Carol Fisher Saller—”Subversive” editing: or, what bugs editors and how to fix it (Editing Goes Global, 2015)

Carol Fisher Saller, author of The Subversive Copy Editor and editor of the monthly Chicago Style Q&A, gave the opening keynote at Editing Goes Global. With facetious, deadpan delivery, she took aim at the niggling neuroses that prevent editors, who have a reputation for being technophobic grammar sticklers, from reaching their potential. “Some of my best friends are neurotic,” said Saller. “Who wants to know a bunch of calm and happy people?”

Quoting the New York Times, she said, “Life today is ‘less violent, less cruel, and more peaceful than any previous period of human existence.’ When it comes to stress, many of us, the privileged, choose it. It’s the only explanation I can come up with for what’s bugging copy editors,” said Saller, to laughs. Although we’re used to hearing about the debates between prescriptivists and “promiscuous” descriptivists, Saller enjoys defining a third category: assertionists, a term coined byEugene Volohk, describing people who take pride in “witless, raging allegiance” to grammar rules and style. Many copy editors see their jobs as knowing the rules and imposing them, but Saller reminded us that “style rules exist to serve us; we don’t exist to serve them.”

Assertionists who write into the Chicago Style Q&A with style and grammar questions “are tormented by what they see as declining standards,” said Saller. But because most adults stopped learning grammar after they left high school, they may not be aware that some rules are outdated and that some rules were never rules at all. People ask, “When did this rule change?,” as if a single authoritative person or organization were responsible for governing the English language. “Language is wonderfully messy,” said Saller. “Evolution in English is the ultimate in crowdsourcing.”

Many style rules are arbitrary, and understanding a rule is not the same as being able to recite them. Style rules give us an efficient way to be consistent, but sometimes they turn out to be inconvenient. “When rules conflict, you probably have to break a rule—and that’s OK,” said Saller. “Apply the power of knowing when to break a rule to help writers to achieve great writing.”

“It is rarely correct to robotically follow a rule,” she added. “This kind of dependency wastes time, stunts learning, and does little to help the reader.”

Beyond knowing the rules and when to break them, editors must also stay on top of technology. “Editors who live in the past also do harm,” said Saller, adding, “Hating technology is a cliché. Technology is not making you stupid or lonely or hyper (although I will grant that it can make you homicidal).” But if you are representing yourself as a professional editor, your primary tools have to be up to standard. “Eventually, if you don’t refresh your skills and equipment, you’ll begin to lose work.” Never stop educating yourself, Saller suggested. You can find free resources online to learn almost anything—including how to make the most out of social media. “If you haven’t yet dipped your toe in that ocean, know that active participation is optional. You can learn plenty just by lurking.”

“There’s no downside to arming yourself with knowledge and skill,” said Saller. “You will become generous, flexible, powerful, confident and—who knows?—maybe even serene.”

Hitting the books: Professional development tips (EAC-BC meeting)

EAC-BC held its first meeting of the 2014–2015 season yesterday evening, and, along with wine and cheese, we got a dose of professional development. Programs chair Roma Ilnyckyj and committee member Frances Peck asked us to share our favourite resources. Here’s a rundown of what people mentioned:


Websites or blogs

Twitter accounts

On top of the ones already mentioned, members of our group suggested following:

Workshops or classes

Beyond EAC-BC’s excellent professional development seminars and EAC’s annual conference, here are some workshops or classes that attendees have found useful:

Upcoming professional development events include:

  • Word Vancouver, September 24 to 28, which will host a series of free workshops on everything from making chapbooks to creating a publishing roadmap to digital publishing.
  • Communication Convergence, October 5, which explores “the tendency for different communication fields over time to apply a common range of methods.” Frances Peck will moderate a panel (of which I will be a member). Tickets here. (STC and EAC-BC members get a discount, and students get a special rate.)


This list is by no means exhaustive, of course—it includes only what people mentioned at the meeting. Add your favourites in the comments.

If you found this list helpful, you may also be interested in the results of last year’s season-launching audience-participation meeting: Editors’ show and tell: time-saving tips and tricks.

Indexer–author relations—Enid Zafran (ISC conference 2014)

Enid Zafran is a past president of American Society for Indexing and served on its national board for over six years. Among the books she has co-edited are Starting an Indexing Business, Index it Right! Advice from the Experts, and a couple of titles in the Indexing Specialties series, including one about legal texts and one about scholarly works. In 2010, Zafran’s contribution to the indexing profession was recognized with the Hines Award from the ASI. That same year, she became a certified indexer with the Institute of Certified Indexers.

Zafran runs the business Indexing Partners, which has clients ranging from academic presses, professional and textbook publishers, nonprofit associations, and authors. At the Indexing Society of Canada conference, she drew on more than thirty years of experience to tell us a bit about how to main good indexer–author relations.

Her talk focused on the times the indexer interacts directly with the author, as opposed to a publisher. These clients may have publishers who have asked them to find an indexer, or they may be self-publishing. “Self-publishing authors need a lot of hand holding,” said Zafran. They may be caught off guard by what’s involved in the indexing process, as well as how much it costs.

When an author first approaches you to do an index, ask for details of the job, including topic, word or page count, schedule, length limits on the index, and, if they’re working with a publisher, the publisher’s style. Ask to see some sample chapters before you commit; knowing the title and word count of a book may not be enough to tell you how dense the text will be and how much indexing it will need.

If an author supplies you with a list of terms, Zafran suggests including them in the index as a matter of course and importing them directly into your indexing software. “It’s easier to be agreeable and accept author lists,” she said. Further, when discussing a potential job with an author, “express some enthusiasm,” said Zafran. The author has put a lot of time into writing the book, and as indexer, you’re one of its first readers. A little enthusiasm goes a long way to establishing a good working relationship.

When discussing schedules and deadlines, explain your process and stress that you’ll need to work from final pages. Be sure to build in time for the author to review the index. Zafran tells her clients that her fee covers two hours of editing; additional changes would be charged by the hour.

This is also a good time to see if the project is big enough to warrant breaking it down into several milestones, both for author review and for payment. Zafran will sometimes ask a new client for a 25 per cent deposit before the job begins. “If they’re not willing to pay, you might have trouble getting money later,” she said. Zafran expects payment within thirty days of invoicing and charges a 16 per cent late fee. For rush jobs, she also charges a rush premium fee. Having worked with academics on scholarly books, she warned us about universities, which may require you to be registered with the them as a vendor. If you invoice without being registered, your payment could be delayed.

If the author is overseas, the bank may charge for a wire transfer. Inform clients that you’ll be adding that fee from the wire transfer to your invoice.

Once you firm up the job with the client, make sure you have written confirmation where they agree to the terms. Stay in touch before the job begins to make sure everything is still on schedule.

When indexing starts, explain to the author that you’ll need to go away and work—and tell them when you’ll have an index ready for them to review. “‘Can I see a draft?’ is one of the most dreadful things you can hear an author say,” quipped Zafran. No matter how much you try to explain that the draft is not the final index, the author will always have some reason to be unhappy with it.

When it comes time for the author to review the finished index, Zafran said that if she’s had good relations with the author thus far, she’ll send them both the indented and run-in styles. At this stage, four common complaints may surface:

1. The index doesn’t have all of the names I had in my book.

You’ll have to explain to the author that, in standard indexing practice according to the Chicago Manual of Style, names in front matter, acknowledgements, and notes aren’t included in the index. “With authors, when you cite the Chicago Manual, the discussion is over. You’ve invoked the word of God,” joked Zafran.

2. The index doesn’t pick up every occurrence of a term.

Zafran suggests using Sherry Smith’s term of “lesser mention” to explain why a term wasn’t indexed rather than the harsher “passing mention.” Also explain that an index differs from a concordance and that the indexer’s job is to lead users to substantive, helpful information.

3. Sometimes the index uses cross-references for acronyms; sometimes there are page numbers. Why the inconsistency?

Explain that entries with only one or two page numbers warrant double-posting rather than cross-referencing. Double-posting saves the user time, whereas cross-referencing saves space. With only one or two locators, there is no net space savings.

4. The topic of the book is barely indexed.

As tempting as it is to respond with, “Well then the whole book would indexed under that one heading, so what good would that be?” you’re more likely to get a favourable reaction if you explain “how the metatopic merits special treatment in the index,” said Zafran. Today, it’s considered a best practice to mirror the book’s chapter and subchapter structure under the metatopic heading, and most authors appreciate that this approach reflects the way they’ve dealt with the topic in the book.


Once you’ve submitted the index to the author’s satisfaction, send an invoice that includes the due date and a reminder of your late fee. Zafran will waive that fee if the client is only a bit late or is making a clear effort to comply. Make sure you have distinct numbers for each invoice—otherwise some clients (like universities) may not process payment. Once a payment is overdue, start calling. The client may not answer, but seeing you on call display may be enough to remind them that they owe you money. Finally, said Zafran, don’t be afraid to assert your copyright on your index to prompt late payers to pay.

If a job has gone well, remind the client that your business is built on word-of-mouth referrals and ask them to recommend you to other authors who could use your help.

Cookbook indexing in Microsoft Word

I’ve just wrapped up a cookbook index, and while I was putting it together I found myself referring to notes I’d made a while ago for a friend who wanted to do cookbook indexing but didn’t want to invest in indexing software. When I worked in house, I’d prepared several cookbook indexes using only Microsoft Word and figured out, through trial and error, a reasonably efficient system. I figured I’d share my notes here for anyone interested. If you have a client with a specific house style, you might have to adjust the approach a bit.

What follows isn’t a guide for writing a good cookbook index. For that kind of information, I’d suggest “A Piece of Cake? Cookbook Indexing–Basic Guidelines and Resources” by Cynthia D. Bertelsen and Recipes into Type by Joan Whitman and Dolores Simon (relevant excerpt about indexes here). The notes below are just a step-by-step system you can follow to take advantage of Word’s functions when creating a cookbook index even though it ordinarily isn’t a great program to use for indexing.


Specialized indexing software is invaluable if you’re indexing most nonfiction titles, but a cookbook index has a straightforward structure that Word can easily accommodate.  The key is to keep the following in mind:

  • As tempting as it might be to sort as you go along—as indexing software allows you to do—don’t. You’ll have a much easier time if you alphabetize near the end.
  • The pages may not be final when you start data entry. Be prepared to adjust your locators if they move around.
  • Microsoft Word does not sort letter by letter; you may have to go through your index at the end and tweak the ordering of the entries.

1. Data entry

a) Start with the first recipe. Key in the recipe title verbatim (or copy and paste from a PDF), along with the page range. If the recipe has a photo, add that page number in italics.

Type the title in as it appears if it starts with a descriptor:

Deen’s Buttered Bacon Rolls, 108–9, 109

If the title starts with a main ingredient, state the main ingredient category first, followed by a comma. Keep everything on the same line for now.

chickpeas, Chickpea, Green Onion and Quinoa Salad, 54–55

b) Copy the recipe title and locator (the highlighted part):

chickpeas, Chickpea, Green Onion and Quinoa Salad, 54–55

c) Paste the recipe title and locator after keying in all other main ingredients and broad categories (like “beef,” “fish,” “salads,” “sauces,” etc.) on separate lines:

green onions, Chickpea, Green Onion and Quinoa Salad, 54–55
quinoa, Chickpea, Green Onion and Quinoa Salad, 54–55
salads, Chickpea, Green Onion, and Quinoa Salad, 54–55

d) If the recipe title starts with more than one descriptor, add entries for all possible inversions that readers might look up. Add a special mark like an asterisk, which indicates that this entry could be considered for cutting if space is tight:

Buttered Bacon Rolls, Deen’s, 108–9, 109*

e) Key in any subrecipe titles and page ranges, under an appropriate category if necessary. If the subrecipe title is generic, you may also have to add the full recipe title for clarity. Append a double-asterisk, indicating that this is a subrecipe:

dressing, Special Dressing, for Chickpea, Green Onion and Quinoa Salad, 54–55**

f) Index special ingredients or techniques only if they are defined/discussed in detail. If the book contains many definitions, you may want to indicate these by setting the locators in boldface. Again, append a double-asterisk:

cold smoking, 56, 56–59**

g) Repeat steps 1a to 1e for all recipes in the cookbook, proceeding in order. Apply 1f as needed, as you go along.

h) Add any logical cross-references.

beef. See also veal

i) Run a spell check on the index.

j) Save this file as index_v1.

k) Once the cookbook’s pages have been finalized, confirm locators, making any necessary adjustments. Save index_v1.

2. Structuring

a) Alphabetize: select all, go to Table → Sort… → Sort by paragraphs, ascending.

b) You’ll have lists like these:

beef, Chinese Five-Spice Beef Short Ribs
beef, Curried Beef and Vegetable Skewers
beef, Grilled Garam Masala Burgers
beef, Wine-Marinated Prime Rib Roast
beef. See also veal

Move the general category and any cross-references to the top, then replace the category in all other entries with a tab indent by selecting that segment of text and using Word’s Find and Replace function.

beef. See also veal
     Chinese Five-Spice Beef Short Ribs
     Curried Beef and Vegetable Skewers
     Grilled Garam Masala Burgers
     Wine-Marinated Prime Rib Roast

Go through the index and repeat this step for all categories that have two or more subentries.

c) For main ingredient categories that have only one recipe, just invert the recipe name to showcase that ingredient first:

quinoa, Chickpea, Green Onion and Quinoa Salad, 54–55


Quinoa, Green Onion and Chickpea Salad, 54–55

d) Add line spaces after the end of each section that begins with the same letter. Add group headings “A,” “B,” etc. before each section only if there is enough room.

e) Add a headnote mentioning that photos are referenced in italics and definitions in boldface.

f) Save as index_v2.

3. Cutting to spec and finalizing the index

a) Save as index_v3.

b) If the index is too long, consider first eliminating whole categories that readers are unlikely to look up or that are redundant. For example, if the book itself has a section devoted to desserts, having a dessert category in the index is not needed.

c) If the index is still too long, consider combining some categories and adding cross-references. For example, if you have divided “fish” and “shellfish,” consider combining them under “seafood” and adding cross-references to the new category under both “fish” and “shellfish.” Doing so will allow you to cut duplicates of recipes that include both fish and shellfish.

d) If the index is still too long, consider cutting all subrecipes and special ingredients/techniques, which you’d marked off earlier with double-asterisks.

(If the index needs a lot of cutting and you’re confident you will need to cut all entries marked off with double-asterisks, you can use Word’s Replace function to get rid of all of them at once. If you’re comfortable with wildcard searches, place your cursor at the top of the document, then, in the Replace dialogue box, put [!^13]@\*\*^13 in the “Find what” field and nothing in the “Replace with” field. Make sure “Use wildcards” is checked. Clicking “Replace all” should get rid of any lines that end with a double-asterisk.)

e) If the index is still too long, evaluate for cutting or abridging only those entries that have an asterisk. (Never cut out or modify an entry that matches the recipe title exactly.) If it makes sense to cut the whole entry, do it. You could also cut part of the title if it refers to sauces and garnishes that aren’t a fundamental part of the dish.

f) Delete all the asterisks. (Using the Replace function, put * in the “Find what” field and nothing in the “Replace with” field.)

g) Edit the index as outlined in Chicago 16.133, in particular double-checking alphabetization, then save index_v3 and submit it.

Versioning system

  • Index_v1: This version makes it easier to update locators if pages—especially if spreads or larger groups of pages—are moved around.
  • Index_v2: Go back to this version if the publisher decides to add pages to allow more room for the index.
  • Index_v3: Your final submitted index.

Maps: type style and citations

As a book editor, I’ve learned to rely pretty heavily on the dependable Chicago Manual of Style. Once in a while, though, I run into an esoteric subject that Chicago just doesn’t cover well. Maps—both in terms of working with a cartographer to create a map and in terms of citing old maps—are one such subject, and they deserve special attention because they have both visual and textual considerations and because they can serve a wide spectrum of functions: in some books they give geographical context by telling readers the locations of unfamiliar places, whereas in others, like guidebooks, they can be critical navigational tools.

In my early days at D&M, one of the more senior editors asked me to copy edit some map labels to be sent to a mapmaker. “So just make sure that the formatting is correct,” she told me. “For instance, bodies of water should be in italics—you know that, right?”

I didn’t, at the time, and a few years later, when I was putting together an editorial wiki for the company, which included our style guidelines, I wanted to add a section specifically about maps. I pored through Chicago and searched online but couldn’t find a particular authoritative source that stated the bodies of water = italics convention. I ended up listing it as a house style but never stopped wondering where that came from.

Recently I sent the question to the Canadian Cartographic Association, and the president, Gerald Stark, a cartographer for the Government of Alberta, not only wrote me an incredibly thorough response of his own but also forwarded my query to the CCA membership. Below is a summary of some of the members’ contributions to the discussion.

Type considerations on new maps

Writes David Forrest, senior lecturer at the School of Geographical and Earth Sciences at the University of Glasgow:

In terms of map design generally, there are no definitive specifications that must be followed, except in a few specific cases such as hydrographic charts. Some map topics, such as topographic and geological maps, have developed “conventions” over the years, but these need not be slavishly followed, and topographic maps, even at the same scale, vary greatly around the world.

The use of italic for water names is such a convention, but you can find many maps which don’t. The main thing is that variations in letterform are used to enhance the classification of features on the map. Labelling everything in the same typeface is generally poor, but it does depend on the individual map, the number (and density) of names and what the map is for.

In a book the important thing would be to have a consistent approach throughout—much like most atlases do—but the choice of type styles may depend on whether one is trying to give the map a modern look or an historical look, for example.

On another point, in the caption for historical map illustrations, one thing really useful, but often absent, is a note of the size of the original, or the % reduction (e.g. shown 55% of original), as scale is one of the most critical factors in map design.

Henry Castner, author of Seeking New Horizons: A Perceptual Approach to Geographic Education and editor of A History of the Cartography of Russia up to 1800, writes:

In book editing, I suspect most of your maps are unique special-purpose and thematic maps for which the purpose of the map overrides some perceived need for design consistency. So depending on the purpose for labelling the water area(s), for example, it may be that large bold letters are required in one case, and small inconspicuous ones in another. In other words, an editor has much greater freedom in designing special-purpose and thematic maps as long as attention is given to the visual tasks involved and the role each map element plays in their execution. The worst sin in map designs in books, in my experience, are maps that don’t locate the places mentioned in the narrative.

So there you have it. Typographic considerations for a map depend on the map’s purpose in the book and the need for consistency within a book. If you are a publisher that works frequently with mapmakers, defining a house style for type on maps may be the way to go.

That said, if you need a place to start, check out the conventions used by national topographic mapping bodies. Gerald Stark writes:

Most national mapping programs have well-established standards for map design (e.g., United States Geological Survey; Natural Resources Canada—National Topographic Series; Ordnance Survey of the U.K.). Maps produced by these agencies do provide guidelines for producing topographic maps.

Of particular interest is a link Stark gave me to the Atlas of Canada discussing type design on maps.

For further information about map design in general, Stark recommended several books; since they’re not specific to type style on maps, I won’t include them here, but if you’re interested, get in touch with me, and I would be happy to pass along his list.

I don’t know that I agree with David Forrest’s assertion that a map’s scale of reduction is absolutely necessary to state in a citation—again, because maps serve different functions when reproduced in a book. If a map is included purely for illustration and not for navigation, an indication of a map’s reduction may be interesting to a cartographer but not needed for the general reader. Which segues beautifully to…

Citing maps

Another area that Chicago doesn’t discuss in detail is map citation. Although in many cases they can be considered art or photography and may be cited as such, their inherently informative nature usually demands more bibliographic detail, especially if the work in which they appear is meant to serve as a reference.

My query to the Canadian Cartographic Association and to the David Rumsey Historical Map Association about proper map citations brought back a number of online guides, all of which pretty well cover print and digital maps:

Alberta Wood of the Association of Canadian Map Libraries and Archives also generously shared with me a draft of best practices in map citation; when her document has been formally approved, it will be posted on the ACMLA site.

The CCA members also recommended two print guides. The first is

Kollen, Christine, Wangyal Shawa, and Mary Larsgaard. Cartographic Citations: A Style Guide, Second edition. Chicago: Map and Geography Round Table, American Library Association, 2010.

It’s a thirty-two page handbook covering everything from manuscript maps, single-sheet maps, and atlases to remote-sensing imagery and computer spatial-data files. I found a copy at the UBC library; it’s comprehensive and easy to use, and it has a helpful glossary defining cartographic terms. Its raison d’être is clear from its introduction: “The majority of general citation guides and style manuals either do not include any information on cartographic materials or only provide guidance on how to cite a single stand-alone map or as figures in an article or book.” It is meant as a supplement to standard style and citation guides. You can buy it here for $20, but given its very specialized focus, I would say that it’s worth the investment only if you know you’ll be working with cartographic citation frequently. For most purposes, the online guides are as much information as you need.

The other recommended print guide is

Mangan, Elizabeth U., ed. Cartographic Materials: A Manual of Interpretation for AACR2, Second edition. Chicago, Ottawa, and London: Anglo-American Cataloguing Committee for Cartographic Materials, 2006.

This reference isn’t so easy to find: the only copy in the city that I could track down is in the UBC library’s reference staff area and hence unavailable for borrowing. In fact, when I went to look at it when I picked up Cartographic Citations, the reference staff was in a meeting, and I couldn’t even get access to it. Further, it’s pretty big, at 400 pages, and it carries a $138 price tag. Because Cartographic Citations is more than adequate for most editors’ purposes, I’d suggest going for that one, if you work often with maps, or leaning on the online sources.

What Mangan’s Cartographic Materials may provide specific guidance on is historical maps. I’ve had the privilege of working for several years on Derek Hayes’s magnificent historical atlases, for each of which he has had to compile a detailed catalogue of all of the maps that appear in the book. We have the odd disagreements about the format of these citations, he being more inclined to preserve the style of the original and I being partial to clarity and consistency. We’ve found a compromise we seem to be comfortable with—matching the case of the title given on the map, unless it’s in all caps, in which case we use title case. We do add punctuation for clarity if punctuation is implied but not actually written at the end of a line (for example, adding a comma if the title of a map has “Vancouver” on one line and “British Columbia” on the next). However, there are lingering questions, like when, if ever, it’s acceptable to truncate the very long title of a historical map, and where. And if a historical map appears to have several titles, how to decisively identify the map’s “main” title.

Paige Andrew, maps cataloging librarian at Pennsylvania State University Libraries, refers me to Rule 1E3 and Appendix G, “Early Cartographic Material” in the second edition of Cartographic Materials. When I return Cartographic Citations, I’ll take another shot at checking if Cartographic Materials is available to see if we can settle these issues once and for all.


If it isn’t already clear, I was overwhelmed by the outpouring of helpful responses from the Canadian Cartographic Association membership. Thanks to all of them, I’ve been able to clear up some of my confusion surrounding  editorial considerations in cartography.