East Meets West event at Barbara-Jo’s Books to Cooks

Over the course of two years food writer Stephanie Yuen scoured Vancouver’s Asian food scene for the best dishes from some of the city’s most acclaimed Asian restaurants, and the result is East Meets West, a gorgeous, full-colour cookbook featuring not only eighty-eight mouth-watering recipes but also an introduction to the ingredients commonly used in Asian cooking and a directory of where to find some of Vancouver’s best Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Malaysian, Thai, Filipino, Indian, and Nepalese cuisine. Stephanie will be signing books at a free public event at Barbara-Jo’s Books to Cooks on Saturday, April 28, from 11 am to 2 pm. Call 604-688-6755 to RSVP.

EAC certification

Last evening’s EAC-BC meeting featured a presentation by my fellow Certification Steering Committee members Ann-Marie Metten, Lana Okerlund, and Anne Brennan about dispelling the myths surrounding EAC’s certification program. I started off trying to take some notes so that I could post them here but found that I wasn’t engaged in the same way as I was for some past sessions, because I wasn’t hearing anything I hadn’t heard before and, of course, I’d already been through the process. So perhaps the best way I can contribute to the discussion is to say a few things about my experience and offer some (unabashedly biased) thoughts about the certification program.

When I began working in book publishing, my mentors at D&M Publishers were Nancy Flight and Lucy Kenward—unquestionably two of the best editors in the country. That position gave me extraordinary training and a deep respect for high editorial standards. But it was also enough to give me a serious case of impostor syndrome. A few years in, I wanted to prove—mostly to myself but also to my employer—that I was worth my salt as an editor, and the certification program provided a terrific opportunity to validate my skills.

I feel fortunate that I had experience working in an intense in-house environment in book publishing: I did all of my proofreading and much of my copy editing on paper, meaning I was very familiar with markup, and I dealt day to day with other members of the publishing team and so felt I had a solid grounding in the publishing process. I hear from other certified editors who had never worked in a publishing house that those were two of the most challenging aspects of the certification tests for them.

So I signed up for the knowledge of publishing process and the copy-editing tests (when they were divided that way) in 2008. I worked through the copy-editing study guide, reviewed the Professional Editorial Standards, read through Editing Canadian English, and over a few weeks ended up reading Chicago cover to cover (and in the process discovered stuff I’d been doing wrong for years!).

That year was the first time the certification program offered the structural and stylistic test, and I didn’t feel up to it quite yet. In 2009, knowing that only five candidates had passed that exam the previous year, I registered for it (along with the proofreading test) but mentally prepared myself to write it twice if I needed to; I was fully expecting to fail the first time and was going to use that as a learning experience in preparing for my second kick at the can. As luck would have it, I didn’t need one, and I attained my Certified Professional Editor designation in spring 2010.

To prepare for my last two tests, I again worked through the respective study guides and reread the Professional Editorial Standards. Nervous about the structural and stylistic test, I also dedicated time to doing the substantive editing exercises in Meeting Editorial Standards (now Meeting Professional Editorial Standards) and, on Nancy Flight’s recommendation, read Style: Toward Clarity and Grace by Joseph M. Williams—an extraordinarily lucid read that I would highly recommend. If I had to offer any advice to prospective certification candidates, it would be:

  • to know the Professional Editorial Standards. This is key, as the exams are made to test those specific competencies.
  • to work through the study guides, which are very good exemplars of the tests. In each of them you get not only a practice test and a marking guide but also a sample test of a candidate that had passed the test and another that had failed, allowing you to get a good sense of what to prioritize.

I wish I’d internalized more from the experience (particularly the reading of Chicago, for example), but I can say that the process of studying for certification certainly made me a more conscientious, attentive editor. One of my colleagues asked me why, as an in-house editor, I decided to become certified, since I couldn’t really capitalize on the marketing advantage of being a CPE. At that point, my role in the company had grown from simply editing to developing editorial systems and communicating with freelancers. Being certified gave me the confidence to talk to our freelance editors—some of them veterans of the profession—as their equal. And now that I’ve gone freelance, I am that much more grateful that I’ve gone through the process and can easily prove to prospective clients that I am offering good value.

My commitment to the certification program runs deep; I have a vested interest in seeing my designation retain its value. I was involved in developing the framework for credential maintenance, and I’m now a member of the Certification Steering Committee. Although I’m not required to do any credential maintenance activities, I will anyway, because certification, to me, is not an end-point—it’s an extra motivator to keep learning.

If you’re considering certification and have any questions about my experiences or about the program, feel free to get in touch with me, and I’ll try to answer them to the best of my abilities.

Picture research with MRM Associates

When I worked on Cow by Florian Werner (translated by Doris Ecker—and recently reviewed in Publishers Weekly) about a year ago, I ended up spending roughly 40 per cent of my time trying to track down sources and clear rights for a couple dozen images that ended up in the book.

For me, it was a baptism of fire—it was the first time I’d had to do image research to that extent, and I faced a number of constraints: we wanted to use as many of the images that appeared in the German edition as we could, but all of the world English rights had to be (re-)negotiated, and some of the rights holders flat-out refused to let us use their images; I had to find high-resolution versions of all of the images, since they appeared in the German edition as marginal thumbnails; I had a limited budget and had to find public-domain substitutes for images whenever possible; and, of course, the author had to approve all of the new images before they found their way into the book. I ended up making several visits to the city and university libraries to find images from old books we could scan; ordering a postcard and an old poster off of eBay; emailing a number of people before I could finally find out who owned the rights to a photo of David Lynch’s artwork that had been reproduced with abandon and without credit all over the Internet; trying to use reverse image searches to find alternative sources of high-resolution public-domain images; and negotiating image rights with art galleries, museums, archives, publishers, and licensing agencies. In other words, although I know some of what I had to do was essential, I am sure that I did many, many things the hard way.

This is why I am very much looking forward to Mary Rose MacLachlan and Derek Capitaine’s half-day EAC seminar about picture research on Saturday, April 21. I’ve already compiled a long list of questions arising from my experiences with Cow and other projects, and I’m hoping to learn efficient ways to identify copyright holders and negotiate with stock and licencing agencies.

As of the time of this posting, there are twelve spots left in the seminar, and I’d encourage anyone who has worked or might work with images or permissions to sign up (registration closes this Friday, April 13). I heard Mary Rose MacLachlan give a hugely informative talk at an EAC-BC meeting, and I think this workshop will be extremely useful. That said, with the acknowledgement that not everyone can attend, I’m offering to take any image-related questions you might have and ask them on your behalf. Contact me or leave a question in the comments, and I’ll report back after the session.

Tell me how you really feel

When you work in house, you’re a member of a big extended family: the managers are the elders—parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles—and it’s easy to develop sibling-like or cousin-like relationships with your other coworkers. No family is without its dysfunction, of course, but even more fraught is the freelancer–client relationship, a dynamic that can feel an awful lot like dating: as a freelancer you try to make enough of an impression on the other party to be engaged on a project/date, and if it goes well, you hope they like you enough to contact you again. But if they never call, well, that can evoke the same kinds of thoughts and insecurities, whether you’re looking for love or looking for work.

One perk you enjoy by being in a family—something that may feel like no perk at all—is the scathing, critical honesty that only your kin could get away with dishing out. But “when a client stops calling,” said a friend of mine a few years ago when she first left an in-house position to go freelance, “you never know why. Maybe they just don’t have any work. Maybe your contact got fired. Or maybe you did something wrong and royally screwed up a project. The problem is that even if that’s what happened, you never get any feedback. How are you supposed to grow as an editor or to make sure you don’t make that mistake again?” Ann-Marie Metten echoed the frustration at last month’s EAC-BC meeting. When asked why she chose to organize her style sheets the way she did, she admitted she now understands why her method may not have been ideal, “but when you’re a freelancer,” she said, “you hand it in, and nobody ever tells you anything.”

Unfortunately, clients—and my focus is on publishers here, especially book publishers—aren’t in the business of helping their freelancers grow as editors, and they often don’t have the resources to do much training. They have certain expectations of their freelancers, and when those expectations aren’t met, they may decide it’s easier to move on to other contractors rather than invest the time to give feedback. So what should we do?


  • Be proactive about asking for feedback. When I submit a finished project or when I invoice, I’ll add a brief line thanking the client for the work and saying something like, “If there’s anything you’d like me to do differently for future projects, please don’t hesitate to let me know.” One of my current clients, after my first project with the organization, responded with a pages-long email listing everything I should have done. It stung, but at the same time, it was reassuring. My contact probably wouldn’t have taken the time to offer those suggestions if she weren’t planning on giving me more work.
  • Keep a running checklist based on your past mistakes. (And these don’t necessarily have to come through direct feedback. Sometimes we all know why a project/date went badly.) Eventually you’ll know what kinds of problems to look out for and what kinds of questions to ask new clients.
  • Try to keep learning and improving your skills. Editors’ Association of Canada seminars and workshops are always a good place to start, as are editing and publishing courses offered at schools across Canada and around the world.
  • Maintain a high standard of professionalism and ethical conduct. Most of the time publishers drop freelancers not because they missed a serial comma but because they missed an important deadline.
  • Finally, take it easy on yourself. (Remember that first dates are almost always awkward.) Sometimes the problem is related not to skill but to an incompatibility of personalities. Know that although the publishing community is small, industry-wide blacklists of editors aren’t as prevalent as you might fear. And clear, honest communication with the client will encourage reciprocity.

Publishers (and other clients)

  • Develop clear guidelines—not only about matters such as style but also, and perhaps more importantly, about your editorial process. Different houses have different expectations of where the freelancer’s role begins and ends, and a freelancer’s failure to adapt to your process can be one of your greatest sources of frustration. Are you expecting your editors to format the manuscripts in a certain way? Do you have a specific file-naming convention? Do you want your proofreaders to flag changed pages and use red ink? Say so in your guidelines, and make these easy to access and search (preferably on an online resource like a wiki). That said, expect new freelancers to ask questions that your documentation may already answer. When faced with a huge volume of new information, a project with a new client, and a looming deadline, freelancers may not always know what to prioritize.
  • If a freelancer messes up, tell him. Doing so will save you time and trouble if you use him again, and at the very least, it will make him aware that there’s a problem. If you start to notice a recurring problem with several of your freelancers, take a look at your guidelines to see if they need to be revised or rearranged to highlight specific issues.
  • If you can afford to, build in a postmortem as part of your publishing cycle, and make editorial feedback (for both freelancers and in-house editors) a component. This feedback doesn’t have to be long, and keep in mind that positive comments are just as important as the negative.
  • Finally, if you never intend to use a particular freelancer again, let her know (gently!). She wants to be barking up the wrong tree no more than you want to get an inquiry from her every few months for which you have to take time to compose a cryptic, evasive response.

An Alcuin Award for Fred Herzog: Photographs

Congratulations to D&M’s art director, Peter Cocking, who won second prize in the pictorial category at the Alcuin Awards for his design of Fred Herzog: Photographs, featuring text by Claudia Gochmann, Douglas Coupland, Sarah Milroy, and Jeff Wall. D&M’s design team has a tradition of doing well at the Alcuins, this year winning seven awards in four categories.

Find a full list of winners here.

Coach House Press as a digital pioneer

Last evening Laraine Coates and I went to see John Maxwell give a talk to the Alcuin Society about Coach House Press as a digital pioneer.

Coach House is known as a literary house and a design and printing house. But, John says, a research project he’s undertaken over the past several years reveals that Coach House has a fascinating history of digital innovations in publishing, which shows that innovation doesn’t necessarily require massive amounts of capital, trained technical professionals, or corporate secrecy. Coach House’s innovation was more down to earth—a product of a love of learning and willingness to tinker.

Coach House’s beginnings are legendary: at the height of the Great Canadian Flag Debate of 1964, Stan Bevington sold screen-printed Canadian flags in Toronto and eventually made enough money to buy his first printing press, which he set up in a coach house. Coach House Press started printing posters, then moved into books. Initially the books were hand set; then Coach House acquired a Linotype machine. In the late 1960s, as Coach House began to print the books of emerging young writers and poets, it found itself becoming a cultural hub.

In the early 1970s, phototypesetting became an accessible technology, and Coach House pursued it rather than seeing it as antithetical to the tradition of hand setting. In 1974 Stan Bevington bought a Mergenthaler VIP (variable input phototypesetter) machine, which took paper tape as its input. The tape encoded not only the text but also the design and formatting. It didn’t take long before the team at Coach House began modifying the tape to create new typefaces for the VIP; they essentially “hacked” the tape to drive new typography. Coach House was adept at tinkering with new technology to wring the maximum functionality out of it.

Coach House also recognized the potential of using a computer to create the tape. In 1974 Bevington bought a Datapoint 2200 computer for that purpose; the Datapoint 2200 was the earliest microcomputer—the forefather of all of our personal computers. At a conference, the Coach House team saw a computer hooked up directly to a phototypesetter and decided to try it for themselves. Ed Hale built a circuit board that took output from the Datapoint 2200 and fed it to the VIP—no more need for paper tape. By doing this themselves, Coach House made the technology their own.

At this point, the software became key in the process. David Slocombe at Coach House tinkered with the software and got it to the point where it was usable by the editors themselves. At the same time, Coach House actively collaborated with Ron Baecker’s computer science lab at the University of Toronto—one of the first places in the world to have UNIX installed. Bevington consulted the lab about onscreen typography and in exchange had access to UNIX. In 1983, Coach House proposed a peer-to-peer network with two other Ontario-based publishers, the Porcupine’s Quill and Penumbra Press, and established an uncanny parallel to what universities were setting up in California and what would evolve into the Internet.

Coach House became known for its computer typesetting. In 1984 some of its staff members branched off to form SoftQuad, a developer of software to edit, view, and publish structured (generalized markup language—or GML) content. It was ahead of its time—at first SoftQuad struggled to find a market, but in 1986 it found its feet when the U.S. Department of Defense made GML—now SGML—a mandatory requirement. Of course, SGML is the direct precursor to the ubiquitous HTML and XML.

Coach House acquired Macintosh computers when they were first released in 1984, initially using them as terminals to the UNIX systems. They then discovered that the PostScript paradigm was the way of the future and quickly adopted QuarkXPress on the Macintosh and even developed a way to translate SGML markup into formatting in Quark. Interestingly, now with the rise of ebooks, publishers care about markup once again.

The 1990s were rough for Coach House; in 1996, the publishing arm of the company failed, but Bevington later relaunched it as Coach House Books, which put its entire frontlist on the web for free. The press then made sales of the beautifully printed books as fetishized objects.

If you visit Coach House Books, John tells us, you’ll discover that all of the technological history is there on site; it’s a living, breathing museum. Coach House has always demonstrated a willingness to adopt new technologies and has had a tradition of research, insightful decision making, and a love of tinkering. Unlike many other players in the publishing industry, Coach House isn’t bothered by technical innovation—a fact that still holds today; for instance, when Facebook was first rising, Coach House became the first Canadian publisher to reach a thousand followers, and it has proven itself to be a pioneer of direct sales and e-commerce. The press’s home-grown innovation hasn’t made Bevington rich, but, in hindsight, it is remarkable to consider that Coach House was always five to ten years ahead of the curve.

John’s talk was followed by the presentation of the Alcuin Society’s Robert R. Reid Award and Medal to Stan Bevington, in recognition of lifetime achievement in the book arts in Canada.

We each came away with a lovely souvenir of the evening: a tabloid-sized print of Canadian typefaces used at Coach House, including Amethyst and Stern by Jim Rimmer, Goodchild and Figgins Sans by Nick Shinn, and Gibson and Slate by Rod McDonald.

My synopsis here doesn’t really do justice to the astounding volume of research that John Maxwell has done for this project. I would encourage anyone interesting in learning more about Coach House’s technological history to visit John’s website on the topic.

Style sheets with substance

Ruth Wilson gave a scintillating presentation at last evening’s EAC-BC meeting about style sheets—an area, she says, that new editors often struggle with.

A style sheet is distinct from a publisher’s style guide (which applies to all of the publisher’s books) and is a list of words, terms, usages, etc., that the copy editor creates when working through a particular document. Ruth encourages editors to create a style sheet for every document they work on, no matter how short. Even a two-page pamphlet requires decisions about the serial comma, capitalization, and so on. We freelancers especially must rely on style sheets to keep ourselves organized, since we’re often working on several projects at once, each with its own set of style decisions.

Ruth suggests that as you put together your style sheet, keep in mind that it’s a form of communication with others in the editorial and production process. The proofreader will certainly use it, and the author, designer, and indexer may also look at it.

Style sheets can be an invaluable piece of archival material; it means that you, or another editor, won’t have to start from scratch if the document you’re working on has to be revised. As a freelancer, Ruth says, she keeps all of her style sheets. In corporate world, she’s often the one introducing all of the styles. Style sheets can serve as a building block for the organization to start developing its own style guide.

So what should a style sheet include? Two mandatory elements are (1) which dictionary you’re using and (2) which style manual you’re using—editions are important. Whether or not to use the serial comma is also almost always on the style sheet. Even if it’s in the organization’s style guide, it’s helpful to repeat that information, particularly if those who will be working with the document after you is not in house or is not focused on editorial issues.

The style sheet is basically a record of everything you’ve had to look up—proper nouns, titles of books, acronyms, and the like—and everything for which you’ve had to make a decision about

  • spelling (words with more than one accepted spelling),
  • capitalization,
  • hyphenation (e.g., hyphenated compounds before and after nouns, hyphenation of noun forms but not corresponding verbs, etc.),
  • pluralization,
  • abbreviations (e.g., periods or not, small caps or full caps, etc.), and
  • foreign words (e.g., accents/diacritics or not, italics or not, etc.).

Style sheets often include how numbers should be treated. When should they be spelled out and when should numerals be used? What date format is used? What units of measurement? Cookbook style sheets may also have a list of measurement abbreviations, conversions, and even standard sizes for pans and other kitchen equipment.

If the book has back matter, it’s often helpful for both you and the proofreader to include on the style sheet not just a description but a sample of a typical note and bibliographic entry to show how these should look.

Finally, any deviations from the norm or from the organization’s house style should be noted. An author may have a strong preference to spell or format a term a certain way that may not be what the dictionary or style manual recommends.

Once you put your style sheet together, proofread it. Make sure the word processor hasn’t autocorrected or autocapped your terms, and run a spell check. Date the style sheet, archive it for yourself, and pass it on.

What shouldn’t go on the style sheet? If there’s only one way to spell a word, don’t include it. “You don’t want to display your ignorance on a style sheet,” Ruth says. “It’s your job as copy editor to fix the spelling errors and typos.” She will usually list place names with difficult spellings but not, say, Paris or London—names that everyone knows how to spell. Also, says Ruth, list just the words and terms—there’s no need to write a story or justify the style decision you’ve made.

The sample style sheets that Ruth brought prompted some discussion about categorization. She referenced one of my earlier posts about style sheets, where I noted that proofreaders generally prefer an uncategorized word list. Eve Rickert chimed in to say that as a proofreader, she often finds that she’ll look for a term in one category on a style sheet, not find it, and look it up in anther source, only to discover that it had be listed under another category all along. When she receives a categorized style sheet, she simply removes the headings and consolidates the word list. Ruth explained that while editing, she finds it can be helpful to compartmentalize. I wondered if the preference had to do with workflow and where you choose to check your facts. If you have to check a list of place names, for example, against a specific authority (like the B.C. Geographical Names database), then it may help to separate out the terms into categories, but if you’re plugging everything—people’s names, place names, organization names, titles, etc.—into Google, then that kind of compartmentalization may not be necessary. Ultimately, Ruth says, it’s prudent to simply ask the publisher or client what they prefer.

An audience member asked if made-up words in a science fiction book, for example, should show up on a style sheet. To ensure consistency in spelling, says Ruth, absolutely. Another audience member asked if words deliberately misspelled to convey a character’s accent should be included. Ruth replied that, as a proofreader, she would certainly find that helpful, but the question morphed into a discussion about whether such misspellings were derogatory. Is it better to describe the accent but not misspell the dialogue? Would that be telling rather than showing? Not being a specialist in fiction, Ruth didn’t have a definitive answer, but it was interesting to hear the diversity of opinions on the issue.

Ruth ended the evening by showing us an example of a style sheet (created by Ann-Marie Metten) for a novel because she’d been asked what the difference was between fiction and nonfiction style sheets. The answer? Not much. You still have to make the same kinds of decisions.

The evening’s presentation and discussions showed that although all style sheets have some common elements, there is no one right way to compose them. However, as with all facets of editing, using your judgment is key to ensuring that the style sheets will be useful to you and everyone who will use them after you.

Onscreen editing

This fall Grace Yaginuma and I will be teaching a course about editing with Microsoft Word, in Simon Fraser University’s Writing and Communications (formerly Writing and Publishing) Program. We’ll be covering topics like workflow, document cleanup, Track Changes, and styles, and we’ll offer some tips about how to get the most out of Word’s features and use them to make editing more efficient. See the course description here. I’ll post an update when registration opens.

The power of the humble checklist

I’m a bit of a checklist junkie. There’s something (neurotically) satisfying about checking off a list item—as if it proves I’ve accomplished something. Mostly, though, I use checklists because I would be lost without them; there are just too many details in my work (and my life) for my brain to handle on its own, and without a set of robust systems, some are bound to slip through the cracks.

So it’s with some shame that I admit I only recently got around to reading Atul Gawande’s The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right. The bestselling author and surgeon shows how a simple checklist—modelled on the ones that have been standard in the aviation industry for decades and applied to fields as diverse as medicine and investment banking—can improve communication, foster teamwork, and, in many cases, save lives.

As Gawande says, “Checklists seem able to defend anyone, even the experienced, against failure in many more tasks than we realized. They provide a kind of cognitive net. They catch mental flaws inherent in all of us—flaws of memory and attention and thoroughness. And because they do, they raise wide, unexpected possibilities.” (p. 47)

Fortunately for me, lives generally aren’t at stake in my line of work, but editorial checklists can nevertheless be extremely powerful tools. When consistency is key, as it is in copy editing and proofreading, and when the major objective is to eliminate as many errors as possible, checklists are invaluable.

Checklists are especially useful for keeping track of the more mechanical or repetitive tasks that require little creative thought—such as those that appear more and more frequently as editors are increasingly expected to work on screen and generate final electronic files meeting certain formatting specifications. Checklists free your mind from having to store those kinds of minutiae, allowing you to focus on the task of editing itself. In the words of one of Gawande’s interviewees, an investment specialist who didn’t want to be identified, those who use checklists “increase their outcomes without any increase in skill.” (p. 168)

What I appreciate most about checklists, though, is that they allow you to learn from your mistakes. If checklists are used throughout an organization, they allow you to learn from everyone’s mistakes—and so it’s easy to see how they can quickly become an essential part of not only institutional memory but institutional wisdom.

However, as Gawande has observed, “the opportunity is evident in many fields—and so also is the resistance” (p. 162). Developing good checklists is a pillar of my consulting work on editorial process, but I often have to rally hard for buy-in. One editor felt that expecting her to fill out a checklist was patronizing. Another was concerned about how much time it would add to her work.

Checklists, when used properly, should support your editors. Although asking them to fill out a checklist is, in effect, demanding more accountability of them, doing so should also promote an editor’s ownership of a project. Using a checklist as an enforcement tool, though often tempting, is missing the point.

Going through an editorial checklist may initially add a bit of time to the workflow, but eventually, everyone involved in the editorial process learns to fold the checklists into his or her work. Checklists almost always save time when you consider the editorial and production process from start to finish, and they can save money. Checking the headers and footers may cost you ten minutes, but forgetting to check them could cost the price of a reprint or even a client.

The Checklist Manifesto touches on some features of good versus bad checklists, which are illuminating, though not necessarily applicable to editing in some cases. Aspects of editing that a checklist can help, as well as building effective editorial checklists, will be topics for a future post.

BC Book Prize nominations

The 2012 shortlist for the BC Book Prizes has been announced, and Fred Herzog: Photographs is a finalist for both the Roderick Haig-Brown Regional Prize and the Bill Duthie Booksellers’ Choice Award. Congratulations to Fred and the book’s contributors—Douglas Coupland, Claudia Gochmann, Sarah Milroy, and Jeff Wall!

Winners will be announced on May 12, 2012.