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.

Editors Canada: update on national happenings (Editors BC meeting)

Margaret Shaw, Editors Canada’s regional director of Western Canada’s branches and twigs, attended her first meeting as a member of the National Executive Council (NEC) in September, and at yesterday’s BC branch meeting she gave us a rundown of some of our association’s plans to increase the value of membership and more actively engage members. Here are some highlights:


  • Editors Canada plans to launch its rebranded website later this year and is looking for volunteers to beta test.
  • The association held its first monthly Twitter chat about certification in October, and the topic for November will be finding work and networking. Join in on November 3 at 4 pm PST and follow along with the #EditorsChat hashtag.
  • A private Facebook group has been set up for Editors Canada members.
  • The committee that publishes our magazine, Active Voice, hopes to create a hard copy in April and possibly another in September or October.

Professional development

  • A task force has been struck to develop a national mentoring program, modelled on the Toronto branch’s successful program and named in honour of the late John Eerkes-Medrano.
  • Editors Canada hopes to start offering webinars (three in the year ahead) so that members living outside of Canada’s major centres will have more professional development opportunities.
  • A central repository of professional development ideas has been proposed.
  • Editors Canada launched the third edition Editing Canadian English this past year, along with the companion Editorial Niches volume. Members at yesterday’s meeting suggested having Editors Canada publications available for sale at local branch meetings and seminars.

Member support

  • In the works is a welcome package for new members and a toolkit to support new branches and twigs.
  • A membership survey is planned for the spring, and exit surveys are planned to find out why people who don’t renew their memberships choose to leave the organization.
  • The Online Director of Editors now has its own direct link:
  • The national job board will be revamped. Once it is relaunched, employers and clients will no longer have to pay to post a job.
  • Student affiliates will have a new committee to champion student issues.
  • The Standard Freelance Editorial Agreement is being updated.
  • The NEC is also aware of—and aims to solve—server problems affecting affected people with addresses.

Standards and certification

Vacancies on committees

Volunteering allows you to build network with colleagues across the country and add skills to your CV. Editors Canada is seeking volunteers for the following committees:

  • nominations committee
  • member services committee
  • communications and marketing committee
  • publications committee
  • standards task force
  • awards committee


At the next NEC meeting, planned for November in Ottawa, the executive will take the first steps to draft a new five-year strategic plan. The plan we have now will expire in 2016–2017.

Louise Spiteri—User-generated metadata: boon or bust for indexing and controlled vocabularies? (ISC conference 2013)

Louise Spiteri is the director of the School of Information Management at Dalhousie University, and she spoke at the ISC conference about social tagging and folksonomies. As a trained cataloguer, Spiteri said to us, “I’m a firm believer in controlled vocabularies, but we have to accept the fact that that’s not what our clients use.” She added, “User-generated metadata is here. Let’s accept it and learn to work with it rather than against it.”

Traditionally, a document’s metadata has been the purview of cataloguers, information architects, and professional indexers. Users could search for an item based on its existing classification, but they couldn’t amend that item’s categorization and organization based on their own needs and understanding.

In recent years, however, many blog and social media platforms have made it possible for users to store and categorize items—blog posts, photos, music, articles, and so on—based on their interests. They can organize these items by adding their own keywords, and in many cases they can add further metadata in the form of ratings or reviews.

Users typically add keywords using tags, which are non-hierarchical. A social dimension to user tagging was popularized by such sites as Delicious, CiteULike, and Flickr, on which users could not only tag information but also share those tags with a wider community. The collective tagging efforts of such a community is a folksonomy (a portmanteau of “folk” and “taxonomy”)—the set of terms that a group of users has used to tag content. Although such a set is open and uncontrolled, some sites offer tag recommendations based on what others have assigned, allowing for the potential for consensus.

User tagging has its limitations, of course—from ambiguity and polysemy (does the tag “port” refer to wine or a computer port or the left side of a ship?) to synonymy (especially in cases of spelling variants and singular versus plural nouns) to variations in the level of their specificity—but it can also be enormously powerful. In some communities, for example, dedicated users—avid fans who are intimately familiar with the content—can generate a set of tags that are more useful and informative than classifications offered by the vendor or a cataloguer, who is more likely to do the minimum level of cataloguing. Social tagging’s major strength is that terms can be individualized to users’ own needs. Further, folksonomies can adapt quickly to changes in user vocabulary, accommodating new terms with virtually no cost to the user or the system. Over time, particularly if the platform supports recommendations for tags, an item’s tags will tend to stabilize into an organically curated set.

Spiteri also briefly discussed newer forms of social tagging, including hashtags and geotags. Hashtags, common on Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and now Facebook, allow users to quickly follow a stream of content about a particular topic. However, they suffer the same problems as uncontrolled vocabularies; Spiteri strongly advocated promoting an official hashtag for a public event so that everyone uses the same one and the conversation isn’t split among multiple streams. Geotags, by contrast, add geographic metadata to information—allowing users to follow location-based news or identify the place a photo was taken, for example—and because they are often given in numerical format, such as latitude, longitude, and altitude, they are likely to be more consistent.

Social tagging, emphasized Spiteri, isn’t going away. How do we indexers work with it? Ideally, we would have a system that combines both controlled vocabularies and tags. On many blogs, for example, you can assign a post to one or more categories, which can be tightly controlled. User tags can then supplement or complement these categories, serving special user-focused functions. For instance, in multi-cultural communities, users can tag an item in their own language. Tags can also connect like-minded users, a function that controlled vocabularies don’t readily support. Most importantly, indexers can learn from user tags, adapting their subject headings to the language of their clients.

ISC Conference 2012, Day 2—What is the future of indexing?

Cheryl Landes is a technical writer and indexer who sees a changing role for indexers—one that is rife with possibilities.

Today people are consuming content in four main ways: through print, on e-readers, on tablets, and on smartphones. In the past year, more people have been moving towards tablets and smartphones rather than e-readers, since the former devices offer colour and other functionality. Many software vendors of authoring tools are adding outputs to accommodate tablets, and more and more companies are publishing technical documentation that can be read on tablets or smartphones (for example, Alaska Airlines replaced forty pounds of paper pilots’ manuals with iPads). Despite the movement towards mobile devices, however, Landes doesn’t believe that print will ever go away.

Digital content means users are able to search, but searching doesn’t yield the speed of information retrieval or context that an index offers. Indexers have to be proactive about educating others about the utility and importance of indexes, and emerging technologies are providing many opportunities for indexers to apply their skills beyond the scope of traditional back-of-the-book indexing.

Partnering with content strategists

Indexers can serve as consultants about taxonomies and controlled vocabularies, which are key to finding content. (An example of a taxonomy is the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia’s Index to Debates.)

Database indexing

Growth in this area is anticipated as more companies move their catalogues online, particularly in retail.

Embedded indexing

Embedded indexing tags content directly in a file and allows for single-sourcing, which is ideal for publishers who want print and digital outputs for their content. (Landes echoes Jan Wright in saying that for the past decade technical communicators have been grappling with issues trade publishers are facing now, yet they’re not talking to each other. How do we start that conversation?)

Search engine optimization

Indexers understand what kinds of search terms certain target audiences use. Acting as consultants, they can create strategies for keywording in metadata.

Blog and wiki indexing

This area is likely to grow because more companies are turning to blogs to promote products and services, and they are using wikis for technical documentation.

Social media

Possible consulting opportunities abound in this quickly changing field. Facebook’s Timeline and Twitter’s hashtags are both attempts at indexing in social media, but one can envision the need for more sophisticated methods of retrieving information as more and more content is archived on these platforms.

Publishers: Are you maximizing the marketing capacity of your freelancers?

As I put together my post last week on the care and feeding of freelancers, I began to wonder why gestures like inviting freelancers to events and sending them awards news weren’t standard in the industry, and it struck me that most editorial and marketing departments tend to operate independently and too often don’t communicate with one another to refine their strategies. Although this division has its advantages—most editors and authors would be loath to have marketing weigh in on every aspect of a book’s content—it can also mean that publishers may be missing out on an easy way to get the word out about their lists.

In addition to pursuing traditional marketing channels, publishers should also consider taking some simple steps to fold their freelancers into their marketing plans. Why is this a good idea?

1) The editor of a book (or its designer or indexer) can be its most enthusiastic champion

In some ways, an endorsement carries more credibility coming from a freelancer, because, unlike the author or publisher, she has no vested interest in book sales and would be unlikely to go out of her way to promote a book she doesn’t believe in.

2) Everyone has a network*

Freelancers—introversion notwithstanding—are no different. Through social media they can effortlessly reach their contacts with news about their projects, and we’ve all seen how quickly and widely news can spread with social networks serving as a multiplier. Imagine a designer tweeting “Got my comp copy of History of Canadian Photography today. Printer did a beautiful job with the colours!” or an editor posting “Looking forward to next week’s launch of The Backcountry Cookbook at the Outdoor Store. I finally get to meet the author in person! The event starts at 7pm. Hope to see some of you there” and the early buzz that could generate.

What’s more, a freelancer’s likely to have likeminded contacts—people who enjoy the same types of activities, share the same interests, and read the same kinds of books—exactly the audience you want to reach.

3) Reaching out to freelancers helps foster a sense of teamwork and loyalty

And giving them a sense of ownership over their projects from beginning to end helps to encourage high standards and excellent work. Nurturing goodwill will help with freelancer retention, which will cut down on training and recruitment costs.


So how do you get started?

1) Develop a system to feed freelancer contact information to marketing

The in-house contact for freelancers—whether that person’s called the managing editor, production editor, or production manager—will have a record of who worked on each stage of a book, maybe even in a convenient format like a spreadsheet. Simply make sure that this information is passed along to the person coordinating event, award, and review notices, whose only added task is adding three or four email addresses to a contact list.

2) Develop a concrete policy informing freelancers about what information they can share and when

The term “policy” may be overly formal here—a simple FAQ on an editorial information site (like a wiki) would do. Freelancers—particularly if they’ve never worked in house—may be reluctant to share news about their work on a project because they don’t know if the publisher or author would approve. Letting them know in general terms what you’d encourage them to share will not only free them to publicize the book, but it will also tacitly help them understand the bounds of confidentiality in the author–freelancer–publisher relationship.

You may also want to list some important dates before which information must be held back—for example, the manuscript delivery date, catalogue date, or the pub date. For example, specify when it’s okay for a freelance designer to post a cover image on his blog.

All this said, it may not be wise to expect your freelancers to do any marketing for you. The reason some freelancers work on contract is so that they don’t have to be involved in all aspects of a book’s production and promotion. Make it easy for them to unsubscribe from notifications or newsletters, and consider any free publicity you do get from them gravy.


Ultimately, publishers have very little control over what their freelancers say or do; we can only hope that they will use good professional judgment and not post or tweet anything that will hurt the book, the author, or the publisher. Setting out these guidelines and improving communication with freelancers about marketing issues can only help your cause as publisher, though, and it carries a low risk with the potential for a high reward.

*Some of you will (rightly) point out the irony of my having neither a Facebook nor a Twitter account, but if you’re reading this, you’re part of my network!

Tweeting your way to job leads

Pamela Findling (@pfindling) gave a presentation at last evening’s EAC-BC monthly meeting about how to use Twitter to find writing and editing work. The key is to exploit the medium’s uniquely informal social atmosphere and its capacity for quick and far-reaching community building to network and find contacts.

She outlined seven tips as part of her Twitter strategy:

1. Know whom to follow

  • Start with people you know; search for colleagues and see who they’re following.
  • Start following potential clients. Pamela began following magazines and businesses that she was interesting in working for. What’s handy is that the person tweeting is usually the editor or the communications coordinator at a publication/organization, so Twitter allows you to build an immediate connection and a direct link to the editor. And Twitter’s casual, quick-response environment means that an editor is more likely to respond to a tweet than an email query. Further, Twitter is basically free, so organizations may opt to tweet about a job before paying a job-search site like Monster to advertise an opportunity.
  • Follow professional organizations; once in a while they will tweet about job postings. Branch out beyond the writing and editing organizations; follow designers’ groups, the Society for Technical Communication, the Board of Trade, Chamber of Commerce, etc.
  • Follow job-search sites. Jobsprout often posts writing- and editing-related jobs.

2. Chat people up

  • Don’t be afraid to jump into conversations, even with strangers. Twitter doesn’t carry the same kinds of social barriers to participation that other settings might.
  • Ask questions and try to give people a sense of who you are and what you’re interested in. Once you’ve started conversing with someone on Twitter, it becomes much easier to introduce yourself in person. (At networking events, Pamela often puts her Twitter ID on her name tag.)

3. Search for keywords

  • Search Twitter for key phrases, like “editing jobs” or “hire an editor.” Doing so will bring up opportunities all over the world, many of which will allow you to work remotely. (Pamela does caution that searching also brings up a lot of garbage, so you’ll have to sort judiciously.)

4. Use hashtags

  • Highlight particular subjects—your interests—with hashtags in your tweets. People interested in the same things will able to find your tweets just by clicking on a hashtag, so this is a way of getting your name out faster.

5. Post interesting content

  • Talk about projects you’re working on, emphasizing specific skills you’re using when you’re working on particular projects.
  • Post links to your work. Using an author’s or client’s ID in that tweet allows them to see that you’re actively promoting them.
  • Post about your area of expertise. For example, if you’re an editor, post grammar, spelling, or punctuation tips. Doing so establishes you as an expert in your field.
  • Post about events.
  • Post links to interesting articles.

Just be aware that Twitter is public—anyone can see your tweets. This presents a huge networking opportunity but also means that your tweets should reflect your professionalism and editorial standards.

6. Check in and post regularly

  • Check in at least once a day. Twitter moves really quickly, so job vacancies are often filled shortly after they’re posted.

7. Share the love

  • Twitter has Follow Fridays (hashtag #FF), where you list the IDs of other people and organizations you think your friends should follow. It’s essentially an informal referral, giving recognition to others, and it shows that you’re not just about you. Use this to build your network.
  • Use others’ Twitter IDs in your tweets.
  • Thank people for excellent service or for their help. Because of Twitter’s rapid and wide reach, a thank-you on Twitter goes far.
  • Retweet.

The presentation was excellent—engaging and informative. I have to confess to being a social media hermit myself. I’m on neither Facebook nor Twitter, primarily because I realize that they can be time vacuums. Although I occasionally wonder what I’m missing out on, I must say that I rather appreciate the quiet. So for now, this site is probably as deep as I’ll get, though having Pamela’s tips may come in handy some day, if I find myself wanting to branch out.