No matter how much time you give yourself, some article will inevitably come down to the wire. In the scholarly publishing world, there is a 100% chance that, at some point, you will deal with a paper where waiting for the next issue just isn’t acceptable, and this article needs to be published ASAP.
Perhaps the paper simply went through an inordinately long peer review process and the authors are eager to publish. Maybe the authors are aware of a similar paper coming down the pipeline and don’t want to get scooped. It could be a financial issue, where funding is running out or the authors need the paper for an upcoming grant application.
It might not even be an author issue. The paper may have been designated for a special section that can’t be delayed, or it might be scheduled to accompany a press release and production has stalled for whatever reason.
Regardless of the cause, we owe it to the authors to do everything in our power to hit these deadlines. Here are a few practices (some of which you can have in place at all times) to make sure your production team is equipped to function within a time crunch.
1) Flag the paper.
It’s borderline impossible to operate under a time crunch if your team doesn’t know one exists. The entire team should be aware if a particular paper needs to be expedited. While this should happen automatically since you will likely need at least one volunteer to handle the expedition, this is a situation where the whole team needs to know.
Along with a verbal alert, the paper should also be flagged in your tracking sheet/system (if you don’t already have a shared document or system where your team tracks the papers it processes, make one now). It can be as simple as having a designated color code for expedited papers, but it must be done.
2) Communicate directly with other staff who might handle the paper.
Singular teams that handle all production tasks for a given publication do exist, but the odds are that multiple departments will handle the paper after you are done with it. If the paper needs copyediting, that team needs to know this paper is on a priority schedule. The same goes if you have a team that handles proofs. The typesetter should also be made aware that this paper is on an expedited schedule and needs to be prioritized.
3) Maximize the number of changes that can be made on your end.
Going back to the authors or editors to clear production edits will cost time. Once an article gets to production, only formatting changes should be necessary. Make sure the changes that your team is allowed to make at this stage are well-documented. Examples of things like properly formatted title pages or in-text citations are particularly valuable to have on hand at this stage.
Authorized editing policy is often in the hands of the publisher, but it will pay dividends to at least be acutely aware of where the line is drawn. If the publisher generally prefers that staff don’t make changes directly to a manuscript document, check with them to see if some exceptions can be made to speed up the process.
4) If an author must make a correction on their end, send it immediately.
Regardless of whether the publisher is open to the production team making changes, some changes are only appropriate for the authors to make. Anything that deals with content such as missing citations, author list discrepancies, or funding/data statement issues will (in all likelihood) have to be handled specifically by one or more authors. Check the entire paper to ensure that all outstanding queries can be sent in a single message and send it to the authors as soon as possible. If they do not respond, chase more frequently than you normally might (how frequently will surely depend on how much time you have until the deadline).
Be sure to provide the authors with clear, concise instructions that establish what the error or discrepancy is and where it can be located in the manuscript. The authors should not have to do any guesswork on their end. If the authors push back on the request (it is not uncommon for authors to complain that their work is done and we should handle it from this point), phrase the request in a way that makes it clear that this request is being made in the interest of making the manuscript appear exactly as the authors intend.
5) Update key stakeholders at each stage.
Make sure that your stakeholder contacts are apprised of the article’s progress. This is especially important if one of them is the main contact for the typesetter, as they will likely want to check in with the typesetter to ensure the paper is expedited on their end as well.
It is also a good idea to update the author, especially if your process provides proofs to authors for correction. The proofing stage is another potential source of delay, and this can be mitigated by the author being on the lookout.
If there is one key to be taken from all of the above, it is communication. Operating in a time crunch requires you to communicate more than you normally would, whether it be directly with other people or by exhaustive record-keeping (likely both). If you have done all of these things, then you have done your job. But it is worth remembering that even if you follow every step to the letter, you could still be at the mercy of unresponsive authors or backlogged/slow typesetters. Control what you can. But if you keep all of the above in mind, your success rate will be substantial.
Article contribution by Matt Lyles, J&J Senior Production Editor.