Book review: Indexing Names

This review appeared in the Winter 2012 issue of Bulletin, the Indexing Society of Canada’s newsletter.


“It’s just a name index. It should be pretty straightforward.”

How many times have we heard that from a client—or even said it to ourselves? In Indexing Names (published for the ASI by Information Today), editor Noeline Bridge and her authoritative team of contributors dispel the myth that name indexing is easy, and they deftly show how multi-faceted and nuanced names can be.

Divided into four parts, the book tackles name indexing from a variety of angles. The first part offers guidelines based on nationality and ethnicity; it features chapters on languages commonly seen in English text, such as French and German, as well as less prominent languages, including Hmong and Te Reo Māori. The second part of the book addresses name indexing by genre, including biographies and art books. In the third part the authors look at particular issues such as fictional, corporate, and geographic names. The book’s final part offers readers resources, including a detailed chapter by Janet Russell about how to interpret an entry in the Library of Congress Authorities.

The book’s first section provides eye-opening historical and cultural context that helps explain why names in a particular language are structured the way they are—and what that means to indexers. Discerning between a tribal affiliation and a surname that has evolved from a patronymic may seem like hair splitting, but the book’s contributors convincingly show why these distinctions are important; running throughout the text of Indexing Names is an emphasis on the need to respect not only the author but also the culture of the work’s subject matter. Thus, although Indexing Names does help indexers solve immediate problems—such as identifying where to break a name with multiple prefixes—its raison d’être is much more profound. Its unwillingness to prescribe one right approach is perhaps the book’s greatest strength.

In her introduction, Bridge underscores the many considerations in name indexing, and Sherry L. Smith echoes this theme as she takes the reader through her thought process, giving indexers a method or system to apply rather than just a set of rules to follow. Seth Maislin follows with a fascinating exercise in analyzing how we recognize a name as a name; through it he shows how challenging it is to create a computer program that will perform automated name indexing—further evidence that indexing names isn’t as easy as some may think.

Indexing Names is vast in its coverage, and each chapter is detailed and comprehensive. However, despite (naturally) having a thorough index, the book could benefit from a few features to improve usability and navigation. A table of contents at the start of each chapter, for example, would allow readers to find specific issues by heading. And although many of the chapters, in the first section in particular, address parallel topics, they aren’t structured in a parallel way. This lack of homogeneity means that the voices of individual contributors can shine through the text, but it also means readers must relearn how to find what they’re looking for with each chapter. This is particularly true for the format in which similar information is presented—sometimes in tables and sometimes as indented paragraphs, for example. Occasionally titles or URLs of important resources are buried in narrative paragraphs, making quick identification and retrieval more difficult.

These minor issues are certainly not enough to keep me from recommending Indexing Names. For anyone working in the genres of biography, history, or genealogy, this book is a must-have. You don’t need to read it cover to cover for it to be a useful tool, but to get the most out of the book, you’d be advised to read through relevant chapters, highlighter in hand, before embarking on a project. I would love to see this book one day become an online resource, both for searchability and extensibility. Within the confines of a physical book, an important resource such as Indexing Names can’t be as exhaustive as users might like, whereas if the book inspired an indexer to create a chapter on Russian names, say, a dynamic web resource could easily support this kind of addition.

Book review: Science in Print

After reviewing Darcy Cullen’s Editors, Scholars, and the Social Text, which offered an insightful introduction to the world of scholarly publishing in the humanities, I found myself wondering which principles and practices within that book also applied to publishing in the sciences. I was hopeful that Science in Print: Essays on the History of Science and the Culture of Print, edited by Rima D. Apple, Gregory J. Downey, and Stephen L. Vaughn (published by the University of Wisconsin Press), might shed some light on the issue.

In 2008 the Center for the History of Print and Digital Culture at the University of Wisconsin-Madison sponsored an international conference on the culture of print in science, technology, engineering, and medicine; nine of the conference sessions were chosen to be included in Science in Print, released earlier this fall. The essays include

  • Meghan Doherty’s piece on how William Faithorne’s The Art of Graveing and Etching, a manual on the engraver’s craft, reflected standards of accuracy that he also applied to engravings for the Royal Society, which in turn reinforced scientific rigour among Royal Society members;
  • Robin E. Rider’s look at the importance of typography in late-eighteenth-century and early-nineteenth-century mathematical textbooks;
  • Lynn K. Nyhart’s overview of a decades-long series of publications, all arising from a German expedition to sample plankton in the world’s oceans;
  • Bertrum H. MacDonald’s tribute to the Smithsonian Institution’s role in scientific publication and information interchange between Canadian and American scientists in the late 1800s;
  • Jennifer J. Connor’s semi-biographical piece on George M. Gould, who in the late nineteenth century edited several medical journals and advanced ideas of editorial autonomy within medical journal publishing;
  • Kate McDowell’s probe of how evolution was presented in children’s science books between 1892 and 1922;
  • Sally Gregory Kohlstedt’s look at how textbooks and teacher resource books approached the burgeoning interest in nature study in the early twentieth century;
  • Rima D. Apple’s investigation into the influence of various publications, particularly government dietary guidelines, on fostering the primacy of meat in the American diet;
  • Cheryl Knott’s comparison between the reaction to Stewart Udall’s environmental treatise, The Quiet Crisis, published in 1963, and the reception to the book’s twenty-fifth-anniversary edition, published in 1988.

Being a bit of a math and typography nerd, I found resonance in Robin Rider’s essay, in which she says,

The visual culture of mathematics, done well, offers “enormous advantages of seeing,” as Edward Tufte would say. Readers learn much from the way mathematics is presented in type. Good typography highlights and reinforces ideas; indifferent typography (or worse) obscures ideas and stymies the reader. (p. 38)

—particularly since that last sentence applies just as well to non-mathematical texts.

Although not addressed as a specific topic in the book, the issue of the motivation behind academic publishing does rear its head in more than one essay. Both Lynn Nyhart and Jennifer Connor remark that the contributors to scientific and medical journals are generally not paid for their contributions. Writing about medical editor George M. Gould, Connor says,

After [publisher] William Wood of New York refused him permission that same year to reprint articles from its medical journals in his Year-Book—a digest of material that reached, according to Gould, thousands of readers—he distributed a circular about the relations between the medical profession and “lay publishing firms of medical journals.” Publishers do not pay physicians for their contributions, he noted, although they presumably profit from them; and, in this case, no other publisher—even those who do pay contributors—had objected to reprinting extracts. But above all, this publisher’s decision was wrong because it prevented the dissemination of medical knowledge. (p. 116)

Lynn Nyhart argues that publishing itself motivated scientific progress:

Maintaining the commitment to publish, I would suggest, was in fact what made these projects successful and important as science. (Conversely, the lack of a strong commitment to publishing following many voyages often resulted in the collected specimens languishing in boxes for years without ever being analyzed.) (p. 67)

Science in Print also looks beyond the academic realm at trade and popular science publishing, and the closing chapter by Cheryl Knott makes reference to Priscilla Coit Murphy’s book What a Book Can Do: The Publication and Reception of Silent Spring, saying

According to Murphy, it is the book (as opposed to the author) that launches social and political movements as it takes on a life of its own in ways the author and publisher could not have foreseen. (p. 201)

Knott reinforces this concept by showing how the evolution of the environmental movement and a changing political climate affected the success of The Quiet Crisis, an environmental book by former U.S. Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall. It became a best-seller after it was first published in 1963 but saw a tepid reception when it was expanded, updated, and reissued in 1988. Knott discovered that readers often cite and recommend the original edition, even if they’d clearly read the newer one. She notes, “Such mix-ups indicate that many readers do not make the careful distinctions between editions that collectors, bibliographers, and librarians make.” (p. 217) In my experience, although publishers are aware of this reality, they are sometimes in denial about it as they try to find new ways of repackaging and marketing existing content. How do you capitalize on the cachet of a successful original edition while offering readers the new information they need?


Although Science in Print did offer me some new perspectives and gave historical context to the development of scientific publishing, particular in North America, I have to say that didn’t enjoy the experience of reading the book as much as I would have wanted, for a variety of reasons. I’ve been struggling for weeks to write a cohesive review of this book (and some may remark that I’ve failed), likely because I found that Science in Print itself lacks cohesion. I’m no stranger to reading and reviewing anthologies; despite being an assembly of contributions from different authors, they must still have an internal rhythm and logic—like a good album put together from a collection of singles. Science in Print takes too much of a scattergun approach, attempting to present numerous topics ostensibly connecting science and print culture that are really quite disparate. Perhaps a more effective approach would have been to select more of the conference sessions to publish but to group them by topic or genre and issue each of these as a separate volume, which would have allowed for more meaningful comparisons among contributors’ viewpoints.

And although I understand that scholarly presses generally don’t do much substantive editing, this is once instance in which a manuscript really could have benefited from a skilled stylistic editor’s hand. Take, for instance, this opening to one of the essays:

Educators in the early twentieth century faced the dilemma of how to build the skills of teachers so that they could teach directly from nature in a new progressive pedagogy emerging in the late nineteenth century known as nature study. (p. 156)

Most stylistic editors would be able to offer at least a couple of suggestions to make that sentence more engaging and approachable while conveying exactly the same information. (I should say that I don’t mean to pick on this one contributor—whose content was otherwise pretty interesting—I just wanted to offer an example.)

Finally, one aspect of the book that may have contributed to my discomfort while reading is the design (ironic, given Robin Rider’s astute analysis of the importance of good typography): the pages are dense, the type is small, and the lines are long. Robert Bringhurst, in The Elements of Typographic Style, writes, “Anything from 45 to 75 characters is widely regarded as a satisfactory length of line for a single-column page set in a serifed text face in a text size… A line that averages more than 75 or 80 characters is likely to be too long for continuous reading.” (v. 2.4, pp. 26–27) Science in Print definitely falls into the latter category. I would suggest that readers try the ebook and reflow the text to a comfortable line length, but it appears that the only available ebook version is a fixed-layout PDF. I haven’t read any other books published by University of Wisconsin Press, but if this book is based on a standard design template, the press may benefit from revisiting that template and revising it for readability.

Book review: Grammar for Grown-ups

If you’ve picked up one or two clients from across the pond, you might be looking to brush up on your UK English. Katherine Fry and Rowena Kirton’s Grammar for Grown-ups: A Straightforward Guide to Good English (published by Square Peg) is a good place to start.

Fry, a freelance editor, and Kirton, the managing editorial director at Random House, have written a light-hearted guide to English grammar, covering everything from the parts of speech and punctuation to commonly misspelled words and trickier issues, including usage and the subjunctive mood. Helpfully, the book also includes a chapter that compares UK English with English in the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. I found this chapter the most interesting, as it offers a glimpse into how the UK views other parts of the English-speaking world. Fry and Kirton not only give a detailed explanation of differences in punctuation (e.g., single quotes in the UK versus double in the U.S.) but also list regional terms and their UK equivalents—all with a healthy dose of humour:

[South African term / UK term]
voetsek (pronounced ‘foot sack’) / bugger off
vrying (pronounced ‘fraying’) / snogging
vuvuzela / very annoying blowy thing

(I found disconcerting the section on Canadianisms, in which the authors define “beaver tail” and “double-double”—are those really our chief lexical exports?)

Grammar for Grown-ups closes with a chapter defining literary terms and devices (through which I learned about antonomasia, encomium, and synecdoche)—not grammar per se but probably useful to know nonetheless.

The book is a quick read, and the tone is authoritative but neither condescending nor overly prescriptive. In fact, what I most appreciate is that they acknowledge that “Language is constantly developing, and while some rules should remain hard and fast, some may be bent and once in a while even broken – when you know what you’re doing…” (p. x) Throughout the book are exercises—many of them taken from classic works of literature—that reinforce what the authors have just taught, and the answers to those are at the back of the book. Most editors will find Grammar for Grown-ups an entertaining refresher, and even seasoned veterans will probably learn a thing or two.

That said, the book isn’t a style guide. Meant as a primer for a general audience, Grammar for Grown-ups is unlikely to find a permanent place on the professional editor’s reference shelf. (For one thing, it lacks an index.) Consider it bubble gum: fun but nonessential. And as with any grammar guide that claims to be “the only book you need,” it has its share of problems. For instance:

Most general descriptive adjectives can come both before and after the noun – ‘the long book’, ‘the bad idea’, OR ‘the book is long’, ‘the idea is bad’. In the former examples, before the noun and with no linking verb, the adjective is called attributive. In the latter, after the noun and verb, the adjective is called predicative. The first modifies the noun; the second completes the meaning of the sentence.” (p. 19)

That’s all fine and good, but nowhere do the authors define “linking verb.” Later on, as they explain adverbs, they write:

And to confuse things even more: ‘I feel badly‘ and ‘I feel bad‘ are both adverbs, but the sense is rather different. In the first, I am feeling ill, or my sense of touch has gone up the spout; in the latter, I am feeling bad about something, such as dumping my boyfriend just after he lost his job. (p. 23)

Had they taken the opportunity earlier to define “linking verb,” the distinction between “I feel badly” and “I feel bad” would have been easier to explain. (And no, “bad” isn’t an adverb here—it’s an adjective, precisely because “feel” is a linking verb.)

In other places, the book is downright wrong. Some examples:

In the section “Singular and Plural”

Making things even more irregular are those which are the same in both singular and plural – like ‘food’, ‘sheep’, ‘money’, ‘series’, ‘deer’, ‘offspring’. (p. 4)

So “Cabbage, seaweed, and mushrooms are three food that fight cancer”?

In the section about adverbs

Some adjectives end in “ly’ anyway – ‘friendly’, ‘lonely’, ‘lovely’ – so when they are used as adverbs, they don’t need another ‘ly’ added (‘friendlyly’? no thanks). (p. 23)

So “She smiled friendly”? I don’t think so. And even the Oxford English Dictionary confirms that it’s friendlily, lonelily, lovelily. Mouthfuls, yes—but not wrong.

In the section “‘a’ or ‘an’?”

On the whole, ‘an’ goes with any noun starting with a vowel – ‘an apple’, ‘an egg’, ‘an ice cream’, ‘an olive’ – though not always with ‘u’ nouns (it depends on how the ‘u’ is pronounced – it’s not ‘an unicorn’ but it is ‘an umbrella’). (p. 28)

Nope. It’s the sound immediately following the article that dictates which of “a” or “an” you use; the noun has nothing to do with it. “An overbearing mother-in-law” takes “an” because the sound that follows is a vowel, even though “mother-in-law” is the noun. And “an MP3 player” takes “an” because you say “em”—even though “MP3” technically starts with a consonant.

Despite these problems, Fry and Kirton get a lot right, particularly in their motivation for producing such a book in the first place. Even with the prevalence of textspeak, good grammar and punctuation are still important: “In a fast-paced world, when communications jostle for attention, if your letter, email or website page is full of errors, a reader won’t waste his or her time trying to work out what you’re trying to say.” (p. ix) If you’re looking for a rigorous reference on English grammar and usage, you might want to look elsewhere. But take Grammar for Grown-ups for what it is—a tour-bus loop through UK English—and you won’t be disappointed.

Book review: The Functional Art

“Can we throw in an infographic to break up the text a little?”

When I was cutting my editorial teeth as a student journalist, that wasn’t an uncommon question to hear in the newsroom, but it’s one that I imagine would make Alberto Cairo cringe. Cairo’s the author of The Functional Art: An Introduction to Information Graphics and Visualization (published by New Riders), and he persuasively argues that infographics designers aren’t simply at the service of writers and art directors—they’re expert journalists in their own right, using visual storytelling to allow readers to explore and discover.

Cairo is an instructor of information graphics and visualization at the School of Communication at the University of Miami, and his passion for teaching comes through in his engaging text. The Functional Art is meant to teach students of information visualization the principles of good design, many of which parallel the principles of good writing and clear communication. Writes Cairo,

The relationship between visualization and art… is similar to the linkage of journalism and literature. A journalist can borrow tools and techniques from literature, and be inspired by great fiction writing, but she will never allow her stories to become literature. (p. xxi)

The Functional Art is divided into four parts and is illustrated throughout with real examples of effective and ineffective graphics. The first part of the book explains the need for and fundamental function of information visualization. Cairo writes, “The first and main goal of any graphic and visualization is to be a tool for your eyes and brain to perceive what lies beyond their natural reach,” adding “Most of us mortals have brains that didn’t evolve to deal with large amounts of data.” (pp. 9–10) The second part of the book looks at how our eyes and brains evolved to perceive and understand what we see and how designers can use those traits to maximize the effectiveness of their graphics. The third part, “Practice,” aims to teach readers how to create effective infographics, both static and interactive. The last part of the book consists of a series of profiles: interviews with visualization experts at the top of their professions, including, among others, John Grimwade, graphics director of Condé Nast Traveler magazine; Juan Velasco of National Geographic magazine; Hannah Fairfield, formerly of The Washington Post and now at The New York Times; Hans Rosling of the Gapminder Foundation; and Stefanie Posavec, who has developed unique ways of visualizing literature. The book also comes with a DVD that includes three lessons reinforcing the book’s key concepts.

The most interesting aspect of the book for me is that Cairo uses evolutionary biology to explain the reasoning behind the design principles he advances. Our ancestors regularly faced predators and food shortages, and our brains have evolved as a result of those threats. To explain why bubble charts are not as effective as bar charts at offering accurate comparisons of data, Cairo writes, “The human brain is not good at calculating surface sizes. It is much better at comparing a single dimension such as length or height… When faced with the question of whether that bear running toward you is big enough to pose a threat, the brain doesn’t waste time or energy analyzing if the bear is tall and wide. Seeing if it’s just tall is good enough.” (p. 40) He uses a similar approach to show how to make the best use of colour, explaining that “the brain is much better at quickly detecting shade variations than shape differences” (p. 113) but that “pure colors are uncommon in nature, so limit them to highlight whatever is important in your graphics.” (p. 105)

The parallels between information visualization and text editing, particularly plain language principles, are stark. After all, “graphics, charts, and maps aren’t just tools to be seen, but to be read and scrutinized.” (p. xx) In one of the profiles at the end of the book, interview subject Moritz Stefaner says, “Learning about how human language works is very important for visualization and information graphics because they are language, too. They have a grammar, a syntax, and a vocabulary.” (p. 317) Echoing a fundamental tenet of the plain language movement, Cairo notes that “graphics should not simplify messages. They should clarify them, highlight trends, uncover patterns, and reveal realities not visible before.” (p. 79) He also says, “Never, ever dumb down your data just because you think your readers will not ‘get it.'” (p. 84) As plain language experts know, it’s all about respect for your reader: don’t underestimate their intelligence, and structure what you offer in anticipation of how they will read it. If you make them work harder than they have to, they’ll go elsewhere for their information.

As in writing, structure and hierarchy are important in information visualization. Cairo writes,

You need to build a solid backbone for your information, a reading path, an order, and a hierarchy, before you lock yourself into a style for your display. The structure is the skeleton and muscles of your graphic; the visual style is the skin. With no bones to support it, the skin of your project will collapse. (p. 155)

Editing and fact checking are also crucial to effective information graphics. John Grimwade of Condé Nast Traveler says, “It’s not enough to do good research and then present your information to your readers. You have to edit that information. We, infographics designers, must work as reporters but, above all, as editors.” (pp. 216–217) In his interview with Jan Schwochow, Cairo warns that “Many news publications rush to produce information graphics whenever something big—such as a terrorist attach or a natural catastrophe—happens. In many cases, what they end up publishing is full of errors because they don’t double-check their sources, and some even make up details.” (p. 280) Even once you have accurate data, it takes judgment to decide what to present and how to present it. As Cairo notes in his interview with Hans Rosling, “the form in which we filter the data is more important than the actual data.” (p. 310)

Cairo’s text gave me a much deeper appreciation of the research, skill, and editorial judgment—not to mention the hours of labour—that go into making good infographics. I was anxious to get to the “Practice” portion of the book, in which Cairo outlined his methodology (while warning that many information graphics designers fall into the trap of skipping directly to step 5):

  1. Define the focus of the graphic, what story you want to tell, and the key points to be made. Have a clear idea of how the infographic will be useful to your readers, and what they will be able to accomplish with it.
  2. Gather as much information as you can about the topic you are covering. Interview sources, look for datasets, and write or storyboard ideas in quick form.
  3. Choose the best graphic form. What shapes should your data adopt? What kind of charts, maps, and diagrams will best fit the goals you set in the first step?
  4. Complete your research. Flesh out your sketches and storyboards.
  5. Think about the visual style. Choose typefaces, color palettes, etc.
  6. If you’ve been sketching offline, move the design to the computer. Complete the graphic using the appropriate software tools. (p. 154)

Each of these steps in Cairo’s methodology could have used significantly more elaboration—perhaps even its own chapter. For example, where is the best place to “look for datasets”? How do you discern between reliable and unreliable data? How do you “choose the best graphic form,” and how do you know that the way you choose to present your data doesn’t misrepresent its message? How can you decide “what story you want to tell” before knowing what the data are going to say? Instead of answering these questions, Cairo jumped immediately into a chapter about interactive graphics, leaving me feeling ill-equipped to apply the principles he so careful laid out in his first several chapters.

In general, The Functional Art was a fascinating read for me, as an editor with a science background. Having the justification for basic infographics design principles grounded in evolutionary biology gave important context: good design is not just about what’s trendy or what “feels right”; there’s a reason that some presentations promote understanding better than others. Cairo’s angle made me wonder how a similar approach could be applied to writing. Given that “eminent scientists have famously asserted that their thinking processes are not based on the mind speaking to itself using words, but on giving visual mental shape to concepts and ideas to facilitate their combination in some sort of imaginary space.” (p. 141) (giving credence to the editorial mantra, “show, don’t tell”), how can we use the way we interpret words into mental images to write and communicate better?

This book also made me aware of how much I’ve neglected infographics as a tool in the publications I’ve worked on. I suspect I’m not the only one who seems to default to photography as a means of illustration, but Cairo deftly shows that photography may not always be the best graphical choice. The Functional Art has opened my eyes to opportunities to use visualization to further understanding beyond simple pie charts or bar graphs, and the book is loaded with links to additional information for readers to continue learning about the field.

However, as a pedagogical tool, the book could have been strengthened in several ways. One simple way would have been to add a summary of important points at the end of each chapter to serve as a quick-reference guide. Another would have been to offer readers (most of whom I would assume would be students) exercises or activities that would let them apply the principles they learned in each chapter. And as I mentioned earlier, after seven chapters of background information and build-up, I found it a letdown that only two chapters were devoted to the actual practice of creating information graphics. The second of those focused on interactive graphics before I felt I had had a chance to fully absorb, let alone master, the basics of non-interactive graphics. Although the lessons on the DVD reinforced the concepts in the book, they weren’t enough to leave me feeling confident that I had the tools I needed to start creating meaningful infographics. I would have preferred to see Cairo deconstruct each step of his methodology and expand it into an individual chapter, perhaps getting the room to do that by shortening the profiles and inserting them as a recurring highlight or feature within each chapter.

Book review: The Publishing Business

Until the last couple of decades, book publishing was a trade in which you learned on the job, under the guidance of mentors within the industry. In Canada, formal training in publishing didn’t really begin until the Banff Publishing Workshop in 1981, but today publishing programs are offered at a number of institutions. When I pursued my Master of Publishing degree at SFU, our class learned from material that our instructors produced themselves or existing trade books about various facets of publishing. What we didn’t have at the time was a textbook specifically for students looking to begin a career in book publishing. Today’s students are more fortunate, as they can now read The Publishing Business: From p-books to e-books by Kelvin Smith (published by Ava Academia).

The Publishing Business is the first book I’ve seen that takes a pedagogical approach to book publishing. It’s comprehensive, giving students a generalist’s overview to the industry and the publishing process, from acquisition and editing to design and production to sales and marketing. Far from considering each of these areas in isolation, the book emphasizes their interdependence, which is one of its many strengths. Another is that it gives attention not only to trade publishing but also to educational and scholarly publishing. Each chapter features discussion questions and illuminating sidebars and ends with a case study relevant to the chapter topic, drawing stark connections between the theory explained in the text and its practice at real organizations within the book chain. Throughout the text the foundational concepts of high standards, attention to detail, and respect for fellow professionals recur.

This book is a timely addition to literature about publishing. Taking into account the enormous changes that the industry has seen in the past decade, the book looks closely at not only printed books but also ebooks, digital workflows, and metadata in marketing. The introduction attempts to prepare readers for an exciting but also potentially tumultuous ride:

The effects of the digital revolution are creating major advances in ways that affect everyone in publishing, whether they are writers, agents, editors, designers, marketers, booksellers, journalists, librarians or researchers. Therefore, you need to be prepared for change. You need flexibility and imagination, willingness and adaptability if you are to prosper in the publishing future. You also need to understand the context in which publishing has developed and from which it must move forward into a future that will continue to be subject to technological, economic, social and political developments. (p. 6)

This context the introduction mentions is provided by a brief, enlightening history of publishing—from the development of movable type to the effects of copyright and the history of censorship and freedom of speech. The book follows the evolution of publishing to its present state, with the domination of major global players, the growing prominence of the Kindle and other e-readers, and recent developments in print-on-demand technologies.

Because The Publishing Business attempts broad coverage of book publishing, it doesn’t tackle any one topic in depth; however, it is far from superficial, addressing such issues as authors’ moral rights, the evolving landscape of territorial rights for ebooks, pricing pressures, the changing role of literary agents, children’s ebooks and ebook comics, the rise of self-publishing (and developments like Kirkus Indie), the renaissance of short forms of writing in ebooks, and the effect of digital rights management on a publisher’s bottom line. One appealing aspect of the book is that it discusses publishing practices in both the U.K. and the U.S., touching on other countries as well. The international flavour of the text will help students understand how to relate to foreign publishers, especially when discussing rights sales. It also highlights how remarkably similar publishing is the world over, thus reinforcing that the industry has, in a lot of respects, really nailed down a series of best practices, particularly for print books.

Some of these best practices are offered up in very tangible, practical ways, with sample profit-and-loss calculations and a sample author contract. Smith writes,

Editors don’t need to be legal experts, but they do need to understand the importance of having a clear, well-constructed contract that covers the agreement that they are making with an author. And they need to be able to explain this clearly to the author, so that the editor–author relationship develops in an atmosphere of trust. (p. 102)

And for editors who fear that self-publishing and the prevalence and acceptance of netspeak have rendered them irrelevant, Smith reassuringly says,

Readers may excuse some spelling and grammar mistakes on e-mails and tweets, but they don’t expect them in a book or an e-book. Copy-editing and proofreading remain a fundamental part of publishing in the digital age. (p. 134)

The book devotes a chapter to the editorial process, another to design and production, and a third to sales, marketing, and distribution. The importance of marketing is premised on the notion that “even the most beautifully written, designed and produced publication has not fulfilled its role if it does not reach its intended audience.” (p. 166) Among a publisher’s many sales and marketing challenges are retailers’ demand for deep discounts and growing rates of returns. Regarding ebook pricing, Smith writes,

Pricing of e-books… has been a major issue from the beginning. It soon became clear that readers of e-books were not willing to spend as much on an e-book as they were on a p-book… Having already bought an e-book reading device, consumers wanted cheaper books, recognizing that publishers were saving on printing, warehousing and fulfilment costs. What they didn’t recognize, and what publishers were slow to articulate, is that publishers are not just printers and distributors; they fulfil many other functions that continue to cost money in the digital age: most notably the development of authors and their projects, packaging and brand, marketing and promotion, and long-term customer relationships. (p. 159)

Ultimately, the book concludes, a career in publishing is driven by more than making money from making books:

Publishers are a vital part of society. They are often among the first to speak out for human rights and social justice, to insist that information is not suppressed and that a wide variety of opinion is heard. This responsibility is one that remains important in a  world affected by political and social upheaval, climate change and ecological crisis. It is vital that publishers continue and enhance this role, while balancing the tension that sometimes exists between protecting human rights and preserving the right to freedom of expression.” (p. 189)

The Publishing Business is an excellent reference and will offer students a strong introduction to the opportunities and challenges within the current state of the industry. I certainly wish I could have read it before I started my MPub degree, if for no other reason than to get up to speed on the terminology. Because digital publishing is really just finding its legs and is changing quickly, however, this book may need to be revised within a year to remain relevant. Further, because it focuses largely on practices within the U.K. and U.S., publishing students in other English-speaking territories, including Canada and Australia and New Zealand, should supplement this text with material specific to their own countries, to better understand how such additional factors as colonial influences and American cultural hegemony may have shaped those smaller publishing industries.

My only real quibble with The Publishing Business has to do with the physical book itself. Although it’s printed in full colour on what feels like a sturdy stock, after only two days in my tote bag the spine has begun delaminating, and there is evidence of ink transfer and scuffing in the book’s interior. I’ve also had a hard time not leaving smudgy fingerprints all over the pages printed in reverse type. I can’t help wondering how well this book would hold up after a semester’s use in a student’s backpack.

That minor complaint is, of course, not enough to stop me from recommending this book. The Publishing Business is the first in Ava Academia’s Creative Careers series, and given its practical, comprehensive approach and clear, informative content, I’ll be sure to keep an eye out for the series’ future titles.

Book review: The Art of Making Magazines

Each spring the Columbia School of Journalism invites heavyweights from the magazine industry to speak about magazine journalism at its George Delacorte Lecture Series. Victor S. Navasky, publisher emeritus of The Nation, and Evan Cornog, dean of the School of Communication at Hofstra University and former publisher of the Columbia Journalism Review, pulled together a varied collection of the lecture series’ highlights in The Art of Making Magazines: On Being an Editor and Other Views from the Industry (published by Columbia Journalism Review Books). The book offers up a variety of perspectives: we hear from the late John Gregory Dunne about writing for magazines; Roberta Myers about editing women’s magazines; Peter Canby about fact checking at The New Yorker; Tina Brown about her time heading Tatler, Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, and Talk; John R. MacArthur, publisher of Harper’s, about the balance between editorial content and advertising; and several others. This mosaic of viewpoints from industry insiders underscores the complexity of magazine publishing—the myriad considerations from the big picture to the minutiae that editors face with every issue.

Despite the speakers’ wide-ranging experiences and backgrounds, key themes recurred throughout the book; the primacy of the reader, for example, featured prominently. Ruth Reichl, who served as Gourmet’s editor before it closed up shop in 2009, said,

I learned that the only way to do a magazine… is not to underestimate your audience, ever… That the only way to have a really good magazine is to print the things you want to read and assume that it will find its own readership. (p. 34)

And Elle’s Roberta Myers told her audience,

You can’t edit a magazine to impress people; you can’t edit a magazine to show your friends how clever you are or what access you were able to get. You really have to edit to, and for, your reader. (p. 54)

Felix Dennis, owner of Dennis Publishing, devoted his entire talk to the importance of the reader, saying

What’s madness is thinking that you can publish on and on and on without putting out something that readers want to read. What’s madness is this: focusing on what advertisers want, not on what readers want. (p. 172)

Yet, of course, pragmatism dictates that magazines do have to consider advertisers to remain strong. In one of the most interesting essays in the book, John R. MacArthur addresses this slippery issue:

With the advent in the 1970s of so-called advertorials—that is, advertising promotion copy masquerading as real editorial material—the walls between advertising and editorial have weakened apace. Labeled advertorial has more and more been supplanted by unlabeled advertorial, where the editor is called upon to run articles complementary to adjacent advertising. (p. 149)

According to MacArthur, a large part of the problem stems from a devaluation of content in readers’ eyes; the glut of available information makes them less willing to pay for what a magazine has to offer:

There’s another important factor that’s made magazines more vulnerable to the demands and whims of advertisers, which is the continuing decline in the cost of subscriptions. Because magazines are so desperate for advertising, they view subscribers by and large as loss leaders whose principal function is to support the publication’s guaranteed advertising rate base. Since the advertising agencies get a flat percentage of whatever they buy—traditionally it’s 15 percent—the more the page costs, the more they make. Thus publishers and ad directors of magazines strain mightily and discount heavily to make their circulation as big as possible in order to please the ad agencies. (p. 151)

At the same time, the Internet—with its implied promise of free, free, free editorial content—encourages people to think that they shouldn’t have to pay for magazines and newspapers at all. To my mind, the Internet is just a gigantic, much-faster version of the photocopying machine. And as such, it’s a great enemy of periodicals, because so many library users and professors are happy to read a cheap Xerox of an article or distribute it to their students, rather than pay for a subscription. I’ve tried again and again to explain to the young Internet enthusiasts on my staff that the Web is actually driving down the perceived value of their work, which makes us even more dependent on advertising. (152)

And if publishers and editors-in-chief aren’t pitching to advertisers, they’re expected to build the brand and pitch to everyone else. Roberta Myers recounted her tenure as senior editor of InStyle, saying, “It was there that I… saw the necessity—and power—of marketing. Dollar for dollar, they spent as much marketing the magazine as they did making it.” (p. 55)

After she moved to Elle, Myers encountered the “brand wheel”:

In the middle of the wheel was the word Elle, and the spokes of the wheel were the magazine and the show Project Runway and the Web site, And one was a cell phone. Today the editor-in-chief of a big, successful, broad magazine like ours—1.1 million circulation, 6 million readers—is expected to oversee all of these “extensions.” (p. 59)

Ruth Reichl shared a similar experience, noting that her role as editor of Gourmet shifted dramatically since the explosion of online marketing and social media:

When I spoke to this group six years ago, the list of what I did today would have been completely and utterly different. In those days, I was editing a magazine, and everything I had to do was about editing the magazine. And today, almost nothing that I do has to do with editing a magazine. My role is now pretty much long-term planning, thinking about the issues, dealing with the art director… So it’s very much a changing role. (p. 46)

Interestingly, whereas Gourmet folded, Dennis Publishing’s offerings, including The Week and Men’s Fitness, among others, seem to be going strong, and this success may have something to do with Felix Dennis’s approach to emerging technologies:

We concluded that the Web should not be treated as merely an extension of our ink-on-paper brands and products. It was a beast of a different stripe. This was a counterintuitive conclusion back then… but we persevered and permitted our Web editors and journalists to break away early from the domination of the “mother ship” ink-on-paper brand and develop their own Internet identity. In retrospect, this was possibly the best decision made by my board in decades. (p. 168)

Perhaps this division has allowed editors to focus on editing, which was the subject of Robert Gottlieb’s terrific piece, “Editing Books Versus Editing Magazines.” Gottlieb had moved from a position at Alfred A. Knopf to The New Yorker, where he served as editor-in-chief from 1987 to 1992. About the differences between the two media, he had this to say:

Being the editor-in-chief of a book publishing house is a vastly different matter from being the editor-in-chief of a magazine. When you’re in a publishing house, you are in a strictly service job as an editor… To keep your good authors and to attract other good authors, you have to serve them. They have to feel protected, which means they have to believe that their editor, a specific personal editor, understands their work, sympathizes with their work, and is on their wavelength. They must believe that the editor can help them make the book not other than what it is, but better than what it is. (p. 157)

When you’re the editor-in-chief of a magazine, as I was of The New Yorker, it’s opposite. You are the living god. You are not there to please the writers, but the writers are there to satisfy you because they want to be in the magazine, and you are the one who says yes or no. (p. 158)

Another major contrast between book and magazine publishing, Gottlieb noted, relates to fact checking: whereas some magazines have dedicated fact-checking departments, that level of rigour simply isn’t possible in a book-publishing environment, where much of the onus is on the author to ensure factual accuracy. And his comment about Knopf’s editorial standards had me smiling and cringing at the same time:

I can say that although I’ve been embarrassed by some of the books we’ve published, on the whole we’ve done a good job. Certainly better than most publishing houses, and certainly better than any British publishing houses, since I don’t believe an editor or a copyeditor’s pencil has ever touched a piece of text in England. It’s really amazing what they do not do, but then they love amateurism. (p. 158)

And finally, from Gottlieb, a truism known widely to editors but not so much to others:

It’s always the books, by the way, that you spend the most time on and put the most editorial energy into that get reviews that say, “What this book needed was a good editor.” And that’s for a reason. Because when a book is really in trouble, there’s a point beyond which you can’t go. And some reviewers, not all, are slow to catch on to that. (p. 158)

Barbara Wallraff addressed the same problem, from the copy editor’s perspective:

Most [writers and supervising editors] look very sloppy. And sometimes so sloppy that I couldn’t do as good a job—I couldn’t do as much polishing, as much perfecting, as I really would have liked to do, because I was just too busy correcting stuff that was all garbled up. It makes you mad. Can’t they do any better than that?

And then, over the years, it occurs to you, no, they can’t. But the more the writer or the supervising editor can do to improve a piece, starting at the biggest level but on down into the smaller levels, the higher the level that everybody else—including the copyeditor—can work at.

If you don’t have to be just hacking your way, with a machete, through the jungle, you can pay closer attention to where the flowers are, and whether the leaves are neat and tidy. You can really go a much longer way toward making that piece its best self. (p. 93)

And details matter. Wallraff said in her talk, “A Magazine Needs Copyeditors Because…,” “Even a bunch of highly skilled writers won’t do things consistently. And consistency strengthens the identity of a magazine.” (p. 86) She continued, “I am not saying any particular style is inherently bad or good. I am just pointing out that they project different images.” (p. 87)

Being a stickler may not make you any friends:

The problem with copyediting—and the downside to the job—is that it is a relentlessly negative, critical job. I mean, you try correcting everybody’s spelling and grammar and logic and organization, and do that day in, day out, and see how popular that makes you. (p. 90)

but, according to Wallraff, remembering that the copy editor is a person will improve not only your professional relationship but also the project:

Have a human relationship with them. The way most organizations are set up, it won’t be part of the workflow ever to talk to the copyeditor. And you may have to go a little bit out of your way to do that. By try to anyway. (p. 95)

Although I can pluck any number of memorable quotes from The Art of Making Magazines, I don’t think the book quite succeeds as the “how-to and how-to-be guide” that its editors had perhaps envisioned. The anecdotes are colourful, but they lack the practical advice that readers or students hoping to break into magazines might be looking for in a book like this. A fundamental problem is that most of the lectures included in the book were delivered between 2002 and 2009, and a lot has changed in the magazine world in the past decade—even in the past couple of years. The most recent talk featured in the book was given in February 2010, which, I believe, just misses the surging growth in tablets. Both Ruth Reichl and Roberta Myers allude to the impact of online marketing and social media, but the tablet may be have as a large an impact on the magazine world as e-readers have had on the book world, and the book discusses none of that.

Further, because the book is tied to the Columbia School of Journalism, most of the speakers naturally represent the major New York–based magazines. Someone looking to start a career in magazine publishing, particularly outside of New York, probably won’t hit up The New Yorker from the outset. Most writers and editors would likely cut their teeth, and perhaps build a career, in niche publications—like magazines for cigar aficionados or antique teapot enthusiasts. That rather significant portion of the industry isn’t addressed at all in this book. Further, the book makes the prospect of upward mobility at the big glossies look rather bleak: Tina Brown and Robert Gottlieb were installed as heads of their magazines having come from elsewhere, and hiring budding talent from within a magazine to take over an editorial vacancy doesn’t appear to be a common practice, at least as far as this anthology implies.

The Art of Making Magazines is for readers who want to hear what the likes of Ruth Reichl and Tina Brown and Felix Dennis have to say because of who they are. Although it may be interesting reading for those hoping to make a career out of magazine publishing and editing, it won’t light the path to get there.

Book review: The Only Grammar and Style Workbook You’ll Ever Need

Good editors have an intuitive sense about language, and I know many editors who’ve never had any formal grammar training. Is knowing what “sounds right” enough?

It may be, but understanding grammatical rules can be enormously empowering to an editor. Knowing the parts of speech, the difference between clauses and phrases, the distinction between independent and dependent clauses, and so on helps an editor understand why something looks or sounds right or wrong. More important, it gives the editor tools with which to communicate knowledgeably and authoritatively with colleagues and authors.

So it was with interest that I read through Susan Thurman’s The Only Grammar and Style Workbook You’ll Ever Need (F+W Media, July 2012), a new companion exercise book to Thurman’s 2003 title, The Only Grammar Book You’ll Ever Need. Each page in the workbook is devoted to a particular grammatical issue—dangling modifiers, say—and it asks the reader either to identify a grammatical construct or to solve a problem in each of ten sentences. Answers to the problems are listed at the bottom of the page. The book covers spelling, parts of speech, sentence structure, punctuation, and some stylistic matters such as eliminating wordy phrases and identifying redundancies.

Thurman’s workbook is just that—it contains exercises only. It assumes that you either have a grammar reference (preferably hers, of course) or that you already know your stuff, and it doesn’t define, for example, what a restrictive clause is. That said, if you don’t already know the terminology, much of it is easy enough to infer by referring to the answer key, so in general the workbook can function as a standalone tool. However, using the workbook on its own may leave you with a skewed impression of what Thurman is trying to convey. Because it uses a bare-bones format to cover basic grammar, it comes off as more simplistic and prescriptivist than I think it intends. For example, its page of exercises on hyphens makes no distinction between hyphens and en dashes; only if you look in The Only Grammar Book You’ll Ever Need do you realize that Thurman does address the difference, noting that some word processing programs will automatically change hyphens to en dashes when they are used in number ranges. Further, although a few of the style exercises are prefaced “Answers may vary,” having a simple right-or-wrong answer key for most of the exercises means that readers aren’t given a chance to consider that language evolves and that register can dictate whether a certain usage is acceptable. For these reasons, I found it handy to have Thurman’s grammar book as a reference and for context as I worked through the exercise book.

I did find myself looking at The Only Grammar Book You’ll Ever Need to understand the motivation behind certain exercise problems. For example, page 14 of the workbook includes the following sentences:

3. Clara will (a) annoy (b) aggravate Clarence if she spends too much money.

4. Clarence will (a) annoy (b) aggravate the situation if he insists on watching every penny Clara spends.

The grammar book says, “If you mean pester or irritate, you want annoy. Aggravate means exaggerate or make worse.” (p. 7)

Although I agree with Thurman that annoy is probably the better choice in sentence 3, Webster’s does list as a definition of aggravate “to rouse to displeasure or anger by usually persistent and often petty goading,” and as an editor I wouldn’t necessarily have marked aggravate as incorrect.

To be fair, editors aren’t really the workbook’s target audience. Nor are professional writers, I’d go as far as to say. The grammar book and workbook would probably be most useful to students and those Robin Kilroy called “functional writers”—people who have to write for work, for example, but who aren’t writers by trade or title. However, the workbook does offer editors a quick refresher on topics like coordinating and subordinating conjunctions, gerunds, and linking verbs. If at one point you’d learned these concepts and just want to briefly pull them out of your memory bank and dust them off, this workbook will certainly do the trick. By contrast, if you’re starting from scratch, finding a solid grammar reference would be a more logical first step.

In addition to the grammar exercises, the pages on style—identifying misplaced modifiers, eliminating wordiness, and the like—are a very helpful reminder to editors about the kinds of problems they may encounter when working with an author’s text.

Much less useful are the sixty-eight pages Thurman devotes to commonly misspelled words. For example on page 66, the first sentence reads:

1. Recently, (a) guerilla (b) gerilla warfare has intensified in the dense jungle area.

Not only do I doubt that the misspelling “gerilla” is an actual problem (certainly it would be picked up by any spell checker), but the sentence also misses the obvious opportunity to teach readers about the difference between “guerilla” and “gorilla”—which is a frequently confused pair of words.

The sentences in the “Common Misspelled Words” chapter are also problematic in that some of them contain what I would mark up as grammatical or usage errors. Some examples include the following:

10. To avoid confusion, place angle (a) brackits (b) brackets around Internet addresses. (p. 40)

I would change avoid to prevent here; to avoid means to sidestep something, whereas to prevent means to stop something or make it impossible.

1. The marathon runner collapsed due to (a) exhaustion (b) exaustion. (p. 61)

“Due to” should be used only with the verb “to be” or to join two nouns (e.g., “smoke due to fire”) and not as a substitute for “because of” or “owing to.” Although this usage rule appears very much to be changing, sticking to it does prevent ambiguity in some cases.

6. While experiencing food poisoning, Joe’s face turned an (a) unatural (b) unnatural color. (p. 92)

Although Joe’s face was probably also experiencing food poisoning, I think most of us would agree that the intended subject of “experiencing” was Joe.

I have another—admittedly petty—issue with the book: its little bit of false advertising. The cover copy reads, “Never again end a sentence with a preposition” (a rule many grammarians would claim is a myth), yet there are no exercises in the book that directly address that rule.

For the book’s intended audience, the workbook may be perfectly adequate, although to those readers I would definitely recommend also having on hand a grammar reference that defines the terminology and explains the rules. For most editors, however, Thurman’s book will not be the only grammar and style workbook you’ll ever need. Certainly, editors preparing for certification will want more practice editing in context, which a book of single sentences simply won’t provide. That said, certified editors (who take this book’s prescriptivist bent with a grain of salt) may find it an easy way to earn credential maintenance points and restock their grammatical toolkit.

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.


Apologies to readers who are waiting for the rest of my conference notes. I’ve just had a heap of deadlines run into one another, but I’m hoping to get caught up by the end of next week.

In other news, I had an inspiring meeting with EAC-BC programs co-chairs Micheline Brodeur and Frances Peck this week to plan out this upcoming season of meeting topics and speakers. I’m so thrilled to be working with them, and it’s looking as though we’re going to have a great year, with a little something for everyone.

In other, other news, publishers have generously sent me copies of some editing-related books to read, and I’ll be starting up book reviews for this site early this summer. In the queue so far are Editors, Scholars and the Social Text, edited by Darcy Cullen, and The Only Grammar & Style Workbook You’ll Ever Need by Susan Thurman. Stay tuned!