Picture Research with MRM Associates: Recap

Yesterday I attended the much-anticipated EAC seminar on picture research, presented by Mary Rose MacLachlan and Derek Capitaine of MRM Associates. In addition to helping clients find the images they need for their publications, their company negotiates licensing agreements with copyright holders, clearing permission for their clients to use copyrighted text, images, and footage in their projects. MRM Associates works mostly with educational publishers.

The workshop was packed with information, and I wish it could have been an hour or so longer, as I had a list of questions I didn’t get the opportunity to ask. This summary is a mere sampling of the material the speakers covered, but I’ve tried my best to focus on the highlights.

MacLachlan and Capitaine began with an overview of copyright, starting with the Statute of Anne—the 1710 act of the British parliament that first defined copyright and served as the precedent for copyright acts in the U.S. and Canada. In Canada, copyright protects the creator of a work for the period between creation to fifty years after the creator’s death (after which it enters the public domain), and it is overseen by Industry Canada and the Department of Canadian Heritage. Whereas the U.S. has the concept of fair use, Canada has fair dealing, which is far more restrictive. For example, use of a copyrighted work as part of criticism falls under fair use in the U.S. but wouldn’t be permitted in Canada.

To learn more about copyright, MacLachlan and Capitaine suggest consulting the Copyright Advisory Office at Columbia University or following copyright experts Michael Geist and Lesley Ellen Harris. Michael Geist focuses on Canadian copyright, and his site has some interesting articles about Bill C-11, which proposes some significant changes to how copyright is assigned. For instance, whereas currently the copyright of a work-for-hire image taken by a photographer is held by the entity that hired the photographer, if Bill C-11 is passed, the photographer would retain copyright.

Determining whether permission is required underlies what MRM Associates does for its clients. Naturally, clients want to save money, and so knowing sources of low-cost images and images in the public domain is important. MacLachlan and Capitaine warn that artwork is a particularly tricky area: a work of art itself may be in the public domain, but the photograph of the artwork may not be. In fact, the art galleries and museums that house a work of art may own the copyright to the photo and would likely charge for its use; their image databases are a revenue stream for them. Bridgeman Art Library is a good place to begin searching for all artwork (both in copyright and in the public domain); it has built relationships with galleries, museums, and archives all over the world and has an extensive, searchable database. In fact, if you know that a certain gallery with which Bridgeman has a representation agreement houses a given work of art but you don’t see it in the database, you can still contact Bridgeman, which will more than likely be able to procure an image of that artwork on your behalf.

I asked if someone who scanned in an image now has rights to it, much as a photographer of a work of art would. MacLachlan and Capitaine said no—a scan qualifies as a reproduction and thus doesn’t carry copyright. However, if the person then manipulates the image—retouches it, cleans it up, etc.—then that is value added that the person may wish to charge for.

For artwork still under copyright—even art in a public space—you need permission from the artist. If a photograph features a person or trademarks and logos, you may require additional permission. This YouTube video about image rights explains the many layers of permission you may need to clear.

MacLachlan and Capitaine then outlined their research process:

1. Receive brief or photo log

A client gives them a list of the images that they need. Sometimes these lists are just vague descriptions, and other times a client may have a very specific image in mind. At this point, the client will also specify the budget for the project.

The photo log is an essential record-keeping document. Usually in a spreadsheet, the log records the following:

  • Unique asset identifier
  • Description of asset
  • Reproduction size—quarter page, half page, full page?
  • Final page number
  • Type of asset—photo, illustration, cartoon, etc.?
  • Source contact info—full address details (some copyright holders request copies of the final book)
  • Source asset number
  • Credit line
  • Estimated and final fee
  • Rights granted
  • Status indicators—when contact was made, when the image was ordered, etc.

2. Research assets

Sources of images include stock agencies, museums and archives, the Internet (but use with caution), and photographers. Getty Images and Corbis are the “big two” among stock agencies, but because of their size, their fees are usually non-negotiable. However, your client may have a vendor agreement with them, allowing you to use that agreement’s pricing. In addition to Getty and Corbis, however, there are scores of smaller stock agencies, many of which specialize in certain niches. Microstock agencies, such as Dreamstime and Shutterstock, are a source of low-cost royalty-free images, but the quality may not be as reliable. You can also turn to aggregators such as the Picture Archive Council of America or the British Association of Picture Libraries and Agencies.

Some sources of free or low-cost images include the Canadian government, Library and Archives Canada, the U.S. government, the Library of Congress, university digital libraries, and some NGOs, such as the UN or the WHO.

If you know you’ll need some images from museums and archives, MacLachlan suggests hitting them first, because they are often understaffed and can take weeks to get back to you.

If what the client has requested is extremely specific or regional, it may be faster to call a photographer. MacLachlan and Capitaine have found many good photographers just through Google or through aggregators such as AG Pix or Photographers Direct.

3. Submit selections to decision makers

MacLachlan and Capitaine will narrow down the selection to three to five images per asset, and the client will choose the final image.

4. Obtain high-resolution images

High-resolution images from stock agencies and most photographers are “comps” until licensed—so you don’t pay for them unless you actually use them—although sometimes photographers will charge a kill fee if you choose not to use an image. Royalty-free images are non-refundable. Many archives require pre-payment for the hi-res.

These high-resolution images can be huge, so a high-speed connection is essential. Most files are transmitted via FTP sites or services such as Dropbox or YouSendIt.

5. Compile acknowledgement copy

This is where having a detailed photo log comes in handy. MacLachlan and Capitaine strongly suggest being diligent in logging the image credit line as soon as the client has decided to use that image. They caution that getting the credit line wrong can be very costly. Licensing agencies can impose a 100 per cent surcharge if the credit line is incorrect.

6. Negotiate and clear licenses

There are three main types of licensing:

  • Rights managed—based on one-time use; the intended use, media, territory, duration, print run must all be specified.
  • Royalty free—a one-time fee based on the size of the image; the image can be used multiple times for multiple projects, within the terms of the license.
  • Creative commons—creators can choose to allow others to use and distribute freely, as long as credit is given, or they may place restrictions on how their work can be used.

MRM Associates will finalize the usage letter for the licensing, specifying the items to be used, reproduction size, title of the publication, author/publisher/ISBN, print run, price, publication date, territory, target audience, and rights required. This usage letter is a legal document, so make sure the client’s name appears on it, not yours.

The agreements will generally state whether an image can be modified. Royalty-free images usually can, but rights-managed images and images from photographers may not allow it. Modifications include cropping, rotating, and flopping.

7. Submit completed log and paperwork

MRM Associates will finalize the photo log and return the supporting materials to the client.


MacLachlan and Capitaine touched on the issue of orphan works—works for which the copyright holders are unknown. (These abound on the Internet, of course.) They caution against using them. You can license their use through the Copyright Board of Canada, which will charge you a fee and keep that money in the event that a copyright holder comes forward with a claim. The researcher community, including the American Society of Picture Professionals, has some forums to track down copyright holders of orphan works; the idea is to get as many eyes on it as possible and hope that one of them can identify the creator. However, using an orphan work always carries the risk that the copyright holder could identify him- or herself and take legal action.

The presenters also mentioned a concept that was new to me—what they called a “client asset database.” Some of their bigger clients have their own image banks where they store public-domain images or royalty-free images they’ve already paid for. For example, although Library and Archives Canada images are mostly public domain, LAC will charge a processing fee, and there’s no point paying that more than once.

The main takeaways from the seminar for me

It’s all about risk assessment

Deciding when to secure permission can fall into a grey area in some situations, and since the client assumes the risk, it’s important to alert the client to all possible issues when they decide whether to use an image. How high is the risk of not securing a model release? Of using an orphan work? Of using ephemera and advertising from companies that are now out of business?

Get the credit line right

Although I’ve always tried to be careful to have the credit lines match what the copyright holders or stock agencies have supplied, I didn’t realize the consequences for errors were so severe. So I suppose it’s safest, if possible, to copy and paste rather than to key in a credit line when preparing acknowledgements.

Royalty-free images can be used again, for different projects

I had always assumed that royalty-free images could be used again only for new editions of an existing book; I didn’t know they could be used for multiple projects. Given the utility of a publisher’s own “asset database,” I will definitely start recommending to my consulting clients that they consider establishing one, if they work a lot with images.


The seminar was incredibly illuminating. Thanks to Mary Rose MacLachlan and Derek Capitaine for sharing their wisdom and for allowing me to post this summary of their talk.

EAC certification

Last evening’s EAC-BC meeting featured a presentation by my fellow Certification Steering Committee members Ann-Marie Metten, Lana Okerlund, and Anne Brennan about dispelling the myths surrounding EAC’s certification program. I started off trying to take some notes so that I could post them here but found that I wasn’t engaged in the same way as I was for some past sessions, because I wasn’t hearing anything I hadn’t heard before and, of course, I’d already been through the process. So perhaps the best way I can contribute to the discussion is to say a few things about my experience and offer some (unabashedly biased) thoughts about the certification program.

When I began working in book publishing, my mentors at D&M Publishers were Nancy Flight and Lucy Kenward—unquestionably two of the best editors in the country. That position gave me extraordinary training and a deep respect for high editorial standards. But it was also enough to give me a serious case of impostor syndrome. A few years in, I wanted to prove—mostly to myself but also to my employer—that I was worth my salt as an editor, and the certification program provided a terrific opportunity to validate my skills.

I feel fortunate that I had experience working in an intense in-house environment in book publishing: I did all of my proofreading and much of my copy editing on paper, meaning I was very familiar with markup, and I dealt day to day with other members of the publishing team and so felt I had a solid grounding in the publishing process. I hear from other certified editors who had never worked in a publishing house that those were two of the most challenging aspects of the certification tests for them.

So I signed up for the knowledge of publishing process and the copy-editing tests (when they were divided that way) in 2008. I worked through the copy-editing study guide, reviewed the Professional Editorial Standards, read through Editing Canadian English, and over a few weeks ended up reading Chicago cover to cover (and in the process discovered stuff I’d been doing wrong for years!).

That year was the first time the certification program offered the structural and stylistic test, and I didn’t feel up to it quite yet. In 2009, knowing that only five candidates had passed that exam the previous year, I registered for it (along with the proofreading test) but mentally prepared myself to write it twice if I needed to; I was fully expecting to fail the first time and was going to use that as a learning experience in preparing for my second kick at the can. As luck would have it, I didn’t need one, and I attained my Certified Professional Editor designation in spring 2010.

To prepare for my last two tests, I again worked through the respective study guides and reread the Professional Editorial Standards. Nervous about the structural and stylistic test, I also dedicated time to doing the substantive editing exercises in Meeting Editorial Standards (now Meeting Professional Editorial Standards) and, on Nancy Flight’s recommendation, read Style: Toward Clarity and Grace by Joseph M. Williams—an extraordinarily lucid read that I would highly recommend. If I had to offer any advice to prospective certification candidates, it would be:

  • to know the Professional Editorial Standards. This is key, as the exams are made to test those specific competencies.
  • to work through the study guides, which are very good exemplars of the tests. In each of them you get not only a practice test and a marking guide but also a sample test of a candidate that had passed the test and another that had failed, allowing you to get a good sense of what to prioritize.

I wish I’d internalized more from the experience (particularly the reading of Chicago, for example), but I can say that the process of studying for certification certainly made me a more conscientious, attentive editor. One of my colleagues asked me why, as an in-house editor, I decided to become certified, since I couldn’t really capitalize on the marketing advantage of being a CPE. At that point, my role in the company had grown from simply editing to developing editorial systems and communicating with freelancers. Being certified gave me the confidence to talk to our freelance editors—some of them veterans of the profession—as their equal. And now that I’ve gone freelance, I am that much more grateful that I’ve gone through the process and can easily prove to prospective clients that I am offering good value.

My commitment to the certification program runs deep; I have a vested interest in seeing my designation retain its value. I was involved in developing the framework for credential maintenance, and I’m now a member of the Certification Steering Committee. Although I’m not required to do any credential maintenance activities, I will anyway, because certification, to me, is not an end-point—it’s an extra motivator to keep learning.

If you’re considering certification and have any questions about my experiences or about the program, feel free to get in touch with me, and I’ll try to answer them to the best of my abilities.

Picture research with MRM Associates

When I worked on Cow by Florian Werner (translated by Doris Ecker—and recently reviewed in Publishers Weekly) about a year ago, I ended up spending roughly 40 per cent of my time trying to track down sources and clear rights for a couple dozen images that ended up in the book.

For me, it was a baptism of fire—it was the first time I’d had to do image research to that extent, and I faced a number of constraints: we wanted to use as many of the images that appeared in the German edition as we could, but all of the world English rights had to be (re-)negotiated, and some of the rights holders flat-out refused to let us use their images; I had to find high-resolution versions of all of the images, since they appeared in the German edition as marginal thumbnails; I had a limited budget and had to find public-domain substitutes for images whenever possible; and, of course, the author had to approve all of the new images before they found their way into the book. I ended up making several visits to the city and university libraries to find images from old books we could scan; ordering a postcard and an old poster off of eBay; emailing a number of people before I could finally find out who owned the rights to a photo of David Lynch’s artwork that had been reproduced with abandon and without credit all over the Internet; trying to use reverse image searches to find alternative sources of high-resolution public-domain images; and negotiating image rights with art galleries, museums, archives, publishers, and licensing agencies. In other words, although I know some of what I had to do was essential, I am sure that I did many, many things the hard way.

This is why I am very much looking forward to Mary Rose MacLachlan and Derek Capitaine’s half-day EAC seminar about picture research on Saturday, April 21. I’ve already compiled a long list of questions arising from my experiences with Cow and other projects, and I’m hoping to learn efficient ways to identify copyright holders and negotiate with stock and licencing agencies.

As of the time of this posting, there are twelve spots left in the seminar, and I’d encourage anyone who has worked or might work with images or permissions to sign up (registration closes this Friday, April 13). I heard Mary Rose MacLachlan give a hugely informative talk at an EAC-BC meeting, and I think this workshop will be extremely useful. That said, with the acknowledgement that not everyone can attend, I’m offering to take any image-related questions you might have and ask them on your behalf. Contact me or leave a question in the comments, and I’ll report back after the session.

Style sheets with substance

Ruth Wilson gave a scintillating presentation at last evening’s EAC-BC meeting about style sheets—an area, she says, that new editors often struggle with.

A style sheet is distinct from a publisher’s style guide (which applies to all of the publisher’s books) and is a list of words, terms, usages, etc., that the copy editor creates when working through a particular document. Ruth encourages editors to create a style sheet for every document they work on, no matter how short. Even a two-page pamphlet requires decisions about the serial comma, capitalization, and so on. We freelancers especially must rely on style sheets to keep ourselves organized, since we’re often working on several projects at once, each with its own set of style decisions.

Ruth suggests that as you put together your style sheet, keep in mind that it’s a form of communication with others in the editorial and production process. The proofreader will certainly use it, and the author, designer, and indexer may also look at it.

Style sheets can be an invaluable piece of archival material; it means that you, or another editor, won’t have to start from scratch if the document you’re working on has to be revised. As a freelancer, Ruth says, she keeps all of her style sheets. In corporate world, she’s often the one introducing all of the styles. Style sheets can serve as a building block for the organization to start developing its own style guide.

So what should a style sheet include? Two mandatory elements are (1) which dictionary you’re using and (2) which style manual you’re using—editions are important. Whether or not to use the serial comma is also almost always on the style sheet. Even if it’s in the organization’s style guide, it’s helpful to repeat that information, particularly if those who will be working with the document after you is not in house or is not focused on editorial issues.

The style sheet is basically a record of everything you’ve had to look up—proper nouns, titles of books, acronyms, and the like—and everything for which you’ve had to make a decision about

  • spelling (words with more than one accepted spelling),
  • capitalization,
  • hyphenation (e.g., hyphenated compounds before and after nouns, hyphenation of noun forms but not corresponding verbs, etc.),
  • pluralization,
  • abbreviations (e.g., periods or not, small caps or full caps, etc.), and
  • foreign words (e.g., accents/diacritics or not, italics or not, etc.).

Style sheets often include how numbers should be treated. When should they be spelled out and when should numerals be used? What date format is used? What units of measurement? Cookbook style sheets may also have a list of measurement abbreviations, conversions, and even standard sizes for pans and other kitchen equipment.

If the book has back matter, it’s often helpful for both you and the proofreader to include on the style sheet not just a description but a sample of a typical note and bibliographic entry to show how these should look.

Finally, any deviations from the norm or from the organization’s house style should be noted. An author may have a strong preference to spell or format a term a certain way that may not be what the dictionary or style manual recommends.

Once you put your style sheet together, proofread it. Make sure the word processor hasn’t autocorrected or autocapped your terms, and run a spell check. Date the style sheet, archive it for yourself, and pass it on.

What shouldn’t go on the style sheet? If there’s only one way to spell a word, don’t include it. “You don’t want to display your ignorance on a style sheet,” Ruth says. “It’s your job as copy editor to fix the spelling errors and typos.” She will usually list place names with difficult spellings but not, say, Paris or London—names that everyone knows how to spell. Also, says Ruth, list just the words and terms—there’s no need to write a story or justify the style decision you’ve made.

The sample style sheets that Ruth brought prompted some discussion about categorization. She referenced one of my earlier posts about style sheets, where I noted that proofreaders generally prefer an uncategorized word list. Eve Rickert chimed in to say that as a proofreader, she often finds that she’ll look for a term in one category on a style sheet, not find it, and look it up in anther source, only to discover that it had be listed under another category all along. When she receives a categorized style sheet, she simply removes the headings and consolidates the word list. Ruth explained that while editing, she finds it can be helpful to compartmentalize. I wondered if the preference had to do with workflow and where you choose to check your facts. If you have to check a list of place names, for example, against a specific authority (like the B.C. Geographical Names database), then it may help to separate out the terms into categories, but if you’re plugging everything—people’s names, place names, organization names, titles, etc.—into Google, then that kind of compartmentalization may not be necessary. Ultimately, Ruth says, it’s prudent to simply ask the publisher or client what they prefer.

An audience member asked if made-up words in a science fiction book, for example, should show up on a style sheet. To ensure consistency in spelling, says Ruth, absolutely. Another audience member asked if words deliberately misspelled to convey a character’s accent should be included. Ruth replied that, as a proofreader, she would certainly find that helpful, but the question morphed into a discussion about whether such misspellings were derogatory. Is it better to describe the accent but not misspell the dialogue? Would that be telling rather than showing? Not being a specialist in fiction, Ruth didn’t have a definitive answer, but it was interesting to hear the diversity of opinions on the issue.

Ruth ended the evening by showing us an example of a style sheet (created by Ann-Marie Metten) for a novel because she’d been asked what the difference was between fiction and nonfiction style sheets. The answer? Not much. You still have to make the same kinds of decisions.

The evening’s presentation and discussions showed that although all style sheets have some common elements, there is no one right way to compose them. However, as with all facets of editing, using your judgment is key to ensuring that the style sheets will be useful to you and everyone who will use them after you.

Academic editing

At last evening’s EAC-BC meeting, David Harrison spoke about academic editing. His perspective was quite a bit different from mine—he seems to have gained most of his experience working directly with academic authors, often helping them prepare a manuscript for submission to a publisher, whereas I’ve worked on the other end, editing text that a publisher has already accepted.

Harrison has worked with authors as diverse as literary biographers, CGA systems analysts, expert witnesses, and public policy specialists. One client had initially hired Harrison to edit a grant proposal, so, Harrison emphasizes, academic editors can do more than work on just journal articles and books.

He says that, as with other editing, it’s important to understand the author’s purpose. Academic editors may wish to

  • create new knowledge
  • share ideas
  • challenge the ideas of others
  • support the research and findings of others
  • reach a wider audience
  • reach a more specialized audience
  • promote a cause, a policy, a theory, etc.

We must also not forget that they may also have some more practical motivations; “publish or perish” still very much persists:

  • get published in a journal
  • get a paper accepted for a conference
  • get a research grant
  • achieve tenure
  • get promoted
  • sell a book and life off the royalties
  • get invited to address prestigious audiences in  exotic parts of the world

An academic editor must also have a good handle on what the final product will look like. Fortunately, says Harrison, academic papers generally have a very predictable structure. The first time you work with a particular author or in a particular genre, look online or in a local university library for samples of the type of publication the author wants to create. Alternatively, have the author send you a sample.

Academic publishers may have very specific guidelines that they expect authors to follow—these dictate everything from article or abstract length to preferred spellings to formatting. It’s the author’s responsibility to make sure he or she adheres to these, but it’s helpful for the editor to know about them. If a particular publisher doesn’t have such a “Guide to Authors,” follow some exemplars of that publisher’s existing publications or follow an established style guide, such as Chicago or APA, but be sure to communicate your decision to the author. Keep a style sheet for each project. In fact, archive those style sheets; if you ever have repeat work with that author, the existing style sheet will save you a lot of time.

The contract, says Harrison, is very important; make sure you get the deal in writing. Share your expectations. Is the bibliography included in the cost? Is fact checking? Build in some milestones at which you can be paid. Professionalism is key. Stay within your area of competence.

Harrison could find only a handful of books relating to academic writing and editing, but he mentioned Writing for Scholarly Publication by Anne Sigismund Huff, who encourages authors to think of writing as conversation. She, in turn, suggested Making Sense of the Organization by Karl Weick, who elucidated the cycle of writing as it related to clarifying thought. If thinking is writing and writing is thinking, Harrison says, the editor’s role is to mediate that cycle.

Harrison’s presentation sparked some lively discussion about contracts—whether to charge a project rate or hourly rate; how to educate clients about the difference between an estimate and a bid; how to clearly delineate the scope of the work (e.g., specifying the number of revisions). Harrison himself quotes a project fee, saying that an hourly rate can be intimidating to clients. “Think about it from the author’s perspective,” he advised. “How would you react to someone saying, ‘I charge this much per hour but can’t tell you definitively how long it will take me?'” But what Harrison does is charge an up-front fee of commitment and then use an instalment plan for when certain milestones have been attained (e.g., first three chapters finished, halfway mark, initial edit, final revision, etc.).

The audience also asked about what to do in instances of plagiarism. Harrison doesn’t check for plagiarism as a matter of course but encourages editors to make use of the Editors’ Association of Canada’s “Guidelines for Editing Theses” as a tool to educate authors about an editor’s limitations, especially when it comes to dissertations. Jean Lawrence suggested a helpful strategy for diplomatically flagging instances of plagiarism: give the author the benefit of the doubt and assume that he or she has simply left out a citation.

I asked how polished the final product would have to be in such an author-editor relationship given that the paper or book would then go through the publisher’s own editorial process. Harrison said he’s found that less editing is happening at the level of the publisher. In fact, some publishers’ “Guide to Authors” explicitly mentions that if English isn’t your first language, you should strongly consider having your work looked at by an editor prior to submission, and he’s gotten a lot of work that way. He added that he works under the assumption that he’ll be the last person to touch the manuscript from a language point of view.

Tweeting your way to job leads

Pamela Findling (@pfindling) gave a presentation at last evening’s EAC-BC monthly meeting about how to use Twitter to find writing and editing work. The key is to exploit the medium’s uniquely informal social atmosphere and its capacity for quick and far-reaching community building to network and find contacts.

She outlined seven tips as part of her Twitter strategy:

1. Know whom to follow

  • Start with people you know; search for colleagues and see who they’re following.
  • Start following potential clients. Pamela began following magazines and businesses that she was interesting in working for. What’s handy is that the person tweeting is usually the editor or the communications coordinator at a publication/organization, so Twitter allows you to build an immediate connection and a direct link to the editor. And Twitter’s casual, quick-response environment means that an editor is more likely to respond to a tweet than an email query. Further, Twitter is basically free, so organizations may opt to tweet about a job before paying a job-search site like Monster to advertise an opportunity.
  • Follow professional organizations; once in a while they will tweet about job postings. Branch out beyond the writing and editing organizations; follow designers’ groups, the Society for Technical Communication, the Board of Trade, Chamber of Commerce, etc.
  • Follow job-search sites. Jobsprout often posts writing- and editing-related jobs.

2. Chat people up

  • Don’t be afraid to jump into conversations, even with strangers. Twitter doesn’t carry the same kinds of social barriers to participation that other settings might.
  • Ask questions and try to give people a sense of who you are and what you’re interested in. Once you’ve started conversing with someone on Twitter, it becomes much easier to introduce yourself in person. (At networking events, Pamela often puts her Twitter ID on her name tag.)

3. Search for keywords

  • Search Twitter for key phrases, like “editing jobs” or “hire an editor.” Doing so will bring up opportunities all over the world, many of which will allow you to work remotely. (Pamela does caution that searching also brings up a lot of garbage, so you’ll have to sort judiciously.)

4. Use hashtags

  • Highlight particular subjects—your interests—with hashtags in your tweets. People interested in the same things will able to find your tweets just by clicking on a hashtag, so this is a way of getting your name out faster.

5. Post interesting content

  • Talk about projects you’re working on, emphasizing specific skills you’re using when you’re working on particular projects.
  • Post links to your work. Using an author’s or client’s ID in that tweet allows them to see that you’re actively promoting them.
  • Post about your area of expertise. For example, if you’re an editor, post grammar, spelling, or punctuation tips. Doing so establishes you as an expert in your field.
  • Post about events.
  • Post links to interesting articles.

Just be aware that Twitter is public—anyone can see your tweets. This presents a huge networking opportunity but also means that your tweets should reflect your professionalism and editorial standards.

6. Check in and post regularly

  • Check in at least once a day. Twitter moves really quickly, so job vacancies are often filled shortly after they’re posted.

7. Share the love

  • Twitter has Follow Fridays (hashtag #FF), where you list the IDs of other people and organizations you think your friends should follow. It’s essentially an informal referral, giving recognition to others, and it shows that you’re not just about you. Use this to build your network.
  • Use others’ Twitter IDs in your tweets.
  • Thank people for excellent service or for their help. Because of Twitter’s rapid and wide reach, a thank-you on Twitter goes far.
  • Retweet.

The presentation was excellent—engaging and informative. I have to confess to being a social media hermit myself. I’m on neither Facebook nor Twitter, primarily because I realize that they can be time vacuums. Although I occasionally wonder what I’m missing out on, I must say that I rather appreciate the quiet. So for now, this site is probably as deep as I’ll get, though having Pamela’s tips may come in handy some day, if I find myself wanting to branch out.

A hindering hierarchy?

All editors aspiring to work in book publishing know what it takes to climb up the ladder: start off checking inputting and possibly proofreading, and once you’ve proven yourself, you can progress to copy editing. Only after mastering that will more substantive work come and then, if so desired, experience with acquisition.

The advantages of this system are many. First, you get a well-rounded understanding of all steps in the editorial process. Second, by checking corrections and inputting, you get into the heads of more senior editors and learn the tricks of the trade. Third, you develop an appreciation for the roles of all editorial, design, and production team members—an empathy that will serve you well as a mentor or project manager overseeing the copy editing or proofreading work of a more junior editor.

But how valid is this tacit hierarchy? It implies that acquiring and substantive editors are somehow better than copy editors, who themselves have a leg up on proofreaders. This stratification has real consequences: freelance proofreaders typically charge lower rates than copy editors, and substantive editors command the most. Editorial recognition like the Editors’ Association of Canada’s annual Tom Fairley Award for Editorial Excellence generally (by which I mean the overwhelming majority of the time) goes to a substantive editor rather than a copy editor or proofreader.

Although I would agree that no amount of proofreading will ever salvage a poorly structured and awkwardly written piece, I am concerned about the limitations of this rather firmly entrenched paradigm. The fact is that proofreading, copy editing, and substantive editing (the EAC goes as far as to split up the latter into stylistic editing and structural editing) each requires its own unique skill set. Whereas some editors work well with the big-picture stuff, others are adept at the details, and it’s time to stop seeing those editors who devote themselves to copy editing as failed substantive editors. And publishers that adopt this classic “substantive reigns supreme” model may miss out on hiring someone who hasn’t yet “proven herself” at copy editing but may be an astute developmental and structural editor.

One could argue that those who wish to focus on a specific skill would be better off as freelancers and that in-house positions are better suited to generalists who are willing to learn all facets of the editorial—and publishing—process. Many freelancers eschew the hierarchy by charging a flat rate regardless of the type of work they do. And those who hope to do substantive work without having to first perfect proofreading may have better luck finding opportunities at smaller presses, where, owing to a lack of human resources, structural and stylistic editing can often be assigned to whomever is available.

I, for one, am grateful that I did get the opportunity to learn the ins and outs of editing from the ground up. But to me, the ground doesn’t correspond to checking inputting or proofreading—it corresponds to a solid foundation of amazing mentors, high standards, and a drive to keep learning and improving, no matter what kind of editing I’m doing.

Stopping amnesia

Volunteer-run organizations like the Editors’ Association of Canada, the Society for Technical Communication, and the Indexing Society of Canada provide tremendous opportunities to connect with fellow professionals, find work, and develop professionally. But one particular affliction seems to plague these kinds of groups: a lack of memory.

Given that these organizations exist largely because of donated time and energy, it really is amazing that they, for the most part, function so well. But with an executive that changes every year and demanding committee work that sees volunteers drift in and out according to their fluctuating time constraints, it’s no wonder that there can sometimes be a lack in continuity in their programs. Add in complexities like nation- or continent-wide chapters and, without a robust, well-thought-out system to transmit information to a central archive, legacies can be easily lost.

I recently volunteered for a task force to research and develop a specific document; at one of the early conference calls, it became clear that a similar task force had been struck only three years earlier, with exactly the same objective. Who were these people? What did they discuss? Why did they disband? Nobody knew. In another case, one group working on a procedural document knew that a related policy document had been created at some point in the past, but nobody had access to it. This kind of inefficiency does little to serve the organization’s members, not to mention the volunteers offering their time. What’s more damaging in the long term than having a new group reinvent the wheel is that members could feel less inclined to volunteer in the future, no matter how well-intentioned the organization’s mandate. What’s the point, when hard work just gets funnelled into some sink hole?

The saviour is none other than the superhero from last week’s post: the information scientist. I think that all volunteer-run nonprofits with high volunteer and staff turnover—not only those in editing and communication professions—would benefit from soliciting the services of a trained information specialist to

  • digitize all archives in a way that allows them all to be searchable
  • develop a method of indexing the archived material for efficient retrieval (because often it’s not that the information doesn’t exist—it just can’t be found)
  • identify circumstances under which new documents should be created and/or regularly revised (e.g., procedural documents for regularly occurring activities)
  • implement a system for archiving and indexing newly created material

With the ready availability of open-source content management systems today, the excuses not to make these changes just don’t hold water.

If an accredited consultant is too much for the nonprofit to afford, maybe it could consider contacting one of the many schools offering a Master of Library and Information Science program. My understanding is that all students in that program have to complete several units of experiential learning, and partnering with a student who is familiar with the theory of information organization and retrieval could be beneficial to both parties.

A few years ago, I had the privilege of working on the fifiteth-anniversary edition of the Varsity Outdoor Club‘s annual journal, which documents, in text and photos, members’ activities of the past year. Because it was a landmark issue, we devoted half of the almost six-hundred pages to submissions from alumni, as well as notable images and articles from the club’s archives. Discovering the truly fascinating, often hilarious, stories from past members was one of the highlights of the project and gave me a new perspective on the club as a whole—it had depth, history, purpose. (Part of why we were able to find so many high-quality pieces was that the organization recognized early on the importance of keeping records—”archivist” is one of the club’s executive positions—and recent archivists were forward-thinking in their initiatives to index all past issues of the journal.) So for organizations like the EAC, STC, and ISC, it’s not just that a solid archival system and comprehensive records will help volunteers accomplish more and better serve the membership—it’s also that the organization’s very history can be brought forth for current and future members to understand and appreciate.

Selling your services to the federal government

Last evening the Editors’ Association of Canada’s B.C. Branch meeting featured speaker Walker Pautz from Public Works and Government Services Canada’s Office of Small and Medium Enterprises (OSME), who gave us some resources to sell our services to the Government of Canada. OSME also gives these presentations monthly at Small Business B.C.

I was at the EAC pre-conference workshop about bidding on government contracts, presented by three EAC members, and I was wondering if the branch meeting’s presentation would essentially be a rehash of that information, but came away from last evening with some information I didn’t know.


PWGSC buys goods and services for all other government departments; individual departments can buy up to $25,000 themselves without going through PWGSC. (I didn’t know about that last part; for individual freelancers who are looking for small contracts, going directly to the departments may be a better strategy than bidding through MERX.)

Finding opportunities

To do business with the federal government, register on the Supplier Registration Information system. This process gives you a Procurement Business Number (PBN), which allows you to register in other databases, bid on contracts, and get paid; a PBN is mandatory for doing business with PWGSC.

Seek out bid opportunities—Requests for Proposals or Requests for Standing Offer, usually—on MERX or Professional Services Online (for contracts up to $76,600). Each good or service is assigned a commodity code, otherwise known as a Good and Service Identification Number (GSIN). You can search the databases by keywords or GSINs.

On MERX, you can sign up for email alerts of relevant opportunities. You can also view who else has downloaded a particular bid opportunity; this allows you to scope out your competition but may also create some opportunities for subcontracting or partnering.

Some government sites like the Translation Bureau will allow you to sign up as a supplier directly.

B.C. doesn’t post on MERX; it uses B.C. Bid, so check there as well.


When putting together a proposal, follow the instructions on the RFP or RFSO, keep your pitch clear and simple, and have your proposal edited and/or proofread. Make sure you meet the minimum mandatory requirements, and check the closing dates to make sure you have time to get your bid in. (You are allowed to submit revisions to your bid before the closing date—something I didn’t know.) Don’t assume that evaluators know who you are even if you’ve done business with them in the past.

Each bid will have a single contact to which you can send questions. That person will compile all questions into an amendment to the initial RFP/RFSO.

Some RFPs and RFSOs will leave out some of their legal language and instead refer you to the Standard Acquisition Clauses and Conditions (SACC) Manual.

Most RFPs/RFSOs will ask you to keep your technical and financial proposals separate. Some will require security clearance; you don’t need to get this ahead of time, but you will have to get it if your bid is successful. Once you have it, though, you can use it for other opportunities over a set number of years.

After closing

If your bid isn’t successful, you can request a debriefing from a contracting authority within three weeks of the closing date; the contracting authority will tell you the strengths and weaknesses of your bid.

If you have issues and concerns, you can contact the Office of the Procurement Ombudsman.

Smaller contracts

To get contracts under $25,000, the best thing to do is to market directly to individual departments, the same way you would market to a private client. To find contacts,

On each department’s site, you can see past contracts that have been awarded

Even if you become a prequalified supplier by successfully bidding for an RFSO, you still have to market yourself, because the contract authority is probably not the end user of your services. Mentioning that you’re a prequalified supplier can help things along.

Purgative roundup

I’d been vacillating about adding a blog component to this site, primarily concerned that my personal musings had no place in my business. But September’s Editors’ Association of Canada BC Branch meeting, which began as a showcase of portfolios and quickly morphed into a discussion about online marketing opportunities, convinced me that maybe blogging wasn’t such a bad idea after all.

Since this post is my first, and I’ve got a backlog of news, let me dive in. In no particular order:

1) After a long wait, Cow (Greystone Books), written by Florian Werner and translated from German by Doris Ecker, has finally been released. A million thanks to the amazing Temple Grandin for providing the foreword to this cultural history of the cow.

A massive part of my work on that book involved picture research—seeking out public-domain images whenever possible, tracking down image copyright holders, negotiating permission fees, and the like. At the September EAC meeting, I was lucky enough to win a free EAC seminar and am looking forward to the April 12 Picture Research seminar by Mary Rose MacLachlan and Derek Capitaine (MRM Associates).

2) D&M Publishers celebrated its fortieth anniversary with a party at the Vancouver International Writers Festival. In addition to seeing my old D&M colleagues, I got caught up with Jesse Marchand and Michelle Furbacher from Whitecap Books (friends from my old Ubyssey days!); Megan Brand of UBC Press; Ann-Marie Metten of Talonbooks; and fabulous freelancers Grace Yaginuma, Lara Kordic, and Stephanie MacDonald.

3) I’m excited to attend an advance screening on November 2 of a Fred Herzog documentary for the Knowledge Network, which will also be the launch of Fred Herzog: Photographs, an incredible privilege to work on. I’ll post the air dates of the documentary when I find out what they are.

4) This snort-inducing article about Mary Walsh as Marg Delahunty intimidating Toronto Mayor Rob Ford into calling 911 reminded me of the actress’s contribution to Shari Graydon’s terrific collection, I Feel Great about My Hands—a celebration of the unexpected benefits of aging. To keep up with Shari, read her blog here.