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!