What makes a good publisher? 

Is it their encyclopedic knowledge of Hemmingway? Their unfailing understanding of the discrepancies between US and UK English? Or is it their knack for knowing what the ‘next hot thing’ will be? 

Well, all of these attributes are useful, but when it comes down to it, a good publisher can deliver a publication to standard, within a budget, and on time, collaborating effectively with the various stakeholders in the process.  

That sounds a bit like project management… That’s because, in essence, it is project management. 

For this reason, publishing houses increasingly look for people with experience in project management rather than literature alone. 

This is part of a broader trend of sectors not conventionally associated with project management adopting the practices and processes of project management, such as healthcare and finance. 

Project managers in publishing are the ones behind the scenes who shepherd works from initial ideas to the finished products readers enjoy. Taking on such a role means overseeing all aspects of the publishing process. 

The project manager in publishing’s responsibilities include managing the people, tasks, timelines, and resources required across different production stages, from editing to design to fact-checking.

Let’s go through some of the key tasks.

Communication and Collaboration

Effective communication is crucial for this role. Project managers work closely with authors to understand their vision and solicit feedback on drafts. This ensures the final work aligns with their creative goals. 

Collaboration also involves coordinating activities with other creative contributors like researchers, illustrators, and marketers. Additionally, liaising with freelance editors, graphic designers, and other suppliers assisting with the project. Maintaining open communication helps gain maximum value from external talent.

Owning the Project

Owning the project from initial planning stages through to final delivery. This encompasses sourcing any missing materials and approving final artwork, copyedits, and layouts. It also means overseeing financial elements like managing budgets and vendor payments. 

Perhaps most importantly, you are responsible for adhering to schedules while maintaining consistency in quality standards as manuscripts progress toward publishable works.


A well-planned project management strategy is vital for success. In the past, many publishing houses centralized these functions internally. However, with expanding distribution platforms and specialized freelance roles, contractors may now outsource or supplement certain tasks. Regardless of the project structure, developing a detailed plan from the outset is paramount.

In today's publishing world, project management skills are increasingly vital for publishers, particularly in education and academia. 

Projects are no longer limited to books alone. Even the simplest publications now include print and e-book versions, while many books have linked online resources. Moreover, projects often consist of multiple components, blending printed materials with digital products containing various file formats and multimedia resources. 

This expanding complexity necessitates editors to possess strong project management abilities to orchestrate the production of diverse elements effectively.

With a clearly outlined editorial plan, goals and priorities are transparent for all stakeholders. Teams stay aligned on shared objectives and understand their responsibilities. 

The plan also provides benchmarks for tracking progress and ensuring budgets and deadlines are met. With clear documentation of workflows, it transforms ambiguous processes into a cohesive system optimized for quality results.

The difference between a well-managed publication and a poorly managed one is vast. Many potential bestsellers have been lost in the abyss of poor project mismanagement. And many potential flops have become bestsellers through good project management!

Project managers in publishing require the skills to coordinate diverse stakeholders and the ability to provide structure and clarity to the messy process of putting a publication together. 

Emerging professionals can hone coordination and problem-solving abilities through internships or programs teaching project management best practices.

The Center for Project Innovation offers a free online course in project management that covers the best practices in project management today, with certification available upon completion. 


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Talk to us about professional certification and higher qualifications in project management with the Center for Project Innovation.