Graphic novels and comics: creation, editing, and promotion (Editors Canada 2016)

Once relegated to nerdy subculturedom, comics have finally come to be accepted as a legitimate literary and art form, said Jeff Burgess, who coordinates continuing studies visual arts at Langara College. Tintin expert Benoît Peeters’s appointment as Comics Professor at Lancaster University shows a growing academic commitment to studying comic book art, and the vibrant comics landscape has birthed such collaborations as Angel Catbird, co-created by Margaret Atwood and Johnnie Christmas.

At the Editors Canada conference, Burgess moderated a panel featuring Jeff Ellis, Jonathon Dalton, and Robin Thompson, all artists in the genre and instructors in Langara’s Graphic Novels and Comix certificate program. Continue reading “Graphic novels and comics: creation, editing, and promotion (Editors Canada 2016)”

Open for collaboration—panel discussion (Open Access Week)

The second half of the Open for Collaboration event (I summarized the first half earlier) was intended as a panel discussion—but was more like five jam-packed mini-presentations—about not only open access but also open education and open source software. The theme of the evening was, “Is it time for Canada to implement a unified open strategy for higher education?”

Juan Pablo Alperin, Publishing @ SFU and Public Knowledge Project (PKP)

Juan Pablo Alperin is a faculty member in the Canadian Institute for Studies in Publishing and has worked with PKP for almost ten years.

“Open access to knowledge doesn’t just happen,” said Alperin. “And we need to do more. Open access is only one piece of the puzzle. We have to teach openness—to get students to understand what openness is—and we have to teach the practice of openness.” These students will become future faculty who are completely comfortable in openness and will teach it to the next generation.

Alperin’s guide to teaching openness in five easy steps:

  1. Make all the readings open access.
  2. Have students annotate them openly. Using a tool like hypothes.is, students can comment on an article and ask each other questions online.
  3. Have students publish all their work. Alperin asks his students to get into the habit of making their scholarly work public by publishing their work anywhere online, whether it’s on a blogging platform like Blogger or WordPress, the course website, or an open-access post-publication journal like The Winnower.
  4. Give students feedback through open annotation.
  5. Have students openly review each other.

An optional sixth step is, if your teaching involves data, to use open data.

“The number of students that would have done this on their own? Probably zero,” said Alperin. But the number of students who have resisted these steps is also zero. “Students don’t have a problem with doing this,” said Alperin. “Just get them into the habit of putting their knowledge out there.”

David Ascher, VP of Product for the Mozilla Foundation

David Ascher has been at Mozilla for seven years, where he manages software projects (other than Firefox) and tries to make them as widely available as possible. Mozilla is a global nonprofit with a thousand employees and tens of thousands of volunteers, and its mission is to promote an open internet. “Mozilla has a policy of open by default,” said Ascher. Most of its programs are open for participation and critique. “We have an imperfect view of the world,” he said. “And open drives many decision-making processes and lets the world tell us why we’re wrong. Open keeps us honest.” Part of Mozilla’s work involves pushing for open standards and open policies.

One of its projects most relevant to open access are Open Badges, a micro-credentialing system that allows people to earn badges for what they learn and display these badges online as a way to show their set of skills. Any organization can use the free software and open technical standard to create and issue badges to people who have learned from them. The ever-growing list of organizations issuing badges is diverse and includes 3d GameLab, the Dallas Museum of Art, NASA, and NOAA Planet Stewards, among many others. “A lot of good work went into that,” said Ascher, referring to the Open Badges initiative. “It pushes students to learn throughout their lives, and there’s a rich community built around promoting badges.”

“For an institution, teacher, and students who get open, it can work beautifully, collaboratively,” said Ascher. “If it’s forced through because of policy, the hierarchy of badge systems reflects the hierarchy of the institution’s power structure.”

Ascher touched on the Open Source movement, which he said “got stuck on licensing and software distribution as a topic and lost track of the social, societal impact of that work.” Powerful open source software is behind a lot of what tech giants like IBM and Google have developed. These companies “follow the letter of the law,” said Ascher, “but the reality is that people don’t interact with open source software. They interact with online products and services.”

“IBM embraced open source and used it strategically,” said Ascher. Meanwhile, players in the Open Source movement have spent a lot of time fighting one another and have missed opportunities to advance the movement’s core goals.

Clint Lalonde, senior manager of open education at BCcampus

Since 2013 Clint Lalonde has been with BCcampus, which manages the Open Textbook Project on behalf of the provincial government. Open textbooks are a subset of open educational resources (OERs), which are teaching resources with Creative Commons licensing and can be freely copied, shared, modified, and reused.

However, “we can’t assume that there’s a common understanding of what it means to be open,” said Lalonde. For example, a lot of MOOCs (massive open online courses)—such as those at Coursera—have open registration but are not openly licensed. There are still copyright restrictions on the material used in those courses.

Fourteen countries around the world have made commitments to OER, said Lalonde, with the view that “publicly funded resources should be openly licensed resources. We paid for something—we should make that something as widely used as possible.”

What complicates developing a unified open strategy is that whereas in other countries, post-secondary education is considered a national responsibility, in Canada that responsibility lies with the provinces. A promising step forward is that BC, Alberta, and Saskatchewan have signed a memorandum of understanding for sharing OER.

Open textbooks have thus far saved BC students more than $1 million over the past two years. “Students using OER are doing as well, maybe even better, than students using textbooks from publishers. It would be nice to make OER the default, not the exception.:

Inba Kehoe, Copyright Officer and Scholarly Communication Librarian at University of Victoria Libraries

Inba Kehoe helped create the BCOER Librarians group, which began in 2013 with the aim of building a community of practice to address the question, “Why not open?” The group shared knowledge, participated in hackfests, created guides and posters, and developed a rubric for librarians reviewing OER resources. All of the discussions are open and take place online through forums such as wikis.

At the national level, the Canadian Association of Research Libraries is pushing toward sustainable scholarly publishing, and within the organization there’s a working group dedicated to open access issues.

Internationally, the SHERPA/RoMEO database at the University of Nottingham stores publishers’ policies about self-archiving and open-access repositories. Librarians can add to the database by looking into publishers’ policies and providing the evidence to RoMEO. “Canadian publishers are not well represented,” said Kehoe. “Let’s get our publishers’ policies into this database.”

By checking the member of the Canadian Association of Learned Journals against the list of journals in the RoMEO database, Kehoe and her collaborators hope to figure out which ones are missing and start collecting the data to fill in the holes.

Back at her home institution, Kehoe oversees the Journal Publishing Service, which uses Open Journal Systems to publish twenty-eight open-access journals. “Three-quarters of them are student journals,” said Kehoe. “Students learn the publishing process and learn about open access.” Kehoe also handles faculty requests to publish research and teaching resources, as well as open access books. “We work with the bookstore, which has a print-on-demand machine,” said Kehoe. “And I ask for research funds for the editorial work and design,” which usually runs from about $2,500 to $3,000.

Rosemary (Rosie) Redfield, UBC Department of Zoology

Since 2006, Rosie Redfield has run the RRResearch blog, an open science blog. She proposed a few top-down efforts that might help openness:

1. Pressure faculty to produce open resources wherever possible

“We need policies in place to make faculty justify it if they want to work with a publisher,” said Redfield.

2. Set top-down expectations that researchers will use OER by default

“There’s inertia among faculty about using open textbooks. Put in top-down policies to make faculty explain why” they decide to use non-OA textbooks. “The material on OpenStax is completely free, and it’s just as good.”

3. Support faculty when they have copyright issues with open-access publications

Open-access publishing requires authors to accept a CC BY licence, which means that anyone can use the material, even for commercial purposes, as long as the original author is credited. “Unscrupulous publishers like Apple Academic Press will take open articles, repackage them in a glossy book, and sell the book for more than $100 online. The people who wrote the articles have no idea this is being done,” said Redfield. Often the original publication is not mentioned. “To the scientific community, it looks like the researcher is trying to self-plagiarize. Authors can’t take these presses to court. Journals don’t own copyright so can’t take them to court. We need centralized support to defend researchers’ interests when we use OA.”

4. Encourage faculty to assign coursework that goes behind the classroom

Make open access the expectation for students, not the exception. Get students used to having their work be open. Whether the work involves adding pages to Wikipedia or speaking at an Ignite event, which archives its five-minute talks on YouTube, “set an expectation that the work that students are doing for their grade are producing benefits outside the classroom.”

5. Help libraries escape the clutches of journal publishers.

Two major barriers to OA are that “big academic publishers combine strong and weak journals into exorbitantly priced bundles, and researchers protest when they lose free access to their favourite (often obscure) journal.” A possible solution is a nationwide program that gives all faculty and students at Canadian institutions free access to all paywalled journal articles.

Communication Convergence 2015

Building on last year’s inaugural event, Cheryl Stephens and Kate Harrison Whiteside put together a full day of sessions at Communication Convergence 2015, most of them looking at the ways technology has affected writing, publishing, and other means of communication.

Fawn Mulcahy—How has technology changed how we communicate?

Fawn Mulcahy has more than twenty years of public relations experience and has taught PR at Langara College and Simon Fraser University. At Communication Convergence she talked about how technology has changed the way we communicate and why we need to do our best to keep up.

Her advice about language and communication isn’t based on linguistics—“I’m not a linguist!” she disclaimed—but is informed by her interactions with her students and her seventeen-year-old step-daughter. Millennials will make up 44% of the workforce by 2020, and their communication is all digital. We have to get comfortable working in that space and learn the language of shortcuts like acronyms, emoticons, and emojis so that we can all work effectively with one another.

Technology is how we tell our stories, and we’re relying more and more on imagery, which can instantaneously and effortlessly communicate emotion and attitude. In presentations, images are key to avoiding “death by PowerPoint”: “If you have slides of black-and-white text in bullet points, you’ll lose them.”

More people have mobile phones than desktop computers, and youth have abandoned email in favour of communicating through their phones and on social media, which encourages all of us to keep our communications brief, simple, and short. That said, “we still need to honour communication,” said Mulcahy. Exclamation marks, all caps, and smiley faces have no place in a professional email, and we still have to differentiate between language used in texting and standard written English. People accustomed to writing for the 110 to 150 million blogs out there sometimes don’t understand why they can’t keep the same voice for everything they write.

When asked how technology has affected her teaching, Mulcahy admitted that it has shortened attention spans. “It’s tempting on computers to multitask,” she said. “An average person checks their phones 150 times a day—it’s a tic you can’t control.”

As an instructor, “You feel like a dancing bear—you have to entertain them to keep them listening and engaged.” In every classroom, “60 percent will think you’re an idiot, 20 percent will love you, and 20 percent are on the fence. You’re trying to win over that 20 percent.”

“Teach to one person,” Mulcahy advised. “Find your friend in the room. You can’t please everybody.”

How has technology changed relationships between writer, editor, and publisher? (panel discussion)

Editor, writer, and instructor Frances Peck moderated a discussion between Roberta Rich, author of The Harem Midwife and The Midwife of Venice and Paula Ayer, managing editor at Annick Press’s Vancouver office, about how technology has changed the publishing landscape.

“The biggest shift is that everything is electronic,” said Ayer. “Editors no longer work on paper proofs. And everything is expected faster; I think we’re offloading more onto freelancers because there’s less and less time to do things in house. Editors become surrogates for the publishing house.”

Rich, in contrast, has stuck to hard copy. “As you can deduce from all of this,” she joked, “I really hate change.” Her first novel was edited in three rounds, but her most recent book was edited in two. “Part of it was that I learned from the mistakes I made in my first two books,” she said, explaining that her first draft was probably a little more polished. “But I’m very fortunate to have been published in Canada first, because in the U.S., publishing houses don’t have that kind of patience—to do a third pass.” U.S. publishers, said Rich, don’t want a fixer-upper. They want a finished product. “In order to get a publisher to read it at all…it has to be almost perfect. You pay for your own editor.”

Rich recommends Booming Ground, part of UBC’s non-credit creative writing program, which offers editing and manuscript evaluations for up to 120 pages. “Send in 60 pages a month, and they send you feedback. It’s very economical. For $500 you get a lot of work and very detailed criticism.”

Ayer warned about unscrupulous businesses exploiting people who want to get published. To counter some of the volatility, Ayer said, Annick relies on a core group of freelancers who know the brand and understand what kinds of books they publish. But she’s constantly feeling pressure to get projects done more quickly: “We need sales materials sooner, so we need a clear idea of the book and an illustrator very early on.”

Peck said that editor Barbara Pulling has also mentioned the contraction in time for each project and the pressure to turn then around more quickly. She used to have six months to go back and forth with the author to develop ideas, and now she doesn’t have that luxury. “As a reader,” said Peck, “I pick up books that feel that they’ve been rushed through and that have substantive issues.”

“Has there been a change in readership?” Peck asked the Ayer and Rich. “Are needs, expectations, and attention spans changing?”

Rich said, “I have a pretty clear idea of my readership—they’re primarily female. Fiction readers are generally female, between ages twenty and sixty. Unfortunately, I’ve been seeing fewer young readers and writers at events like writers’ festivals and book clubs.”

“Our market,” said Ayer, “is mostly schools and libraries, so we’re affected more by budget cuts.” And Annick’s books have changed: “We use more sidebars, more illustrations. We’ve redone books in graphic novel style to make them more visual. It doesn’t mean they’re dumbed down. We’re giving readers short bursts of information. We want it to be interesting and engaging.”

“People used to read the first few pages at a bookstore,” said Rich. “Now we have to hook the reader in the first couple of paragraphs.”

“The title and cover have to get people’s attention right away,” said Ayer.

“Let’s turn our conversation back to relationships,” said Peck. “Has technology made relationships easier or harder? Do you get to have any face-to-face interaction?”

Rich said that she talks to her editor on the phone, but whenever she’s in Toronto, her editor takes her out for lunch. “I have an old-fashioned relationship with my editor,” she said.

Ayer said, “We work with people from everywhere—New Zealand, Poland, Japan. There’s usually no chance for face-to-face communication. If they’re in town, we try to make time for a face-to-face meeting. Freelancers are usually only dealt with via email, but some are close enough to be friends on Facebook.” It’s tempting to resist face-to-face meetings from a time-management point of view, she said, but they can create a stronger relationship.

“What trends do you see on the horizon?” asked Peck.

“Publishers will be less willing to take risks and will try to take only sure bets,” said Ayer. “Publishers have become slaves to numbers,” said Rich. “They’re very numbers driven.”

“Publishers used to have the patience to develop a writer, but when a small house develops writers, often they just go to bigger houses,” said Ayer.

Peck noted that some authors are now intentionally going to smaller publishers because they know they’ll get personal attention. Some decide to self-publish. “Will there be a resurgence of smaller presses, or will they change their roles?

“Self-publishing is good for people who have a built-in audience,” said Ayer. “There’s a bit of a mentality that publishers and record labels will mess with your creative vision. But often things get better with other people’s input.”

Blake Desaulniers—We are all publishers now in the era of internet distribution and multimedia platforms

Blake Desaulniers is a writer, photographer, videographer, and content marketing expert who worked in magazines in the 1980s and saw the transition from wax paste-up to fully digital production. Today, anyone can be a publisher—but if you choose to go that route, know what you’re getting into and have a clear idea of what you’re trying to do with your publication.

“What do we expect from our audience?” said Desaulniers. “We want them to buy our product, buy into our ideas. Set goals to understand the nature of engagement you expect from your audience. Often people don’t look that far. They’re good at packaging and distributing, but once it’s out there, they don’t think about it.”

You should also have a clear concept of your publication so that you can develop a set of keywords. “The internet is Google,” said Desaulniers. “If you want to get to your audience, you’ve got to be good with Google. Understand from the outset what your keywords are going to be. They should inform every aspect of your publishing venture. In a sense, it’s branding.”

Next, look at audience development, which may be the hardest part of all. Subscriptions are expensive and hard to manage. “Getting a subscriber audience is the most difficult aspect of the game, whether you’re an individual or a large-scale commercial publisher.”

So what can we do to develop an audience? “Build an audience using social media,” said Desaulniers. Use personas—representations, including goals and behaviours, of who you want or expect your audience to be—to build your communication efforts. Make sure you develop your personas based on real data, though, not just speculation.

Marketing automation (like the kind services like HubSpot can provide) requires a large budget—about $25,000 a year—to manage, but a good system can provide everything you need to automate distribution of your content, including newsletters, emails, and social media. Most importantly, it provides granular tracking of anything anyone does. “People used to say, ’50 percent of my advertising works—I just don’t know which 50 percent.’ This kind of tracking ends that uncertainty.”

“Audience engagement is more important than number of views,” said Desaulniers, and it’s important to have reliable metrics of engagement for your content. Knowing what your readers are actually using means “You’re customizing information, not wasting resources on things people aren’t interested in. Turn your users into your sales force.”

***

I’ll be writing up Cheryl Stephens’s session about the hidden intricacies of the modern reading audience in a separate post. To volunteer for or contribute to future Communication Convergence events, get in touch with Kate Whiteside.

Self-publishing and the oft-neglected index

For some of my editorial colleagues, working with self-publishers is their bread and butter. Many of these editors become de facto project managers, capably shepherding each book through its editorial and production phases—and sometimes even helping with sales and marketing campaigns. Yet, they often forget about the index, even though it can help an author’s work gain credibility and longevity.

I’ve worked on a handful of self-published projects managed by others. In one, the designer asked the author if he wanted an index, but by that point, he didn’t have room in his schedule to add one. In another project, a corporate history, the client couldn’t afford to add pages at the proofreading stage but may have been able to make it work had an index been brought up earlier. In a third project, the designer suggested adding an index when she was hired, and the client agreed. The client says now that her book wouldn’t have been complete without it.

A back-of-the-book index is usually one of the last things that get done in a book project, so I can understand how it can become an afterthought, but I’d love to see editors and project managers consider indexes earlier on, as they develop a project with a client. Most nonfiction works would benefit from an index: corporate and family histories, memoirs, and biographies should have a proper noun index at least, and indexes are a must for cookbooks and how-to books.

Hiring an indexer (and adding pages to accommodate an index in a print book) will add to the budget, but here’s how you can sell it to your clients:

  1. An index will increase a book’s credibility. As much as we like to say that self-published books aren’t any less legitimate than conventionally published works, self-published titles that can better emulate conventionally published books are more likely to be taken seriously in the market.
  2. An index can transform a book from a one-time read to an important part of the historical record. A nonfiction book with an index is much more likely to be found and used by future researchers, including historians and genealogists. Most authors, even if their main motivation is writing a memoir for family, for example, would be delighted to think of their work as having a wide reach and long-lasting impact. (Incidentally, Canadian self-publishers compiling personal, family, or community histories may be interested in the Canada 150 project.)
  3. An index lets readers see what the book is about. It shows not only what topics are covered but also in what depth. Cross-references help readers understand the relationships between the book’s concepts.
  4. People named in the book will want to look themselves up in the index. Yup—vanity is a factor, and finding their names might be enough to convince them to buy and read the book.
  5. Indexers invariably find the odd typo or inconsistency as they work. Because of the way we read and select terms to index, we notice problems that proofreaders sometimes miss.

Ultimately, indexes help sell books. As indexer Jan Wright pointed out at an Indexing Society of Canada conference a few years ago, Amazon wouldn’t include indexes in their “Look Inside” feature if they didn’t help sales, right?

Authoring and delivery platforms for open educational resources (webinar)

The Community College Consortium for Open Educational Resources (CCCOER) hosted a webinar about a few platforms for authoring and delivering open educational resources (OER). CCCOER was founded almost eight years ago to expand access to openly licensed material, support faculty choice, and improve student success. It has more than 250 member colleges in twenty-one states. The organization understands that faculty need user-friendly authoring tools, institutions had to integrate OER into their existing course management infrastructures, and students had to be able to easily search and use OER. Representatives from three OER platforms explained their tools in this webinar. I’ll cover all three, but my focus will be on Clint Lalonde’s presentation about Pressbooks Textbook, because it’s the most relevant to publishing in BC. (Slides of the session are on Slideshare.)

Courseload Engage, presented by Etienne Pelaprat, User Experience Director at Courseload Inc.

Courseload is a platform that offers students access to text-based OER, video, audio, journal articles, library content and catalogues, proprietary content, and other uploaded content through a single application that can be integrated into existing learning management systems. Courseload has the flexibility of allowing institutions to curate their own content based on learning objectives, and it manages all of the metadata (including library catalogue data and ONIX feeds). This metadata allows institutions to generate custom catalogues and course packs, and the system tracks content use via analytics that may help institutions optimize discoverability and respond to student demand to improve their learning outcomes.

PressBooks Textbook, presented by Clint Lalonde, Open Education Manager at BCcampus

BCcampus’s Open Textbook Project was launched to provide BC post-secondary students with access to free textbooks in the forty subject areas with the highest enrolment. Rather than start from scratch, said Lalonde, BCcampus wanted to take advantage of existing textbook content already in the commons. The focus would be on adaptation, although they would also create some new content.

For students, the open textbooks had to be free for students to use and retain and available in several formats. For faculty, open textbooks had to be high-quality material that would be easy to find and adapt.

Hugh McGuire had predicted that the book would merge with the web and that books would be created web first; he founded PressBooks with that idea in mind. PressBooks is an open source WordPress plugin that allows authors to write once but output in many different formats, including HTML, EPUB, and PDF.

BCcampus worked with a programmer to customize PressBooks for easy textbook authoring, and the result is the PressBooks Textbook plug-in. It works together with Hypothes.is to allow students and faculty to annotate content. Lalonde and his team also added an application program interface (API) that facilitates searching and sharing with others on different platforms and allows the textbooks to become more than just static content. Unfortunately, Lalonde explained, PressBooks Textbook isn’t fully open source at the moment, because it relies on a proprietary PDF output engine, the license for which institutions would have to pay.

BCcampus’s next steps with this plug-in include

  • integrating accessibility features via the FLOE Project
  • finding an open source PDF engine to replace Prince XML
  • expanding the output formats to include Word-compatible ODT files.

Lalonde has blogged about PressBook Textbook’s architecture.

Open Assembly, presented by founder and CEO Domi Enders

Non-traditional students and adjunct instructors are less likely to be reached by OER initiatives because they may work remotely much of the time and are poorly integrated into an institution. As a result, they have limited access to their peer communities. Domi Enders wanted to develop open learning system that would not only give users access to OER but also give students or adjunct faculty the continuity and agency they need to remain engaged with their learning and teaching. Open Assembly can be integrated into existing learning management systems and allows users to collaborate in content curation. By offering users a space to meet and create new knowledge, it facilitates peer-to-peer learning in a way that helps remote students and faculty stay connected.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Open textbooks and the BC Open Textbook Accessibility Toolkit (webinar)

In fall 2012, the BC Open Textbook Project was launched to reduce the financial burden on post-secondary students, who spend an average of $1,200 per year on textbooks. As part of Open Education Week, BCcampus hosted a webinar about the project as well as the associated BC Open Textbook Accessibility Toolkit, created to help people who develop learning resources to make them as accessible as possible from the outset.

Open Textbook Project (presented by Amanda Coolidge)

In 2012, the BC Open Textbook Project received a grant of $1 million to develop open textbooks for the top-forty enrolled subject areas. It received another $1 million in 2014 to create resources for skills and trades training. BC has now committed to working together with Alberta and Saskatchewan to develop and share open textbooks.

Many people think open textbooks are e-textbooks, but what makes them open is their Creative Commons (CC) license: they can be copied, modified, and redistributed for no charge. Instructors can therefore change open textbooks to suit their courses, and students are able to get these books for free. In two years the project has saved more than five thousand students over $700,000 in textbook costs.

BCcampus carried out the Open Textbook Project in three phases:

  • First, they collected existing textbooks with CC licenses and asked faculty to review them.
  • Second, they modified these books based on faculty reviews. At the end of this process, they had covered thirty-six of the top-forty subject areas.
  • Finally, they funded the creation of four textbooks from scratch.

Open textbooks are now being used in fourteen post-secondary institutions across the province, and BCcampus has eighty-one textbooks in its collection. To create these materials, they use Pressbooks, a plugin that lets you write once and publish to many different formats.

Accessibility testing (presented by Tara Robertson)

Tara Robertson helps run CAPER-BC, which provides alternate formats of learning materials to twenty institutions across the province. They specialize in accommodations, including remediating textbooks for people with print disabilities. One reason the Open Textbook Project is exciting, said Robertson, is that instead of taking something broken and fixing it, she now has the opportunity to make the textbooks accessible from the start.

Seven students with special needs volunteered to test the open textbook resources for accessibility, reading selected chapters from textbooks in five subject areas and offering feedback on their usability. Robertson also ran a focus group with five students. She found recruiting testers challenging, and she acknowledges that the students who participated in the focus group, all of whom had visual impairments, were not representative of the many students that had other print disabilities. Still, the testers offered a lot of constructive feedback.

The chapters the students reviewed each had features that might interfere with assistive technology like text-to-speech software: formatted poetry, tables, images, quizzes, and so on. Testing revealed that the software would skip over embedded YouTube videos, so the textbooks would have to include URLs; formatted poems were problematic when enlarged because readers would have to scroll to read each line; and layout sometimes led to a confused reading order.

Robertson sees the accessibility consultation with students as an ongoing process to refine accessibility best practices.

BC Open Textbook Accessibility Toolkit (presented by Sue Doner)

BCcampus has just launched an accessibility toolkit for faculty, content creators, instructional designers, and others who “don’t know what they don’t know about accessible design.” Their aim is to build faculty capacity for universal design and to highlight the distinctions between accommodations and accessibility. Accommodations involve individualizing resources and providing alternative learning options for students who identify as having a disability. If we were proactive about creating materials that were accessible from day one, we’d have no need for accommodations.

Universal design recognizes that different students learn differently—some prefer visual materials, whereas others prefer text, for example. It offers students multiple access points to the content, and it’s better for all students, not just those who register with their disability resource centre. For example, aging students may appreciate being able to enlarge text, and international students may benefit from captions to visual material.

The toolkit offers plain language guidelines for creating different types of textbook content with a student-centred focus, using user personas to inform key design concepts and best practices. It asks content developers to think about what assumptions they’re making of the end users and how those assumptions might affect the way they present the material.

It might take a bit of time for creators of some types of content to catch up with all accessibility features—for example, video and audio should, as a rule, come with transcripts, but a lot of YouTube content doesn’t, and you may run into copyright issues if you try to offer material in different formats.

The next steps for BCcampus are to incorporate the toolkit into the development process for all new open textbooks they create, to modify existing textbooks for accessibility, and to encourage the province’s post-secondary community to formally adopt these guidelines. The toolkit, like the open textbooks, are available under a CC license and can be thought of as a living document that will change and grow as different types of content (e.g., math) becomes amenable to accessible design.

Doner sees these steps as “an opportunity to create a community of practice—a new literacy skill.”

***

This webinar (along with others offered during Open Education Week) is archived on the BCcampus site.

Grey matters: Why NGOs should start thinking like self-publishers

Among my favourite clients are nonprofit advocacy groups that champion causes I care about. These organizations pour an astounding amount of effort into their research, which usually culminates in reports destined for media, key policy makers, and the general public. These reports, which can contain a wealth of information that researchers would find valuable, are generally available for free on the NGO’s website. Unfortunately, more often than not, there they languish.

Policy reports and other NGO publications that don’t have ISBNs inhabit the murky world of grey literature—written research material that’s not formally published and hence not catalogued. As a result, they’re almost impossible to discover. Sometimes even Google won’t find them unless you know exactly what you’re looking for and use very specific search terms.

The Canadian Public Policy Collection and Canadian Health Research Collection are two databases that aggregate grey literature and are decent places for researchers to start looking, but these curated archives are far from exhaustive. For instance, one advocacy group I work with, Pivot Legal Society, has more than twenty publications, but only four are listed in the CPPC.

Grey literature’s poor discoverability means that these important publications don’t have the reach or longevity that they could have. A source of the problem is that most NGOs don’t consider themselves publishers. Abby Deshman, at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, says, “We just don’t have publishers on staff… so that expertise about what we could do and what we could gain by doing it is not generally available.” Both Deshman and Tracy Torchetti at the Canadian Cancer Society told me that they’d love to increase their publications’ reach.

So what can these organizations do? The first step is to take advantage of the infrastructure built to accommodate the legions of self-publishers:

1. Get an ISBN (or ISSN) for your report

ISBNs cost up to $125 per title in the U.S. but are free in Canada for all publishers, self-publishers included. (If your publication is a serial, consider getting an ISSN). Assigning an ISBN to your title automatically plucks it out of the realm of grey literature and allows you to…

2. Submit metadata to Bowker’s Books in Print

Once you have your ISBN, you can fill in a form to have your bibliographic information listed for free in Bowker’s Books in Print—one of the major databases that libraries consult for their acquisitions.

3. Upload your metadata to a print-on-demand (POD) provider with wide distribution

When I rebuilt the Government of Canada’s plain language guides, I made them available through CreateSpace, Amazon’s POD platform. I set the list prices at their lowest possible, which would cover printing, binding, and Amazon’s cut of any sale. That said, I never expected to sell any copies through CreateSpace; in fact, in my descriptive copy, I included the URL of a site where people could download a free PDF. By putting the guides on CreateSpace, though, I made their metadata discoverable through Amazon’s network, and Amazon’s listing would in turn come up more readily in Google searches.

Another POD provider for independent publishers is IngramSpark, which will also make metadata available on its worldwide network, but, unlike CreateSpace, it has some modest upfront set-up and market access costs.

4. Send copies of your reports to Library and Archives Canada (LAC) for legal deposit

Legal deposit probably doesn’t enhance discoverability, but (perhaps for idealistic, sentimental reasons) I do kind of like that what you send them “becomes the record of the nation’s published heritage.” Once a publication has been added to the LAC collection, its metadata is entered into LAC’s database and can be retrieved through a search. LAC also accepts digital-only publications.

5. Use SEO techniques for your content

Most NGO publications that I’ve worked on end up as PDFs, which search engines can be reluctant to index (compared with HTML). Find PDF optimization tips here and here to increase the chances that they will show up on Google searches.

***

Finally, take advantage of the databases available to advocacy groups:

6. Submit your publication to the Canadian Public Policy Collection…

…and, if your publication is health related, the Canadian Health Research Collection. Despite their lack of comprehensiveness, the Canadian Public Policy Collection and the Canadian Health Research Collection are “still way better than anything else out there,” says academic librarian Franklin Sayre. These collections are home to a lot of grey literature, but they also house publications that have ISBNs and ISSNs. They are open to suggestions for publications to add to their databases. Although the full search and retrieval functions for these databases are available only to libraries that have paid for access, you can download Excel files with the list of titles available in each database. These files (this one for CPPC, and this one for CHRC) list URLs for the full text.

***

Those of us who work with these organizations on the publishing end could help our clients add value to their publications by letting them know about these options. Given what Deshman and Torchetti have told me, NGOs may not be aware of some of the steps they could take to maximize the lifespan and reach of their painstaking research.

Huge thanks to

  • Abby Deshman, for giving me the scoop on the Canadian Civil Liberties Association’s publishing practices;
  • Frank Sayre, for invaluable insights into grey literature, the CPPC, and the CHRC;
  • Tracy Torchetti, for canvassing her colleagues at the Canadian Cancer Society about their publishing practices; and
  • Trena White of Page Two, for confirming details about Books in Print.

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!

Back to school: A self-indulgent personal post

This week I got an official letter of acceptance to the PhD program in SFU’s Faculty of Health Sciences, where I’ll be studying knowledge translation. In particular, I’ll be looking at ways to apply plain language principles to mental health research to make it more accessible to patients, practitioners, advocacy groups, and policy makers. I’m thrilled by the prospect of applying my editorial skills and clear communication knowledge to increase health and scientific literacy.

Although I’m heading back to school, in no way will I be leaving publishing; I adore my career, and my plan (although plans may change, of course) is to come right back once I’ve completed the degree. In the meantime, I’ll be dialing down the amount of publishing work I take on to a small handful of projects a year so that I can focus on my research.

I’ll also be drastically cutting back on my volunteer commitments with organizations such as the Editors’ Association of Canada. Over the past two years I’ve been a member of EAC’s Certification Steering Committee, which oversees the national program that certifies editors who have demonstrated excellence in proofreading, copy editing, stylistic editing, or structural editing. This committee is made up of some of the smartest, funniest, and most dedicated people I know, and working with them on projects to promote and strengthen the certification program has been a huge privilege. Leaving this collegial, optimistic, and productive group in August will be bittersweet.

At the branch level, I’ve worked with Frances Peck for the past two seasons (and with Micheline Brodeur last year) on the EAC-BC Programs Committee to set topics and invite speakers for our monthly meetings. We managed to put together an impressive lineup of speakers on fascinating subjects from forensic linguistics and cartography to subcontracting and the evolving role of libraries. Our ideas have spilled over into next season, and whoever takes over on the committee next year will be able to hit the ground running.

I can’t emphasize enough that my experiences on these committees—not to mention the professional relationships and friendships I’ve forged—have been tremendous for professional development, and I urge anyone considering volunteering for EAC to seize the opportunity. I will still be an active EAC member, and I am still happy to volunteer for small jobs here and there or for one-off events, but I’ll no longer have the time for ongoing committee work. If there’s still demand after this year’s PubPro unconference, a peer-driven professional development event for publication production professionals, I would be more than willing to run it again. And I still hope to attend EAC meetings and conferences and write up what I’ve gleaned from the sessions on my blog (although once I’m off the Programs Committee, I may allow myself to miss the odd meeting).

Speaking of my blog, my intention is still to post regularly on editorial, indexing, publishing, and plain language topics, but you might start seeing a bit more of a knowledge translation, health literacy, or mental health bent to my writing. Realistically, though, I won’t have time to do any more book reviews once school starts up. I’d love to keep crapping out my dumb little cartoons, but I might not be able to keep up with my monthly schedule.

Finally, I’d love to keep teaching in SFU’s Writing and Communications program. Changes are afoot in how those courses are being offered, though, so I’m not sure if I’ll still have a role to play. If it turns out that I will, I’ll be sure to post news about upcoming courses.

I’d like to thank all of my friends, colleagues, and mentors who have given me encouragement and advice as I’ve plotted this next step, which I have wanted to take for a long time. I feel incredibly lucky to be surrounded by so many amazing, supportive people.