Event review: Battling woes & busting myths 3

 by Amy Haagsma; review of seminar Usage Woes and Myths with Frances Peck (offered by EAC-BC on April 12, 2014)

Although an EAC member for almost a year, I hadn’t yet had the opportunity to attend one of EAC-BC’s professional development seminars. Usage Woes and Myths with Frances Peck caught my attention right away, as I had learned a lot from Frances through her courses at Simon Fraser University. It initially occurred to me that I might not need the seminar, as I thought I had a pretty good grasp of word usage, but as I started reading the description I realized how wrong I was.

“You’ve sorted out imply and infer.” (Check!)

“You know it’s not all right to use alright.” (It’s not?)

“But what about more troublesome usage points, like the difference between may and might?” (Hmm. I may [or is it might?] need to take this seminar after all.)

“Or such commonly misused words as dilemma and fulsome?” (What’s a fulsome?)

“Is it true that you should always change though to although, till to until?” (I definitely need to take this seminar. Sign me up!)

“Is impact now officially a verb?” (Stop the madness!)
More…

PubPro: Testing, testing…1,2,3 3

Here’s the last of our posts relating to May 2014’s PubPro event. EAC-BC and Publishing at Simon Fraser University, along with event organizer Iva Cheung, would like to thank PubPro 2014’s generous sponsors for their support: Scrivener Communications, Friesens, Indexing Society of Canada, Leanpub, Talk Science to Me and West Coast Editorial Associates. Also, a big thank you to our volunteers Megan Brand, Lara Kordic and Lana Okerlund for writing great little reads for us all to enjoy during the summer months. If you’d like to see this event again, let the professional development co-chairs know!

 

Testing, Testing
by Lara Kordic; discussion led by Anne Brennan, co-chair of the Editors’ Association of Canada (EAC) certification steering committee

The purpose of this discussion was to share experiences related to evaluating new or prospective editors and to gauge whether there is interest in third-party testing developed by EAC. The discussion was led by Anne Brennan, co-chair of the EAC certification steering committee. Anne began the discussion by asking who in the room is responsible for hiring editors for their organization and how we evaluate editors’ skills to determine their proficiency. Most people in the room were involved in the hiring and evaluation of editors, but there was some variation in opinion on how those editors should be evaluated. Some organizations use tests developed in-house and administer them in a high-pressure environment to test both the editor’s skills and their ability to cope under stress. Others prefer face-to-face interviews over, or in addition to, written tests. Some expressed interest in a reliable third-party test, whereas others felt that no third-party test could determine who is right for their particular organization. There was some concern that a third-party-developed test would not be able to evaluate an editor’s people skills or ability to write tactful, diplomatic queries to an author. Anne Brennan pointed out that EAC certification tests do in fact evaluate people skills by looking at the tactfulness of comments/queries, and EAC is now looking into developing tests that would determine editorial proficiency (as opposed to editorial excellence, which is what the current certification tests measure). An editorial proficiency test would be valuable for organizations looking to hire junior editors who are trainable and can grow into their role.

PubPro: Retakes & workflows 2

Reprints, Revisions & Print on Demand
by Megan Brand; discussion led by Jo Blackmore

Reprints are straight printings, ideally featuring corrections to any errata in the first run. Publishers may use colour inserts in offset reprints or print them on the digital press as black and white photo sections on regular stock, which don’t have to be tipped in. Friesens was said to be perfecting its digital colour-printing technology. Economies of scale for offset reprints kick in at five hundred units, whereas it’s cheaper to print lower runs digitally. According to Library and Archives Canada guidelines, “a work is considered to be a ‘new’ publication if there is a relevant edition statement, if there has been a change in title or a change of publisher, or if additional information appears in the work.” Therefore, they may require a whole new edit, proofreading and index. Commonly used print on demand (POD) and fulfillment providers include Lightning Source (Ingram), which was thought to be user unfriendly; BookMobile (Itasca), with good customer service; and CreateSpace (Amazon), which offers higher revenue per unit.

 

The Flying Narwhal: Single-Source Workflows for Small Magazine Publishers
by Lana Okerlund; presented by Shed Simas

With tongue in cheek, Master of Publishing (MPub) student Shed Simas pitched his presentation to PubPro participants by explaining the origin of his project’s name, The Flying Narwhal: “a hybrid that’s part real, part magic, part myth”—not unlike the project’s vision of single-source multi-platform publishing.

“The Flying Narwhal puts a bunch of components together in a way that is affordable, robust and accessible for multiple people in multiple locations,” Simas said. In essence, the system he and fellow MPub collaborators Kaitlyn Till and Velma Larkai designed would allow small magazine publishers to accept submissions from contributors, access the system from multiple computers, share files between staff and authors for collaboration on edits and revisions and manage version control. Once editorial is complete, documents flow into a hub, from which they can be output into multiple platforms: InDesign for print, a PDF digital edition, Padify for a digital magazine and a WordPress website.

With a rather dizzying list of other technologies involved in the solution—Submittable, Google Drive, Dropbox, cloudHQ, Neutron Drive and pandoc—the presentation revealed a truism in publishing (and editing) today: it’s an increasingly high-tech business. While not all publication professionals will feel comfortable with all the moving parts behind the scenes, more and more of us may soon be users of new solutions like The Flying Narwhal to do our everyday jobs.

PubPro: A guide to style guides 1

Thought I’d leave the original title, given its definite uniqueness…

House Style and the Zombie Apocalypse: How a Poorly Thought-Out Style Guide Can Cost You Money

by Lara Kordic; presented by Iva Cheung

This presentation outlined the purpose and some characteristics of a well-thought-out house style guide and the dangers and common characteristics of a poor house style guide. Iva Cheung began by asking why we have house styles if we already have and use industry standard style manuals, such as the Chicago Manual of Style. One reason is to establish branding identity through consistent use of a certain style. Another reason is to go beyond what is covered in industry style manuals to meet audience expectations for specialized topics, such as measurement styles for cookbooks or capitalization preferences for certain organizations or communities. A third reason is to facilitate efficiency and workflow by establishing an editorial authority that helps your team work together and prevent anyone from having to second-guess their style decisions. Finally, a house style can outline the processes for tagging or formatting that may be particular to your organization.

Unfortunately, many house style guides that start with the best of intentions can fall prey to something that Iva calls “zombie rules.” These are rules that may have had merit in the past but that are no longer valid in the context of current language, technology or process. Sometimes zombie rules creep into a house style guide because of someone’s personal preferences or pet peeves and often they don’t make any sense. In fact, they may contradict industry standards, and enforcing them may cost the in-house editor and freelancer precious time as they communicate with each other about the issue. The more time spent talking about or correcting these so-called errors, the more money the company wastes. When zombie rules get out of hand, the house style guide can get unreasonably long. It is important to remember that the house style guide is there to supplement, not replace, industry-standard style guides; for most organizations, it should be about five to ten pages long. Adding your organization’s editorial philosophy or background can also make the document longer than it needs to be. Ultimately, your style guide should be audience-focused; the rules should serve the readers of your publication(s), not your personal whims. And the guide itself should serve your editors, not confuse them.

House style best practices include reviewing your house style regularly for validity, keeping policies and procedures separate, and putting your house style guide online for easy accessibility. Ideally, you should conduct house style audits or reviews when there are staffing changes, when your organization introduces a new process or new software or when a new edition of an industry manual comes out. A house style audit should be conducted by your in-house editorial team, plus someone external like a freelancer. When conducting the audit, go through each item and decide if it is necessary. If the item doesn’t match what’s in your industry manual, why not? If there’s no legitimate reason why not, remove it. If there is a legitimate reason, write a short note explaining why the deviation from the industry guide is there. Remember that every item should be justifiable and that “we’ve always done it this way” is not a valid justification. Finally, be sure to look for places where the style guide contradicts itself. People often add items to the style guide when something goes wrong in a project, but this isn’t necessarily the best place for those items. An effective house style guide should keep style points (e.g., serial comma use) and process points (e.g. formatting, tagging etc.) separate.

Putting your style guide online in a format that’s easy to revise and search, like a wiki, is a highly effective way to keep your guide current and accessible. You can organize it according to different stages in the editorial process so that copy editors and proofreaders can focus on their specific task rather than having to slog through the whole guide. Or you can use an industry style manual as a general guide to help you organize your house style guide.

Some organizations have a separate style guide for writers, which includes general rules but is not nearly as detailed as the style guide that is designed for editors. The level of style control an organization imposes at the writing stage depends on the type of publication being produced. In book publishing, it’s generally thought that writers should be allowed to write, and it’s up to the editor to impose the style after the thing is written. But in certain corporate environments, it may be useful to have writers follow an editorial style from the outset of a project or assignment.

PubPro: Creeped out 1

by Lara Kordic; discussion led by Eve Rickert

This discussion focused on experiences with and management of scope creep (uncontrolled changes or growth in a project’s scope) in the editorial and production process. The conversation opened with people sharing their scope creep horror stories, many of which involved hard to manage authors, missed delivery dates and budgets being set (often by someone working above the managing editor) without taking all the complexities of the project into account.

The discussion then shifted to sharing how people managed these situations and what measures they or their organization would take to prevent future instances of scope creep. One person mentioned that in her organization, each project has an action plan drawn up in an Excel spreadsheet with multiple tabs. The action plan defines everything that is going to happen in the project, and at the end there is lessons learned tab, which summarizes some of the obstacles encountered in the project for future reference. In other organizations, it was found that a thorough contract specifying the length of the project and all the tasks involved could help determine a realistic timeline and budget for the project and therefore reduce the chance of the project going off the rails.

However, it is impossible to predict everything; sometimes a client does not have a good understanding of the different levels of editing and may underestimate the amount of work involved, leading to the project falling behind schedule or going over budget. In a traditional book publishing organization, it is common for a publisher to acquire a project and set a publication date and budget without taking into account the editorial complexity of the project. In these situations, scope creep is almost a given, and the managing editor must either somehow work within the parameters provided or ask for more time or more money, which may not be granted.

One way to prevent this situation is to ask a prospective editor to do a reader’s report on the manuscript and provide an estimate for the project as soon as (or even before) the contract is signed. This third-party assessment could help the managing editor justify the need for a more realistic schedule and budget. If it is impossible to change the publication date, the managing editor must set firm boundaries for all people involved in the project to prevent deadlines from slipping. Often it is the author who holds things up by wanting to make non-essential changes towards the end of the process. In the case of a traditional publishing arrangement, the managing editor can set firm boundaries, allowing the author to make changes only up to a certain stage (often this cutoff stage is written into the contract); however, when the author is a paying client, restricting their freedom to make changes becomes more difficult, and the managing editor must exercise great diplomacy and tact when imposing such restrictions. It may even be possible (as long as you state this at the outset of the project) to charge them more money for any changes made beyond a certain stage.

Overall, scope creep seems to happen when there is a disconnect between the publisher’s expectations and the reality of the work required, or when an author/client does not understand or recognize the complexity of the work that needs to be done. In both cases, more planning and clearer communication at the outset of the project may help prevent projects from getting out of control.

PubPro: Workflow systems and digital shifts 2

In Short: Workflow Systems for Managing Large Projects with Multiple People

by Megan Brand; discussion led by Eve Rickert

Google Drive: Gantt chart-like workflow spreadsheet, task lists, timelines, and revision histories. Wiki-esque: great for real-time collaboration but not for version control.

Teamwork: More automated than Basecamp and can set up dependencies. Cloud-based with messaging systems and task lists, but time-tracking feature can’t do time estimates for entire projects, just tasks.

Smartsheet: Gantt-based, cloud-based, and allows for multiple contributors. Can send it out to users and assign them to different tasks. Would ideally create a snapshot showing users’ black-out periods. Free up to a certain amount of tabs.

SharePoint: Website document repository using Excel for tracking and MS Project for scheduling. Source documents populate timelines, with Gantt charts and dependency and reporting features, but it’s not user-friendly.

JIRA: Sophisticated code repository and project-management and collaboration tool. Sets up contingencies and updates continuously.

Tom’s Planner: Online Gantt charts for workload management. Fast, easy, and free (except for printing), it shows freelancers’ schedules. Doesn’t require programming like Excel but needs constant management and updating.

 

The Shift to Digital at MEC
by Lana Okerlund; presented by Merran Fahlman

In 2009, MEC (or Mountain Equipment Co-op) published four print catalogues annually and one CSR (corporate social responsibility) report biannually, updated its website monthly and sent emails to customers weekly. Fast-forward to 2014, when 100% of its published content appears in digital-only formats, including the MEC website, a WordPress blog, a journal microsite, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and emails. The company has shifted from centralized to decentralized contributions, and while still relying on a core group of two writers and two editors, as well as freelancers and subject expert contributors, the team now includes a social community manager responsible for content curation and a brand engagement manager to help ensure that all that content upholds the MEC brand.

The company’s publishing environment has changed so much that managing editor Merran Fahlman wonders if her title shouldn’t be altered as well. “I’m more like brand engagement or content strategy manager now than a managing editor,” she said.

The shift to all-digital publishing has come with challenges, Fahlman said, including potentially unbalanced content themes, difficulties with overall planning, hard-to-access tone and style standards and the need for flexible quality standards. On the last point, no one reads tweets, for example. “We edit blog posts and site content, but there’s a whole lot of content that no one reviews,” Fahlman said.

As one PubPro participant pointed out, these challenges are “all about the change from push to pull. All of these issues have to do with loss of control. The customer is ultimately shaping the information, telling us in the moment what is important.” That may be so, but if you’re a managing editor used to editorial checklists and doing all you can to put out (you hope) perfect content, and what you’re now consumed with are Google Analytics, webmaster tools and HootSuite, it’s a brave new digital publishing world indeed.