Lara Smith gave a captivating and hugely informative presentation about ebooks at Wednesday’s EAC-BC meeting. Having gone to Greg Ioannou’s conference talk about e-publishing, I wondered if there’d be a lot of overlap in the content of the two talks. There wasn’t—and after the meeting BC Branch Chair Peter Moskos suggested to me that Lara probably had enough material to fill a full seminar.

Ebooks are often thought to be electronic versions of print books, Lara began, but many titles today are just born digital. Ebooks come in two main formats: PDF and EPUB. The ebook PDFs aren’t just your regular PDFs—they’re Universal PDFs, which are optimized for screen viewing. Chapters are bookmarked, the table of contents is linked, URLs are live, and the files include some metadata.

In the early days of ebooks, there were many different ebook formats; every e-reader developer wanted to create a device with a proprietary format, which led to a very fractured market. The International Digital Publishing Forum set out a standard known as EPUB—a set of rules that everyone could follow to build an ebook. All devices now have the capacity to read EPUB files. We’re not sure what the future will be for EPUB, though, because device manufacturers still like to add on proprietary bells and whistles to their EPUB files.

EPUBs can have fixed layouts or be flowable. Fixed-layout EPUBs look a bit like PDFs, but they have a lot more capability behind the scenes (e.g., accessibility features like text to speech). They’re much more complicated to create. EPUBs are good for visual books, such as coffee-table books or cookbooks, but they’re really meant to be read on a tablet device. Lara demonstrated how impractical it is to read a fixed-layout EPUB on a smartphone.

By contrast, flowable EPUBs can be read on a phone—not to mention e-readers and browsers—since the type can be enlarged as needed. Flowable EPUBs make up the bulk of the ebooks out there.

An EPUB, Lara explained, is really just a ZIP file. Change the epub extension to zip, and you can decompress the folder to see what’s inside. There may be a folder for images, and the text is broken up into chapters, each an HTML file. There’s a style sheet that controls how the tagged text looks to the human reader. She’s found the best strategy to ensure that the ebook looks good on all devices is to keep styling to a minimum. “We’re not trying to replicate the print book,” she said. “We really have to reconceptulaize it. We can’t control type in the same way.”

Lara works mostly with books that are destined for both print and digital, so she exports from InDesign. But she notes that you can build an EPUB from scratch in a text editor, and there’s conversion software that will transform Word files into EPUBs (although they don’t look very good). The simpler your original files, she said, the better it will look. (For example, never justify your text; on many devices, the text will look hideous and gappy.)

When publishers convert books to EPUBs, they have the option of using a conversion service, which is inexpensive and may be appropriate for converting large numbers of files (e.g., the publisher’s backlist), but the results can look pretty rough. Another option is in-house conversion, which allows for more control over quality, style, and timelines but requires an investment into a dedicated individual or team of people who must learn how to use the software and prepare the files for the market. Editors working with individual authors to create single ebooks may be able to dedicate more resources to fine-tune the EPUBs themselves to specific devices and take full advantage of enhancements like audio and video.

Lara also mentioned vendor conversion tools, including iBooks Author, Kindle Direct Publishing, and Kobo Writing Life, which are free tools to use but restrict you to selling within those particular streams, and DIY options (what she referred to as “device-agnostic options”), such as Smashwords, PressBooks by WordPress, and Vook, which charge for creating the ebooks, whether through an upfront fee or through royalties. She noted that all of these options have a learning curve and a real cost.

Once you’ve got your ebook made, you then have to sell it. How are people going to find it? The answer is metadata—information attached to your book including title, author, publisher, ISBN, price, description, author bio, reviews, etc.—that will populate distributors’ and retailers’ databases. Metadata is key to discoverability.

Lara then moved on to the contentious issue of digital rights management (DRM), which puts a lock on EPUBs file and prevents copying, editing, and reselling but also limits legitimate sharing of books and device switching. It pits readers’ freedoms against authors’ and publishers’ right to profit. The debate seems to be heading in two directions: digital media may be licensed to readers (where they can read but don’t actually own the book), or publishers may decide not to use DRM at all. (O’Reilly Media, in fact, has declared that it won’t be using DRM on any of its books.)

Another issue facing publishers is that EPUBs have the capability to incorporate a variety of assistive technologies, such as text to speech, alternative text, phonetic text, media overlays, dyslexic reading aids, conversion to braille, etc., and international accessibility organizations are pushing publishers to include all of these features. Of course, for the publisher, doing so means a lot more investment into editorial and production resources.

Lara was careful to note the distinction between apps and ebooks. Apps are self-contained applications, and they can be interactive and include all sorts of multimedia features. There are book apps—kids’ books work really well as apps, because they don’t have a lot of content but can support a lot of interactivity. Apps take more development than an ebook, and you need to involve a programmer.

So what are the editorial concerns surrounding e-publishing? First, the publisher must have the digital rights—including for the images that are to appear in the book. Next, the publisher should look at the content and figure out the best way to present the book (fixed or flowable) and decide whether to add enhancements.

Challenges for ebook publishers are elements like sidebars, which you want to place at section or chapter breaks so that they don’t interrupt the flow of the text. Lara noted that ebooks are read in a linear way; it becomes tedious to have to skip over what could turn into pages of sidebar content to get back to the main text, especially if you’re reading on a small screen. Footnotes are also a problem, because the foot of a page is no longer well defined. Indexes are similarly challenging. (See my summary of Jan Wright’s discussion of ebook indexes from this past spring’s ISC conference.)

On the flip side are the many advantages that ebooks offer. For example, endnotes can be linked, as can in-text references. Photo sections can go anywhere within the book, not necessarily just between printed signatures. You can make URLs in the book (and the references, especially) live, and you can add audio or video enhancements. Finally, there are no page limits, and you can really play around with the concept of what a book is. Lara warns, however, that the more fun stuff you put in, the greater the risk that something will break, and broken links or videos, for example, can frustrate readers.

Lara’s talk was phenomenal. I learned a huge amount, though I will probably eventually have to resign myself to the fact that she knows more about e-publishing than I ever will.

Upcoming EAC-BC meeting on ebooks

My good friend Lara Smith, one of the most generous, helpful people I know, will be giving a talk at the upcoming EAC-BC meeting about ebook formats, digital production workflows, and what editors need to know about ebook conversion. Lara, the print and digital production coordinator at D&M, is the perfect person to give this presentation not only because she sits at the intersection between p- and ebooks but also because she’s worked in house as a proofreader and indexer and acutely understands editorial concerns in the ebook production process. (As an aside, Lara and her partner, Anita, are responsible for the best chili oil I’ve ever tasted.)

Join us at the YWCA on Hornby on Wednesday, October 17, for Lara’s talk and the chance to win a free EAC-BC professional development seminar (as well as the books I’ve reviewed on this site since last month’s meeting). Refreshments and mingling start at 7 pm, and the talk begins at 7:30 pm.

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.

Ultra Libris hot off the press

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Book review: Editors, Scholars, and the Social Text

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ISC and EAC Conferences 2012: Personal perspectives

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

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

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


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

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

Brain sharing and collaboration

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

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

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

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


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

The Language Portal of Canada

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


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

EAC Conference 2012, Day 1—E-publishing essentials for editors

Greg Ioannou, president of EAC and publisher of Iguana Books, gave an overview of some of the things editors should know about ebooks, beginning with a bit of history: the first ebook was a computerized index of Thomas Aquinas’s works and was released in the 1940s. In the 1960s hypertext was used to format ebooks so that they could be read using different window sizes and monitors on IBM mainframes. The first ereader was Sony’s Data Discman, which displayed ebooks stored on CD.

Although there are hundreds of types of e-readers, many of them with proprietary file formats, the most common ones include EPUB, EPUB2, MOBI, and PDF. Most ebooks are basically just HTML files with metadata that help bookstores categorize them (e.g., title, author, description, ISBN, publication date, keywords, etc.) The editor [ed—or perhaps an indexer?] is in the best position to know what keywords should included in the metadata file.

At Iguana, the creation sequence is as follows:

For simple books

  • edit and style in Word
  • create PDF from Word (Iguana has discovered that they have to produce at least one print-on-demand copy for the author or, more often, as Ioannou says, the author’s mother).
  • create EPUB file using Sigil
  • create MOBI file using Calibre

For complex books

  • edit and style in Word
  • create PDF from InDesign
  • create EPUB file from InDesign
  • clean up EPUB in Sigil
  • create MOBI file using Calibre

Once you’ve created your files, Ioannou said, you should actually look at the ebook on the device(s) it’s destined for; looking at it on just the computer can be deceiving. Right now InDesign’s EPUB export doesn’t actually work very well, so the outputs have to be cleaned up quite a bit.

Ioannou then described the many devices on which ebooks could be read, including tablets, phones, computers, Kindles, and other e-readers (e.g., Nook, Kobo, Sony Reader, etc.). Only the Kindles can read MOBI files, whereas the other devices can all read EPUB files. All can display PDFs, although only tablets, smartphones, and computers can display colour and play videos.

Since EPUB/MOBI files are reflowable and may be read on very narrow devices like a smart phone, editors should keep the following in mind when editing for an ebook:

  • Make sure that there are spaces before and after dashes
  • Opt for hyphenating a compound rather than using a closed compound; however, avoid hyphenations when it could lead to odd line breaks (e.g., choose “ereader” over “e-reader”).
  • Make sure all quotes are smart quotes; this is relatively easy to do in Word but much more difficult to code in Sigil or Calibre.
  • Books without chapters don’t work very well as ebooks—the large file size can significantly slow down an e-reader. If possible, break a book down into chapters of ideally between 3,000 and 5,000 words. This structure also makes navigating an ebook much easier.
  • As for formatting, keep it simple. Tables and column look terrible on an e-reader, and images won’t display in some older e-readers. Most e-readers are black and white only, and many older e-readers can’t handle large files (e.g., files with embedded images and videos).

Ioannou noted that e-readers are primitive machines and that the technology’s rapidly changing. His caveat: “Most of what I say here will not be true a year from now, and practically none of it will be true two years from now.”

ISC Conference 2012, Day 2—Hands-on ebooks

David Ream and Jan Wright once again took to the stage to elaborate on indexing of digital files. Ream said that there aren’t a lot of usability studies that compare search versus indexing. BNA’s “Using Online Indexes” is one, but it would be interesting to get more universities involved in this kind of research to generate more data.

Ream then gave an overview of EPUB 3.0. It’s open source, is based on existing standards—such as XHTML, CSS3, Javascript, SVG—and was created ahead of the industry (i.e., tools and reading systems), meaning that we can all avoid costly format wars. It provides navigation and packaging information and incorporates global language support (i.e., for languages that are read left to right, right to left, or vertically). It is backwards compatible with EPUB 2.0 and has modular components and working groups.

EPUB 3.0 files will have rich metadata—Dublin Core for publication information, ONIX for supply chain information, and MARC for libraries. The metadata will be key to a digital file’s discoverability—and hence to its sale. Implications for indexers include the following:

  • no page or line limitations
  • potentially having to index rich media (e.g., time codes)
  • potentially having to index interactive ebook features (scripts)
  • potentially having to supply semantics of headings and locators (e.g, show only the statutes, show only the people, etc.)
  • being able to provide index data in multiple ways
  • cumulative indexing—of series, mashups, etc.

Jan Wright then explained the workflow for inserting anchors to EPUBs at the paragraph level. She and Olav Martin Kvern developed scripts that create identifiers for individual paragraphs in InDesign, which can then be used as part of the locator in standalone indexing programs like CINDEX or SKY Index to create a hyperlink from index locator to the paragraph. For now, this is the most realistic way of creating a paragraph-level index that will work for both print and ebook, because InDesign strips out any embedded index entries when it exports to EPUB. The digital trends task force is talking to Adobe separately about this issue, but a fix may be some time away.

Wright and Ream then allowed conference attendees to play around with various devices, from the Kindle, Kobo, and Nook to the iPad, to see the current state of the art of ebook indexing.

ISC Conference 2012, Day 2—What is the future of indexing?

Cheryl Landes is a technical writer and indexer who sees a changing role for indexers—one that is rife with possibilities.

Today people are consuming content in four main ways: through print, on e-readers, on tablets, and on smartphones. In the past year, more people have been moving towards tablets and smartphones rather than e-readers, since the former devices offer colour and other functionality. Many software vendors of authoring tools are adding outputs to accommodate tablets, and more and more companies are publishing technical documentation that can be read on tablets or smartphones (for example, Alaska Airlines replaced forty pounds of paper pilots’ manuals with iPads). Despite the movement towards mobile devices, however, Landes doesn’t believe that print will ever go away.

Digital content means users are able to search, but searching doesn’t yield the speed of information retrieval or context that an index offers. Indexers have to be proactive about educating others about the utility and importance of indexes, and emerging technologies are providing many opportunities for indexers to apply their skills beyond the scope of traditional back-of-the-book indexing.

Partnering with content strategists

Indexers can serve as consultants about taxonomies and controlled vocabularies, which are key to finding content. (An example of a taxonomy is the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia’s Index to Debates.)

Database indexing

Growth in this area is anticipated as more companies move their catalogues online, particularly in retail.

Embedded indexing

Embedded indexing tags content directly in a file and allows for single-sourcing, which is ideal for publishers who want print and digital outputs for their content. (Landes echoes Jan Wright in saying that for the past decade technical communicators have been grappling with issues trade publishers are facing now, yet they’re not talking to each other. How do we start that conversation?)

Search engine optimization

Indexers understand what kinds of search terms certain target audiences use. Acting as consultants, they can create strategies for keywording in metadata.

Blog and wiki indexing

This area is likely to grow because more companies are turning to blogs to promote products and services, and they are using wikis for technical documentation.

Social media

Possible consulting opportunities abound in this quickly changing field. Facebook’s Timeline and Twitter’s hashtags are both attempts at indexing in social media, but one can envision the need for more sophisticated methods of retrieving information as more and more content is archived on these platforms.

ISC Conference 2012, Day 1—American Society for Indexing’s Digital Trends Task Force

ASI’s David Ream and Jan Wright gave the ISC a report on their work with the Digital Trends Task Force (DTTF), which came into being  in the summer of 2011 after the issue of electronic publication indexing was brought up at the ASI conference earlier that year.

The task force actively participated in the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF), a consortium of businesses and organizations involved in defining the new EPUB 3.0 standard. By establishing a special indexers’ working group in the IDPF, and with the Australia and New Zealand Society of Indexers’ membership in the IDPF, indexers made their presence known to a much wider community of players driving the future of electronic publishing. (EPUB is the open source format that can be read on the iPad, Nook, Kobo, Sony readers, and other e-readers. The notable exception is the Kindle, which uses a different format.)

The task force also set out to do industry outreach at such events as the Digital Book World and O’Reilly’s Tools of Change conferences. With this kind of outreach, the ASI could establish itself as an authority about indexing in a digital age. At the latter conference, a recurring concern of electronic publishers was the issue of discovery, since traditional channels, like bookstores and libraries, are now out of the equation. Indexing—and indexers—Ream and Wright pointed out, was the gateway to discovery, and because discovery means money, publishers are more likely to listen to indexers if we emphasize discovery. (Interestingly, Amazon did not participate in Tools of Change.)

Wright also presented at the WritersUA conference. WritersUA, based in the U.S., is a group of technical writers, which have had to deal with the issue of single-sourcing—and a move to XML—years ago. They have experience solving the kinds of problems trade publishers are only now beginning to face.

Wright’s outreach extended to being a guest on #ePrdctn Hour on Twitter, which, as a platform, Wright said, was more powerful than she could have ever imagined. After her Twitter hour, establishing herself as an expert in the nascent field of ebook indexing, Wright was able to reach organizations and companies that otherwise would have been much harder to access. For instance, she is now able to talk directly to Adobe engineers about InDesign’s scripts for ebooks.

The ASI is trying to get the Digital Trends Task Force to conferences that indexers don’t usually attend, focusing on the themes of monetization and semantic metadata.

To stay informed about digital trends affecting indexers, Wright and Ream suggest joining the DTTF’s LinkedIn group and following TidBITS, Peter Meyers (@petermeyers on Twitter), and Joe Wikert.