Christina Vasilevski

Toronto Writer/Editor for Content Strategy and User Experience.

Attending the Editors’ Association of Canada conference in Ottawa

It appears that when I watch a movie three times in the theatre, it causes me to drop off the face of the earth for nearly a month. But don’t worry – I have been productive during my absence.

A week ago I attended the annual conference for the Editors’ Association of Canada. The last time I went was two years ago in 2010, when it was hosted in Montreal. This year, it was in Ottawa.

My reaction to it this year was similar to when I was in Montreal: the conference was exciting and informative, but also overwhelming. There were so many sessions to attend, people to talk to, and things to write down that I’m surprised my hand didn’t cramp up from all the note-taking and live-tweeting I did. These were the sessions I attended this year, in order:

Day 1 – June 2nd, 2012

Adult Literacy: Why it Should Mattter to You (presented by Mary Wiggin)
This seminar focused on what we mean when we talk about literacy, and the challenges that adults with literacy problems face. Much of the advice in the final portion of the seminar about editing text to address literacy problems – using short sentences, removing jargon, using the active voice, and so forth – was already familiar to me. More interesting was the discussion of the various types of literacy that exist, the various definitions of literacy, and the statistics regarding functional literacy in Canada.

Editing eBooks (presented by Greg Ioannou)
This seminar focused on the basics of eBooks – their history, the different types of formats they come in, and so forth – and how a publisher produces an eBook. I hoped it would guide us step-by-step through the process of creating an eBook. Instead, there were some general tips about how to properly format things like punctuation (open em-dashes!) and columns (don’t even try!). This was still useful, but I was really looking forward to a hands-on demonstration.

Creating a Professional Development Revenue Stream (presented by Emily Dockrill Jones)
This seminar attracted a very large audience. However, the title didn’t match up completely with the subject matter. I thought that it would talk about how to build a business through providing professional development services to others. Instead, it focused on how to be a good, engaging presenter when running a PD program. Despite the mismatch between title and content, the information within was useful and applicable to many fields.

Day 2 – June 3rd, 2012

The Great Text-Talk Debate (with Ian Capstick and James Harbeck)
Ian Capstick argued in favour of text-talk, and James Harbeck argued against it. Unsurprisingly, most of the audience took the “anti-text” side at the start of the debate, but Ian’s points were so persuasive that by the end, the room had almost completely flipped its stance on the topic.

What convinced me was Ian’s argument that text-talk is just the latest solution to limitations built into our methods of communication. For example, when printed books were introduced in Europe, the binding technology was so poor that most books had spines so thin that the only way to accommodate the text was to use an extremely small font. This made me think of all the time I spent in WoW raiding Kara with my guild, speed-running noobs through Zul-Farrak, and rezzing priests with my Goblin Jumper Cables.

In other words, I remembered the years I spent playing a game with slang (text-talk) designed to convey a lot of information (communication) quickly (limitation). Ian Capstick won me over because 3.5 years later, I still can’t stop thinking about World of Warcrack.

Technical Writing and Editing for Usability (presented by Kerry Surman)
“Usability” is a topic I’ve researched at my day job. Much of the information in this seminar was already familiar to me, like the importance of using white space, bullet lists, and bolding to make text easy to skim. However, the discussion of how perception affects usability was interesting. Also, this seminar introduced me to the term “Web 3.0” – I remember “Web 2.0” being bandied around a lot a few years ago and thought that the term had become outdated. It’s interesting to know that instead it’s evolved to mean web customization and personalization. A really good example of the applications – and pitfalls – of trying to personalize the Web and commerce can be found here.

How SEO and Editing Can Wreck Each Other (presented by Greg Ioannou)
SEO is something that I’ve been learning about a lot both inside and outside of work. Imagine my chagrin when Greg went into the “do’s” and “don’ts” of editing web copy to improve web traffic, and I found that I had been guilty of committing some SEO sins on this website! Once I returned from the conference I followed his advice and edited my landing pages to reduce the number of times certain keywords were repeated. In the seminar, Greg used humour to great effect in the case studies he showed the audience.

Freelance Editing: The Top 10 Things I Wish I’d Known (presented by Elizabeth D’Anjou)
Elizabeth D’Anjou runs a very popular workshop about “taking the plunge” and becoming a freelance editor. This seminar was on a similar topic. I won’t go into all 10 lessons here, but I did find Number 9 – “A good read is not the same as a good editing project” – surprising. I’ve been trying to reposition my own editing services and work with fiction writers because they’re the kind of writers I find myself coming into contact with the most often; it was weird to see her advice so directly conflict with my own choices.

DRM, eBooks, and the ethics of eBook sharing

A few months back, I wrote a blog post talking about whether eBooks should have Digital Rights Management software, and stated that given the option, I’d prefer to buy DRM-free eBooks.

It turns out that Tor Books is of the same mindset – yesterday they announced that come July 2012, all Tor eBooks will thereafter be sold without DRM. This also applies to other imprints published by Tor’s parent, Tom Doherty Associates.

So what does this mean?

It means that publishers are starting to get the message that readers don’t want DRM on their files. I’d like to think that this would strengthen the viability of the ePub format against the Amazon onslaught, but I don’t know enough to make that prediction with certainty. It also means that publishers are starting to realize the futility of DRM – when a free program like Calibre is at your fingertips, it’s hard to argue that DRM offers a fool-proof anti-piracy method.

One big question remains: Will other publishers follow suit? I hope so, and soon. However, it makes sense that Tor, of all places, would be the torchbearer here. It’s an imprint that specializes in science-fiction – a genre that questions and comments upon how we use technology. Isn’t it fitting that a sci-fi imprint is the first one to recognize when a poor technology isn’t working and change courses in favour of a more rational alternative?

This is also the best time I can think of to introduce some new research I’m doing: I’m looking for authors, publishers, and eBook distributors to interview regarding the ethics of sharing eBooks.

I want to understand how various stakeholders in the ePublishing industry think about the prospect of sharing eBooks in the same way that people currently share print books. Is sharing considered a loss in current revenue (because that’s one less person who will pay for your book), or a herald of future revenue (because now your writing is on the radar of yet another reader).

The people I’ve spoken to so far are somewhat divided on the issue, but I want to hear more opinions. Are you interested? Have your own books been pirated? Email me or let me know in the comments  – the more viewpoints, the better.

Addendum: Here is an excellent, insightful article on why it makes sense for publishers to drop DRM.

A review of the Ryerson publishing program – Part 2

Last week, I wrote a post outlining my opinion of some of the Ryerson publishing courses I took. This week, I’m following up with a discussion of two other courses I took at Ryerson. I’ll round out the course summaries in a third post, and also talk about other facets of the Ryerson program.

(Update, August 7, 2011: Post #3 is here!)

Production for Books, Journals, and Reports

Perhaps the best thing about this course is the teacher I had – David S. Ward. He works for McLelland and Stewart. He’s got a major in Celtic Studies and listens to industrial  music. He’s charismatic as hell. And oh yes – this is the man who loves Caslon and hates Comic Sans with a fiery passion.

All joking aside, this was a very useful course because it talked about what happens to take a book from a (possibly messy) pile of pages to the fully-bound, typeset thing that we all know and love. In other words, it goes beyond the typical face of publishing (book launches! authors! schmoozing!) and goes right into the messy, ink-ridden bowels of it all: trim sizes, typefaces, scheduling, and shipping.

Even though I don’t plan to work in-house in a production department, I consider this course to be one of the most satisfying, because it allowed me to look at books in a new way: not just as collections of words, but as physical objects. After learning how paper is pulped, how a printing schedule is determined, and what an actual printing manufacturer looks like, it’s hard not to savour the texture of paper or the crispness of a book’s trim.

(Note: I took this course on campus during the winter of 2010.)

Publishing in the Electronic Age

Do you want to learn about eBooks and how they’re changing the publishing industry?

Do you want to learn about digital rights management?

Do you want to learn about the format war between .epub and .mobi?

If so, then you’ll need to look elsewhere. Because honestly, this course either doesn’t discuss, or barely scratches the surface of, these topics. Instead, it talks about how digital data is created, stored, and managed. Except that there are major holes in this education too. For example…

  • You’ll learn what XML is, but not how to write code in it.
  • You will learn about programs like Flash, Shockwave, and Director, but you won’t be told that the developer of those programs, Macromedia, was bought out by Adobe over 5 years ago.
  • You’ll learn about how Netscape Navigator stores cookies (seriously!), but not that Netscape’s current browser market share is around 1% and that Firefox’s current share is around 30%.
    • Actually, scratch that – you won’t hear a peep about open-source software at all.

However, I must admit that I took the online version of this course – it’s possible that the on-campus version is quite different.

In short, while this course does teach useful things, it doesn’t live up to its name. “Publishing in the Electronic Age” implies learning about how the publishing industry is reacting to things like the self-publishing movement, print on demand, and eBook piracy. Instead, what you’ll get is a discourse on content management, file types, and metadata. These things are good to know, but I think a far more accurate name for this course would be “Content Management in the Electronic Age” – however, I doubt that would get as many bums in seats.

(Note: I took this course online during the summer of 2010. However, I have been informed that this course was discontinued in 2011. It has been superseded by a course called “Digital Publishing and Production”, which I haven’t had the chance to take.)


What a Coincidence!

Just in time for my upcoming essay on new technologies and their potential effects on the Canadian educational publishing industry, Amazon announced yesterday that they’ll be selling the Kindle in Canada.

Far be it from me (yet) to comment on whether or not the Kindle is a worthwhile purchase. But I really do sense that once it’s within Canadian borders, the slow response time of Canadian publishers to eBooks is going to be looked at as even more foolish. While there are a LOT of cons to eReaders at this point (you don’t own the book,  you license it; Amazon reserves the right to delete the book after you purchase the license; Amazon’s eBook format is proprietary, etc), publishing as a whole is going to have to do some serious reckoning:

  • If eBooks become more important, what will happen to book designers? Will people even consider book covers relevant anymore? If eBooks standardize page size, will our considerations towards font and layout change?
  • Will people pay $10 for the pleasure of reading a book yet not really owning it? With the removal of the used book market, will sales go up or down?

At this point, I don’t plan on getting an eReader, but I’ve always been something of a late adopter when it comes to technology like this. Besides, people don’t know if Apple’s planning on making a reader  of their own, and if they found a way to more fully integrate eBooks with the iPhone, we can expect yet another paradigm shift.

Publishing and Digitization

I’m studying part-time at Ryerson University in the Certificate in Publishing program offered by the Chang School. Currently, I’m taking the mandatory overview course on educational publishing, and finding that particular part of the industry to be very different from what I’ve already learned about: ancillary materials, curriculum guidelines, professionally peer-reviewed proposals, and Canadian adaptations of international works are all very new to me.

However, my next assignment will allow me to delve into a topic that’s concerned me a lot during my courses: the effect that new technologies will have on the publishing industry. How exactly can publishers expect to maintain their current revenue levels once ebooks become more widely accepted, especially considering how the music industry has foundered in the past decade? I have to write an essay on the topic of digitization in the educational publishing industry, and while I may not address the question above, it still remains relevant.

In fact, one of my current professors has actually said that he can see digital publishing hitting traditional textbook publishing “right between the eyes” in about five years time – his quote, not mine. That particular image has really affected me because it highlights, more than most others, how much of a sitting duck the publishing industry is. With people like Cory Doctorow pushing the envelope and finding not one, but several ways to sell his book outside of the traditional publishing industry, what happens when more authors follow suit? What happens if the economy tanks even further, and textbooks become even more expensive in comparison to income, thus driving up second-hand sales, online piracy and illegal photocopying, thus resulting in fewer book sales and a higher per-unit cost, thus making students even more disinclined to buy expensive texts?

These are very tough questions to answer. I can’t hope to scratch the surface on them in my essay, but they’re really food for thought.