Trena White—Trends in book publishing (Editors BC meeting)

Trena White, co-founder of Page Two, a full-service publishing agency specializing in nonfiction books, gave us a tour of some of the trends in trade book publishing at the March Editors BC meeting.

Subject trends, like adult colouring books, which peaked in mid-2016 or so and have since declined, or the imported Danish trend of hygge, which was particularly popular in late 2016, can be interesting but usually pass within a year or two. White wanted to focus her talk on the broader changes in the publishing landscape.

“Traditional publishing is great,” said White, in that the industry is committed to best practices in editing and design. But when White and co-founder Jesse Finkelstein launched Page Two in 2013, it was out of a recognition that traditional publishing, which tends to be technophobic and slow to react to change, doesn’t serve everyone or every book. There are legitimate reasons people might want to self-publish, and Page Two wanted to help authors and organizations publish professionally by fully embracing all things digital and being interested in changes in publishing.

White highlighted a few key trends: Continue reading “Trena White—Trends in book publishing (Editors BC meeting)”

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.”

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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?

Vanessa Ricci-Thode—Alternatives to editing: working on a self-publisher’s budget (Editing Goes Global, 2015)

What can you do for self-publishing authors who don’t have much to spend? Author and editor Vanessa Ricci-Thode shared some the strategies she’s used to help authors who can’t afford editing. Although she focused on fiction, many of her tips will apply to nonfiction projects as well.

Do a manuscript evaluation

For a flat fee, Ricci-Thode will evaluate a manuscript up to 100,000 words and provide the author with a topic-by-topic report outlining the main changes that the author should make to

  • premise
  • plot
  • structure
  • characterization
  • dialogue
  • setting
  • point of view
  • voice
  • mood or tone

She may also comment on other features, such as the story’s symbolism, humour, or reading level. Although she won’t edit the manuscript—and hence won’t mark it up—she will insert comment bubbles in the document so that authors can see examples of the kinds of problems they might  consider fixing. Ricci-Thodes suggests using a “triage editing” mindset and tackling the biggest problems first.

To learn how write a constructive evaluation, Ricchi-Thodes suggests the seminar on fiction editing offered by EAC’s Toronto Branch or Ryerson University’s fiction-editing class.

Suggest crowdfunding

If an author doesn’t have enough of their own money for editing, they could try raising enough money through crowdfunding platforms, including

Many of these platforms allow authors to connect with their readers by offering rewards for their sponsorship.

Suggest low-cost editing options (with a caveat)

If an author is desperate for editing, you could point them to low-cost editing options on freelancing sites such as Elance or even Fiverr. However, because many people claiming to be editors compete internationally for freelance contracts, these sites can be exploitative. Further, the quality of the editing will be a crapshoot.

Whatever you do, said Ricci-Thodes, don’t let an author talk you down. Don’t sell yourself—or your colleagues—short. You may be willing to reduce your rate to work on a particularly exciting project, but make sure your client knows the full value of the services you’re giving them.

Point authors to resources on writing and self-editing

For authors that need a lot of work, recommend books or websites that will help them hone their writing skills. During the session Ricci-Thodes listed the resources she recommends (her commentary in parentheses):

On craft

On style and grammar

Websites

Audience members chimed in with some of their own suggestions (in no particular order):

Also, encourage authors to join a critique group or writing circle that has experienced writers.

Offer mentoring or “mini-evaluation” sessions

Ricci-Thodes offers face-to-face meetings in which she can offer an author tips based on a short writing sample and answer specific editorial questions. She lets the clients set the agenda for the meetings, for which she charges hourly.

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For more editor-recommended, editing-related resources, check out my blog post from our September 2014 EAC-BC meeting: Hitting the books: Professional development tips.

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.

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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.

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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.