PubPro 2014 recaps

The second annual PubPro unconference for managing editors and publication production professionals took place on Saturday, May 24. We had ten fantastic sessions in a day packed with peer-to-peer learning and networking. Volunteers Megan Brand, Lara Kordic, and Lana Okerlund took notes, and their summaries of the sessions have been appearing weekly throughout the summer on Editors Canada’s BC branch newsletter, West Coast Editor. The last of them was posted last week, so I thought I’d give a round-up of the links:

Many thanks to this year’s attendees, including our stellar volunteers!

Want to see PubPro 2015 happen? Get in touch with me or with Editors Canada’s BC branch professional development co-chairs. I’d be keen to organize this unconference again but want to make sure others share my enthusiasm.

House style and the zombie apocalypse: How a poorly thought-out style guide can cost you

Professional freelance editors will be familiar with a few industry-standard style manuals:

  • Chicago Manual of Style
  • Canadian Press Stylebook
  • Associated Press Stylebook
  • MLA Style Manual
  • APA Publication Manual

These references offer broad coverage of most style issues; they’ve been honed over several editions and generally serve editors well. Yet, the vast majority of organizations that regularly produce written communications and publications—including businesses, non-profits, government, as well as traditional publishers—will want to have their own house style. The key is to tame your house style before it takes on a life of its own.

Why do you need house style?

House style is important—for branding and identity, to accommodate audience expectations and ensure subject coverage, and for efficiency and workflow.

Branding and identity

As Barbara Wallraff of The Atlantic Monthly wrote in The Art of Making Magazines, “Even a bunch of highly skilled writers won’t do things consistently. And consistency strengthens the identity of a magazine.” The fact that you can see the word coöperation and know immediately that it comes from The New Yorker shows how powerful a style decision can be to a publication’s identity.

Even for non-publishers, house style ensures consistency of your brand: your organization’s name, its divisions and position titles, should always appear the same way. (For example, in Editors’ Association of Canada communications, you’ll see the organization called “EAC”—and never “the EAC.”)

Audience expectations and subject coverage

Industry-standard style manuals are fairly general and aren’t meant to cover specialized topics, so you may want your house style to fill in the gaps if you’re publishing in a particular genre. An example is cookbooks: publishers of cookbooks for the North American market have discovered that using only metric measurements and giving ingredients like flour in sugar in weight rather than in volume will basically doom the book to failure. These kinds of details would be helpful to have in a house style guide for a cookbook publisher.

Further, some specialized audiences have certain expectations; in some academic circles, for example, usage of particular words is restricted to specific situations, and capitalization and hyphenation can have carry special meaning. (For example, geologists will capitalize “Province,” “Zone,” and “Subzone” but not “subprovince.”)

Efficiency and workflow

Specifying a preference for one of several equally valid options helps establish your editorial authority and helps your editorial team work together. Nobody has to make the initial decision and communicate that to the rest of the team. You reap the most benefits if you use the same editors over and over—they’ll quickly adapt to your house style and use it automatically for your projects.

As for workflow, some house styles will also include special formatting and tagging instructions for editors to follow when they prepare a manuscript for typesetting. These elements are also important but, as I’ll argue later, should be separated out as process guidelines rather than style rules.

How do zombies fit in?

House style guides serve a legitimate role. The problem is that too many house styles are rife with zombie rules.

Zombie rules, a term coined by linguist Arnold Zwicky, refer to rules that may have made sense in the past but no longer apply. Some people like to make the distinction between zombies (which were alive at one point and are now dead) and bogeymen—which never made sense and were, in linguist Geoff Pullum’s words, “just mythical beings invented to frighten children.” For the sake of simplicity, I’m referring to all nonsense rules—previously alive or not—as zombies. Further, I’m extending Zwicky’s term beyond grammar and usage to all rules that should no longer rear their heads—because of changes in language, technology, or process. Other zombies creep into a house style guide because of personal preferences and pet peeves.

If you’re responsible for your organization’s house style, you can ultimately do whatever you want, but bear in mind that every zombie rule in your style guide is costing you money.

A case study of poor house style

Here’s an example from my own work: I’d sent an edit back to a journal publisher, and the in-house editor reviewed my work and gave me feedback, which I generally welcome. This time, however, the feedback was confounding. She wrote, “For future reference, please note that we use the serial comma before ‘and’ but not before ‘or.’”

Typically, when a client gives me feedback, I’ll thank them and let them know I’ll keep it in mind for the next project. This time I pushed back a little, explaining that I found that rule puzzling. After all, “and” and “or” are both coordinating conjunctions used in series, and usually, in most style manuals, we us a comma before both or before neither. I also told her that her style guide mentioned only “and”—and that she’d have to add the “or” rule if she really wanted to make the distinction clear. I ended by reiterating my confusion about the rule.

She responded, “It may not make sense, but it is our style.”

First, this is something I’d hope you’ll never have to say to your editors, who are likely to operate on logic and consistency. Second, think of all of the actions and interactions this exchange required. The in-house editor had to:

  • find my error,
  • fix my error,
  • correspond with me about my error (over several emails), and
  • update or clarify the style guide.

She would have to repeat most of these steps every time any other editor made the same mistake.

I had to:

  • correspond with the editor, and
  • add the item to my personal checklist.

Worst of all, I will be second-guessing myself about every rule and slowing myself down for every project I do with this client in the future. After all, if the style guide has this strange rule, what other ones does it have?

Each of these interactions cost the client time and money—and all for a rule that didn’t matter. It did nothing to strengthen the journal’s brand or communicate more clearly to readers, and it certainly didn’t lead to greater editorial efficiency.

Isn’t it a freelancer’s job, you might ask, to adapt to different styles? Absolutely—but rules that needlessly contradict industry standards are costly to both you and your editors. What’s more, freelancers are human. If your style guide is too long, we won’t necessarily remember everything when it comes time to work on your project. And any rule that makes editors stop or stumble will cost you money.

House style best practices

House style guides should supplement, not replace, industry-standard style manuals. Otherwise you’re not only reinventing the wheel; you’re essentially replacing a precision-engineered Formula 1 wheel with the wheel off a shopping cart. Because house style guides are supplements only, they should be no longer than five to ten pages—with the upper end reserved for extensive websites, magazines or series.

Further, house style should be audience focused in two ways:

  • the rules in your style guide should serve your readers, not editorial whims;
  • the guide itself should serve its readers—that is, your editors.

To make your house style the most efficient it can be:

  • regularly review your house style for validity (what I call house style audits)
  • separate policies and procedures
  • put it online
  • update to the latest edition of your industry-standard style manual

If you haven’t already chosen an industry-standard style manual to follow, that’s your first step. Next, you’ll want to audit your house style.

Audit house style

Gather your editorial team and at least one external consultant, maybe one of your regular freelancers, to critically evaluate each item in your house style guide. The external consultant will be able to come at the project with more objectivity and ask why the rules you have are there.

For each item in your house style, figure out whether it matches your chosen style manual.

If so:

  • If the rule is a common one, take it out of your house style guide; your editors will know to follow the rule in the style manual.
  • If the rule is uncommon, cite the location in the style manual where the rule appears (e.g., “We follow Chicago 8.82, which states that…”). Referring to the style manual will let you give an abbreviated version of the rule in your style guide.

If not, ask yourself why:

  • If you can’t figure out a reason the rule exists, take it out of your guide.
  • If there’s a legitimate reason for it, such as specific audience expectations, explain it. Your editors may not know your topic as well as you do.
  • If there’s an illegitimate reason for it (e.g., Diana in marketing hates hyphens), explain it. Not only will the clarification help editors remember the rule, but you’ll also know that when circumstances change (e.g., Diana takes a job at another company), you can immediately kill this zombie for good.

Basically, each item in your house style should be justifiable. When you review your house style, watch out in particular for places where your style guide contradicts itself, which can happen if it’s the product of several people’s input.

Finally, ask yourself if you can live with internal consistency alone. If you publish books, for example, each book will have its own style sheet, and readers are unlikely to compare the style of two of your books or care if they differ.

Good times to review your house style are:

  • when people leave,
  • when you introduce a new process, or
  • when you upgrade to a new version of software or update to a new edition of a reference.

Separate policies and procedures

Is your house style document just a style guide, or have you inadvertently canonized it? Some organizations put everything into their house style, from their mission statement to publishing and editorial philosophy. New editors may appreciate the background information, but, for the sake of efficiency, make sure you separate it from the reference material that the editors will have to access regularly. Having to read through preamble to find a rule slows editors down, and you’re paying for that time.

Also separate out style matters (e.g., serial comma or not) from process matters (e.g., formatting and tagging for workflow). Process will probably change much more frequently with changes in technology.

Put it online

I’ve evangelized extensively about the usefulness of editorial wikis, so I won’t do it again here, but I’m a firm believer in putting house style online so that you have one master copy that is

  • easy to revise,
  • easy to search, and
  • easy to make modular.

In a wiki, it’s simple to isolate the parts of your house style that apply just to copy editing, for example, so that you don’t overwhelm your copy editors with irrelevant details that only proofreaders would need to know.

Update your industry-standard references

Use the latest editions of style manuals and dictionaries as your references. Many freelancers now have online subscriptions to their references and have access to only the latest editions.

Taking the leap to a new reference may be an annoyance for in-house staff, but the aggravation is temporary. Freelance editors have to switch between styles all the time, so you’ll adapt in no time. To ease the transition, keep a running checklist of changes to run global searches for (or better yet, make a macro to automate the process).


A house style guide is an essential piece of a communication or publishing operation. Despite the quality of existing style manuals, I’d never suggest going without a house style. Writers and editors benefit from having some guidance and structure on projects, particularly if they’re new to your organization. Just be sure to keep your audience(s) in mind as you develop and maintain your house style guide so that you’re getting the most out of it.

PubPro 2014—Registration opens soon!

Registration opens this Friday for the second annual PubPro unconference for managing editors and publication production specialists, co-hosted by the Editors’ Association of Canada’s BC branch and SFU Publishing Workshops. This year, the event will take place on Saturday, May 24, beginning in room 1420 at Harbour Centre, and, like last year, it will consist of a day of participant-driven presentations and group discussions and a mid-afternoon networking tea.

People who do publication project management and production tend not to have the same kinds of professional development opportunities as professionals in other areas of publishing. PubPro is an attempt to close the gap and offers us the chance to learn from one another. Presenters and discussion leaders are invited to share their slides and notes, which are shared with all registered participants.

This year, in addition to sponsorship from Friesens, Scrivener CommunicationsTalk Science to Me, and West Coast Editorial Associates, the Association of Book Publishers of BC is offering a travel subsidy to ABPBC members outside the Lower Mainland who want to attend. Contact Margaret Reynolds if you’d like more details.

Freelancers who want to chat up a roomful of managing editors are invited to join us for the networking tea for a mere $5. (The networking tea is included for participants who’ve registered for the unconference itself.)

At PubPro 2013, participants presented about such diverse issues as interactive editing, print on demand, and editing platforms beyond Microsoft Word and held discussions about project management software and digital workflow tools. I was heartened to see that the event reached two populations that EAC traditionally has always aimed, but has sometimes struggled, to reach: in-house and senior editors. I’m hoping that participants who came out last year and witnessed the process will be more comfortable coming forward to give a presentation or lead a discussion this year.

For those of you who plan to be there and are thinking about possible presentation or discussion topics, here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • The care and feeding of freelancers: What are some simple ways to build solid relationships with your best freelance editors, indexers, and designers? What kind of training, if any, do you give your freelancers?
  • Testing, testing: Do you test your new freelancers? With a test you developed in house? Is it reliable? Would you trust a third-party test? Would you trust credentials resulting from a third-party test?
  • One house, many imprints: Whether you’re a book publisher that has recently merged with another or a periodical publisher that puts out several different titles, you have a lot to juggle. How have you integrated your workflows? How do you reconcile differences in style and process?
  • XML first: How close are traditional publishers to an XML-first workflow? Some communities, like the technical communicators, have been “single sourcing” for years. What can we learn from them?
  • Editorial archiving: After each project, you’re left with a large stack of documents—whether physical or virtual. What do you keep? What do you recycle? What do you shred? How do you store the documents for easy retrieval? What security, liability, and ethical issues do you need to consider? What is the historical value of a set of editorial archives?
  • Mentorship: Thirty years ago, when publishing programs weren’t nearly as prevalent as they are today, in-house mentorship was the foundation upon which editors built their careers. Does mentorship still have a role to play? What does it look like? What should it look like?
  • Indexing: Are your publications indexed? Should they be? How do you find quality indexers? What is your indexing workflow? Do you have your indexers do embedded indexing?

Please spread the word about this one-of-a-kind event. For more information about PubPro 2014, visit the event’s main page. Read a recap of last year’s event on EAC-BC’s newsletter, West Coast Editor, or my previous blog posts.

UPDATE (April 12, 2014): Registration is now open!

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!

PubPro 2013—Networking tea registration open

If you’re an editor, indexer, or designer and would like to meet a roomful of managing editors and publication production professionals who hire freelancers, join us for the networking tea portion of the PubPro 2013 unconference. Come for a coffee, tea, or light snack—as well as the opportunity to chat up and swap business cards with managing editors from across B.C.

  • When: Saturday, April 13, 2013, 2:45pm–3:35pm
  • Where: SFU Harbour Centre
  • How much: $5 for EAC members; $10 for non-members

Register now!

If you’re interested in the unconference itself, there’s still time. Registration closes April 5.

Book review: Book Production

More than any other role in publishing, production seems to be one in which people learn by doing. Whereas editors and designers have a wealth of  professional development courses and workshops at their disposal, those who shepherd publications through the production process don’t have as many options for structured learning. Some design courses touch on how to liaise with commercial printers, but most of the managing editors and production managers I know started off in either editorial or design and fell into the rather critical role of project management without specific project management training.

The lack of formal training hasn’t been particularly detrimental to those in production, who are generally tapped for those jobs because they’re already super organized and are adept at problem solving. What courses and workshops also offer beyond just their content, though, is a tribal culture, where you can learn from more experienced peers through an oral history of sorts. When that aspect is missing in your career, it can be pretty easy to feel isolated.

Enter Adrian Bullock, a publishing veteran who has written Book Production (published by Routledge), a lucid and comprehensive guide to everything from project management and prepress to printing, binding, and getting stock into the warehouse. Written in crystal clear, plain English, this book offers practical advice about how best to balance the needs of a book’s various stakeholders, recognizing that in the real world, the goal of publication production management is to reach an acceptable compromise between speed, quality, and cost. Eschewing the sentimentality that publishing-related books often carry—about the industry’s contributions to culture, the beauty of books as artifacts, etc.—Bullock’s book is grounded in the best practices of making the business of publishing viable:

The big difference between a publishing project and, say, building a school, is that publishing projects are usually carried out in a highly competitive, commercial environment, where there is an unremitting drive to produce new products and a premium on bringing them to market as speedily and cheaply as possible, working in the knowledge that someone else might get there before you, and produce a better or cheaper project into the bargain.

In this kind of environment time becomes speed, money becomes price, and quality can become relative. Skills, equipment and project logic are all co-ordinated to make the project move faster and cost less than one’s competitors can. (p. 7)

One of the book’s major strengths is the way in which it formalizes project management principles in a publishing context. Bullock emphasizes the need for a well-defined project management cycle that incorporates a clearly articulated plan, implementation, and also a post-mortem phase:

It is precisely because life in production can be so relentlessly hectic and busy, and there is a tendency to move without thinking from one project to another, that reflection plays such a vital part in project management, and why reflection should be formalized to become standard procedure at the end of a project, giving everyone involved a chance to discuss what they think went well, what didn’t go well and how things can be done better the next time. Reflections should take no longer than 20–30 minutes, especially if project team members know that it is standard, and come to the meeting prepared. (p. 76)

Bullock is clear about the many demands of a job in book production. Above all, however, a project manager must be a good communicator:

Communication is a vital tool in managing the project: its value cannot be overstated. Poor quality communication is one of the commonest causes of unsuccessful projects… (p. 21)

Communication starts with the project definition and continues right through to completion. The more that people directly, and indirectly, involved in the project know about it, the better. Telling people – in-house staff, suppliers and other stakeholders, what is expected and what is happening, helps to manage expectations and eliminates last-minute surprises. (p. 22)

A sound project definition notwithstanding, the number of variables in a project mean that something will likely go wrong somewhere. Adrian Bullock offers this level-headed advice:

It’s only when the problem has been solved and the project is moving forward again – and only then – that you can start to work out what went wrong, how it went wrong, whose fault it is, how to prevent it recurring, and the amount of compensation you could reasonably expect, if the supplier is at fault. Remember that the person whose fault it might be could well be the person most able to sort out the problem. (p. 73)

Whereas Book Production‘s first section deals with managing editorial and design, its second half looks at physical production. Bullock gives a fascinating overview of the raw materials that go into a book—how paper is made, what kinds of inks are used for printing and glue for binding, etc.—and offers tips about selecting an appropriate commercial printer. Throughout, he reminds readers to be mindful of environmental issues, from considering recycled paper options to keeping track of the number of book miles that stock has to travel.

With the increased awareness of environmental and green issues, you would want to know how green your printer is in terms of how it manages its impact on the environment. This could be through an accredited environmental management system (EMS), which has been certified to a recognized standard such as ISO 14001. Or it could be that the printer has reduced its emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from printing, uses recycled paper, is FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified and has policies for waste recycling and energy reduction. (p. 65)

Bullock mentions several other standards and certification programs that production managers should be aware of, many of which can help streamline workflow. For example, ISO 9001 certification means that a printer has excellent quality management systems in place, making it unnecessary, some publishers believe, to proof printer’s proofs; using the International Color Consortium colour management system can eliminate the need for colour correction; and

JDF [Job Definition Format] is an XML-based industry standard, which is being developed by the international consortium CIP4 (the International Co-operation for the Integration of Processes in Prepress, Press and Postpress Organization). According to the CIP4 website, JDF:

  • ‘is designed to streamline information exchange between different applications and systems
  • is intended to enable the entire industry, including media, design, graphic arts, on-demand and e-commerce companies, to implement and work with individual workflow solutions
  • will allow integration of heterogenous products from diverse vendors to create seamless workflow solutions.’ (p. 98)

This last example shows that although Book Production is focused mainly on traditional print books, it also gives up-to-date information about XML and other digital workflows, as well as print-on-demand and short-run printing technologies. This book is packed with case studies that show the reader what kinds of scenarios can arise in book production and how best to implement the ideas that Bullock has laid out in the text. Those new to book production will appreciate this book’s clarity and thoroughness. Seasoned production managers will find affirmation in having their practices validated and reinforced, and they may even learn about some recent developments that might make their jobs a lot easier.


Rather than give this book away at an upcoming EAC-BC meeting, as I’ve done with the other books I’ve reviewed, I’ll be offering my copy of Book Production as a door prize to participants of the upcoming PubPro 2013 professional development event. Register now!

PubPro 2013—February/March update

I just sent this note out to my PubPro 2013 mailing list, and I thought I’d post it here, too. Apologies to subscribers who are getting this twice.

Registration for PubPro 2013 is now open!

You can register here.

Thanks to our generous sponsors—FriesensHemlockIngram, and the West Coast Editorial Associates—we’re able to book an additional room for sessions, rent projection equipment for all rooms, feed our volunteers lunch, and drop our event fees. Register soon to take advantage of the early-bird rates: $40 for EAC members and $50 for non-members. After March 22, 2013, rates increase to $55 for members and $65 for non-members. Fees include lunch.

Please help us out by spreading the word to your colleagues and associates. We want to get as many managing editors and production specialists—and anyone who plays those roles, whatever their titles—out to this event as possible. (The event’s official hashtag is #PubPro2013.)

Win books!

When you check in at PubPro 2013, be sure to enter your business card into our draw. At the closing session, we’ll be giving away Adrian Bullock’s Book Production, just published in 2012, and the latest edition of International Paper’s Pocket Pal.

Switching gears

This message will be the last I send out to this mailing list. (My previous PubPro email updates, including information about presenting or leading discussions at the event, are archived here, and general information can be found on our main event page.) If you register, you’ll receive further correspondence about the event from EAC-BC’s professional development team, including details about how to get there and what you might want to bring with you. That said, if you have any questions, comments, or concerns about PubPro 2013, please don’t hesitate to email me.

I hope to see you on April 13!

PubPro 2013—January update

I just sent this note out to my PubPro 2013 mailing list, and I thought I’d post it here, too. Apologies to subscribers who are getting this twice.

I hope you’ve all had a good start to 2013. Some exciting developments on the PubPro front: Ingram and Friesens have come forward as event sponsors, meaning we’ll get to feed our volunteers lunch and book an additional room for sessions. We’re on the constant lookout for more help, though, so if you have any ideas for sponsors we could approach, please let me know. The more we can get on board, the lower your event fees will be.

With our unconference less than three months away, I thought I’d devote this month’s update to FAQs about presenting.

Do I have to present?

Nope—only if you want to.

All right, I want to. Should I give a presentation or lead a discussion?

Presentations are better suited to disseminating expert knowledge…

Say you’ve developed a great system for archiving all of your royalty-free images. By allowing all of your designers to search the database, you’ve cut down on duplicate payments for identical images and have been able to use the same image for multiple projects, saving an estimated $2,000 a year. You want to tell others how you created the system and give a demo of how it works.

… whereas discussion groups are better for ascertaining how others approach a particular problem that you face.

You’re thinking of creating a proofreading test for new freelancers, but you’re not sure if it’s worth it or how to write or administer such a test. You want to see whether and how others test their freelancers and what they’ve learned from their experiences.

That said, the sessions can take on any format and be as interactive as you wish. Maybe you want to give a brief presentation to set the tone and offer context but then open it up to a discussion. Go for it—there are no rules.

What about the time limit?

Okay, there is one rule. We’d like to accommodate all speakers and keep the event on schedule, so please stick to the forty-minute time limit, including Q&A. Each room will have a volunteer time keeper who will give the speaker a five-minute warning and a one-minute warning.

Do I have to make slides if I’m giving a presentation?

Nope—only if you think they’ll help. If you do make slides, bring them on a USB flash drive. They should be in PDF or PowerPoint format. Keep a backup somewhere in your email or in the cloud.

What happens on the day of?

Arrive early and give a one-minute pitch of your presentation or discussion to the crowd at the opening session. Based on how participants respond, we’ll add your topic to the schedule. Once the schedule is set, participants can attend any sessions they choose.

What’s with this whole voting thing? I don’t want to spend time putting together a presentation if I’m not going to be able to give it.

We’ll have plenty of slots to accommodate presentations; voting is mainly for room assignments, since the rooms that we’ve reserved accommodate different numbers of people.

One issue we may run into is that multiple people may wish to present about the same thing. In that case, it’s up to you to decide whether you’d like to go ahead with your presentation. It’s not necessarily a bad thing to have several sessions on the same topic, because it gives participants an alternative if they want to attend a different session at the same time as one of them.

Note, however, that if several people pitch the same discussion topic, we may consolidate those into a single session.

What if there are two sessions I want to attend at the same time?

Shortly after the event we’ll be asking all presenters to send us their notes and slides. We’ll package them up in a folder and share that with all event participants. It may not be the same as being there for the actual session, but it’s the next best thing.

Will there be WiFi?

Yes! So it’ll be possible to demonstrate online tools, live-tweet tips you’ve picked up, etc.


That’s it from me for now. If you have any further questions about presenting or about the event in general, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. You can find more information about PubPro 2013 on our main event page.

PubPro 2013—December update

I just sent this note out to my PubPro 2013 mailing list, and I thought I’d post it here, too. Apologies to subscribers who are getting this twice.

PubPro 2013 is taking shape! We’ve got a schedule nailed down and are now redoubling our efforts to try to reach as many B.C.-area managing editors and publication production specialists as possible. We’re also on the lookout for sponsors to help keep costs down for all participants.


Here’s how the day will look:

9:15–9:30 Check-in and coffee
9:30–10:15 Opening remarks
Speakers pitch topics, participants vote, and program is set
10:20–11:00 Sessions
11:05–11:45 Sessions
11:50–12:30 Sessions
12:30–1:10 Lunch
1:15–1:55 Sessions
2:00–2:40 Sessions
2:45–3:35 Networking tea*
3:40–4:00 Event debriefing and closing remarks
4:00–4:30 Chair yoga**

*What’s the networking tea?

The networking tea is a special session that allows you to continue your conversations with your colleagues outside the confines of a formal session, and it also puts you in the same room as some of the professionals you might want to hire. Pre-registered freelancers will join us all for a tea or coffee and will get an opportunity to chat and swap business cards with you.

**And chair yoga?

Unwind at the end of the day with a relaxing but invigorating session of yoga led by editor and yoga instructor Irene Zafiris.

Boosting attendance

Response to our initial outreach efforts has been enthusiastic and encouraging. It’s looking as though we’ll have representatives from academic publishers, course developers, custom publishers, self-publishers, educational publishers, journals, magazines, book packagers, policy research institutes, trade book publishers, technical publishers, and more. Still, we’re asking for your help in spreading the word about the event, because the more people we can get out to this unconference, the more interesting it’ll be. We’d be so grateful if you’d let your network know about PubPro (bearing in mind that not everyone who does managing editor–type stuff is called a managing editor). The event’s official hashtag is #PubPro2013.


To help keep event fees low, we’re reaching out to sponsors for $150 contributions. If you have any suggestions for potential sponsors—businesses or other organizations that might like to reach publication production professionals from across B.C.—please let us know. EAC-BC’s professional development co-chairs Tina Robinson and Eva van Emden have set up a special Gifttool page to make contributing easy. That page also details what we’re offering in return for the support and what the contribution would allow us to do.

That’s it from me for now. I hope you all have a wonderful holiday season and great start to 2013. If you have any questions about PubPro, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.