PubPro 2013: Behind the scenes with Iva Cheung

EAC-BC has teamed up with SFU Publishing Workshops to organize PubPro 2013, an unconference for BC-based managing editors and publication production specialists happening on Saturday, April 13, 2013. With PubPro just around the corner, West Coast Editor checked in with organizer Iva Cheung to find out what’s going on behind the scenes.

WCE: What prompted you to organize PubPro 2013?

Iva Cheung: I’ve been wanting to do this kind of event for quite some time. A few years ago, when I worked in house at D&M Publishers, I created an editorial wiki, which ended up being enormously useful to and popular with our in-house and freelance staff. I’d been thinking of creating quality-control checklists as well, when I found out that Grace Yaginuma, an editor at Whitecap at the time, had already developed a brilliant checklist for proofreaders. I asked if I could adapt her checklist for our own purposes. She responded, “Of course!” and in turn asked if she could see my wiki; I was only too happy to share the link. At that point, we discussed how frustrating it was that those of us who develop and implement in-house editorial systems didn’t really have a forum to compare notes about these kinds of issues.

I took a first stab at filling this void at the 2011 EAC conference in Vancouver, where I led an open discussion group for in-house editors. Our group had an hour to talk about a massive list of potential topics, which, as one of my colleagues pointed out, could have filled an entire retreat. The feedback I got from that session was that we need more opportunities for in-house editors to brain share.

Ironically, it’s only now that I no longer work in house that I finally have the flexibility to plan something like PubPro. I decided to limit the event to production and project-management issues, because those are the ones that are most lacking in professional-development opportunities and that are best suited to the kind of peer-to-peer learning you get with an unconference format.

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WCE: Why did you decide to make PubPro 2013 an unconference?

Iva: A few reasons, actually. First, I really wanted to keep the event affordable for everyone. Having worked in book publishing, I know how tight the purse strings can be for editorial and production staff. At an unconference, the participants are the speakers, so gone are the costs of speakers’ fees, as well as speakers’ transportation and accommodation costs. We’re keeping things simple and low key: no pre-printed name badges, no branded conference swag—just a good venue, a solid logistical plan, and a great team of volunteers.

Second, I knew that a lot of publication-production professionals have been at their jobs a long time, and they’re experts at what they do. They’ve each jury-rigged their own systems at their own organizations—some of which work better than others. There’s no one production guru who has all of the answers; the best way for people in managing editors’ roles to develop professionally is to hear what others are doing and learn from one another. An unconference fosters that kind of cross-pollination.

Finally, I wanted this event to be useful for the participants. Being a managing editor or production manager is so multifaceted that I didn’t want to be the one dictating what topics would and wouldn’t be discussed. With an unconference, the participants set the agenda, and they get to steer the sessions in the directions that they feel will be the most productive.

Oh—and I also want to mention that in addition to running the unconference sessions, we’re inviting freelancers to join us for the networking tea portion of the afternoon. If we’re going to have a gathering of managing editors, we certainly can’t pass up the opportunity to put them in the same room as those of our members who might want to work for them!


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WCE: Do you plan to make PubPro an annual event?

Iva: I don’t want to jinx it, so let’s just say that I’m taking it one step at a time! I’d love for it to grow into an annual tradition and for it to prompt publication-production professionals to come together as a community. Of course I want the first year to be a success, but at the same time I recognize that these kinds of events often take a couple of years to build momentum.

If this year’s event works out, I’d not only like to run it again in BC but also consider offering a similar event as a pre-conference workshop at the 2014 EAC conference in Toronto. EAC-BC chair Peter Moskos has encouraged me to go that route, and that’s what I’m aiming for.

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WCE: What has response been like to date?

Iva: Response has been very positive so far; many people I approached about attending have said something like, “This is so needed,” or “This is the first time I’ve seen a professional development event for someone doing my kind of work.” Then again, I suppose only the final registration numbers will tell whether this enthusiasm translates into participation!

We are really fortunate to have the support of our sponsors—Friesens, Hemlock Printers, Ingram, and West Coast Editorial Associates—which allowed us to lower our event fees and to book an additional room to offer more options for sessions. And I’ve had a really supportive network of colleagues help with all aspects of planning.

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WCE: What has been your biggest challenge in organizing PubPro 2013?

Iva: I’d say the most challenging part has been marketing the event to the right people. Publication project managers have all sorts of titles—managing editor, production editor, editorial coordinator, publishing director, and so on—but they all play basically the same role. I’ve found it hard to reach out to people, especially those in organizations that aren’t focused specifically on publishing necessarily but who still have to hire freelancers and create schedules and work to project budgets. In essence, I’m in a bit of a Catch-22: this event is needed precisely because there’s no established community of these kinds of professionals, but because there’s no established community, there isn’t one place I can go to promote PubPro.

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WCE: How will you be spending the last few days before the event?

Iva: Obsessively checking the registration page to see how many participants we have! Seriously, though, we’ve booked the rooms, set up the registration infrastructure, and told as many people as we could about it. Until registration closes and we have the solid numbers to finalize catering and get our last-minute supplies and printing done, our efforts will be on getting as many people out to this event as we possibly can.

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WCE: When is registration cut-off for PubPro 2013?

Iva: Registration—for both PubPro 2013 and the networking tea—closes April 5, 2013.

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