B&N Week 67: Project Management
Category: Bolts & Nuts (Syndicated Column)
Guess what? It’s Tuesday! Was I missed? Even if I wasn’t, I sure missed all of you. It felt like an eternity since the last time we talked. It isn’t fair, I tell you. A whole week separating us like this. Something has to be done. I’ll work on it.
In the meantime, I wanted to talk about project management this week. Give you some tips and tools to help make your projects run more smoothly than they have been. (What makes you think my project has been running roughly?) [Because you haven’t been thinking past your nose. I know. You’ll see. Just follow me.]
Okay, so you’ve got Pen-Man all hashed out, right? You’ve got a completed scripts to fill a storyarc, you’ve got your creative team onboard, and you’re ready to rock and roll. Everything is right with the world!
Well, no, it isn’t. You’ve left out some crucial details, and we’re going to fill those holes together.
The very first, the biggest hole, is that you don’t have a production schedule in order to get to print. Let’s start by looking at the timeframes it takes for the steps of the process.
Writing can take the longest. (No, it doesn’t.) Yes, it can. Depending on the story, writing has to be researched and cross-referenced to make sure the story being told is done so accurately. Or, sometimes, the inspiration for the story just isn’t there. Or, you haven’t matured enough yet to be able to tell the story you want to. That doesn’t take into account the plotting and the pacing and character creation and backstory and everything else that goes into making a compelling story. Writing can take years, with only the physical act of writing taking a short time to do. For the physical act, IF the writer has done everything they needed to beforehand, and depending on how technical they want to get, the actual scripting itself should only take a few hours for the whole 22 page story. [That’s for a single script, and if they aren’t doing anything else. This is the physical act only, folks.]
Penciling. A pro who is not wunderkind Mark Bagley can do a page a day. [Bagley can do about two.] The speed of creating art has gone down, because art has become more complex to create. So, call it 8-10 hours to create a single page of penciled art. That’s a pro/freelancer who isn’t doing anything else besides sitting at a desk all day long, doing the work. If the artist also has a day job, then for that single page of art, it will take 3-4 days. [You paying attention?] (Rapturously.)
Inking takes roughly half to one third the time it takes to pencil. A lot of it depends on the pencils themselves, and the amount of fine lines that have to be done. So, an inker can do two to three pages a day if that’s all they’re doing; if they have a day job, call it a page a day.
Colors can take a bit of time, depending on the type of coloring being done. (Type of coloring?) [Cell shading, painting, and more.] If you’re just going for straight colors without too much rendering [fine shading] being done, it should take about as long as it takes to ink a page.
Letters are the fastest. A pro letterer has templates for captions, balloons, and tails already set up and saved, so they just have to pick a font and then cut and paste. A regular book that doesn’t call for too much work [not a lot of signage or sound effects] can be done in a day. (Excuse me?) A day. That’s just straight lettering, and doesn’t take into account any prepress preparation, nor does it incorporate anything special that needs to be done, such as lettering tricks. This is a pro letterer who isn’t doing anything else. A day for an entire book, two maximum. [An aside: letterers HATE to be pressured. While lettering the book takes the shortest amount of time, it still has to be done right. Give a letterer a good four or five days for a 22 page book.] If the letterer also has a day job, they should still be able to do five to eight pages a day, and that’s not even breathing hard. [Again, this does not account for prepress or anything special that needs to be done.]
Here’s something that’s new: the printer. Printing doesn’t take much time at all, to tell the truth. They get the files, and then they print however many copies that are asked for. You’re in the indies. Generally, you’re not going to be asking for thousands of copies. You’re going to be lucky to print up hundreds of copies [that you’ll be able to sell]. But let’s look at a timeframe. You may have to wait a little bit if the printer itself is doing only comics [especially if it’s around convention time]. What’s a little bit? Maybe a few days, up to a week. The printing itself should only take a few hours [depending on the size of the run], but first you have to wait for the proof. (Proof?) The proof is the copy of the comic that the printer should send you so you can see the quality, note any defects in the pages, make sure the pages are in order, nothing is cut off where it isn’t supposed to be, and a myriad of other things. The proof is a physical copy, and unless the printer is in town, it will take a few days to come to you in the mail. Then you communicate with the printer about anything you find, and then they print up your comic. Delivery will be wherever you want it to be: your domicile, the convention center, the cat’s litter box [assuming it has a mailing address].
When should you contact the printer? I’d do it near the end of the cycle—when the colors are nearing completion. (Le WHAT? That’s pretty late!) Contacting the printer beforehand can get you a ballpark estimate for a timeframe, but it won’t reserve you a place in line. Printing is done on a first come, first serve basis. If they get a huge influx of jobs coming in, then the timeframe may not be accurate. Give it at least two weeks, and you can adjust accordingly once you have files ready to print.
Now, you need to know all of this information in order to create your production schedule. You have to build certain things into the schedule in order to make sure deadlines are both fair and attainable.
The first thing you need to build into your production schedule are the edits. Each stage needs to have time to be edited, fixed, and resubmitted for another round of edits. How long should editing take? I can edit a 22 page script in a day, and it takes less time than that to go over every other stage. The rest of it can be done in minutes per stage. Editing the script is the longest, hardest part of editing. Just because I can do it doesn’t mean I do do it. A working editor has a lot of other things on their plate, so editing the script can take up to a week. If they’re working a day job, then it can take about the same amount of time. Build that into the schedule, as well as time for revisions. That’s for every stage.
The next thing you want to build into the schedule is crucial. If you don’t do it, you’re asking for failure. Don’t ask for failure. Do it.
Build a buffer into the schedule. Let me say that again, because it’s important. Build a buffer into the production schedule.
Why are you building a buffer? Because Life happens. Things get in the way, and you have no control over it. Build a buffer into every stage.
But here’s the trick: you don’t tell the creative team about the buffer. The buffer is for you, and you alone. (Why am I not telling the team about it?) The reason is simple: they’ll take advantage of it and of you. If you tell them you need something by the 5th but you really don’t need it until the 10th, when Life comes and slaps someone around and they get it to you by the 8th, you’re still covered. If you tell them you don’t need until the 10th and that’s when you really need it, you’re asking for trouble. Life can come and slap people about at any time. With you building that buffer into the schedule, you’re giving yourself leeway if things go wrong.
Now, if things hum along smoothly and there are no bumps, then you get to have everything “early.” This is a great thing, especially if you have to answer to someone else. It makes you look good. And if Life happens, then you still have the possibility of bringing it in on time, which still makes you look good. You got it in despite adversity. Good on ya!
The next thing about project management is also pretty key. Communication. (This again?) Yes, this again. Haven’t you noticed that everything is interlocked with everything else?
When I’m talking communication, I’m talking about communicating with the entire team. Letting the team know where the project stands on a regular basis. A simple e-mail that gives a breakdown of what’s going on is all that’s necessary. It can look like this:
Hey, folks! We’re knee-deep in Pen-Man, and I’m back with another update. Let’s take a look and see, shall we?
Script for issue 100: Complete
Layouts for issue 100: Complete
Pencils for issue 100: 20 of 40 done
Inks for issue 100: 15 of 40 done
Colors for issue 100: 8 of 40 done
Letters for issue 100: None yet
That’s where we stand. Anyone have anything for me?
See? Simple and to the point.
How often should you communicate? It depends on the schedule. I advocate no less than once every couple of weeks. If you’re moving faster than that because the schedule demands it, then once a week.
What else should you be communicating to the team? If there are any problems or delays. If you’ve given them the production schedule, then the team should know when to expect work. One person being late can put pressure on everyone else behind them in order to get things done on time. You talk to that person in private, letting them know the score. Ask them what the problem is, when they can get back on it, and so on. You don’t ask if they need help with the work. This is the indies, and if you’re paying Graeme McFreelancer to pencil Pen-Man, you more than likely won’t be able to afford Percival Leadbottom to lend Graeme a helping hand. And if worse comes to worst, then you can always replace Graeme with Percival. Don’t do that unless there’s no other choice, though.
Don’t forget that part of project management is also managing personalities. Some people need to be massaged, some need to be bludgeoned. Talk to the creators and see who needs what. Some people work better under pressure. Hopefully, they will let you know this, and not leave you to find it out for yourself.
So, let’s review: in order to make a production schedule, you have to know the timeframes it takes for each step of the process. [Tip: ask creators how fast they are, and then add a day to it. This is not the buffer, this is making sure you don’t overestimate their abilities, because they’re looking for a job, and they’ll say what needs to be said in order to get it.] Don’t forget to contact the printer to see how fast they are and how long the wait time will be.
Build in editorial time [revisions, fixes, resubmitting].
Build in a buffer. Let me say that again, because it’s important. Build in a buffer. (So, you want me to build in a buffer?) [Yes, I want you to build in a buffer.]
Communicate with the team on a regular basis.
You do this, and your projects should run a lot more smoothly.
That’s all I have for this week. Homework: start thinking in terms of time for production. I want you to assess yourself in how much time it takes you to do what you do, so that you’ll know when asked. I also want you to come up with a production schedule for your own project.
There’s the bell. See you in seven!
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