based projects for their clients. These projects might vary enormously in size, complexity and content, but they will all be made up of words (perhaps with illustrations and other display content) and they will all need to suit a target audience of some kind.

To deliver these projects, freelance editorial project managers develop workflows and schedules; coordinate with key stakeholders (e.g. writers) and other suppliers; and carry out ongoing quality assurance activities. In short, they do all the myriad tasks – large and small – required to ensure your pile of words is published in the right order and is fit for purpose.

Where can I find a freelance editorial project manager?

In the UK, a good place to look is the website of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP). The CIEP offers training in editorial project management and many of its project managers are also practising editors and proofreaders. It has a tiered membership scheme; the highest level of experience and training is recognised by Advanced Professional Member status, which I have held since 2012.

Another training provider, the Publishing Training Centre (PTC), also maintains a database of freelancers.

Finally, LinkedIn can be a great way of finding freelance editorial project mangers. Many editorial project managers started their career in house (like me) with a publisher, so they’re perhaps more likely than other freelancers to have a LinkedIn presence.

But before you shortlist any candidates, you’ll need to think about what exactly you want this person to do.

Checklist to use to hire a freelance editorial project manager

Because of their potentially wide remit, freelance editorial project managers can have a huge amount of responsibility. It’s therefore crucial to think about what exactly you want them to do and how you want them to fit around your internal team.

Following are six tips that you can use as a checklist to help you hire a freelance editorial project manager who will deliver what you need, how you need it, with minimal friction. You can use this list generally to aid your research into candidates, and you might also use it to help you construct your briefing documents.

1. Know your priorities

The classic project management triangle is as good a way as any of understanding the constraints around projects. According to this model, you can have two (and only two) of the following: cheap, fast and high quality. For example, if you need a project done by tomorrow or sooner, you’re going to have to pay for the overtime, especially if quality is a priority. However, if you’re willing to wait and fit around a freelancer’s schedule, you might get something of high quality done at a moderate cost. Finally, if you need to get to market quickly with a product of good but not premium quality, then you may not need to pay an inordinate amount.

I can’t imagine any freelance editorial project manager requiring a client to literally come to them with a list of priorities picked from the triangle (although it would certainly be a clear starting point for negotiations!). However, it’s helpful to have your priorities clear in your head so you can paint an accurate picture to your candidates of what you want them to achieve on your behalf and with what resources.

2. Understand what expertise you need

You might have a defined project management workflow with specific requirements in terms of skills, software access and subject knowledge. If so, you’ll likely already have internal documentation that you can share with candidates so they can assess their ability to deliver what you need.

Alternatively, you might not have a clue what expertise you require, and that’s fine too. An experienced editorial project manager can act as a consultant and develop a process for you. They will just need to know this from the start and have some clear guidance on your deliverables (the next point).

3. Outline your deliverables and acceptance criteria

This is essentially about defining what you want from the process (e.g. a book, a website or a set of exhibition blurbs) and what standards it must meet in order for you to accept the work as complete.

When defining your deliverables, it helps to be as precise as possible. For example, the deliverables for a book project might be:

  • One book of 250–280 pages containing 20–30 illustrations, 10–15 tables and two sidebars per chapter
  • A completed asset log with all permissions cleared
  • A style sheet outlining all major stylistic decisions made during the editing
  • Cover copy edited to match the style within the book
  • Weekly status report outlining progress against schedule and any risks the project faces in terms hitting its schedule, quality or budget requirements

In my experience, publishing doesn’t really ’do’ clear acceptance criteria, so this area is a bit more fuzzy. Whereas other industries might specify error margins (e.g. no more than two bicycles may have exploding tyres per 10,000 bicycles produced), this is difficult to do in editorial work because what is an error is subjective (see this page from the CIEP for a great summary of why). As a result, any acceptance criteria risk being arbitrary or generally unhelpful.

Therefore, instead of setting precise acceptance criteria, you might consider doing some or all of the following:

  • Provide a sample document showing a similar completed publication. This might be a publication in the same series (e.g. if the text will be part of your existing publishing programme) or just a text you admire.
  • Specify which style guide you want to be followed and how strictly it should be enforced (e.g. if the author’s style is consistent on any particular point, you might be happy to stick with that).
  • Be clear on who approves which aspects of the work. For example, you might want your freelance editorial project manager to approve the work of other freelancers (such as copyeditors) on your behalf but you will likely want approval of the final product yourself (and potentially of the various stages of proofs produced along the way).
  • Write a clear description of the context for which your publication is intended – its intended audience, what you want it to achieve, and how you expect it to sit within other similar publications in your industry or genre. In other words, focus on outcomes and then discuss with your editorial project manager how best those outcomes can be fulfilled.
  • Refer to industry codes of practice, such as that of the CIEP, to define standards of work, communication and behaviour.

Ultimately, you can’t get around the fact that you’ll be delegating a considerable body of work to a person outside your team, so a measure of trust will be indispensable. I’ve written about the benefits of trusting freelancers (and how to go about it) here.

4. Examine candidates’ qualifications and experience

A couple of years ago I conducted some research on LinkedIn which suggested that PRINCE2 was the most common project management qualification among UK-based project managers. However, don’t be misled by ‘most common’ – among my network, only 6% of people in the UK mentioned PRINCE2 in their LinkedIn profile. Since conducting my research, I have become accredited as a PRINCE2 Practitioner because I value the opportunity to demonstrate that I take my project management skills seriously. However, the reality is that most editorial project managers in the UK don’t currently seem to have non-editorial project management training.

It’s much more common for editorial project managers to have training with the CIEP or the PTC, and many will have in-house experience. Depending on the nature of your project, you might also look for training in specific skills, such as digital project management or rights (copyright) management.

5. Establish what connections you need them to have

If you need your freelance editorial project manager to contract other freelancers (such as proofreaders or illustrators) on your behalf, you’ll need to make sure they have the capacity to do this. Some project managers will have established connections in some areas but not others. For example, I have a network of editorial professionals I can call upon but my clients tend to handle the printing side of things themselves.

Keep in mind, too, that in the publishing world there tends to be a strong conceptual split between ‘creation’-type activities (writing, photography, etc.) and ‘development’-type activities (editing, proofreading, typesetting, etc.). If you need your project manager to straddle both areas, make sure they have the connections and expertise to do so.

Relatedly, you’ll need to establish whether you will pay freelancers directly or whether you’ll pay your freelance editorial project manager an overall budget for them to distribute on different activities as they see fit.

6. Be upfront about your availability and capacity requirements

It’s vital when hiring a freelancer to remember that your relationship with them will be different from your relationship with an employee. Unless specifically negotiated as part of your agreement, you can’t expect them to be available at specific times or at short notice when you need them.

So, for example, there is absolutely no point spending weeks securing a superb project manager for your upcoming project, only to find that they don’t work Wednesdays and so won’t be able to attend a crucial (and immovable) monthly project meeting.

Similarly, if you envision that the relationship could turn into a long-term collaboration (if all goes well), say so from the start. For all you know, your dream editorial project manager might have other bookings to move on to after yours.

Naturally, there should ideally be space in every professional relationship for growth and for the unexpected. Nevertheless, it’s wise to set down major expectations around the relationship from the start, where possible.

Agreeing terms with a freelance editorial project manager

Once you’ve shared your requirements with prospective freelance editorial project managers, you’ll need to move on to the nitty gritty of pay. You might invite bids or you might have a budget in mind – either is fine as long as everybody is clear about what the fee covers.

Once you’ve agreed a fee, you’ll also need to agree terms (e.g. payment and other legalities). Again, remember that even if a freelance project manager will be working with you long term, they are still freelance (not an employee). So they will likely have their own terms and conditions that they’ll send for your agreement. This is also the time to send them any contract that your organisation requires.

The success of this kind of collaboration, like any other, ultimately rests on good communication of requirements. A little extra time at the start of the relationship will avoid wasted time and set you up for a mutually satisfying working arrangement based on trust and shared understanding.

About Hazel Bird

Hazel delivers editorial services that empower non-profits, charities, businesses and authors to confidently share their expertise and impact. An editor since 2009, she aims to see the big picture while pinpointing every detail. She has been described as ‘superhuman’ and a ‘secret weapon', but until Tony Stark comes calling she's dedicating her superpowers to text-based endeavours.

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