Urvashi Butalia and The Other Side of Silence

On July 14, feminist publisher Urvashi Butalia sat down for a conversation with the Georgia Straight‘s Charlie Smith as part of the Indian Summer festival. They discussed her influential, award-winning book, The Other Side of Silence: Voices from the Partition of India, as well as her illustrious publishing career. Butalia had co-founded India’s first feminist publishing house, Kali for Women, and today heads Zubaan Books, an imprint of Kali.

Introducing her was Rowland Lorimer, director of the Canadian Centre for Studies in Publishing, which was one of the event’s sponsors. Lorimer described how he and Butalia met a couple of decades ago, swapping stories about the publishing industries in Canada and India. Lorimer was fascinated to see the “trajectory of colonialism manifesting itself in two very different countries.” Butalia, he told us, is not only a feminist publisher but also a social historian and a social activist, and for her enormous contributions to the arts and humanities she was presented with the Padma Shree award—the closest Canadian analogue of which, according to Lorimer, is the prestigious Killam Prize.

Charlie Smith then set the stage for their conversation, which centred on the 1947 partition of British India that created the Dominion of Pakistan (later Pakistan and Bangladesh) and what became the Republic of India. Partition was hugely disruptive, displacing over 12 million people along religious lines and killing roughly a million as a result of violence or illness, yet for decades, nobody talked about it, and the stories of ordinary people who had experienced it were never told. The Other Side of Silence, Smith said, “shattered the taboo and started a conversation.”

Butalia’s family was from Lahore, and they were partition refugees. In school she studied only what she called partition’s “grand narrative of politics,” and although people listened to stories about partition within their own families, the discourse found no articulation in the outside world. She admitted to paying those family stories no attention (“I thought they were rubbish”) until two events changed her perspective.

First, in 1984, Indira Gandhi, the Indian prime minister, was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards, after which there was a violent backlash against Sikhs. “Delhi was no longer a safe place,” Butalia said. For her it was a major shift from growing up in what she called “a position of middle-class privilege,” to living in fear as a member of a Sikh family, and at that point she felt as though she could begin to understand the turmoil and religious strife that her family and others had experienced during partition.

Second, she was hired on to work on a film about partition and conduct background research by interviewing people who had been through it. “I heard stories in a way I had never heard them before,” she said. They motivated her to look into an unfinished chapter in her own family’s partition story, and she set out to find her mother’s brother, who, along with his mother, had stayed behind in Lahore following partition. For forty years, between 1947 and 1987, nobody in her family had had any contact with him. The trip from Delhi to Lahore was only half an hour by air, said Butalia, but “the distance created by history was so great.”

She managed to track down her uncle, who had converted to Islam “out of convenience, not conviction,” Butalia said. In fact, although he had chosen to stay behind, he identified with his Indian roots and “had a deep notion of the loss of home,” choosing, for example, not to learn Urdu, which became Pakistan’s official language. Her uncle’s decision to stay in Lahore with his mother led to tremendous bitterness among other members of the family: refugees could seek compensation for the property that they lost when they were uprooted, but because Butalia’s uncle remained in Pakistan and kept the family home, the rest of the family wasn’t entitled to any compensation. What Butalia’s mother took the hardest, however, was not knowing when her own mother had died.

As it turned out, Butalia’s grandmother lived for nine years after partition. As Butalia prepared to go see her uncle, her mother said, “Ask him if he buried my mother or cremated her”—a question that surprised Urvashi, because her mother was a strong secular feminist. Later on her mother would join her on a trip to Pakistan and, despite the residual tension and resentment, was extremely pleased to be reunited with her brother after forty years of separation.

As Butalia began interviewing more and more people to discover how they experienced partition, she unearthed horrific tales of mass rape and honour killings. She chided herself for finding these a revelation: “They should not have come as a surprise,” she said, as violence against women has always happened in times of turmoil and disruption. Some women were abducted, raped, and forced to convert, while others committed suicide or were killed by family members to avoid the same fate.

One woman she interviewed was involved with rescuing abducted women and returning them to their “natural” homes, as identified by religion. Often their families didn’t take them back, as they were “polluted,” and there was no place for them. Many women—despite what they had been through—refused to be rescued, instead choosing to remain with their abductors, with whom some of them had had children. The family of Butalia’s interview subject never took her stories seriously; only after The Other Side of Silence came out did they realize the impact of her accomplishments. There is a “strange way in which families wipe out history,” Butalia remarked.

In the course of her research Butalia noted the inadequacy of the word “partition” to describe what people had lived through. It perhaps invokes the idea of a mechanical separation, but unlike the word “holocaust,” for example, it really fails to describe the violation that people experienced.

When Butalia set out to write her book, she believed that by telling these women’s stories, she could “liberate their voices.” Yet, “it was only when I began talking to women that I discovered how wrong I was,” she said. She encountered a number of women who didn’t want to be identified or who didn’t want their stories told. Some of them had never told their own children about their past. “When you tell other people’s stories, you have to ask yourself: to whom are you responsible? Some abstract notion of history? To the people you interview?”

“As a storyteller you’re in a position of power,” she cautioned, and as much as possible, you should try to show the your interview subject what you will write. Many people will agree to tell their story, but when they see it in print, it has a much different impact. Butalia learned that “breaking a silence doesn’t necessarily lead to the liberation of a voice.”

Charlie Smith invited questions from the audience. One attendee asked whether Butalia looked at the effect of differences in class on the experiences of partition. Butalia replied that she wanted to capture a range of women across class and caste and that these factors were central to her analysis. She noted that the rich largely travelled by air and the poor travelled by foot, and hence the poor were most vulnerable, but abductors often targeted rich women as prizes. Butalia also wanted to document the experiences of minority groups; for instance, in The Other Side of Silence, she introduces a Dalit story in the master narrative of the Hindu and Muslim story.

Another audience member asked about her publishing vision. Butalia started Kali for Women twenty-eight years ago and continues now with Zubaan to publish English books about women in the margins, “constantly balancing politics with survival and sustainability,” she said. She told the audience about the autobiography of Baby Halder, a woman who was forced into marriage at twelve and had her first child at fourteen, followed by two other children in quick succession. At her breaking point, she fled her abusive husband and found work as a domestic. Her employer noticed that she spent considerable time in his library and encouraged her to read, then gave her a pen and notebook to write her own story. Her book, originally published in Hindi, did well, but it found a huge audience when Butalia published it in English. “In the Indian market,” Butalia explained, “English is the language of privilege.” Halder’s success allowed her to bring her children to live with her, yet she remains with her employer out of a sense of gratitude and loyalty. And Butalia pointed out the irony that an impoverished woman could so enrich a book publishing house.

Prompted by another question, Butalia reflected on the story of partition as it is now being told in North America, where there is a renewed interest in the event among the diaspora. People are uncovering family archives, recording oral histories, and putting partition stories up on the Internet, and she finds that as people get older, they are more willing to talk about it. Although in India and Pakistan there is a desire to demystify one another and to hear one another’s stories, there are still barriers to interaction, whereas there are no such barriers in the diaspora, allowing for a freer flow of information and ideas.

When asked whether she felt that there was a sense of urgency to finish the story of partition as people who lived through it are now at the end of their lives, Butalia says that there does seem to be a feeling of urgency but that “the selection of voices cannot even begin to map the history of 1.2 million people. The bulk of that history will be lost.”


Urvashi Butalia is an astonishing confluence of passion and principled action, and there is no doubt about the immensity of her contributions to history and culture. She is so brilliantly articulate—her ideas and responses clearly thoughtfully conceived and considered. Her long list of accomplishments makes me feel as though I’ve done nothing with my life (but in an inspiring—rather than guilt-inducing—way). Her fervent concern for the plight (“There is a strong hold of patriarchy in societies around the world. The difference is in the form that violence against women takes.”) and belief in the power (“Women [in India] are the ones putting in the seeds to end poverty, such as schools and sanitation. Economists aren’t taking this movement into account.”) of women makes me wonder if dialing back my cynicism a bit might actually allow me to be more effective. I learned a tremendous amount from her talk, and I feel privileged to have heard her speak.

Book review: Editors, Scholars, and the Social Text

Too often we see book production as a sequence of tasks—writing, editing, design, proofreading—forgetting that behind these tasks are professionals who have to work as a team to make a book happen. Editors, Scholars, and the Social Text (edited by Darcy Cullen, published by University of Toronto Press) urges us to shift our perspective—not only towards the dynamic, social aspects of the production process that are so critical to its functioning but also away from the notion that an editor is “an invisible figure who must leave no trace of his or her presence or as a taint to be expunged.” (p. 4)

Darcy Cullen, an acquisitions editor at UBC Press, has assembled an impressive cast of contributors to this authoritative collection, including Peter L. Shillingsburg, author of From Gutenberg to Google, and Amy Einsohn, author of The Copyeditor’s Handbook. We hear from academic experts as well as editors and designers in a rich mosaic of experiences and complementary viewpoints. In short, this unassuming volume brims with wisdom.

Editors, Scholars, and the Social Text focuses naturally on academic publishing, but much of the insight and information it offers would also be useful to trade publishers. It divides its attention between scholarly editors (scholars who develop, curate, and compile) and academic editors (in-house or freelance professionals who acquire manuscripts, copy edit, and project manage), and although I found many of the former pieces interesting, I gravitated towards essays about the latter, which were both a mirror of my own experiences and a window into a parallel universe. Editors (and publishers) may operate according to the same set of best practices, but they all have different approaches, and it’s these details that intrigue me most.

To give a sweeping review of such a heterogeneous collection would be an unfair oversimplification, so my goal here is to hit what I considered the highlights, from my perspective as an editor, rather than attempt to be comprehensive.

Cullen’s motivation for bringing together these essays carries a subtle but definite tone of activism. Of the legions of books devoted to publishing, most are focused on helping authors get their manuscripts published or marketed, yet, writes Cullen, “the ‘middle’ part of the publishing process, sandwiched between acquisitions and sales, is often closed from view, or viewed as closed off, even though it is here that the manuscript’s metamorphosis into book occurs.” (p. 3) The shrinking-violet stereotype of editors must be abandoned because it perpetuates a certain self-marginalization that denies the important social contribution of an editor to the publishing process. Cullen hopes that “these chapters engaging the question of minority cultures and ethnicity in the spheres of scholarly and academic editing and scholarly publishing should serve as an impetus to editors who still invisibilize themselves, so that they acknowledge their place and position of influence as it extends beyond the chain of production.” (p. 12)

That thread is carried through Rosemary Shipton’s brilliant chapter, “The Mysterious Relationship: Authors and Their Editors,” in which she gives readers a most cogent description of the editorial process, comparing trade and academic publishing. “So long as the editors’ contribution to publications in all genres… is not given the recognition it deserves,” writes Shipton, “editors will remain vulnerable to low salaries and, in times of economic downturn, early layoff.”

The relationship an editor fosters with an author is key to a book’s realization—and it may play a role in a publisher’s ability to retain an author: “When the collaboration works well,” Shipton writes, “inevitably authors bond with their editors—they request them for book after book.” But “if the collaboration between author and editor does not work well, the author very quickly feels threatened and loses confidence in the editor.” (p. 51) As one of the founders of the publishing program at Ryerson, her advocacy for the editing profession is grounded in her belief in high standards and a solid foundation of editorial principles, as she warns, “The most common disputes arise when copyeditors lack training and experience.” (p. 45)

Shipton explains that whereas “most trade publishers know that, to make their books excellent and interesting, to attract good reviews and other media attention, to win book awards, and to get that word-of-mouth buzz that entices readers to buy, they really should edit at both the macro and the micro level,” (p. 50) meaning that manuscripts at trade houses go through structural, stylistic, and copy editing, “scholarly publishers do not usually do intensive substantive editing—and for many good reasons. Their mandate is to publish books that make an original contribution to knowledge; most of their authors are professors or researchers; the majority of their readers are academics and students; and the number of copies they print of most titles is small.” (p. 52) Because they write for an academic audience, says Shipton, scholars “know that these readers will understand the specialized jargon and the guarded, often obtuse long sentences in which they make their arguments.” (p. 52) (I haven’t worked much with textual scholars, but based on my experiences with scientific scholars, I couldn’t help wondering if scholars’ resistance to being stylistically edited or have at least some clear communication principles applied to their writing is a symptom of an academic culture that routinely conflates abstruseness with erudition.)

Shipton also touches on issues specific to legal editing and educational publishing, adeptly showing not only the peculiarities of each genre but also aspects of our work that unite us all as editors; as far as I’m concerned, her chapter should be required reading in all introductory editing courses. Veteran editors—trade or academic, freelance or in house—would also benefit from her wisdom.

Amy Einsohn’s piece, “Juggling Expectations: The Copyeditor’s Roles and Responsibilities” provides equally valuable information for both novice and seasoned copy editors, encouraging them to pull back and look at their own vulnerabilities so that they can become more effective in their work. “Conflicting opinions about what constitutes good or acceptable expository writing can be particularly difficult to negotiate. Because any sentence can be rewritten (and arguably “improved” thereby), copyeditors must learn to resist the impulse to tinker,” (p. 79) she writes, cautioning that copyeditors “labour in the presence of benevolent or fearsome ghosts: a high school English teacher, a freshman composition instructor, one or more publishing mentors, and the authors of favourite usage books.” (p. 69)

Copy editing is an exercise in juggling quality, collegiality, cost, and control, Einsohn says. And true to the book’s overarching message, she emphasizes the importance of the relationships built—largely through clear, respectful communication—between copy editor and author and between copy editor and press. Most importantly, she offers concrete suggestions to improve these relationships and improve editor retention, including checklists, sample edits, and style memos.

Whereas Einsohn’s contribution focused on text, Camilla Blakeley revealed through a case study of an award-winning project of hers, The Trickster Shift by Allan J. Ryan, the complexities of editing an illustrated book. Tactfully mediating a relationship between the author and designer, securing permissions within a specified budget, coordinating captions and credits, and taking into account the effect these added tasks have on the project schedule are some of just some of the considerations for illustrated books, and, again, communication is paramount. On this project, Blakeley set up a meeting with the author and designer at the very early stages, which the designer, George Vaitkunas, credited with making the project particularly rewarding. Blakeley notes, “early communication makes the job not only easier but more pleasurable. This is significant.” (p. 156)

One point of hers that caught my attention was that “while an experienced scholarly editor knows that a table or a graph requires as much editing as a narrative—often more—most of us have no training in how to look at photograph.” (p. 165) She points to a positive editor–designer relationship as an opportunity for editors to educate themselves about these kinds of issues so that they can better serve the author, designer, and, ultimately, the book.

Blakeley’s contribution is packed with examples from The Trickster Shift—of such details as art logs and schedules—that are useful not only because they inform readers about the anatomy of an illustrated book project as it evolves but also because editors can easily appropriate and adapt these documents for their own use.

Blakeley does a tremendous job of giving the designer on her project a voice, but what sets this book apart is that we get to hear directly from designers themselves. Learning from designer Richard Hendel, for example, about not only how designers fit in to the book production process but also how designers view editors (both flatteringly and unflatteringly) can be an important step to better communication and a more effective workflow. Hendel stresses that “The designer cannot properly address a text until an editor has understood and clearly dealt with the physical aspects of the content: how chapters and chapter titles are arranged, how subheads are dealt with, kinds of extract, and the like.” (p. 175) Referring to English typographer John Ryder, Hendel writes, “Ryder felt that editors should be more critical about how something in the manuscript will eventually appear in the printed book—the need to edit visually before the design process even begins.” (p. 176)

In her chapter, designer Sigrid Albert looks at the evolving role of the designer and the changing relationship between editor and designer as the publishing landscape adjusts to accommodate ebooks and other technologies. “The traditional printed book as a highly crafted cultural object, whether in a humble, low-budget or a luxurious, highly produced format, is the goal of the editor and designer. At the highest level of the book production process, the editor has shaped a piece of history, and the designer has shaped a piece of art,” writes Albert, in one of my favourite quotes from the book.

Whereas the traditional book all but demands a strong, communicative relationship between editor and designer to transmit a single vision, digital books have meant that content and form are separate: “book content is increasingly being stored in databases and tagged with content-related markup—such as chapter titles, subtitles, subheads, extracts—by the editor, while the visual design is controlled by a separate style markup—such as margin widths, font, font size, font weight, colour, or line height—delivered by the designer.” (p. 184) Albert wonders if the relationship will only grow further apart as designers eventually stop designing single books and instead create digital templates that they license. Yet, Albert says, “From the designer’s point of view, the design process, despite the technological advances, still requires a synthesis of information and a variety of visual choices to form an aesthetic unity.” (p. 193)

Yuri Cowan (“Reading Material Bibliography and Digital Editions”) and Darcy Cullen (“The Object and the Process”) also explore the implications of a workflow that incorporates digital outputs, with Cowan taking a more theoretical approach and Cullen sharing the triumphs and growing pains of UBC Press’s first steps into the realm of digital production. Writes Cowan, “our editors can inform their theoretical approaches with recent scholarship in the sociology of material texts, creating a model of readerly engagement and a generation of reader/editors who will be neither overawed by the authority of print nor seduced by the hyperbolic claims made for the electronic edition.” (p. 236)

The book’s other contributors—Peter L. Shillingsburg, Alexander Petit, Peter Mahon, and John K. Young—offer scholars’ perspectives on various facets of the academic publishing process, and although these chapters are all worth reading for the sake of interest, I believe that the general editor-reader will find the essays I’ve mentioned most engaging and directly relevant to their work—and it’s to this specific but vast audience, editors of whatever genre and whatever experience level, that I wholeheartedly recommend this book. Freelance editors who have never worked in house may have the most to gain from this insiders’ view. As Amy Einsohn writes, “Some presses make an effort to train, coach, and acculturate their freelancers, but most freelancers have few opportunities to learn about the publisher’s activities, customs, and mores,” (p. 69) and being informed about a publishing house’s inner workings helps editors anticipate what may be expected of them.

UBC Press—and hence Cullen’s book—specializes in the social sciences, but I would be intrigued to see how the processes described in Editors, Scholars, and the Social Text compare with the workflow and author–editor relationships at academic presses focused on the natural sciences. Most of those authors probably will not read this book, and perhaps even most social science scholars hoping to get published would not think to read it. In many ways, it is much more information than they need to play their roles in book production. Yet, I hope that some academic authors choose to hear what Cullen’s roster of experts have to say. This book beautifully humanizes the publishing process in a way that could only foster mutual respect between professionals—ones with the common aim of producing great books.

ISC and EAC Conferences 2012: Personal perspectives

Now that I’m finally done summarizing my conference notes, I thought I’d share some of my own reflections on the experience, which ended up being much more invigorating than I had expected. Initially the conferences were just an excuse to catch up with two of my good friends—fellow Master of Publishing alumnae—one of whom lives in Ottawa and whom I hadn’t seen in three years. In the end I am so glad I went (not least because I was surprised by a Tom Fairley win!), even though coughing up over $700 in conference fees was a bit painful at first and the collision of deadlines I faced when I returned nearly destroyed me.

At the last EAC-BC branch meeting of the season, a quick poll of the attendees revealed that only two of us in the room were heading to Ottawa to take in the conference. At that point, having just joined the programs committee, I realized that part of my responsibility would be to bring the conference back to B.C. for the members who couldn’t attend. My suggestions for meeting topics and speakers were partly inspired by what I’d seen and heard at the conference, but what we’ll be seeing this upcoming season will by no means be a rehash of the conference content. I look forward to hearing different perspectives on key issues in editing and building upon what I’ve learned.

Here are some of my main takeaways from this spring’s conferences:


I was blown away by what Jan Wright, David Ream, and other members of the American Society for Indexing’s Digital Trends Task Force had been able to accomplish. By participating in a working group at an international level, they helped shape what will be the new standard for ebooks and advanced the indexing profession in the eyes of a consortium of major players in e-publishing. I don’t think I can overstate how huge that is.

Learning about their work made me wonder what we’re doing—as individuals and as national organizations—and whether we’re doing enough to advocate on behalf of our profession. Are editors making an effort to try to talk to Adobe about how it can make PDF proofing tools more intuitive and useful for publishing professionals? Have editors’ interests been taken into consideration in the EPUB 3.0 standard? How do we get involved on the ground floor of a nascent technology to make sure we remain relevant? I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I’m motivated to find out and, if time and resources allow, to make more of a contribution. What is particularly inspiring is that editors outnumber indexers manyfold. If a small group of dedicated indexers can make a group of software engineers listen, then editors should be able to do it, too.

Brain sharing and collaboration

Peter Milliken’s keynote reinforced an undercurrent of both conferences: the importance of talking and learning from one another. Both Cheryl Landes and Jan Wright at the ISC conference noted that technical communicators have been dealing with the issues relating to single-sourcing that book publishers are now facing with p-books and e-books but that the two communities aren’t really talking to each other. Dominique Joseph’s EAC talk also made me wonder if the plain language/clear communication movement and the editing and indexing communities are exchanging ideas as much as they could be. (Noting that the new definition of clear communication includes finding information, I asked Joseph if using indexing and information science to guide retrieval was part of the plain language movement’s considerations; she believed that “finding” in the context of the definition referred to a more structural level, as in headings, for example.) What other opportunities for cross-pollination are we missing out on?

The lack of cross-pollination for in-house editors was a big reason I hosted my session at last year’s conference in Vancouver. Publishers often get together to discuss marketing or digital strategies but rarely ever talk about editing and production. When I was in house, I discovered that we ended up jury-rigging our own systems and reinventing the wheel at each of our respective houses. I wanted to give in-house editors an opportunity to share ideas about what works and what doesn’t and maybe develop some more concrete best practices.

A year later, in-house editors still aren’t getting many chances to sit together and brain share. Peter Moskos and Connie Vanderwaardt’s session at the EAC conference about managing editors certainly helped, but managing editors alone have enough considerations to fill a full-day retreat. Although I’m now a freelancer, I’m still committed to making the in-house editor’s life easier. A lot of the work I do as a publishing consultant centres on production efficiencies—streamlining workflow while minimizing errors—and would have more relevance and impact if I could get a group of managing editors and production managers together (in person or online) to exchange ideas. I see working with the EAC—first at the branch level but hopefully later at the national level—to develop programs and services to encourage more in-house participation in the association becoming a key mission of mine in the years to come.

The ISC conference offered another form of idea exchange: representatives from the society’s sister organizations in the U.S., the U.K., and Australia and New Zealand were invited to attend, and some of them gave presentations. I found it extremely interesting to hear international perspectives on issues common to all within the profession. One could argue that because editing is so much larger a community that there’s already a glut of articles online about editing and language from contributors around the world, but I wonder if reaching out to experts from abroad to speak at an EAC conference could help strengthen ties with editorial sister organizations and further promote advocacy of the profession at an international level.


I hate to flog a dead horse, but I want to advocate once again for proper credit for editors and indexers. In Max McMaster’s ISC talk, he noted that sometimes publishers will have a book reindexed because they simply don’t know who did the original. Having that information, in the form of a credit, could help them track down the indexer, who may still have the index archived, allowing the publisher to save money and to avoid any intellectual property issues. Further, adopting Christine Jacobs’s approach of including a credit line as an item on her invoice is an innovative and easy way we can organically but systematically work to give editors and indexers the recognition they deserve.

The Language Portal of Canada

Few people outside of Ottawa (or perhaps Ontario?) seem to know about the Language Portal; many of those who do believe it’s a resource for translators only. In fact it seems as though it could be quite a handy site for editors, what with free access to an updated edition of The Canadian Style, not to mention Peck’s English Pointers. For newly certified editors, the site’s quizzes and articles provide easy-access credential maintenance opportunities.


If you’re looking for a solid evening of nerdy language-related entertainment, get yourself a copy of James Harbeck’s Songs of Love & Grammar and pretend William Shatner’s reading it to you.

P-credit and e-credit

Following my entry last week about properly crediting all of a publication’s team members, Ric Day posted some very interesting information about the International Standard Name Identifier (ISNI), which would allow all of a publication’s contributors to be given credit within a digital work’s metadata, opening the door to a model such as the one Jeff Norton proposed in “Follow the editor.”

Whereas Day seems to imply that my suggestions and his are divergent, however, I see them as having exactly the same aim: ensuring that everyone who contributes to a published work be recognized, and in the process raising the profile of each of their respective professions. Credit is credit—whether it’s a line on a copyright page, in a masthead, or in a digital file’s metadata—and I do feel it’s worth pursuing.

I also don’t share his pessimism about publishers being unwilling to change their ways. First, all of my book-publishing clients credit the designer, and most credit the substantive editor, so clearly a precedent has been set. Those that don’t credit editors seem to be the exception. Most publishers don’t credit indexers, but I strongly suspect that it’s simply because they’ve never been asked; I see the problem as far from insurmountable.

Second, we’re in a key time of transition in Canadian publishing. Last year UBC Press, D&M, and Arsenal Pulp all celebrated their fortieth anniversary (was there something in Vancouver’s water in 1971?), and several other publishing houses were founded in the same period. Many have either completed or are in the midst of implementing succession plans, and coming into the industry are savvy, bright minds who understand that publishing must evolve in order to survive. This evolution includes adopting digital strategies and changing the way they interact with their human resources, both in house and freelance.

And with more and more authors wishing to self-publish, whether in print or digitally, we as publishing professionals are now in a unique position of being able to educate authors and define a new standard rather than having to resign ourselves to “this is how we’ve always done it.” Why not begin explicitly requesting a credit line (or an equivalent shoutout in the metadata) as part as your boilerplate freelance contract?

Credit where credit’s due

EAC-BC’s professional development co-chair, Eva van Emden, has posted some thoughts of her own about low-cost ways book and magazine publishers can help keep their freelancers happy, following my posts about the care and feeding of freelancers and maximizing your freelance editors’ marketing potential.

Her point about acknowledging a freelancer’s role with a credit line is an excellent one. Although most of my book publisher clients will credit at least the designer and substantive editor, and sometimes the copy editor, I’m well aware that doing so is not standard within the industry, and I think that, as minor a point as it seems, making it standard is something worth fighting for. Our work as editors should be invisible, but we shouldn’t be.

I appreciate that my editorial credits often pop up in Google Books results when people search for my name and that I can easily point prospective clients to Amazon’s Look Inside feature to show that I’ve worked on a particular book when my name appears on the copyright page. Not only does not including an editorial credit hurt my ability to promote myself, but it also hurts the profession. We aren’t doing ourselves any favours by essentially agreeing to pretend that editors don’t contribute to a book.

Although I understand why the proofreader may not be credited (or wish to be credited), particularly unsung are indexers, who are only very rarely acknowledged for their contributions. In a way, I can understand why—the tight timelines involved in indexing and the fact that the author and editor will modify the index often mean that the indexer does not have direct control over the quality of the final printed index, and since the index is occasionally added in at bluelines, having to modify the copyright page to add a credit would mean additional costs for the publisher. Mostly, however, I think it’s just inertia that has prevented crediting indexers from becoming standard. The indexer for Derek Hayes’s Historical Atlas of the North American Railroad (2010), Judith Anderson, was delighted to be asked if she wanted a credit, and Hayes, who designs all of his own books, has acknowledged the indexer on the copyright page of his atlases ever since. Associating the index with a name is especially important, I think, to show that a person is involved in creating the index—there’s a common misconception that indexes can be computer generated without human input, and, again, perpetuating that myth can only damage the indexing profession.

I’m not suggesting that we need some sort of overt advocacy campaign to change the way publishers operate (although organizations like the Editors’ Association of Canada and Indexing Society of Canada are in a good position to raise awareness of this issue), but if we all begin requesting credits when we work with our clients, we can begin organically to define a new standard for giving all team members their due.

Publishers: Are you maximizing the marketing capacity of your freelancers?

As I put together my post last week on the care and feeding of freelancers, I began to wonder why gestures like inviting freelancers to events and sending them awards news weren’t standard in the industry, and it struck me that most editorial and marketing departments tend to operate independently and too often don’t communicate with one another to refine their strategies. Although this division has its advantages—most editors and authors would be loath to have marketing weigh in on every aspect of a book’s content—it can also mean that publishers may be missing out on an easy way to get the word out about their lists.

In addition to pursuing traditional marketing channels, publishers should also consider taking some simple steps to fold their freelancers into their marketing plans. Why is this a good idea?

1) The editor of a book (or its designer or indexer) can be its most enthusiastic champion

In some ways, an endorsement carries more credibility coming from a freelancer, because, unlike the author or publisher, she has no vested interest in book sales and would be unlikely to go out of her way to promote a book she doesn’t believe in.

2) Everyone has a network*

Freelancers—introversion notwithstanding—are no different. Through social media they can effortlessly reach their contacts with news about their projects, and we’ve all seen how quickly and widely news can spread with social networks serving as a multiplier. Imagine a designer tweeting “Got my comp copy of History of Canadian Photography today. Printer did a beautiful job with the colours!” or an editor posting “Looking forward to next week’s launch of The Backcountry Cookbook at the Outdoor Store. I finally get to meet the author in person! The event starts at 7pm. Hope to see some of you there” and the early buzz that could generate.

What’s more, a freelancer’s likely to have likeminded contacts—people who enjoy the same types of activities, share the same interests, and read the same kinds of books—exactly the audience you want to reach.

3) Reaching out to freelancers helps foster a sense of teamwork and loyalty

And giving them a sense of ownership over their projects from beginning to end helps to encourage high standards and excellent work. Nurturing goodwill will help with freelancer retention, which will cut down on training and recruitment costs.


So how do you get started?

1) Develop a system to feed freelancer contact information to marketing

The in-house contact for freelancers—whether that person’s called the managing editor, production editor, or production manager—will have a record of who worked on each stage of a book, maybe even in a convenient format like a spreadsheet. Simply make sure that this information is passed along to the person coordinating event, award, and review notices, whose only added task is adding three or four email addresses to a contact list.

2) Develop a concrete policy informing freelancers about what information they can share and when

The term “policy” may be overly formal here—a simple FAQ on an editorial information site (like a wiki) would do. Freelancers—particularly if they’ve never worked in house—may be reluctant to share news about their work on a project because they don’t know if the publisher or author would approve. Letting them know in general terms what you’d encourage them to share will not only free them to publicize the book, but it will also tacitly help them understand the bounds of confidentiality in the author–freelancer–publisher relationship.

You may also want to list some important dates before which information must be held back—for example, the manuscript delivery date, catalogue date, or the pub date. For example, specify when it’s okay for a freelance designer to post a cover image on his blog.

All this said, it may not be wise to expect your freelancers to do any marketing for you. The reason some freelancers work on contract is so that they don’t have to be involved in all aspects of a book’s production and promotion. Make it easy for them to unsubscribe from notifications or newsletters, and consider any free publicity you do get from them gravy.


Ultimately, publishers have very little control over what their freelancers say or do; we can only hope that they will use good professional judgment and not post or tweet anything that will hurt the book, the author, or the publisher. Setting out these guidelines and improving communication with freelancers about marketing issues can only help your cause as publisher, though, and it carries a low risk with the potential for a high reward.

*Some of you will (rightly) point out the irony of my having neither a Facebook nor a Twitter account, but if you’re reading this, you’re part of my network!

Care and feeding of freelancers: a guide for book publishers

Those of us who have gone freelance understand that we’re not going to be coddled by our publisher clients. That said, if you’re a publisher, showing freelancers that you respect and value their work can go a long way to promoting a mutually beneficial long-term relationship. After all, although there seem to be freelancers everywhere who are trying to compete in this industry, anyone who’s ever had to build a stable of high-quality, reliable freelancers knows that it’s not so easy to find editors, indexers, and designers who will reliably uphold high standards for publishing’s relatively low rates. If you’ve gone through the trouble of testing and training a freelancer and are happy with his or her work, it’s in your best interest to retain that freelancer, and there are some very simple ways to show your appreciation for your freelancers’ contributions. None of these measures is hard to implement, and they all help foster freelancers’  sense of ownership of their projects and encourage them to continue delivering excellent work.

1. Send them a complimentary copy of the book

Nothing can replace the satisfaction of flipping through a finished book and seeing the fruits of one’s hard work. Sending a freelancer a complimentary copy should, in my opinion, be a given for trade publishers. Academic and technical publishers may not be used to sending their freelancers finished books, and the freelancer may not necessarily want them, but the offer should be made. The freelancer might want a copy for his or her portfolio, and, if you use that person again for a similar project (e.g., the next textbook in the same series), he or she will find having a reference copy on hand extremely helpful.

2. Invite them to launch events

Book launches and other book events give freelancers the rare opportunity to meet the author and in-house staff with whom they’ve probably exchanged dozens of emails. And let’s face it—along with the freedom and flexibility of freelancing comes isolation, and many freelancers would welcome an excuse to get out of the house and meet new people.

3. Send them award announcements, reviews, and other good news

Did an author send the company an effusive note after her book was published? Has the book an editor toiled over been shortlisted for an award? Did the Globe and Mail name it a best book of the year? Freelancers aren’t always plugged in to this kind of information, but they do always appreciate knowing about it.

4. Offer them feedback

Both positive and constructive negative feedback on their work can help both parties take steps towards perfecting a system that works well for everyone.

5. Apprise them of relevant company news

Reading news about staff changes and company restructuring in a publication like Quill and Quire may leave freelancers wondering how those changes will affect them. Be proactive in sharing the news, either by sending freelancers relevant press releases or including them on your mailing list for your external newsletter, if you have one.

6. Set up a freelancer account with your distributor so that they can qualify for discounts on books

I hope all freelancers in book publishing have had the opportunity to work on a book they loved so much they wished everyone they knew could have a copy of it. Setting up a freelancer account—akin to an author account—would let them order their own copies for a discounted rate. This idea may be a bit more blue sky than the others, as I haven’t seen it implemented anywhere, but in principle it’s not difficult. Through the freelancer account the publisher gets non-returnable sales without having to go through conventional bookseller channels, and with the discount your freelancers are more likely to buy copies for their friends and family—it’s a win-win.