PubPro 2013—December update

I just sent this note out to my PubPro 2013 mailing list, and I thought I’d post it here, too. Apologies to subscribers who are getting this twice.

PubPro 2013 is taking shape! We’ve got a schedule nailed down and are now redoubling our efforts to try to reach as many B.C.-area managing editors and publication production specialists as possible. We’re also on the lookout for sponsors to help keep costs down for all participants.

Schedule

Here’s how the day will look:

9:15–9:30 Check-in and coffee
9:30–10:15 Opening remarks
Speakers pitch topics, participants vote, and program is set
10:20–11:00 Sessions
11:05–11:45 Sessions
11:50–12:30 Sessions
12:30–1:10 Lunch
1:15–1:55 Sessions
2:00–2:40 Sessions
2:45–3:35 Networking tea*
3:40–4:00 Event debriefing and closing remarks
4:00–4:30 Chair yoga**

*What’s the networking tea?

The networking tea is a special session that allows you to continue your conversations with your colleagues outside the confines of a formal session, and it also puts you in the same room as some of the professionals you might want to hire. Pre-registered freelancers will join us all for a tea or coffee and will get an opportunity to chat and swap business cards with you.

**And chair yoga?

Unwind at the end of the day with a relaxing but invigorating session of yoga led by editor and yoga instructor Irene Zafiris.

Boosting attendance

Response to our initial outreach efforts has been enthusiastic and encouraging. It’s looking as though we’ll have representatives from academic publishers, course developers, custom publishers, self-publishers, educational publishers, journals, magazines, book packagers, policy research institutes, trade book publishers, technical publishers, and more. Still, we’re asking for your help in spreading the word about the event, because the more people we can get out to this unconference, the more interesting it’ll be. We’d be so grateful if you’d let your network know about PubPro (bearing in mind that not everyone who does managing editor–type stuff is called a managing editor). The event’s official hashtag is #PubPro2013.

Sponsorship

To help keep event fees low, we’re reaching out to sponsors for $150 contributions. If you have any suggestions for potential sponsors—businesses or other organizations that might like to reach publication production professionals from across B.C.—please let us know. EAC-BC’s professional development co-chairs Tina Robinson and Eva van Emden have set up a special Gifttool page to make contributing easy. That page also details what we’re offering in return for the support and what the contribution would allow us to do.

That’s it from me for now. I hope you all have a wonderful holiday season and great start to 2013. If you have any questions about PubPro, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Personal editorial checklists

I’ve written at length—some would argue ad nauseam—about the utility of editorial checklists, but until now I’ve focused mainly on checklists that publishers can use for communication and quality control. Just as powerful are personal checklists that any editor, freelance or in-house, can develop for him- or herself. Obvious items to include on such a list are actions that you have to take with every document, regardless of source or genre: running a spell check, eliminating double spaces, and so on. The real power of the personal checklist, however, lies in its ability to cover up your editorial Achilles’ heel.

We all have one (or several). If you’re lucky, you’re aware of it but may still feel powerless to do much about it. Editorial Achilles’ heels are those troublesome little problems that, for whatever reason, your brain just can’t seem to figure out. They’re usually relatively minor grammatical, usage, or spelling issues, but on full display they can really put a dent in your credibility as an editor.

For me, the word “embarrass” was problematic for the longest time—I never could remember how many r’s it had, no matter how many times I read, wrote, or typed it. Spell check was my saviour in that case, but it was no help for another of my weaknesses: I would routinely miss when an author wrote “grizzly” when she meant “grisly.” I think the first time I heard a news anchor say “grisly,” I had no problem imagining a gruesome crime scene being akin to the aftermath of a bloody bear mauling. The synapse formed, and it stubbornly would not let go.

Having identified that weakness, the solution was straightforward: on my personal checklist, I added “Search for ‘grizzly.’ ” The error didn’t come up that often, but that quick check saved me from embarrassment more than once.

At Ruth Wilson’s EAC-BC talk about style sheets this past spring, she emphatically discouraged editors from using style sheets to document these kinds of editorial weaknesses. “You don’t want to display your ignorance,” she said, noting that style sheets are a part of your communication with the author and other members of the editorial and design team. The beauty of personal checklists, in contrast, is that nobody has to know about them, and they can include as many items as you need. Of course, as with all truly useful checklists, personal editorial checklists should be written down; mental checklists are just as fallible as the mind that owns them.

The best part of keeping a personal editorial checklist, though, is the moment when you’ve finally beaten that errant synapse into submission and no longer need a written reminder. Sure, it’s a tiny victory, but for an editor who has finally learned the proper way to spell “embarrass” after however many decades, being able to take an item off the checklist for good is still worthy of a small celebration.

Save the date—PubPro 2013

When I worked in house, I saw the rights people flying off to book fairs, the sales and marketing folks going to trade fairs, and the digital people attending conferences to geek out and speculate about where publishing is headed. Never did I see the managing editor or production staff—those who actually made the books real—meeting professionals in the same role from other houses to talk shop. That was a real pity, because I’m sure we all had a lot to learn from one another.

On Saturday, April 13, 2013, I’ll be facilitating an event that I hope will redress that imbalance. EAC-BC and the Canadian Centre for Studies in Publishing will be co-hosting PubPro 2013, an unconference-style professional development event for managing editors, production editors, publication directors, editorial coordinators, and everyone else who performs essentially the same role: publications project management. The agenda is set at the start of the day by the participants, who are invited to consider giving a presentation or leading a discussion on a topic of interest.

You’ll find more information about the event on the EAC-BC site here. In the meantime, save the date, spread the word (official hashtag #PubPro2013) and, if you’re interested in getting event updates, contact me to be added to a mailing list. I promise not to spam you.

Information Mapping: models, templates, and standards

Today I attended my second webinar by Information Mapping, and it dealt with content standards, templates, and models.

A corporate content standard is a set of guidelines for everyone in an organization to follow to ensure content is written, formatted, and stored in ways that make it easy to retrieve, understand, and repurpose. Content standards facilitate team authoring, updates and revisions, compliance (particularly if the content will have to be audited), and migration to content management systems.

A content standard forms the basis for templates and model documents. Templates outline the format and content requirements for a specific type of document (fill-in-the blank kinds of documents, good for simpler content), whereas models are basically prototype documents that serve as a standard for creating subsequent documents (good for more complex content, like engineering reports).

To create a content standard, you need to understand

  • your users (e.g., Who are they? What do they know? What do they need to know? How do they access information?),
  • your content (e.g., How complex is the content? Are there graphics involved? Do you need to include special warnings?), and
  • the technologies used to access the content (e.g., Will it be paper based or online?).

Once you’ve created the content standard, you need to deploy it. Training will be involved, at all levels of your organization, and you may have to overcome an institutional resistance to change. Encouraging the shift in mindset among writers from creating full manuals, say, to topic-based authoring will be key.

In the Information Mapping content standard, the content is modularized into blocks, which are separated visually with lines and white space. On paper, a two-column grid is used, where labels are set off to the left, allowing users to easily scan and find what they need. As a result, the lines of text are short, resulting in reduced eye fatigue. The standard makes use of bullets to highlight important information and tables to present structured information. Information Mapping’s FS Pro software is a Microsoft Word plug-in that helps authors create content to the Information Mapping standard.

We were shown some examples of documents using the Information Mapping standard—or some modification thereof. A major advantage of the standard is its flexibility and adaptability for different types of content and presentations. One example I particular liked was a set of job aid cards used to help workers troubleshoot problems on a light rail transit system. Each card guides the user through solving one problem and features an illustration and clear instructions. The cards are colour-coded for easy recognition and retrieval, and should a procedure change, a single card can be revised without having to replace the whole set.

This webinar reinforced many of the topics introduced in the last one I attended, and again, although it was essentially an infomercial, it offered a lot of solid suggestions for content creators and editors. What I appreciated about the notion of a content standard is that it’s more than a style guide for how to write text—it emphasizes the importance of uniformity in formatting and file naming and hierarchy for easy information retrieval. These are areas that have the capacity to vastly reduce redundancy in content creation, regardless of the size of your organization.

This webinar, along with others in the Information Mapping series, are archived on the company’s website.

Introduction to Information Mapping

On Tuesday I attended a free webinar led by David Singer, content development manager at Information Mapping. The company does clear communication consulting, training, and implementation—for a host of clients across different industries—based on a method developed by psychologist Robert E. Horn.

The method provides a systematic way for authors to create structured, modular content that’s easy for users to find and understand. Singer demonstrated, with a before-and-after exercise, how presenting information within a paragraph often buries it, whereas a table, for example, can make retrieval of certain kinds of information much more efficient.

Singer noted that although people think clear communication and plain language is all about lines, labels, and white space to break up information and make it easier to read and digest, the presentation aspect is really just the tip of the iceberg; before the information can be presented, it must be analyzed to ascertain the best way to organize it.

The Information Mapping method is a set of best practices with three major components. It uses

  • the theory of information types to allow you to analyze your material,
  • information management principles to help you organize your content in a modular and hierarchical way, and
  • units of information that allow you to present your content for quick retrieval and understanding.

Information types

Most information falls into one of six information types, as identified by Robert Horn:

  • procedure—e.g., instructions on how to do something
  • process—e.g., description of how something works
  • principle—e.g., description of a standard or a convention
  • concept—e.g., description of a new idea or object
  • structure—e.g., description of an object’s components
  • fact—e.g., empirical information

Using information types helps writers work efficiently, making it easy to see contradictions, redundancies, and gaps. Different information types are best presented in different ways, so by classifying content into information types, writers can easily decide how to present information, and users quickly recognize what they’re looking for.

Information management

Information management is based on three principles: chunking, relevance, and labelling.

  • Chunking: group information into small, manageable chunks.
  • Relevance: limit each group or “unit of information” to a single topic, purpose, or idea.
  • Labelling: give each unit of information a meaningful name.

Miller’s Law states that our short-term memory can typically store 7±2 items. By grouping information into smaller chunks and labelling each group, we can vastly increase recall. The label primes your user to expect and be receptive to the content.

Units of information

Singer demonstrated that for a lot of information out there—business information is a particular example—narrative paragraphs are inefficient at conveying an idea quickly. Information Mapping supports the notion of information blocks, each of which encompasses a single main idea. Each of these blocks might consist of sentences, a list, a table, a graphic, or multimedia, and they are labelled and visually separated from one another (by a horizontal rule, say).

These blocks are put together into an information map, maps are grouped into topics, and, finally, topics into documents. Having information in modular blocks allows for easy storage and quick retrieval; they are easy to revise and update.

***

Although this webinar was largely a marketing exercise for Information Mapping (the fact that the company refers to its technique as “The Method” did make me feel a bit like a cult recruit)—and, of course, I knew it wouldn’t be giving away the farm by divulging all of its secrets in a free session—there was a good deal of sensible information in it. We’ve been using narrative paragraphs for so much of our lives that it’s easy to forget they’re often not the best way to transmit information.

What I’m curious to learn more about is how each of those blocks of information is best indexed and stored for easy retrieval by writers hoping to reuse and repurpose content.

Information Mapping’s free webinars are archived here. In addition to the informational one that I attended, “Information Mapping: What Is It? How Can It Help Me?”, there are others addressing managing and reusing content and writing in plain language. Another free webinar will take place November 20, covering standards and templates.

Procedural editorial checklists—and where they fit in

It occurred to me a while ago that in my eagerness to tout checklists, I neglected to give a broader picture of the framework into which they should fit. So let me push the reset button and start at the beginning.

Any organization that produces publications—whether they’re reports or magazines or books—should supply its editorial team members with three essential kinds of documents:

1) Editorial guidelines

These should not only define house style but also offer an overview of workflow, as well as such details as manuscript formatting and image specification requirements.

2) Editorial checklists

Guidelines can balloon over time to encyclopedic documents, and trainees and freelancers may find it challenging to identify the most important points. Use checklists to distill guidelines to the essentials. Checklists reinforce procedure, clearly define roles, and help editors prioritize their tasks. They ensure that production team members who follow an editor on a project have the material they need to do their jobs.

3) Transmittal sheets

A substantive editor and copy editor working on the same project may never have direct interaction with one another. Particularly conscientious editors will write a memo to the copy editor or designer, but many editors don’t. Transmittal sheets are a way of ensuring that critical communication about the project takes place. In essence, they give production team members who follow an editor on a project the information they need to do their jobs.

Editorial guidelines are fairly standard. That’s not to imply that all organizations that should have them do, but at least most publishers understand what they are and how they function. Transmittal sheets are relatively simple documents, and I’d be happy to write more about them in a later post if there’s enough interest. For now, I’ll bring my focus back to the checklist, and since I’ve already devoted a post to elemental editorial checklists, I’ll concentrate here on procedural checklists based on role. Copy-editing checklists, proofreading checklists, indexing checklists, and the like are all great training tools, because they explicitly codify procedure. Running through a checklist will quickly bring a person up to speed on how things are done and what tasks are most important.

Publishers should aim to have checklists for each stage of production. In particular, a team member should have to run through a checklist for every hand-off—so a copy editor would have one checklist before the hand-off to the author and one before the hand-off to the designer, for example.

Creating these checklists takes some commitment, but in the end (and even in the process, as I mention below) they can prove to be money and time savers. Here are some suggestions on how to get started:

Write down what you already do and know

Chances are each member of your editorial team already has a regimen of tasks that he or she performs—a mental checklist—for all projects. The first step is to commit that checklist to type and for staff members who perform the same function—all copy editors, say—to compare notes. Odds are high that these mental checklists are based on past mistakes that have changed the way you operate (like that time the title on the spine didn’t match the title on the front cover, for example). Getting this information out of your brain and onto a draft checklist, then conferring with your colleagues, allows everyone to learn from one another’s mistakes.

Consult external sources

The Chicago Manual of Style has an overview of publication production (Chapter 2), and the Editors’ Association of Canada’s Professional Editorial Standards define the basic tasks involved in structural editing, stylistic editing, copy editing, and proofreading. These are just a couple of external sources you may want to look at as you further develop your checklists. Although your workflow and division of responsibilities may not correspond to these references exactly, reading through them may give you ideas about streamlining your processes. Creating these checklists provides a fantastic impetus to do an informal audit of your production operations, during which you may discover better ways of getting things done.

Compare your checklist against your guidelines

These should correspond exactly; items that contradict only cause confusion and waste time. Don’t be afraid to change the guidelines to accommodate approaches you may have discovered in the previous step to achieve a more efficient workflow. If you’ve got your guidelines posted on a central online repository, making adjustments and, while you’re at it, getting rid of what Arnold Zwicky (and later Amy Einsohn, in Editors, Scholars, and the Social Text) calls “zombie rules” are simple.

Refine and revise

Use the checklist in a project and see what kinds of adjustments need to be made. The odds of producing a perfect checklist (whatever that means) on the first try are slim; it may take a few iterations before your checklist and workflow conform to one another. If you use freelancers, do a few runs of the checklist in house before releasing it to them so that you’ve worked out most of the bugs. And, of course, every time the editorial guidelines are changed, the checklists should be reviewed, and vice versa.

For freelancers

Since not all clients will have a system of checklists in place, get into the habit of making your own. I have a checklist for each of my regular clients, based on generic checklists for each type of publication I work on. If you’ve developed long-standing relationships with some of your clients, consider sharing your checklists with them. They may form the basis for a more substantial framework of production efficiencies that will not only make your job easier but also help other production team members.

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.

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:

Advocacy

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.

Credit

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.

Diversion

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.

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.

The power of the humble checklist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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