Gael Spivak and Lisa Goodlet—Volunteering as professional development (EAC conference 2013)

Gael Spivak and Lisa Goodlet are both seasoned volunteers, for EAC and beyond. They shared some of their insights on the benefits of volunteering and tips to get the most out of your volunteering experiences.

Volunteering, said Spivak, is a good way to get training. She quoted the 70/20/10 formula for learning:

  • 70% comes from real-life and on-the-job experiences, tasks, and problem solving
  • 20% comes from feedback and from working with role models
  • 10% comes from formal training.

Getting professional development from volunteering is like getting it from a course, only you’re paying with your time rather than with your money.

Volunteering lets you try something new without having to worry about getting fired. Goodlet told us that one of her first introductions to editing was when she volunteered as a proofreader for Project Gutenberg. You can also use volunteering to test whether you’d be a good fit for a particular type of job or career. Both Spivak and Goodlet emphasized the importance of asking for feedback on your work, even when you’re volunteering.

If you work alone, volunteering can give you team experience and let you meet valuable contacts. If you work in an office and aren’t in a management position, volunteering can offer you the opportunity to gain experience that you can’t get at work (strategic planning, project management, etc.). You can branch out beyond your usual skill set and develop negotiating skills and flexibility (since volunteer-run groups can sometimes move slowly and have different or evolving hierarchies and reporting systems). Goodlet quoted an HR consultant in suggesting that you shouldn’t separate your paid work from your volunteer work on your CV—experience is experience.

Spivak told us that, as conference co-chair in 2012, she learned about marketing and communications; in her many other EAC volunteer positions (director of volunteer relations for EAC, EAC governance task force member, National Capital Region branch membership chair), she has gained experience that she couldn’t get at her job and at her current level, including coordination, strategic planning, and policy development, which are promising to open up new opportunities and roles for her at work. Beyond her volunteer work with EAC, Spivak also writes, edits, and serves as webmaster for Not Just Tourists—Ottawa.

Goodlet said that she got her first office experience through volunteering, which allowed her to get higher-paying summer jobs than she would have gotten otherwise. As NCR branch membership chair and 2012 conference speaker coordinator, she made a lot of valuable contacts and gained project management experience. By volunteering, Goodlet also learned about herself: she’s discovered that she’s better suited to in-house positions rather than freelancing. She also volunteers as a Girl Guide leader and Humane Society foster parent.

If you decide to volunteer, said Spivak and Goodlet,

approach it strategically

  • Do you want to get better at something you know how to do or learn something different? Understand your goals before you plan how to achieve them.
  • Do you want to gain or improve a specific skill (e.g., indexing, medical editing)? Look for organizations that deal with these areas and see if they have volunteer opportunities.
  • Do you want to do something at the branch level or nationally? You can have input on how an organization is run by volunteering at the national level.

approach it consciously

  • How much time do you want to spend? Don’t overcommit yourself.
  • Do you want to volunteer long term or for a one-off project or event?
  • Are you interested in the opportunity? Just because the opportunity is there doesn’t mean you have to take it.

Approach it creatively

  • What are the secondary benefits of the volunteering opportunity? Making contacts, helping others, or simply getting out of the house are all good reasons to volunteer.
  • Do you want to use your editing skills or branch out into other areas? Some people don’t want to do for a hobby what they do for a job.

Spivak added that EAC is developing a new volunteer directory that will connect people to volunteer opportunities at the branch and national levels. People can register in the directory and specify what kinds of opportunities (short- versus long-term, branch versus national) they might be interested in, and this information will be shared with committee chairs who are looking for help.


(A reminder that volunteering for EAC in an editorial capacity can earn you credential maintenance points for certification, precisely because volunteering can be enormously instructive professional development and make you a better editor.)

Helena Aalto and Laurel Boone—Good Reads: Fiction for adult literacy and ESL learners (EAC conference 2013)

Good Reads is a project spearheaded by ABC Life Literacy Canada and funded by Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC) to address a shortage of pleasure reading books for adult literacy and ESL learners. Over the past three years, Good Reads has worked with Edmonton-based Grass Roots Press to publish nineteen short, easy-reading books by well-known Canadian authors; the aim of this series was to increase reading engagement and reading confidence, turning learners into lifelong readers. With the project just wrapping up, project manager Helena Aalto and editor Laurel Boone spoke at the EAC conference about their work.

Good Reads was inspired by a similar initiative in the UK, known as Quick Reads, which launched in 2006. Aalto told us that Good Reads sought out established Canadian authors with an adaptable writing style who were interested in the challenge of writing compelling stories using accessible language. Among those who accepted the challenge were Tish Cohen, Gail Anderson-Dargatz, Joy Fielding, Rabindranath Maharaj, Frances Itani, and Robert Hough—names that librarians and literacy educators would know well and would be enthusiastic in promoting to readers. Robert Hough documented his experiences as a Good Reads author in a Quill & Quire article, “Not as Easy as It Looks.” Although the books were short, they often went through many revisions to meet the guidelines for adult literacy learners.

These books, around 12,000 words each, had to be adult-interest stories—these were not kids’ books—with plots that would encourage readers to continue reading, using devices such as cliff-hanger chapter endings. As Boone told us, they had to have adult frames of reference and adult complexities. Authors were encouraged to minimize changes in perspective and time; to introduce only a few characters, each with a distinct name; and to identify speakers in dialogue. Boone, who described Good Reads as “the best project of my life,” edited the books with the understanding that “readers deserve our very best. These readers are adults, and they know a lot.” Her secret intention was for no one to notice the text’s low reading level. Boone’s description of her editorial process was fascinating.

Structural editing

Boone started by assessing the structure of the whole book. Each book had to be suitable for individuals, individuals with tutors, classes, and ESL learners. As such, the chapters had to be approximately equal in length, and they had to stand alone but also work together as a whole. Paragraphs had to be short but varied.

The plot had to be absolutely tight, with no loose ends. Continuity had to be perfect, because, as Boone explained, non-readers’ memories are better than the memories of most readers. Authors had to make any changes in time or place perfectly clear, using devices such as line spaces, changes in verb tense, or changes in person as clues for the reader.

Characters had to have distinct, easy-to-read names. More importantly, they had to be true to life, and through the stories, their motives and personal growth had to be clear. Boone encouraged the authors to make most of the main characters fairly agreeable, because beginning readers are more likely to identify with likeable characters.

Finally, the setting and context had to be familiar.

Stylistic editing

Boone edited toward the goal of a certain reading level (Microsoft Word allows you to check a document’s readability statistics). Literacy learners read word by word or in very small gulps, and the meaning of each of these gulps must be clear. No word could be out of place. Boone gave an example of dangling modifiers: as seasoned readers, we’d laugh, but we’d understand the intent of the sentence; beginning readers, however, would not. While performing a stylistic edit, Boone focused on the following areas:


Boone developed strategies to offer readers complete information without explicitly explaining. “I don’t wish to be told that there’s something I don’t know when I’m in the middle of a story,” she said, and phrases like “that is” or “meaning,” followed by an explanation, can come off as patronizing. She encouraged authors to bury descriptions in the context (e.g., “Victor would know where he could sell his million-dollar Picasso painting to pay off his debts”), and keep terminology consistent.

Fact checking, explained Boone, was essential, because adult readers are very knowledgeable, and errors breed mistrust. For example, she learned the difference between a pipe wrench and a monkey wrench and was careful to make sure the right term was used. Otherwise, readers could too easily dismiss the story as stupid and stop reading altogether.

Boone also looked out for situations where there was too much non-essential information. For example, an author had written out a series of American cities as train destinations, but the names of the cities themselves weren’t important to the story. Names can be hard to read and confusing, so she recommended simplifying the sentence simply to refer to “cities across the United States.”


Sentences in Good Reads books had to be short—typically fewer than fifteen words long, and certainly no more than twenty words long. They had to be simply constructed but still varied, with superior transitions. The end of one sentence must lead on to the next one. Parallelism was paramount, and she tried to eliminate passive voice, weak uses of “to be,” and adverbs ending in “-ly.” “Everything ought to be in the context and characters,” Boone explained.


It’s easy to lose track of the speakers in dialogue, Boone told us, but saying “he said, she said, he said, etc.” can get tedious. She encouraged authors to use frequent attributions but to vary the style.


Boone encouraged authors to use common words of one or two syllables (not counting -ed or -ing) in general, but there are some longer words (e.g., university) that are familiar and some short words that may not be. Any substitutions of terminology, then, had to be precise and sensitive to adult experiences, and technical words had to be correct. Swearing and sex are part of adult experiences, of course, so Boone found ways of including these themes while making sure they were not so explicit that they would make readers or their tutors uncomfortable.

Copy editing

The copy editing was handled by an editor working for Grass Roots Press, but Boone did offer some guidelines, including a style sheet for each project. In particular, she encouraged using commas for absolute clarity (e.g., around “too” and even short clauses), explaining that commas give the eye and the mind a break. Speakers’ individual voices were respected in dialogue, but standard grammar, punctuation, and spelling were enforced in the narrative.


Supporting the text, Aalto told us, were clear page layouts with a readable typeface and a lot of white space . The books were given eye-catching covers. Beyond the books, the Good Reads website features further resources for readers and instructors, including videos of interviews with the authors, text of the first chapter of each book, and audio of the authors reading from their books. Teachers could also download a free guide for each title. The series has done quite well, Aalto was proud to say, although she added that there’s no way HRSDC would fund such a series today; all literacy efforts are going into workplace training, leaving little room for pleasure reading. However, Orca Books has started a similar series called Rapid Reads, and Grass Roots has committed to distributing those titles.

As for Boone, she found the project extremely rewarding, explaining that the usual pleasure and intimacy of working with authors was increased by working together toward an altruistic objective. She said that the ordinary principles of effective writing are easily forgotten by fluent, university-level readers, writers, and editors but that simpler is always better, even for complex ideas. Practising simple expression can help sharpen thought.

EAC Publications and the new Editing Canadian English (EAC conference 2013)

EAC’s Publications Committee gave us an update on its activities, primarily on its work developing a new edition of Editing Canadian English. The second edition of ECE is showing its age, said editor-in-chief Karen Virag, and it’s due for a revision. The committee gathered teams of experienced editors to go over every chapter of ECE, word by word, and make recommendations on the content, addressing such questions as whether there is such a thing as Canadian usage of punctuation. In keeping with the trend of similar language resources, the next edition of ECE will be exclusively online. Subscriptions will cost $30 per year, and it will launch in 2014.

Beth Macfie, one of the managing editors, then explained how the committee has spent the last year and a half analyzing the existing ECE to figure out how to make it into a modern product. The title of the new publication will be Editing Canadian English: The Guide for Editors, Writers, and Everyone Who Works with Words, to emphasize that it is aimed at a much broader audience than just editors. ECE will explain what Canadian English is, how to handle special situations in language, and where to find additional information. The publication will feature sections about

  • editorial roles
  • editorial niches
  • an editor’s legal responsibilities (including in cases of subcontracting) and where to keep up to date on new legal developments
  • Canadian usage
  • inclusive language
  • spelling
  • compounds and hyphenation
  • capitalization
  • abbreviation
  • punctuation
  • measurements
  • documentation
  • working with bilingual documents

The new edition’s electronic format will allow the Publications Committee to update and annotate the content as time goes by. The aim, explained Macfie, is to provide something that no other publication provides.

Over the next year, as the publication takes shape, the committee will need more researchers and writers, copy editors, proofreaders, and beta testers.

Finally, production editor Carolyn Pisani gave us a glimpse of how this new publication will be implemented. She recruited volunteers to test existing databases that provide a similar reference function, using the resources as they were working to get a sense of the systems’ advantages and disadvantages in applied, real-world situations. Volunteers answered an eight-question survey to evaluate these databases for writing and editing, including

  • What makes this online database user friendly?
  • What did you like in terms of ease of use, thoroughness, etc.?
  • What seemed to be missing? What didn’t you like?

Pisani is compiling this feedback and will work together with EAC’s executive director, Carolyn Burke, to find a team that can handle the technological implementation of the new ECE.


Certification Steering Committee co-chairs Anne Brennan and Janice Dyer also presented at the same plenary session, but whatever I have not written about before will be covered in important updates to the Certification section of the EAC website. I’ll tweet or post the link once the updates have happened.

Marjorie Simmins—The editor and the memoirist: creating your best working relationship (EAC conference 2013)

“Between every line of a memoir is a pounding heart,” said Marjorie Simmins. In her presentation at the EAC conference in Halifax, Simmins, an award-winning writer who makes her living as a journalist, editor, and instructor, shared some of her wisdom about how an editor can make the most out of the sometimes intimate, sometimes delicate, and often rewarding relationship with a memoirist.

“Memoir is impossible to define,” said Simmins. “It’s a bit like a pool of mercury.” Memoirs can be poetry; they can be prose; they can be hybrid of genres. They can be illustrated; they can be literary. They can be about a regular person, a celebrity, or even a family. “Memoir,” Simmins explained, “is a chapter in someone’s life,” in contrast to an autobiography, which is a look at the whole life. “Memoir is supposed to be a piece of time, and it often relates to a particular event.”

Simmins brought along a selection of her favourite memoirs, from Linden MacIntyre’s Causeway to Laura Beatrice Berton’s I Married the Klondike to Joanna Claire Wong’s Wong Family Feast, to show us the vast range that memoirs can cover. Common to all good memoirs, however, is an affecting story, said Simmins, and it takes a skilled writer to achieve just the right balance of sentiment.

Editors can make a meaningful difference in the life of a memoirist, Simmins explained, but not every memoirist–editor pair will work. Luck, and chemistry, also factor into the relationship. “Trust your first impressions,” she advised, when considering whether to take on a project, and define the limits of the relationship through clear communication. “I try to avoid the phone,” she told us, “because people don’t think it takes you any time.” When she agrees to work on a memoir, Simmins first evaluates the manuscript, offering the author a candid overview of her response to the writing and detailing the sections that work well and those that don’t. Candour doesn’t mean insensitivity, of course, especially since memoirists often find it hard to separate themselves from the text and may take umbrage at what they perceive as criticism. After her evaluation, she performs careful line and copy editing to polish the text.

She’ll do her best to fact check, confirming names, dates, and historical references. Some manuscripts require a lot of fact checking, said Simmins, and you’ll generally know how intensive it will be from the first page. Some facts simply can’t be checked, however, and although truth and accuracy are important, so is imagination, Simmins emphasized: “No one can truly remember being three years old,” and even real people, when they are characters in a memoir, still need to be engaging and believable.

Making sure someone gets published, she said, is not her job. Having a work published may not even be a priority for some memoirists, who might write simply to unburden their souls. Memoirs are “truly written in heart’s blood,” said Simmins, and a memoirist might produce only one work in a lifetime, and so it’s particularly important for an editor to be diplomatic and open minded. She warned us that, especially for editors who work as writers, the work lines can get blurred. Occasionally she’ll catch herself thinking, “Oh, I can fix this!” but before she does, she has to remind herself to pull back and instead offer the author guidance and suggestions on what could improve the text.

Memoirists can take things very personally, and Simmins suggested that editors “learn to fend off bullies. They’re out there. Some people just want to criticize everything you do. But you know when you’ve done a good job, and you can beg to differ in a polite way.” She advocated keeping a professional distance from the work. If you get too invested, “you’ll be eaten alive.”

Not every editor is suited to working with memoirists. Some editors, for example, prefer not to work with people and might be better off quietly editing government documents. For Simmins, however, editing memoirs is enormously rewarding, as she knows that her contribution can bring a stranger “great psychic happiness.” She closed her talk with some terrific perspective, courtesy of Plato: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.”


Marjorie Simmins’s own memoir, Coastal Lives, about her embracing the identify of Maritimer after moving to Nova Scotia from the West Coast, will be published by Pottersfield Press in 2014.

ISC/EAC conference notes and news

I’ve been back from the Indexing Society of Canada/Editors’ Association of Canada conference in Halifax for almost a week now but have spent these past few days trying to get caught up.

As with last year, I’ll be posting summaries of the talks I attended at the conference, but, as I learned last year, they might take me a few weeks to finish; the pockets of time I need to write have been elusive.

The ISC and EAC conference committees put on a wonderful event: the sessions were engaging and well balanced, and I loved being able to see and catch up with fellow editors and indexers from across Canada and beyond. I was also honoured to receive a President’s Award for Volunteer Service from EAC at the awards banquet—a million thanks to Frances Peck, Anne Brennan, and Eva van Emden for nominating me. I work on committees with some of the most dedicated people I know, and there’s no way I deserve this award any more than they do.

The good, the bad, and the “that could have gone better” about subcontracting

Patricia Anderson, PhD, runs an editing and literary and literary consulting business, Helping You Get Published, and has hired several editorial subcontractors over her company’s fourteen-year history. Amelia Gilliland holds an editing certificate from SFU and has worked in-house at Arsenal Pulp Press and Douglas & McIntyre; today she’s a freelance editor who occasionally subcontracts for the West Coast Editorial Associates. Eve Rickert is a Certified Professional Editor and founder of Talk Science to Me Communications Inc., which provides services including writing, editing, indexing, and design through a team of subcontractors. Anderson, Gilliland, and Rickert made up the panel on subcontracting at last week’s EAC-BC monthly meeting, moderated by Frances Peck. Peck asked the panellists questions to get the discussion going and also encouraged questions from audience members.

How did you get into subcontracting?

Rickert said that she started collaborating with others early on, mainly on big writing projects. When she took her first in-house position, she wanted to hang on to clients and began subcontracting to trusted associates. At a second in-house job, her responsibilities included a lot of project management, which she enjoyed. She integrated that element into her business when she struck out on her own to offer science communication services, and today she subcontracts to writers, editors, and designers.

Gilliland brought the perspective of someone who takes on subcontracting opportunities rather than offering them. She began subcontracting while she was still in school, working toward an editing certificate at Simon Fraser University. She asked Ruth Wilson, who was one of her instructors, to mentor her, and she began subcontracting for WCEA. “It was a great way to start,” she said. “When you’re that new to it, you don’t really know how to get into it.” She added that subcontracting gives you an opportunity to work on great projects if you’re working for people who’ve been in the business a long time and are trusted in the industry.

Anderson, who admits that she very much enjoys working on her own and always goes back to it, began subcontracting a year into taking her business online. “These were the early days of the Internet,” she said, “and after three weeks of being online I was so swamped my life was turned upside down.” She cobbled together a group of five subcontractors; the first subcontracting model she tried was to have a group of experts, each taking on one part of the business: marketing, proposals, literary consulting, etc. She said that the model worked, but because it was early in her business, she didn’t realize where the bulk of the business would be. As a result, she and her editor were overwhelmed with work.

The next model she tried was to have a combination of expert editors and some more junior subcontractors. The problem she encountered with that arrangement was that her subcontractors would regard her as an employer and would constantly expect her to give them more work. Anderson wasn’t fond of the pressure that expectation put on her and told us that if she tries other subcontracting models, she’ll emphasize that she’s offering freelance opportunities, not employment, and she’ll actively seek out entrepreneurial, proactive contractors.

Rickert hasn’t found the same kinds of expectations from her subcontractors; if anything, her problem has been the opposite, in that she’s lost a few freelancers who’ve sought out other opportunities.

Trust is a big issue in subcontracting. Those of us who are freelancers are used to doing our own work and answering for ourselves. With subcontracting you’re trusting someone else to work with your client. Did you have any initial fears about getting into subcontracting?

Gilliland responded, “I was terrified. I was new to the industry. I was terrified I was going to do something unbelievably stupid and scared that I wouldn’t represent [WCEA] well. That fear—that I wouldn’t do a good enough job—came with being new; I didn’t have the confidence. It’s different now. There’s always a bit of apprehension, but there’s less about my not representing well.”

Anderson joked that she was fearless because the business was so new she didn’t know what she was getting into. Rickert said that she started off the same way but, “I certainly have a lot of fears now. With a new subcontractor, there’s always wondering if their work is up to standard. And the relationship with clients—do I manage the relationship, or do I have subcontractors work with them directly?” She said that she eases into that arrangement with a new subcontractor; after she’s confident the subcontractor’s work is up to standard, she has them work directly with the client and keep her posted on milestones. She says she’s clear about accountability and who is responsible for what: “Subcontractors are working for me, not for my client. If my client has issues with performance, those can come to me.” Getting the right distance between the person requiring the work and the person doing the work is the balance she strives to achieve.

Both Rickert and Anderson mentioned that their business models involve a markup. Rickert described her work as trying to maintain a sweet spot—a balance between what subcontractors are paid and what clients are charged. At first she was reluctant to charge a markup, but she came to realize that she puts a lot of time into finding good people, managing projects, training, and building a brand. The subcontractor also gets value from being part of a managed project.

How much do you check up on their work? Do you rely on their background?

Rickert replied that it depends how well she knows their work. For newer subcontractors, she’ll usually work behind them and check their work, giving them feedback on areas for improvement. For more established editors, she may not have to do this.

Anderson added, “I analyze the project, decide what the major issues are and  what the best strategies are, and I convey this to the editor. I make myself available non-stop. I go through the project line by line.” It’s an intensive commitment, Anderson said, but she was quick to add, “There are junior editors who do certain things better than people with more experience,” suggesting we should play to people’s strengths and worry less about whether they are junior or senior.

Gilliland explained that when she first started out, she did have her work checked and asked for feedback, especially if she was in a situation where the editor hiring her was trying to maintain a client and just couldn’t take on a specific task. Today, most of the subcontracting work she does is when an editor isn’t interested in a project or doesn’t have time to take on the work and asks her if she wants it—in which case it’s more a referral and less a subcontract.

What is the difference between a subcontract and a referral?

Peck said, “We pride ourselves on being a collegial bunch of people; it’s not a cutthroat business and we’re often quite happy to hand off work. In a much earlier life, I was a real estate agent. In that world, you always received a referral fee that was 25 per cent of the commission. Should there be a fee for a referrals?”

“That’s a tough one,” said Gilliland. “It depends where it comes from.” She explained that the West Coast Editorial Associations, for instance, were sought out by clients and contacted because of the reputation they had built; she could understand paying a fee for projects they referred.

Rickert tries not to give referrals; she has a big enough team of subcontractors that she can usually keep projects in house. However, she does offer clients a referral bonus: if they refer new clients to her, she’ll offer a discount on the next project.

Anderson said, “I have strong feelings on this. I work hard on my websites. I put in hours and hours. If a potential new client comes to me, it’s still time invested. I’ve laid the groundwork, counselled the editor about a reasonable fee, and set the client up. I want 15 per cent. People say, ‘Why should I give you 15 per cent when I do all the work?’ Well, editing is work, but it’s not all the work in a business.”

Anderson told us that she was looking online to see who else had a referral model and discovered a site that purported to be a database of editors. In order to be listed in this database, you first have to pass an editing test—which you have to pay for. Once you’re in, the owner of the site charges you a monthly fee to remain listed. If you get work (which, according to some posted reviews of the site, may never happen), you pay 30 to 40 per cent of what you earn. We wondered whether any editing was actually going on, but the owner of the site claims to have some high-powered clients.

The last story raises a point about ethics. Have you ever encountered any concerns from the client’s point of view or concerns about ethics?

Gilliland said that she had a client who initially wasn’t comfortable with the idea that his project was being handed off to her from the editor he’d approached.  “I think his attitude was, ‘Well, why doesn’t she want to work with me?'” In the end, Gilliland met with him and gained his trust. The fact that the other editor expressed confidence in her work catalyzed that process.

Rickert said that she’s never had ethical issues because she is always responsible for the final quality of the work; she never takes herself out of the project.

Anderson takes a similar approach: “I come in at the beginning, so the client knows the work comes from me, with input and assistance from another editor.” She said she’d never pass off someone else’s work as her own.

A growing concern for Anderson is that she has so many return clients that she can barely handle them. “How do you hand off a loyal client?” she asked.

How do you decide on your markup?

Rickert explained that with established associates, her markup is 100 per cent, which is standard for the industry. For senior editors she brings in on occasional projects, the markups are lower, but they’re never less than 30 per cent.

Do you have formal contracts with subcontractors that specify editorial credit, and payment—or that stops subcontractors from absconding with your clients?

Rickert is adamant about having contracts with her subcontractors and contracts with her clients. She does have a non-soliciation clause that prevents her subcontractors from working independently with her clients for a certain period.

Anderson admitted to being a bit lax about contracts. She does have house rules and a general expectation of the level of work and editing, but she doesn’t have formal contracts.

Gilliland said that she usually has a contract directly with the client or author and has a separate contract with the editor who subcontracted the work.

What are the top one or two lessons you’ve learned through your subcontracting experiences?

Anderson said (only somewhat jokingly), “Consider not subcontracting. There’s a lot to be said for the one-person business. If you’ve got solid clients, you’re enjoying your work, and you’re able to handle it efficiently, why torture yourself?” A second lesson is that if you have to subcontract, make a plan. Decide on the kind of model that will work best for your business and the kinds of editors that will be the best fit. A last piece of advice for editors looking to subcontract is to think of themselves as independent professionals. “This is not being an employee. This is being a proactive professional fulfilling a freelance opportunity.”

Gilliland advised, “Only work for top-drawer people. Work with the best people you can, especially if you’re just starting out. They’ll be good examples, teach you, and offer you better work.”

Rickert’s advice: have a contract—with both client and subcontractor. Get a line of credit. She added, “Be clear that you’re still responsible for the work. You’re responsible to everyone: client and subcontractors. Don’t think you’re getting out of anything by subcontracting.”

PubPro 2013 recap

Managing editors and publication production managers from across BC gathered at SFU Harbour Centre on Saturday for the first ever PubPro unconference. We had representatives from educational publishers, trade book publishers, self-publishers, magazine publishers, journal publishers, technical publishers, course developers, communications departments, and more.

The day kicked off with session pitches: participants interested in presenting had a minute to pitch their topics to the crowd. Then, based on audience interest, our volunteers assigned each talk to one of our rooms. Yvonne Van Ruskenveld (West Coast Editorial Associates), Rob Clements (Ingram Content Group), Anne Brennan (Allegro Communications and EAC’s Certification Steering Committee), John Maxwell (SFU), and Jennifer Lyons (Influence Publishing) offered to present, and I  pitched my talk about the editorial wiki I built as an in-house editor.

After the presentations were added to the schedule, we still had several slots to fill, so I proposed four discussion topics and asked members of the audience to volunteer to lead them. Eve Rickert stepped up to lead the discussion about managing a team of editors and working with freelancers; Jesse Marchand led a discussion about digital workflow; Brian Scrivener chaired the roundtable on project management and workflow; and Lara Smith took on the managing editors’ wish list for production management software.

We planted a volunteer in each of our rooms to help the presenters set up and to keep the day on track. To make sure we captured the day’s main takeaways, we also had a volunteer in each room taking notes. I spent my day in the main event room helping the presenters there, so I didn’t get a chance to partake in what I’ve heard were lively and engaging discussions.  I look forward to reading our volunteers’ notes and catching up on what I missed; they will be compiling a full recap of the day for West Coast Editor, EAC-BC’s online newsletter, and I’ll post an update when the article appears.

Here’s a summary of what I did see:

Yvonne Van Ruskenveld—Interactive Editing: Big Project, Big Team, Tight Deadlines

West Coast Editorial Associates’ Yvonne Van Ruskenveld shared with us some of her wisdom gained from her experiences working in educational publishing, which can be vastly more complex than trade publishing owing to the sheer number of people involved. A project manager has to oversee the work of several writers, editors, artists, designers, picture researchers, and layout technicians, and when one phase of a project slips, the problem can cascade and put the entire project in jeopardy. In the planning phase, Van Ruskenveld said, it’s important to map out the whole project and consider issues such as how non-editors might be used to support substantive or developmental editors. Team members should receive an outline of the editorial process, a schedule, and a style sheet, as well what Van Ruskenveld calls a “project profile”—an annotated sample of a unit or chapter showing exactly what elements it has to contain.

A theme that ran throughout Van Ruskenveld’s talk was the importance of considering the social aspect of your team: a team functions more smoothly if members are encouraged to interact with one another and communicate freely. The project manager should set the tone for the group dynamics by being open, acknowledging receipt of messages, and responding promptly to team members. Most importantly, the project manager should be able to troubleshoot quickly and without pointing fingers. Once the project has wrapped up, the project manager should be sure to congratulate the team members and celebrate their contributions.

That said, Van Ruskenveld—and a few audience members—did acknowledge that some editors are just not suited to this kind of a project. Again, because educational publishing is so demanding, editors who can’t deliver on deadline should probably not be assigned to such a project, nor should editors who can’t work without a lot of guidance.

Rob Clements—Print on Demand for Editors

Rob Clements, now a sales manager at Ingram Content Group, began his publishing career at Regent College Publishing, where he eventually became the managing editor. There he helped revive out-of-print titles of Christian academic literature that had a small but enthusiastic readership by acquiring the rights to those books and printing small quantities. After hearing about Ingram’s Lightning Source print-on-demand service, he quickly became a big fan of the platform but expressed to Ingram his frustrations relating to the importation process of the print-on-demand copies. Ingram responded by offering him a job: Clements would be responsible for resolving some of the problems specific to Canadians who wanted to use Ingram’s services.

Lightning Source was founded in 1997 as a division of Ingram Content Group, and it provides digital and offset print services that help publishers sidestep the traditional supply chain, which is full of risk—risk that stock won’t arrive to a retailer in time to meet demand, risk that sell-in will be poor and that copies will sit in a warehouse, risk that sell-through will be poor and returns will have to be remaindered or pulped. Print-on-demand offers just-in-time delivery that not only eliminates this risk but also allows publishers to print in any market. Print-on-demand technology is well suited to Canadian publishing, which by definition is small-market publishing.

For editors, Clements said, opportunities lie in publishers’ and self-published authors’ desires to make reprint changes to their books. Since tweaks and adjustments are now so easy to implement—you need only wait until the next copy to be printed to see your changes made—editors will be called upon to manage and execute this process.

Anne Brennan—EAC Certification

Certification Steering Committee co-chair Anne Brennan spoke to the group about EAC’s certification program. The program was developed over the last two decades, Brennan explained, and is based on EAC’s Professional Editorial Standards. Candidates can write exams to become certified in proofreading, copy editing, stylistic editing, or structural editing—and if they pass all four, they earn the title of Certified Professional Editor. Brennan was quick to point out that not passing the certification tests doesn’t mean that you’re not a good editor, but becoming certified means that you’ve achieved the gold standard in editing.

The program’s advantages for freelancers are often touted: certification demonstrates an editor’s excellence to existing and potential clients, thus allowing that editor to gain confidence, bypass some requirements for certain contracts (e.g., some provincial government contracts allow certified editors to bid without submitting a portfolio), and maybe even raise his or her rates. But why should organizations and in-house editors care about certification? In-house editors who achieve certification are in a better position to ask for a raise or a promotion, Brennan noted, and if you’re looking for an editor, hiring someone who’s certified basically eliminates the need to test them. Opting for someone in the roster of certified editors means you’re hiring a professional who has proven that he or she can deliver excellent work. Organizations that encourage their employees to pursue certification are essentially publicly declaring their commitment to high editorial standards and clear, effective communication.

I added that I pursued certification while I was in house because I was responsible for giving editorial feedback to freelance and junior editors. Being certified gave me the confidence to go into those conversations confident and informed.

John Maxwell—Beyond Microsoft Word

Are we forever trapped in the clutches of Microsoft Word? John Maxwell explored some alternatives to the program in his talk, in which he argued that Word was really made for another time and isn’t well suited to the interactive editor–author relationship we can accommodate and have come to expect today. What are some of the other options out there?

Maxwell said right off the bat that he wouldn’t be talking about OpenOffice, which basically replicates the functionality of Microsoft Office and so isn’t an alternative to it at all. One class of true alternatives are word processors in the cloud, such as Google Docs or the ubiquitous Wysiwyg online editor on platforms like WordPress, although Maxwell did say that the next-generation HTML5 editors would likely overtake the latter very soon. Google Docs allows for collaborative authoring and editing—two people can simultaneously work on a document as long as they’re not making changes to the same paragraph—and you can see the revision history of a document, but it doesn’t really track the changes in a way that editors might want.

Another class of options includes simplified writing tools that allow you to focus on the words and not have to worry about document formatting; these include Scrivener and Editorially (in development). Part of this “back to the simple text editor” movement is the concept of markdown, a very lightweight markup language: gone are the intimidating tags that you see in XML; instead you use underscores to format text into italics, asterisks for boldface, etc.

For versioning and editorial workflow, Maxwell mentioned Git, a software tool that programmers use. It allows multiple people to edit a document at the same time and will flag editing conflicts when they arise. Although there’s a possibility it will creep into the mainstream, Maxwell thinks it will likely remain primarily a tool for the software development community. Other tools that allow versioning are wikis, which allow you to see a page’s revision history, and annotation tools that are used for peer review in scholarly publishing.

Finally, Maxwell gave us a demo of Poetica, which is being developed by a programmer and poet pair. Writers can upload or input plain text and ask for editorial input; an editor can then make suggestions, which appear as overlain editorial markup. The impressive demonstration elicited some oohs and aahs from the audience; as Maxwell later remarked to me, “You could feel the air pressure drop when everyone gasped.” He fielded several questions about what the software could and couldn’t do, and he suggested that people contact the developers for a chance play with it and send them comments about what kinds of features they’d like to see.

Iva Cheung—The Editorial Wiki: An indispensable communication and training tool

I’m glad I got to talk to the PubPro group about the remarkable usefulness of the editorial wiki that I built while I was editorial coordinator at D&M. I’ve covered all of the points in my talk in a previous post, so I won’t repeat them here, but I was so encouraged by the responsiveness of audience members to the idea. I hope some of them will decide to implement a wiki—or something like it—for their own organization, and I’m always available to consult on such a project if they go forward.

The sessions, each only forty minutes long, prompted incredibly interesting discussions that continued through the lunch break and at the afternoon’s networking tea, a completely unstructured session in which participants could grab a tea or coffee and keep the conversation going. We also invited pre-registered freelancers to join us for the tea, because we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to put editors and indexers in the same room as those who might be interested in hiring them.

We wrapped up the day with a brief closing session, where we gave away two books, Adrian Bullock’s Book Production, which went to Lara Smith, and International Paper’s Pocket Pal, which went to Anne Brennan.

All in all, PubPro was an eye-opening, inspiring day. (Check out the Storify that EAC-BC compiled.) A million thanks to our amazing crew of volunteers, without whom the day would not have gone nearly as smoothly: Maria Jose Balbontin, Megan Brand, Lara Kordic, Jesse Marchand, Dee Noble, Claire Preston, Michelle van der Merwe, and Grace Yaginuma. Thanks also to EAC-BC (especially professional development co-chairs Tina Robinson and Eva van Emden) and the Canadian Centre for Studies in Publishing (particularly Rowly Lorimer, Suzanne Norman, and John Maxwell), as well as our event sponsors—Friesens, Hemlock, Ingram, and West Coast Editorial Associates. I’m elated by the positive feedback I’ve received so far from participants. We may have to do something like this again!

Upcoming editing and publishing events

A lot is happening over this next week! I hope to be posting about all of these editing- and publishing-related events—though probably not all at once. Look for my summaries over the next few weeks.

1. Ethics for editors

Having been a member of the Editors’ Association of Canada’s code of ethics task force about a year and a half ago, I’m very interested to hear what Mary Schendlinger will have to say about ethical dimensions of editing at her EAC-BC seminar on Saturday. At our January EAC-BC meeting, David Harrison and some members of his audience had discussed whether a code of ethics was the only piece of the puzzle we were missing before we could consider editing a bona fide profession. Schendlinger will tackle such issues as how creative a piece of creative non-fiction can be and how best to navigate a situation in which an author has used racist or sexist language.

Registration for this seminar is closed, but if you can’t attend and have some ethics-related questions about editing, get in touch with me, and I’d be happy to take them to the session and bring back whatever answers I can get.

2. Plain language certification

Katherine McManus, director of the SFU Writing and Communications Program, will speak at our March EAC-BC meeting about SFU’s role in the project by IC Clear, the International Consortium for Clear Communication, to launch certification in clear communication and plain language. McManus will also give us a preview of the upcoming PLAIN 2013 conference in October, where IC Clear hopes to pilot its first course. Join us on Wednesday, March 20, at 7pm, at the YWCA on Hornby.

3. Robert R. Reid Award and Medal to Will Rueter

The Alcuin Society will present its Robert R. Reid Award and Medal for lifetime achievement in the book arts to William Rueter of Aliquando Press on Thursday, March 21. At the free event, which starts at 7:30pm at SFU Harbour Centre,  Rollin Milroy of Heavenly Monkey will interview Rueter and show illustrations of Rueter’s work.

The making of a profession: Why do editors need a national association?

David Harrison, secretary on the Editors’ Association of Canada’s national executive council, spoke at Wednesday’s EAC-BC meeting about the making of a profession. Are editors there yet? And can EAC be considered a true professional association? In addition to exploring the answers to those questions, Harrison also gave us an update on some of EAC’s initiatives at the national level.

What defines a professional?

Harrison was in a good position to speak to this issue, since he spent much of his career developing the program of professional studies for the Certified General Accountants Association. He explained that according to the Canada Revenue Agency, only select groups of people—doctors, lawyers, accountants, and the like—are recognized professionals. Harrison distilled the definition of a profession down to these attributes:

  1. Use of skills based on a body of knowledge
  2. Education and training in these skills
  3. Competency ensured by examinations
  4. Continuing professional development
  5. Code of ethics/conduct
  6. Self-governing body
  7. Identity, shared values (i.e., a community)
  8. Portability of designation

So where do editors sit? Over EAC’s thirty-four-year history, the organization has grown from a small group of freelancers to an association of more than 1,500 members, it has established a set of professional standards of editorial excellence, it has issued publications and regularly offered professional development opportunities, and it has developed a rigorous set of certification exams and created the designation of Certified Professional Editor, which is portable across the country. What we don’t have is a professional code of ethics. What’s more, a few pockets of editors have organized themselves outside of EAC’s umbrella—including the Professional Editors’ Association of Vancouver Island and the Manitoba Editors’ Association, and so in some ways the EAC isn’t a fully national professional association. Unlike most professional organizations, EAC doesn’t require its members to have a certain level of competency, nor does it have the power to restrict people without a certification designation from taking on certain work. Frances Peck pointed out, however, that you do need a certain number of years of experience before you can be a voting member of the organization.

Anne Brennan, in the audience, asked why EAC doesn’t have a code of ethics. I jumped in at that point, because I was on the code of ethics task force that explored the issue about a year and a half ago. The Professional Editorial Standards do include some ethical aspects—including being respectful of authors and fellow editors, adhering to deadlines, etc.—but if we established a code of ethics that we expected members to follow, then we’d have to enforce it, and as an organization we simply don’t have the policing power to do that. What we may do, in the next revision of the PES, is pull out those ethical elements and flesh them out into a more explicit list of ethical principles that people can choose to honour. (EAC does have a code of conduct that governs how members ought to behave with one another.)

What’s happening at the national level at EAC?

Volunteer relations

This is a high priority for the organization, which wants to make volunteering rewarding enough that it truly becomes one of the perks of membership. Ideas being explored include establishing a volunteer database that matches people to interests, as well as training, support, and recognition programs.

Training and professional development

Webinars are a proposed addition to the association’s professional development programs. These will allow members to attend training sessions no matter where they are, freeing the professional development chairs at each branch from having to reinvent the wheel.


An ebook edition of Editing Canadian English (3rd edition) is in the works.

l’agrément en français de l’ACR

The francophone members hope to develop a French version of certification.


A governance task force is redrafting association bylaws and procedures to meet new federal government legislation for not-for-profit organizations.

Membership survey

EAC will soon release the results of the 2012 membership survey, which will give us a clear picture of the membership’s demographics, as well as members’ typical fee structures and rates. Harrison couldn’t share much with us, but he did mention that EAC members most valued branch seminars, followed by the Online Directory of Editors, followed by EAC’s publications.


A couple of years ago, EAC was restructured such that the national executive council no longer had representatives from each branch or province. Although the executive council now includes a western regional director and an eastern regional director, I think that not having a B.C.-based representative at the national level last year made our branch feel as though it was in the dark about what was happening elsewhere within the organization. David Harrison’s involvement on the national council and his updates at our branch meeting have helped me, at least, feel a bit more engaged.