PubPro: Testing, testing…1,2,3

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: A guide to style guides

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

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 toward 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 2014: The highlights

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.