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 These are rules that may have had merit in the past but that are no longer valid in the context of current language, technology or process.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.

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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.

PubPro: Editorial archiving & lean publishing 3

Editorial Archiving

by Megan Brand; discussion led by Roma Ilnyckyj

Attendees from various private and public organizations compared their companies’ archival strategies, or lack thereof, regarding what to keep, recycle, or shred. Publishing houses, the BC government, CGA Canada, UBC and SFU were said to have vastly divergent document-retention policies, which run the gamut from keeping all emails and hard-copy editorial files to ruthlessly discarding them. Liability issues, possible historical value, and simply the need to reminisce were cited as the main reasons for choosing to keep documentation. Recent archives were also said to be a strong training resource. However, the sheer volume of material can prove crippling for users attempting to settle disputes over stylistic decisions. And although the digitization of hard copies is one solution (scanning them as PDFs), attendees questioned the point at which digital files are rendered useless as the programs required to open them become obsolete. Ultimately, companies need an archival plan, no matter how ad hoc.

 

Lean Publishing: Lessons Learned at Leanpub

by Lana Okerlund; presented by Peter Armstrong

After a fast and furious presentation of over a hundred slides in 20 minutes (honest!), Leanpub co-founder Peter Armstrong wowed PubPro attendees by creating a pretty darn good-looking e-book with just a few keystrokes. Had this not just been a demo, the book would have been immediately available for readers to buy and comment on. (Fun side tip: Check out hipster Ipsum the next time you need filler text.)

“A book is a startup: a risky, highly creative endeavour undertaken by a small team with a low chance of success,” Armstrong said as he explained the epiphany for Leanpub. Following serial entrepreneur Steve Blank’s suggestion to “get out of the building” and talk to customers, Leanpub allows authors to connect quickly (“frictionlessly” in Leanpub lingo) with readers and use their feedback to improve (“pivot”) their work until they have it right (“achieve a product/market fit”).

Making a fascinating and convincing comparison of Leanpub’s model with Victorian-era serial publishing by Charles Dickens (another serial entrepreneur) and Mary Elizabeth Braddon (the 1860s version of fan fiction writer E.L. James)—not to mention Dostoyevsky—Armstrong explained how authors today need to “get work out there and generate buzz,” and how anything standing in the way of putting words in front of readers, including editors, was just procrastination. “Everyone is optional,” he said. “There should be no gatekeepers. We all need to earn our place. At Leanpub, authors and readers are equally our customers, and we need to balance their interests.”

PubPro 2014: The highlights 2

On May 24, 2014, managing editors and publication production professions from BC and Alberta converged at Harbour Centre for the second annual PubPro 2014 unconference, co-hosted by EAC-BC and Publishing at Simon Fraser University. This unstructured event allows attendees to come with presentations and discussion topics and has proven to be an excellent forum for experienced pros to learn from one another. From that pool of ideas, we finalized the day’s agenda at the first session of the morning.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be posted highlights from the event thanks to volunteers Megan Brand, Lara Kordic and Lana Okerlund, who kindly took notes in the sessions and reported back on what they learned.

Here’s the first of many summaries:

Indexes in Adobe InDesign Creative Cloud
by Lara Kordic; presented by Judy Dunlop

This session focused on the use of the indexing feature in the recently launched Adobe InDesign Creative Cloud (CC) and included a wider discussion on indexing concerns and workflow issues. Judy Dunlop began the session by asking participants to identify indexing problems they have encountered in the past; she then went through the basic capabilities of InDesign CC and how its indexing feature could be incorporated into the digital workflow. Some index concerns mentioned include the challenge of assessing the quality of an index or potential indexer, tight schedules, and the difficulty of estimating the length of an index before it is created. Although these issues cannot be directly remedied by using InDesign CC, there are certain aspects of the indexing process that can be improved through the use of CC.

As in previous versions of InDesign, CC can generate an index using tags inserted into the electronic file. Unlike previous versions, CC allows indexes to be linked in multiple digital formats, such as PDF, EPUB and HTML. In some ways, indexing with CC requires indexers and publishers to work together more closely than before because the indexer is working directly in the live (InDesign) file, as opposed to a PDF, and may be involved in the proofreading and revising of the index. In addition to being proficient in InDesign and familiar with Creative Cloud, the indexer must be working in the same version of InDesign as the designer because they are working in the same file. The indexer may still use dedicated indexing software (Cindex, Macrex, Sky etc.), which is recommended for more complex indexes, but it is also possible to create the index directly in InDesign, with the indexer editing and revising the index while embedding markers into the document. Overall, the indexing feature in CC is considered to be a step up from previous versions of InDesign. With some training and closer coordination between publisher and indexer, this could become a viable option for many indexing projects.

Image by Megan Brand.

Technically editing Reply

by Amy Haagsma

Editing offers a wide variety of career avenues. And as technology makes it easier to distribute content, the demand for well-written, professionally-edited material continues to rise. Enter technical editing: a growing specialty that brings with it a diverse and rewarding career path.

More…