Project Postmortem: Evaluating a Published Book

Let’s get this out of the way first—I know a book doesn’t die once it is published. The end of production is the beginning of an entirely new life of promoting and selling it. However, I’m a production person, and once I’m done with posting that book online, my work is mostly done, except, of course, for the postmortem.

For the first book I worked on, Set Up to Win by Karl Becker (which you can buy here), I didn’t do a postmortem. I was still flying pretty high on the fact that I’d supervised completing a book project from the brainstorming and writing through its publication. It wasn’t until the next book that I finally felt ready to log and analyze the entire process.

Without getting too personal, I’ll be sharing some of the elements I examined and a few lessons I learned along the way.

Timeline — Start to Finish and Everything In Between

Looking at the timeline is a process of zooming all the way out and then all the way back to the ground level. First, I broke down how much time was spent on the entirety of the book project, taking into account when it began, when it was projected to end, and when it actually ended. Then I evaluated each phase of writing and production individually.

For the time spent brainstorming, writing, and revising. I took into account meetings with the clients, evaluating the existing content, writing the drafts, and revising those drafts. Thanks to my time tracker (I use Toggl), I was able to take an honest look at the number of hours I spent on all these different tasks.

Next, I measured the timeline for each step in the project management process. These timelines overlap, but the breadcrumb trails of emails and invoices makes it possible to pull the strands apart and record them. Those steps include:

  • Cover design
  • Editing and proofreading
  • Interior design
  • Ebook production

My writing process is heavily collaborative with the author, but the production process brings in contractors too. That makes it all the more important that I evaluate how long it took them to complete their work, and how the speed of the client’s and my feedback made a difference to the production schedule.

Phase-by-Phase Notes

Sometimes timelines overlap with one another. I do account for this and make sure there is a healthy amount of space in the notes column for me to log any issues that affected the timeline itself, whether that be delays from the authors, contractors, or even myself. It’s not a judgment or an indictment—life comes for us all, especially in our unpredictable (to say the least) age.

Having a separate section to take notes and for each phase of the project (in addition to the timeline) is hopefully a great way for me to avoid making the same mistakes I made in the future. While this includes the time management aspect, this goes beyond the timeline and catalogs editorial and design issues that took me a longer time to notice. It also is a great place to catalog any bumps that occurred during the process of posting the book online.

In the case of the latest book I worked on, I saw opportunities to tighten up the timeline, and I hope to apply those time-saving lessons next time.

Time to Come Clean

Because they say you should be vulnerable and authentic in business (ugh), I’ll admit I made a very silly mistake that took a couple of days to figure out both during the design review and while I was posting the book.

It all had to do with one pesky piece of punctuation mark: the ampersand!

The ampersand (&) was used in the title of my most recent project. In reviewing the cover and several interior pages, I noticed an inconsistency: in several places the ampersand was replaced by the word “and.” This resulted in extra work for me as I combed through the proofs to make sure it wasn’t an issue anywhere else. I also later realized that a similar mix-up was part of the reason Amazon wasn’t accepting the ISBN I’d registered on Bowker. 

I know! It’s silly! This is why I hire a much more eagle-eyed copy editor than myself for the book manuscript. However, with the bits add after her review, as well the administrative tasks I control, I will be forever more careful!

Ok, how’s that for being vulnerable?

Budget and Hours

Of course I track expenses that I incur separately from the individual book, as I don’t want to get slammed (too hard) when tax season arrives. However, having a realistic view of the costs of project management book-by-book is a must. This applies to what’s paid to contractors, the costs of ISBNs and barcodes and other admin fees, how much I spend on tools, and the number of hours I spend doing work.

Sometimes comparing the hours I work during both the writing and the coordinating with my hourly copywriting rate puts a lot of things into perspective. It helps to see how much time I’m truly devoting to these books and reminds me that my input is valuable and that I’ve got quite a bit of skin in the game to make publication successful!

It’s not always easy to look at all the data. Collecting it and organizing it can be daunting and even a bit of a pain. Beyond the challenges of keeping the details in order, reviewing the mistakes I made can also be a little embarrassing. I mean, the answers seem so obvious now! However, acknowledging those facts means I’ll do even better next time.

If you’d like to learn more about what goes into my process of publishing a book from beginning to end, you can read about it here. If you’re interested in creating a book of your own, find out how.


Photo by Marco Rickhoff on Unsplash

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