Vanessa Ricci-Thode—Alternatives to editing: working on a self-publisher’s budget (Editing Goes Global, 2015)

What can you do for self-publishing authors who don’t have much to spend? Author and editor Vanessa Ricci-Thode shared some the strategies she’s used to help authors who can’t afford editing. Although she focused on fiction, many of her tips will apply to nonfiction projects as well.

Do a manuscript evaluation

For a flat fee, Ricci-Thode will evaluate a manuscript up to 100,000 words and provide the author with a topic-by-topic report outlining the main changes that the author should make to

  • premise
  • plot
  • structure
  • characterization
  • dialogue
  • setting
  • point of view
  • voice
  • mood or tone

She may also comment on other features, such as the story’s symbolism, humour, or reading level. Although she won’t edit the manuscript—and hence won’t mark it up—she will insert comment bubbles in the document so that authors can see examples of the kinds of problems they might  consider fixing. Ricci-Thodes suggests using a “triage editing” mindset and tackling the biggest problems first.

To learn how write a constructive evaluation, Ricchi-Thodes suggests the seminar on fiction editing offered by EAC’s Toronto Branch or Ryerson University’s fiction-editing class.

Suggest crowdfunding

If an author doesn’t have enough of their own money for editing, they could try raising enough money through crowdfunding platforms, including

Many of these platforms allow authors to connect with their readers by offering rewards for their sponsorship.

Suggest low-cost editing options (with a caveat)

If an author is desperate for editing, you could point them to low-cost editing options on freelancing sites such as Elance or even Fiverr. However, because many people claiming to be editors compete internationally for freelance contracts, these sites can be exploitative. Further, the quality of the editing will be a crapshoot.

Whatever you do, said Ricci-Thodes, don’t let an author talk you down. Don’t sell yourself—or your colleagues—short. You may be willing to reduce your rate to work on a particularly exciting project, but make sure your client knows the full value of the services you’re giving them.

Point authors to resources on writing and self-editing

For authors that need a lot of work, recommend books or websites that will help them hone their writing skills. During the session Ricci-Thodes listed the resources she recommends (her commentary in parentheses):

On craft

On style and grammar


Audience members chimed in with some of their own suggestions (in no particular order):

Also, encourage authors to join a critique group or writing circle that has experienced writers.

Offer mentoring or “mini-evaluation” sessions

Ricci-Thodes offers face-to-face meetings in which she can offer an author tips based on a short writing sample and answer specific editorial questions. She lets the clients set the agenda for the meetings, for which she charges hourly.


For more editor-recommended, editing-related resources, check out my blog post from our September 2014 EAC-BC meeting: Hitting the books: Professional development tips.

Sam Corea and Andrew Tzembelicos—Game of words: the role of editorial services and press operations (Editing Goes Global, 2015)

What do you have to consider when editing copy for a major international sporting event? Sam Corea started off as the director of editorial services for the Vancouver Organizing Committee (VANOC) for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games and later passed the reins to Andrew Tzembelicos, whose department of four editors and one graphic designer coordinated all official Olympic- and Paralympic-related publications up to and during the games. Corea is now preparing for the press coverage he’ll have to help facilitate as the head of Press Services for the upcoming Pan Am and Parapan Am Games in Toronto. He and Tzembelicos gave us a glimpse of the fast-paced, high-pressure editorial environment characteristic of these grand events.

2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games

Tzembelicos and his team made up the editorial services department, one of 53 VANOC departments. Their job was to write or oversee the writing of all VANOC publications to make sure that the copy was on tone, on voice, and on brand. For example, VANOC represented Canada as honest, unassuming, and humble. “We’d say we’d stage stellar games,” said Tzembelicos. “We won’t say ‘best games ever’ because that sounds arrogant.” His team tried to use accessible language to reach as wide an audience as possible and kept an eye out for context-specific terminology that might confuse non-Canadians (such as references to the Juno Awards). They reviewed copy for all games departments, CEO reports, sustainability reports, medals, postage stamps, and web content. They also reviewed copy for partners (for example, the four host First Nations on whose land the games took place) and for sponsors. The sheer volume of work meant that the editorial team had to prioritize public-facing documents.

Because Tzembelicos’s team had to rely on external writers and editors, he and his team developed a booklet of writing tips, The Writer’s Playbook, that was shared throughout VANOC to encourage writing that would require less editing.

Fact checking was paramount, because the games were so easily politicized. Inaccuracies or misinterpretations could be fuel for opposition parties to attack the government.

Major challenges Tzembelicos faced included a last-minute decision to publish a 96-page hockey magazine. He also had to contend with a lot of back-and-forth communication with people who fancied themselves writers but lacked an understanding of the publishing process, although The Writer’s Playbook helped mitigate this problem. At the other extreme were VANOC members who simply didn’t care about editorial quality, but “everything is amplified when you have big international events,” said Tzembelicos. “Typos and mistakes don’t just reflect poorly on the event organizers; they reflect poorly on Canada.”

Surprisingly, his work during the games themselves was relatively quiet, because the bulk of the work had been done in advance, although he and his team did have to produce a daily newspaper for the Athletes’ Village, as required by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The IOC didn’t enforce a particular style (although the games were always referred to as “the Olympic Winter Games” and never “the Olympics”), but the individual sports federations occasionally had specific requirements (for example, in the use of ladies versus women).

2015 Pan Am and Parapan Am Games

In July, athletes from across the American continents will descend on Toronto for the Pan Am Games. Unlike the Vancouver Winter Olympic Games, which had to produce copy in French and English, Pan Am copy must be trilingual—in English, French, and Spanish. The event will feature 7,500 athletes, making it larger than the Olympic Games hosted by both Calgary and Vancouver. For many athletes, their performance at this event is what will determine whether they qualify for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games. Despite the event’s size size, the Pan Am Games don’t come with the sponsorship that comes with the Olympics, meaning Corea must coordinate communications on a smaller budget.

Corea will oversee press operations‚ including media relations, broadcast relations, and press logistics. There will be 1,900 accredited members of the press covering the games, mostly from Canada, Brazil, and the United States. Part of Corea’s job will be to coordinate the Games News Service, an international wire service that will provide the media with quotes from the athletes seconds after they leave the field of play (known as “flash quotes”), games news, and press conference highlights. Corea is aiming to have flash quotes transcribed, edited, and posted within twenty minutes. Corea’s team has also researched and compiled athlete profiles for easy press access. Corea estimates that 1.11 million words will be produced over the course of the games, with more than 740,000 from flash quotes alone.

Debra Huron—Low literacy adults read, too! How to edit for them (Editing Goes Global, 2015)

Debra Huron is a plain language specialist with a degree in journalism, and she spent three years managing the Canadian Public Health Association’s Plain Language Service. She shared with us some adult literacy statistics and gave us tools to create clear communications that will help low-literacy readers understand and high-literacy readers save time. A free PDF of her booklet, Five Ways to Create the Happiest Readers, is available on her website.

Huron began her session by asking us to read through a two-page financial services letter packed with long, complex sentences and bureaucratese. “From an editor’s point of view,” she said, “it’s perfectly grammatical. The sentences are long, but they’re coherent.” Yet the letter was hard to read and buried the call to action. “What I thought when I first read this letter,” said Huron, “was, ‘I need to read this again.’ It requires a high degree of analysis.”

Those of us in the room were likely strong readers, but many Canadians are not. Huron showed us the results of a 2013 survey, the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies, which ranked Canada eleventh in prose and literacy skills, behind the Czech Republic and Estonia. The survey also found that 49 percent of Canadians had low literacy, meaning they read at level 1 or 2 in the OECD’s definition of literacy levels. According to the Canadian Council on Learning, “Level 3 is the internationally accepted level of literacy required to cope in a modern society.” Huron cautioned us about using the correct terminology: we talk about low literacy, rather than illiteracy, because most people have some ability to read and write.

Who has low literacy skills? Huron worked with a national literacy organization in Ottawa helping adult learners improve their literacy. These learners may have grown up with violence or substance misuse in the home—not in an environment that valued literacy. Some people in their forties had learning disabilities that schools didn’t routinely test for when they were children.

People with low literacy do not read for pleasure. They read when they have to learn or do something. These adult learners have normal intelligence, so the term “dumbing down” is pejorative. Communicating with them may have to involve other media, including audiovisual material or activities to promote experiential learning. Huron reminded us that we can be literate in some circumstances and not so literate in others. Financial jargon and legalese can be particularly problematic.

Huron offered us four basic plain writing tips that can help you make your communications more clear:

  1. Prefer the active voice.
  2. Avoid frozen verbs (nominalizations). Don’t turn verbs into nouns.
  3. Organize your text into chunks.
  4. Reduce or define jargon.

These suggestions are a great starting point for the uninitiated, but writers and editors with more plain language experience understand that there are qualifications to these tips. Great sources of information for evidence-based plain language practice include Karen Schriver’s work (see my summary of her PLAIN 2013 talk) and Steven Pinker’s The Sense of Style (which I reviewed). These summaries from previous conference sessions about adult readers and plain language may also help:

Carol Fisher Saller—”Subversive” editing: or, what bugs editors and how to fix it (Editing Goes Global, 2015)

Carol Fisher Saller, author of The Subversive Copy Editor and editor of the monthly Chicago Style Q&A, gave the opening keynote at Editing Goes Global. With facetious, deadpan delivery, she took aim at the niggling neuroses that prevent editors, who have a reputation for being technophobic grammar sticklers, from reaching their potential. “Some of my best friends are neurotic,” said Saller. “Who wants to know a bunch of calm and happy people?”

Quoting the New York Times, she said, “Life today is ‘less violent, less cruel, and more peaceful than any previous period of human existence.’ When it comes to stress, many of us, the privileged, choose it. It’s the only explanation I can come up with for what’s bugging copy editors,” said Saller, to laughs. Although we’re used to hearing about the debates between prescriptivists and “promiscuous” descriptivists, Saller enjoys defining a third category: assertionists, a term coined byEugene Volohk, describing people who take pride in “witless, raging allegiance” to grammar rules and style. Many copy editors see their jobs as knowing the rules and imposing them, but Saller reminded us that “style rules exist to serve us; we don’t exist to serve them.”

Assertionists who write into the Chicago Style Q&A with style and grammar questions “are tormented by what they see as declining standards,” said Saller. But because most adults stopped learning grammar after they left high school, they may not be aware that some rules are outdated and that some rules were never rules at all. People ask, “When did this rule change?,” as if a single authoritative person or organization were responsible for governing the English language. “Language is wonderfully messy,” said Saller. “Evolution in English is the ultimate in crowdsourcing.”

Many style rules are arbitrary, and understanding a rule is not the same as being able to recite them. Style rules give us an efficient way to be consistent, but sometimes they turn out to be inconvenient. “When rules conflict, you probably have to break a rule—and that’s OK,” said Saller. “Apply the power of knowing when to break a rule to help writers to achieve great writing.”

“It is rarely correct to robotically follow a rule,” she added. “This kind of dependency wastes time, stunts learning, and does little to help the reader.”

Beyond knowing the rules and when to break them, editors must also stay on top of technology. “Editors who live in the past also do harm,” said Saller, adding, “Hating technology is a cliché. Technology is not making you stupid or lonely or hyper (although I will grant that it can make you homicidal).” But if you are representing yourself as a professional editor, your primary tools have to be up to standard. “Eventually, if you don’t refresh your skills and equipment, you’ll begin to lose work.” Never stop educating yourself, Saller suggested. You can find free resources online to learn almost anything—including how to make the most out of social media. “If you haven’t yet dipped your toe in that ocean, know that active participation is optional. You can learn plenty just by lurking.”

“There’s no downside to arming yourself with knowledge and skill,” said Saller. “You will become generous, flexible, powerful, confident and—who knows?—maybe even serene.”

Hiring other freelancers: expanding your business with colleagues (Editing Goes Global, 2015)

Veteran editor Laura Poole led a lively panel discussion about working with freelance editors. The other panellists were Carol Fisher Saller, who gave us an insider’s perspective from the University of Chicago Press, and Janet MacMillan, a long-time member of both the Editors’ Association of Canada and the Society for Editors and Proofreaders in the UK.

Poole now regularly subcontracts work to an associate that she mentored, but she’s also found another source of subcontracting revenue simply by having an incorporated business. One of her clients enacted a new policy of not working with sole proprietors, which cut out a large chunk of their regular freelancers. These freelancers now invoice through Poole’s company, adding a markup to their totals to pay Poole for her services.

The books division at the University of Chicago Press publishes up to 300 books a year and has an in-house staff of fifteen editors, and 40 percent of the copy editing is done by freelancers. Saller told us that the press almost never approaches freelancers who haven’t contacted them first. They get plenty of resumes in the mail all the time and have many on file.

MacMillan said that she doesn’t like to use the term “subcontract” and prefers to think of other editors as associates or collaborators. She’ll reach out to other editors when she’s working on large projects or if she knows they have special expertise that she lacks.

MacMillan never charges a referral fee, saying “I’m exceedingly uncomfortable with it. A nice thank you would be enough.” She expects that people to whom she’s referred work will also pass along work to her at some point. In contrast, Poole will request (or pay, if she’s on the receiving end of a referral) a 10 percent fee for referring work to her colleagues. What she tells clients is that she’ll train the subcontractors on their style. “You show that you’re putting skin in the game and working to maintain your reputation,” she said. This fee applies only to the first project involving that particular editor–client pair, and on subsequent projects, they can work out their own payment terms.

To find out about other freelancers, MacMillan relies on her network and looks at how people present themselves on their websites or their profiles in the Online Directory of Editors. She’ll also recommend editors she’s mentored formally or informally. “I would never refer work to someone whose work I didn’t know or that I didn’t know personally,” she said.

Poole draws on her network of editorial trainees and sometimes runs focused searches on LinkedIn to find the right person for the job. She keeps track of people’s specializations so that she’ll have someone to recommend if a client is looking for that expertise.

What about training? “We do train in-house entry-level editors,” said Saller. “We don’t train freelancers. We can tell almost instantly if someone is a likely candidate. We require experience with other university presses, and we can tell from their cover letter and resume if they have good communication skills.” The University of Chicago Press will train freelancers on its process and may ask editors to edit a trial chapter, which the press will pay for.

MacMillan will work with a colleague through the first or second project and will always provide feedback, particularly if the project didn’t go as well as she’d hoped. “ If I didn’t tell them where they went wrong, I wouldn’t be fair to them,” she said. “Quite frankly, we’re all off sometimes. It’s best to remain humble and remember that.”

Likewise, Poole is invested in helping her associate editor further her career and regularly gives her pointers. “If you hire freelancers, give them feedback,” she said. Rather than simply never hiring someone again, critical but constructive feedback means that you care and want the editor to get better. “You have to separate business and friendship,” said Poole. “Let’s talk business and not take it personally.”

“We also learn from more junior editors by how they react to feedback,” added MacMillan. “They’ll say, ‘I did it this way because…’ and sometimes that ‘because’ will make you think. The learning experience goes both ways.”

Sometimes the problems may have been that you, as the hiring editor, didn’t clearly communicate expectations or standards. Lee d’Anjou, in the audience, suggested always using written contracts to define the project scope and expectations. EAC’s Professional Editorial Standards may also help you define the tasks you’re hoping your subcontractor will do.

The University of Chicago Press highly values editors who work independently. “We do appreciate when people ask questions,” said Saller, “like asking if something needs to be done.” But occasionally some freelancers ask too much, too often. Knowing when to ask and when to do is part of editorial judgment that comes with experience.

Editors looking for subcontract work should be careful about how they approach other editors. Being presumptuous or demanding—for example, saying “Can I see your client list?” or “Will you send me work?”—will make editors bristle. Poole especially dislikes people who write, “I’d be happy to take your overflow work.” “I don’t have overflow work,” she said. “If I can’t take the work, I don’t do it. A better approach would be to say, ‘Can I support you to expand your business?’”

Both Poole and MacMillan said that they’re always transparent with their clients about whether they’ve used subcontractors.

I was disappointed to discover that the University of Chicago Press doesn’t credit its editors, neither in-house nor freelance. Last year, what turned out to be a dream client approached me because she’d seen my name on a publication for a similar organization. I’ve written about credit lines before: they cost the publisher nothing but can be extremely meaningful to the editors, designers, and indexers who work on a project and can use it as part of their portfolio.


For more on subcontracting, see my summary of a related panel discussion we held at an EAC-BC branch meeting.

Editing Goes Global session summaries to come

Editing Goes Global, the first (and, in my view, hugely successful) international editors’ conference wrapped up yesterday, and, as I did in previous years, I hope to post summaries of some of the sessions I attended. If the past is any indication, though, I’ll probably have to take a few weeks to get through them all, especially because I’m attending another conference at the end of this week and will have to do a bunch of catch-up when I get back to Vancouver.

Highlights of the conference included meeting colleagues that I’ve thus far known only through Twitter, hearing Carol Fisher Saller’s and Katherine Barber’s side-splitting keynotes, and—what was probably the biggest thrill of all for me—being at the awards banquet when my dear friend (and partner in Microsoft Word tamingGrace Yaginuma won the Tom Fairley Award for her work on A Discerning Eye, written by Carol E. Mayer and published by one of my favourite clients, Figure 1 Publishing.

Many thanks to the conference committee, the National Executive Council, and countless volunteers for putting on such a smashing event. Editors Canada’s 2016 conference will be in my ’hood, and the next international conference will be in Chicago in 2019. See you next year in Vancouver?

Writers on editors: an evening of eavesdropping (EAC-BC meeting)

What do writers really think of editors? Journalist and editor Jenny Lee moderated a discussion on that topic with authors Margo Bates and Daniel Francis at last week’s EAC-BC meeting. Bates, self-published author of P.S. Don’t Tell Your Mother and The Queen of a Gated Community, is president of the Vancouver branch of the Canadian Authors Association. Francis is a columnist for Geist magazine and a prolific author of two dozen books, including the Encyclopedia of British Columbia and the Connections Canada social studies textbook.

Francis told us that in the 1980s, he’d had one of his books published by a major Toronto-based publisher, who asked him about his next project. Francis pitched the concept for what became Imaginary Indian: the image of the Indian in Canadian culture back to 1850. His Toronto publisher turned it down, concerned about appropriation of voice. “I took the idea to friends in Vancouver,” said Francis, “and in some ways it’s my most successful book.” He learned from the experience that he’d rather work with smaller publishers close to home, many of which were run by people he considered friends. He thought his book with the larger publisher would be the ticket, but it was among his worst-selling titles, and he was particularly dismayed that the editor didn’t seem to have paid much attention to his text. “To me, this is a collaborative process, working with an editor,” said Francis. “I’m aware that I’m no genius and that this is not a work of genius,” but his editor “barely even read the thing.” He found the necessary depth in editing when he worked with his friends at smaller presses. “Friends can be frank,” Francis said.

Bates, whose P.S. Don’t Tell Your Mother has sold more than 7,500 copies, became familiar with how much editors can do when she hired them through her work in public relations. For her own writing, Bates knew she could take care of most of the copy editing and proofreading but wanted an objective but understanding professional who would advise her about structure and subject matter. She looked for someone who would tighten up her book and make it saleable. “I’m not that smart a writer that I can go without help,” she said. “I wouldn’t do anything without an editor.” In fact, she allocated the largest portion of her publishing budget to editing. After speaking with several candidates, Bates selected an editor who understood the social context of her book and help her “tell the story of prejudice in a humorous way.”

Frances Peck mentioned an article she read about a possible future where self-publishers would have editors’ imprints on their books—in other words, editors’ reputations would lend marketability to a book. “Is that a dream?” she asked. “The sooner, the better, as far as I’m concerned,” Bates said. “There’s a lot of crap out there,” she added, referring to story lines, point of view, grammar, spelling and other dimensions of writing that an editor could help authors improve.

What sets good editors apart from the rest? Francis says that he most appreciates those who have good judgment about when to correct something and when to query. Some strategies for querying suggested by the audience include referring often to the reader (“Will your reader understand?”) and referring to the text as something separate from the author (i.e., using “it says on page 26” rather than “you say on page 26”). Bates said that she really appreciated when her editor expressed genuine enthusiasm for her story. Her editor had told her, “I’m rooting for the characters, and so are your fans.”

Lee asked whether the popular strategy of the sandwich—beginning and ending an editorial letter with compliments, with the potentially ego-deflating critique in the middle—was effective. Francis said, “I hope I’m beyond the need for coddling. I guess you have to know who you’re dealing with, when you’re an editor.” Some editors in the room said that the sandwich is a reliable template for corresponding with someone with whom you haven’t yet established trust. We have to be encouraging as well as critical.

Both Bates and Francis urged editors to stop beating around the bush. Francis said, “You get insulted all the time as a textbook writer. You have to grow a pretty thick skin.” That said, Francis wasn’t a big fan of the book’s process of editing by committee and says it’s one reason he stopped writing textbooks. In addition to producing a coherent text, the textbook’s author and editors had to adhere to strict representation guidelines (e.g., the balance of males to females depicted in photographs had to be exactly 1:1).

Lee asked the two authors how they found their editors. Francis said that his publishers always assign his editors, and “I get the editor that I get.” So far his editors have worked out for him, but if he’d had any profound differences, he’d have approached the publisher about it or, in extreme cases, parted ways with the publisher.

Bates said that for self-published authors, the onus is on them to do their research and look at publications an editor has previously worked on. “There will always be inexperienced writers who don’t see the need for editors,” she said, but at meetings of the Federation of BC Writers and the Canadian Authors Association, she always advocates that authors get an editor. Bates suggested that the Editors’ Association of Canada forge closer ties with writers’ organizations so that we could readily educate authors about what editors do.