Ultra Libris hot off the press

I got my comp copy of Ultra Libris (by Rowland Lorimer, published by ECW Press) in the mail today, meaning the book will officially pub in about a month. Although it’s exactly the kind of book I would ordinarily review, I’d feel a bit weird reviewing a book I worked on—especially one by a former MPub professor of mine—so here’s just a summary and some short excerpts that I found particularly interesting.

At 432 pages, Ultra Libris is a substantial volume, but it’s well worth reading—I found it far more interesting than I’d expected. (Being able to read it away from the demands of grad school probably helped significantly.) Lorimer offers a detailed look at the book publishing industry in Canada, beginning with some important historical context. Squeezed between the colonial influences of Britain (and, to a lesser extent, France) and the cultural dominance of the United States, Canada was, in the first part of the twentieth century, inundated with a literature not its own. Government-initiated commissions to study the state of Canadian culture and Canadian book publishing, along with lobbying by the Association of Canadian Publishers, led to a series of key policies designed to lend structural and cultural support to the industry—one that was then able to flourish in the 1970s and has produced Canadian books and authors renowned the world over. More recently, the concept of the “creative economy”—the notion that arts and culture contribute hugely to a nation’s economic health—has helped to cement the importance of encouraging cultural initiatives and supporting domestic cultural production.

Yet, as we’ve seen in these past few volatile years, Canadian-owned publishers seem always on the brink of financial collapse. The dominance of Chapters-Indigo is a major factor, as Lorimer shows with some incisive case studies, but perhaps it is time, as he proposes in the latter part of his book, to change our current publishing model, exploiting available technologies (and not just ebooks) to increase both production efficiencies and reach.

Put another way, if publishers don’t embrace evolving opportunities in every sphere of book publishing the already substantial gap between the contributions to limited economic growth made by the printing and publishing industries and the more robust contributions made by other industries of the creative sector… may increase. (p. 334)

Some of the alternative models he suggests include service publishing in both trade and scholarly environments and Canada Council–mandated set fees for publishing professionals. His argument for paying these professionals what they deserved had me cheering:

Even though book publishing employees will accept relatively low wages, it is wasteful of human resources to start a university graduate with a Master’s in publishing and a second Master’s degree at a salary equivalent to an entry-level clerical position, let alone to assign that person clerical work. This is doubly the case when the same graduates can earn up to twice that salary doing publishing work outside the industry. Low wages are sometimes justified as part and parcel of a lifestyle choice that a person is prepared to make. Such thinking encourages mediocrity, feeds off a culture of poverty, and buys into a false notion of the nobility of poverty. It is a disservice both to those who are underpaid and society as a whole. Moreover, it is indefensible that government should be subsidizing an industry that does not compensate its employees with a living wage. Paying low wages not only drives people out of the industry but also encourages an inefficient organization of work. (p. 192)

I also found intriguing Lorimer’s comparison of the reading public’s willingness to pay a premium for a Canadian-authored or Canadian-published book to the organic food movement:

Although this may be changing, the mindset (with regard to price) of the Canadian book buyer appears to be this: Why should a book by a Canadian author cost more than any other book, especially a book by a more famous foreign author? Only in very recent years, with increased emphasis on organic food products as well as economies of scale, have the realities of production costs—which, in the case of books, means the size of print runs—become persuasive. Prior to those developments, try as they might, Canadian publishers had not been able to persuade the book-buying public that Canadian-authored and Canadian-published books are the gold-riveted designer jeans of the market. (p. 215)

The reader who is willing to pay more to support an author for being Canadian, who recognizes that fostering Canadian talent simply costs more, is likely in a small—possibly insignificant—minority, but the analogy is an interesting one nonetheless.

One feature of the book—quite apart from its content—that caught my attention was at the very back:

Get the eBook free! At ECW Press, we want you to enjoy this book in whatever format you like, whenever you like. Leave your print book at home and take the eBook to go! Purchase the print edition and receive the eBook free.

All you have to do is email ECW and show proof of purchase; you’ll get your choice of a PDF or EPUB. I think this model is brilliant, and I wonder how many publishers have embraced it. Many publishers see the ebook as an additional revenue stream, and they view the print book and ebook as separate entities, whereas ECW’s approach really makes the reader value the content rather the method of delivery. I would be interested to know which strategy ultimately leads to more sales.


This post has been a bit of a hodgepodge, but, as I mentioned earlier, Ultra Libris is a tome, and its coverage is vast; I can’t hope to do it justice in such a short entry. What I will say is that anyone working within Canadian publishing, or looking to get into it, would glean something of value from this thorough—and surprisingly uplifting—book.

Elemental editorial checklists

Waaay the hell back, I posted this tribute to the dependable, indispensable checklist, and I promised to return with more posts about creating effective editorial checklists. A bunch of events and conferences and book reviews took priority, and the checklist got pushed to the back burner. So before it gets boiled dry, here’s the first of a few posts I have planned about simple editorial checklists that can save you time and, potentially, a lot of money.

In Atul Gawande’s The Checklist Manifesto, a checklist expert in the aviation industry, Daniel Boorman, tells the author about the two main types of checklist:

You must decide whether you want a DO-CONFIRM checklist or a READ-DO checklist. With a DO-CONFIRM checklist… team members perform their jobs from memory and experience, often separately. But then they stop. They pause to run the checklist and confirm that everything that was supposed to be done was done. With a READ-DO checklist, on the other hand, people carry out the tasks as they check them off. (pp. 122–23)

That distinction may work well for checklists designed for large teams of people performing complex tasks, but for editing and publishing, I find a different kind of division more practical: most editorial checklists will be either elemental or procedural, and it’s the former I’ll talk about here, because it’s the easiest to get started with.

Whereas procedural checklists give you a series of tasks to perform, elemental checklists tell you what elements to include. Publishers will find them useful for all of the constants across their publications; for example, cover copy on all of a trade publisher’s books will have the same components, the chapters within a textbook will have the same structure, and a market research firm’s reports will typically include the same sections each time.

Elemental checklists serve multiple functions:

  1. The person who first drafts the copy can use them to make sure he or she has covered all bases.
  2. The editor, designer, and proofreader—not to mention the person who checks the printer’s proofs—can use them to double, triple, and quadruple check that nothing critical has been left out or, in a more likely scenario, dropped out from one stage of production to the next.
  3. They are a powerful, authoritative training tool for new editorial and production staff members, as well as freelancers.

That third function underscores why you would bother creating elemental checklists. When I first started out in trade publishing and had to write cover copy for the first time, I was told to look at another of the publisher’s books as a guide, yet I wasn’t sure if the book I had chosen was representative. Having a checklist would have saved me some second guessing. And if I had been a freelancer, I might not have had access to the publisher’s backlist from which to choose a sample.

Even for seasoned veterans in house, these checklists are invaluable. We’d all like to believe that once we’ve worked somewhere long enough, we’ll have internalized all of the details, such as what goes on a title page. But with everything that an editor has to do, having a reminder in the form of a checklist—”a kind of cognitive net [that] catch mental flaws inherent in all of us” as Gawande says (p. 47)—is extremely helpful. A checklist frees your mind from having to remember these details and allows you to focus your task.

And those “mental flaws” Gawande mentions can be costly to publishers. Forgetting to include the company URL on the back cover copy may not be a huge problem, but inadvertently dropping an acknowledgement clause could get your funding pulled, and missing a disclaimer could have legal repercussions. Every publisher has a war story about having a book rejacketed at the eleventh hour (or worse, pulped and reprinted) because it had left off a copublisher’s imprint information or having to get a shipment of books stickered because the barcode was missing.

For recurring items that use boilerplate text—for example, the copyright page, with its standard copyright and acknowledgement clauses—using a template rather than a checklist would save you a lot of rekeying, but the principle is the same: the template, like a checklist, ensures that the essential elements aren’t inadvertently omitted owing to a lapse of memory.

Developing elemental checklists is simple:

Suggestions for publishers

1. Pull out some representative publications

If you publish multiple genres or multiple formats, it’s helpful to have one of each in front of you.

2. Identify all of the constants

Some examples, for trade books, are the half-title page, title page, and all parts of a jacket (e.g., front flap, front cover, spine, back cover, back flap). Textbook chapters will often have recurring elements, structured in the same way (for example, introduction, lab activities, career profile, chapter summary, glossary), and each of those elements may in turn have a recurring structure (e.g., activity title, list of equipment, numbered method, analysis questions), so be sure to consider constants at both a macro and a micro level.

3. Identify required components and optional components

For example, a trade book’s front cover must have the title, subtitle, and author’s name, and it may have a short endorsement quote. (If you’re thinking, “Well, surely we don’t need a list for three items,” let me assure you that, yes, there have been publishers that have forgotten to include an author’s name on the front cover.)

4. Create generic elemental lists that apply to all of your publications

Start with broad lists that everyone will use, then…

5. Devise genre-specific sublists if necessary

For example, you may wish to have a disclaimer on all of your medically themed books or ensure that you include a co-publisher’s logo on the title page of co-published titles.

6. Share the checklists with all team members, including freelancers

Better yet, make them available for browsing or searching on an online tool like an editorial wiki.

7. Periodically revisit and revise your checklists

All checklists should be regularly revised for relevance, although elemental checklists generally tend to change less frequently than procedural checklists do. Still, those of us in publishing who saw the transition from 10- to 13-digit ISBNs, for example, will recall how much even small details matter to workflow. Make sure team members are aware of any changes. (An easy approach is to use an editorial wiki as the authoritative central repository for this kind of information. Editors and designers will always know that the material on the wiki is the most up to date.)

Suggestions for freelancers

Request checklists

If your publisher clients don’t voluntarily offer checklists, ask for them. If your clients don’t have checklists at all, your enquiry may well prompt them to think about developing some.

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.