P-credit and e-credit

Following my entry last week about properly crediting all of a publication’s team members, Ric Day posted some very interesting information about the International Standard Name Identifier (ISNI), which would allow all of a publication’s contributors to be given credit within a digital work’s metadata, opening the door to a model such as the one Jeff Norton proposed in “Follow the editor.”

Whereas Day seems to imply that my suggestions and his are divergent, however, I see them as having exactly the same aim: ensuring that everyone who contributes to a published work be recognized, and in the process raising the profile of each of their respective professions. Credit is credit—whether it’s a line on a copyright page, in a masthead, or in a digital file’s metadata—and I do feel it’s worth pursuing.

I also don’t share his pessimism about publishers being unwilling to change their ways. First, all of my book-publishing clients credit the designer, and most credit the substantive editor, so clearly a precedent has been set. Those that don’t credit editors seem to be the exception. Most publishers don’t credit indexers, but I strongly suspect that it’s simply because they’ve never been asked; I see the problem as far from insurmountable.

Second, we’re in a key time of transition in Canadian publishing. Last year UBC Press, D&M, and Arsenal Pulp all celebrated their fortieth anniversary (was there something in Vancouver’s water in 1971?), and several other publishing houses were founded in the same period. Many have either completed or are in the midst of implementing succession plans, and coming into the industry are savvy, bright minds who understand that publishing must evolve in order to survive. This evolution includes adopting digital strategies and changing the way they interact with their human resources, both in house and freelance.

And with more and more authors wishing to self-publish, whether in print or digitally, we as publishing professionals are now in a unique position of being able to educate authors and define a new standard rather than having to resign ourselves to “this is how we’ve always done it.” Why not begin explicitly requesting a credit line (or an equivalent shoutout in the metadata) as part as your boilerplate freelance contract?

Credit where credit’s due

EAC-BC’s professional development co-chair, Eva van Emden, has posted some thoughts of her own about low-cost ways book and magazine publishers can help keep their freelancers happy, following my posts about the care and feeding of freelancers and maximizing your freelance editors’ marketing potential.

Her point about acknowledging a freelancer’s role with a credit line is an excellent one. Although most of my book publisher clients will credit at least the designer and substantive editor, and sometimes the copy editor, I’m well aware that doing so is not standard within the industry, and I think that, as minor a point as it seems, making it standard is something worth fighting for. Our work as editors should be invisible, but we shouldn’t be.

I appreciate that my editorial credits often pop up in Google Books results when people search for my name and that I can easily point prospective clients to Amazon’s Look Inside feature to show that I’ve worked on a particular book when my name appears on the copyright page. Not only does not including an editorial credit hurt my ability to promote myself, but it also hurts the profession. We aren’t doing ourselves any favours by essentially agreeing to pretend that editors don’t contribute to a book.

Although I understand why the proofreader may not be credited (or wish to be credited), particularly unsung are indexers, who are only very rarely acknowledged for their contributions. In a way, I can understand why—the tight timelines involved in indexing and the fact that the author and editor will modify the index often mean that the indexer does not have direct control over the quality of the final printed index, and since the index is occasionally added in at bluelines, having to modify the copyright page to add a credit would mean additional costs for the publisher. Mostly, however, I think it’s just inertia that has prevented crediting indexers from becoming standard. The indexer for Derek Hayes’s Historical Atlas of the North American Railroad (2010), Judith Anderson, was delighted to be asked if she wanted a credit, and Hayes, who designs all of his own books, has acknowledged the indexer on the copyright page of his atlases ever since. Associating the index with a name is especially important, I think, to show that a person is involved in creating the index—there’s a common misconception that indexes can be computer generated without human input, and, again, perpetuating that myth can only damage the indexing profession.

I’m not suggesting that we need some sort of overt advocacy campaign to change the way publishers operate (although organizations like the Editors’ Association of Canada and Indexing Society of Canada are in a good position to raise awareness of this issue), but if we all begin requesting credits when we work with our clients, we can begin organically to define a new standard for giving all team members their due.

Publishers: Are you maximizing the marketing capacity of your freelancers?

As I put together my post last week on the care and feeding of freelancers, I began to wonder why gestures like inviting freelancers to events and sending them awards news weren’t standard in the industry, and it struck me that most editorial and marketing departments tend to operate independently and too often don’t communicate with one another to refine their strategies. Although this division has its advantages—most editors and authors would be loath to have marketing weigh in on every aspect of a book’s content—it can also mean that publishers may be missing out on an easy way to get the word out about their lists.

In addition to pursuing traditional marketing channels, publishers should also consider taking some simple steps to fold their freelancers into their marketing plans. Why is this a good idea?

1) The editor of a book (or its designer or indexer) can be its most enthusiastic champion

In some ways, an endorsement carries more credibility coming from a freelancer, because, unlike the author or publisher, she has no vested interest in book sales and would be unlikely to go out of her way to promote a book she doesn’t believe in.

2) Everyone has a network*

Freelancers—introversion notwithstanding—are no different. Through social media they can effortlessly reach their contacts with news about their projects, and we’ve all seen how quickly and widely news can spread with social networks serving as a multiplier. Imagine a designer tweeting “Got my comp copy of History of Canadian Photography today. Printer did a beautiful job with the colours!” or an editor posting “Looking forward to next week’s launch of The Backcountry Cookbook at the Outdoor Store. I finally get to meet the author in person! The event starts at 7pm. Hope to see some of you there” and the early buzz that could generate.

What’s more, a freelancer’s likely to have likeminded contacts—people who enjoy the same types of activities, share the same interests, and read the same kinds of books—exactly the audience you want to reach.

3) Reaching out to freelancers helps foster a sense of teamwork and loyalty

And giving them a sense of ownership over their projects from beginning to end helps to encourage high standards and excellent work. Nurturing goodwill will help with freelancer retention, which will cut down on training and recruitment costs.

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So how do you get started?

1) Develop a system to feed freelancer contact information to marketing

The in-house contact for freelancers—whether that person’s called the managing editor, production editor, or production manager—will have a record of who worked on each stage of a book, maybe even in a convenient format like a spreadsheet. Simply make sure that this information is passed along to the person coordinating event, award, and review notices, whose only added task is adding three or four email addresses to a contact list.

2) Develop a concrete policy informing freelancers about what information they can share and when

The term “policy” may be overly formal here—a simple FAQ on an editorial information site (like a wiki) would do. Freelancers—particularly if they’ve never worked in house—may be reluctant to share news about their work on a project because they don’t know if the publisher or author would approve. Letting them know in general terms what you’d encourage them to share will not only free them to publicize the book, but it will also tacitly help them understand the bounds of confidentiality in the author–freelancer–publisher relationship.

You may also want to list some important dates before which information must be held back—for example, the manuscript delivery date, catalogue date, or the pub date. For example, specify when it’s okay for a freelance designer to post a cover image on his blog.

All this said, it may not be wise to expect your freelancers to do any marketing for you. The reason some freelancers work on contract is so that they don’t have to be involved in all aspects of a book’s production and promotion. Make it easy for them to unsubscribe from notifications or newsletters, and consider any free publicity you do get from them gravy.

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Ultimately, publishers have very little control over what their freelancers say or do; we can only hope that they will use good professional judgment and not post or tweet anything that will hurt the book, the author, or the publisher. Setting out these guidelines and improving communication with freelancers about marketing issues can only help your cause as publisher, though, and it carries a low risk with the potential for a high reward.

*Some of you will (rightly) point out the irony of my having neither a Facebook nor a Twitter account, but if you’re reading this, you’re part of my network!

Care and feeding of freelancers: a guide for book publishers

Those of us who have gone freelance understand that we’re not going to be coddled by our publisher clients. That said, if you’re a publisher, showing freelancers that you respect and value their work can go a long way to promoting a mutually beneficial long-term relationship. After all, although there seem to be freelancers everywhere who are trying to compete in this industry, anyone who’s ever had to build a stable of high-quality, reliable freelancers knows that it’s not so easy to find editors, indexers, and designers who will reliably uphold high standards for publishing’s relatively low rates. If you’ve gone through the trouble of testing and training a freelancer and are happy with his or her work, it’s in your best interest to retain that freelancer, and there are some very simple ways to show your appreciation for your freelancers’ contributions. None of these measures is hard to implement, and they all help foster freelancers’  sense of ownership of their projects and encourage them to continue delivering excellent work.

1. Send them a complimentary copy of the book

Nothing can replace the satisfaction of flipping through a finished book and seeing the fruits of one’s hard work. Sending a freelancer a complimentary copy should, in my opinion, be a given for trade publishers. Academic and technical publishers may not be used to sending their freelancers finished books, and the freelancer may not necessarily want them, but the offer should be made. The freelancer might want a copy for his or her portfolio, and, if you use that person again for a similar project (e.g., the next textbook in the same series), he or she will find having a reference copy on hand extremely helpful.

2. Invite them to launch events

Book launches and other book events give freelancers the rare opportunity to meet the author and in-house staff with whom they’ve probably exchanged dozens of emails. And let’s face it—along with the freedom and flexibility of freelancing comes isolation, and many freelancers would welcome an excuse to get out of the house and meet new people.

3. Send them award announcements, reviews, and other good news

Did an author send the company an effusive note after her book was published? Has the book an editor toiled over been shortlisted for an award? Did the Globe and Mail name it a best book of the year? Freelancers aren’t always plugged in to this kind of information, but they do always appreciate knowing about it.

4. Offer them feedback

Both positive and constructive negative feedback on their work can help both parties take steps towards perfecting a system that works well for everyone.

5. Apprise them of relevant company news

Reading news about staff changes and company restructuring in a publication like Quill and Quire may leave freelancers wondering how those changes will affect them. Be proactive in sharing the news, either by sending freelancers relevant press releases or including them on your mailing list for your external newsletter, if you have one.

6. Set up a freelancer account with your distributor so that they can qualify for discounts on books

I hope all freelancers in book publishing have had the opportunity to work on a book they loved so much they wished everyone they knew could have a copy of it. Setting up a freelancer account—akin to an author account—would let them order their own copies for a discounted rate. This idea may be a bit more blue sky than the others, as I haven’t seen it implemented anywhere, but in principle it’s not difficult. Through the freelancer account the publisher gets non-returnable sales without having to go through conventional bookseller channels, and with the discount your freelancers are more likely to buy copies for their friends and family—it’s a win-win.

Tell me how you really feel

When you work in house, you’re a member of a big extended family: the managers are the elders—parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles—and it’s easy to develop sibling-like or cousin-like relationships with your other coworkers. No family is without its dysfunction, of course, but even more fraught is the freelancer–client relationship, a dynamic that can feel an awful lot like dating: as a freelancer you try to make enough of an impression on the other party to be engaged on a project/date, and if it goes well, you hope they like you enough to contact you again. But if they never call, well, that can evoke the same kinds of thoughts and insecurities, whether you’re looking for love or looking for work.

One perk you enjoy by being in a family—something that may feel like no perk at all—is the scathing, critical honesty that only your kin could get away with dishing out. But “when a client stops calling,” said a friend of mine a few years ago when she first left an in-house position to go freelance, “you never know why. Maybe they just don’t have any work. Maybe your contact got fired. Or maybe you did something wrong and royally screwed up a project. The problem is that even if that’s what happened, you never get any feedback. How are you supposed to grow as an editor or to make sure you don’t make that mistake again?” Ann-Marie Metten echoed the frustration at last month’s EAC-BC meeting. When asked why she chose to organize her style sheets the way she did, she admitted she now understands why her method may not have been ideal, “but when you’re a freelancer,” she said, “you hand it in, and nobody ever tells you anything.”

Unfortunately, clients—and my focus is on publishers here, especially book publishers—aren’t in the business of helping their freelancers grow as editors, and they often don’t have the resources to do much training. They have certain expectations of their freelancers, and when those expectations aren’t met, they may decide it’s easier to move on to other contractors rather than invest the time to give feedback. So what should we do?

Freelancers

  • Be proactive about asking for feedback. When I submit a finished project or when I invoice, I’ll add a brief line thanking the client for the work and saying something like, “If there’s anything you’d like me to do differently for future projects, please don’t hesitate to let me know.” One of my current clients, after my first project with the organization, responded with a pages-long email listing everything I should have done. It stung, but at the same time, it was reassuring. My contact probably wouldn’t have taken the time to offer those suggestions if she weren’t planning on giving me more work.
  • Keep a running checklist based on your past mistakes. (And these don’t necessarily have to come through direct feedback. Sometimes we all know why a project/date went badly.) Eventually you’ll know what kinds of problems to look out for and what kinds of questions to ask new clients.
  • Try to keep learning and improving your skills. Editors’ Association of Canada seminars and workshops are always a good place to start, as are editing and publishing courses offered at schools across Canada and around the world.
  • Maintain a high standard of professionalism and ethical conduct. Most of the time publishers drop freelancers not because they missed a serial comma but because they missed an important deadline.
  • Finally, take it easy on yourself. (Remember that first dates are almost always awkward.) Sometimes the problem is related not to skill but to an incompatibility of personalities. Know that although the publishing community is small, industry-wide blacklists of editors aren’t as prevalent as you might fear. And clear, honest communication with the client will encourage reciprocity.

Publishers (and other clients)

  • Develop clear guidelines—not only about matters such as style but also, and perhaps more importantly, about your editorial process. Different houses have different expectations of where the freelancer’s role begins and ends, and a freelancer’s failure to adapt to your process can be one of your greatest sources of frustration. Are you expecting your editors to format the manuscripts in a certain way? Do you have a specific file-naming convention? Do you want your proofreaders to flag changed pages and use red ink? Say so in your guidelines, and make these easy to access and search (preferably on an online resource like a wiki). That said, expect new freelancers to ask questions that your documentation may already answer. When faced with a huge volume of new information, a project with a new client, and a looming deadline, freelancers may not always know what to prioritize.
  • If a freelancer messes up, tell him. Doing so will save you time and trouble if you use him again, and at the very least, it will make him aware that there’s a problem. If you start to notice a recurring problem with several of your freelancers, take a look at your guidelines to see if they need to be revised or rearranged to highlight specific issues.
  • If you can afford to, build in a postmortem as part of your publishing cycle, and make editorial feedback (for both freelancers and in-house editors) a component. This feedback doesn’t have to be long, and keep in mind that positive comments are just as important as the negative.
  • Finally, if you never intend to use a particular freelancer again, let her know (gently!). She wants to be barking up the wrong tree no more than you want to get an inquiry from her every few months for which you have to take time to compose a cryptic, evasive response.