Christina Vasilevski

Writer/Editor for Content Strategy and User Experience

What Are the Different Types of Editing?

Amid all this talk about plain language and writing web copy, it seems like a smart idea to pull back and look at things from the other side. A lot of the myths about editors out there exist because people don’t really know what editing entails.

So what do you do if you think you’re looking for an editor, but aren’t completely sure? What exactly do editors do, and what types of editorial tasks are there?

The 4 major types of editing

The Editors’ Association of Canada lists 12 types of editorial skills on its website — the variety might surprise you. However, broadly speaking, most editing is broken down into 4 types: substantive editing, line editing, copy editing, and proofreading. Also broadly speaking, the stages of the editorial process are approached in the order outlined above as a piece of text moves from beginning to end, from creation to publication.

Let’s look at each in turn.

1. Substantive editing

This type of editing is also called “structural” editing. This is the stage of the editorial process where, if you’re writing a piece of fiction, your editor will look at things like character development, pacing, dialogue, and plot. At this stage an editor will analyze how your story holds together and determine if there are any issues (eg: plot holes or unclear character motivation) that you need to address in a future draft. In non-fiction contexts the process is very similar, though I personally have not worked with book-length non-fiction. An excellent source for information about non-fiction substantive editing is Scott Norton’s Developmental Editing: A Handbook for Freelancers, Authors, and Publishers.

Substantive editing involves looking at the bones of your work, whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, and seeing if any of those bones are fractured or dislocated. During a substantive edit, editors will ask themselves questions like:

  • Does the current order or flow of information make sense?
  • If this is a work of fiction or narrative non-fiction, does the overall narrative arc have a satisfying opening, climax, and close?
  • Are there certain elements of the work that need to be moved to different locations of the text, expanded, or omitted?

If you’re a fiction writer who is part of a critique group, you’re probably familiar with this process — many of the comments you might receive from your group members mirror those that a substantive editor would give you. (This is something I’ve had personal experience with as part of a critique group.)

2. Line editing

This is also known as “stylistic” editing. Not many traditional publishers have dedicated line editors anymore; instead, both substantive and copy editors may handle various aspects of this process. Instead of looking at things from a section-by-section level as substantive editors would, line editors focus on the text line by line and paragraph by paragraph to ensure smoothness, clarity, and flow. During a line edit, editors will ask themselves questions like:

  • Does the author rely on a particular crutch word or phrase?
  • Is there jargon, and is it appropriate?
  • Is the language of this text too formal or informal for its target audience?
  • Can a sentence be rephrased to avoid awkward constructions like double negatives or the passive voice?

Again, if you’re a fiction writer in a critique group, line editing concerns often pop up in critiques, and for good reason. For example, you might have a certain stock word or phrase you’re unaware of.

3. Copy editing

Hey Bob, can you give this a quick proofread for me? I think there’s a word missing here.

Chances are that when a colleague or friend asks you this, what they’re looking for is not a true proofread, but a copy edit. Copy editing (or rather, what those not in the know consider proofreading) is all about checking text for errors in grammar, syntax, and punctuation. However, there’s more to copy editing than just mindlessly shuffling through a dictionary. Copy editing is about consistency just as much as correctness, as this short post by Ken Follett illustrates:

First [my copy editor] checks spelling and punctuation. Now, my spelling is not bad, and I always look up difficult words such as Khrushchev (three aitches) or Willy Brandt (not Willi Brand). But she always finds some errors.

Then she checks consistency, just like the continuity person on a movie set, who makes sure that if the actor is wearing a green sweater when he goes to the front door, he’s wearing the same sweater two weeks later when they film him coming out of the house. A copy editor makes a note that Rebecca is thirty in 1961, and checks that when we get to 1971 I don’t absent-mindedly say she’s forty-five.

There is a whole host of things that copy editor check for aside from the usual culprits of grammar, continuity, and punctuation — a topic so large it warrants a post of its own.

4. Proofreading

So if checking for grammar issues isn’t proofreading, what is?

It’s checking page proofs —  but let’s step back a bit to understand what “proofs” really are.

After a manuscript has been edited, it’s then sent to a typesetter/designer. This person takes the edited text and actually does the physical/visual layout of the book, making sure that all of a work’s textual and visual elements — tables, images, page numbers, captions, running heads and footers, and so forth — form a harmonious visual whole.

However, the initial typesetting is far from perfect. There may be pages where only one word is printed, dangling there, separate from the rest of the paragraph on the previous page. Sometimes the spacing between certain elements (eg: subheadings and the following text) is inconsistent from page to page. In other situations, a word or phrase change significantly in meaning if there’s a bad line break in the text, like in this stunning example. When typesetters actually save the page design (usually using a program like Quark or InDesign), they either print the files out or export them to a digital format like PDF. Those files are what we really mean when we say “page proofs.”

Proofreading is all about looking at those proofs as a visual whole and pointing out issues in spacing and placement to the typesetter. In addition, proofreaders correct any (hopefully few) remaining errors in the text that the copy editor didn’t catch.

Because proofreading is one of the final editorial stages before the actual printing process, a good proofreader (or a good author!) will not introduce major changes to the text unless absolutely necessary. This is because adding a completely new chapter — or even a completely new paragraph — runs the risk of upsetting the visual flow of the entire document, potentially introducing further new bad breaks or spacing issues. Proofreading is not the time to add “one more thing”. Instead it’s the detail work, the final sculpting of your text before the clay dries completely.

So what does this mean for you?

Chances are that the further away your text is from publication, the more editing your text needs. As you refine your writing with the help of an editor, you’ll get closer and closer to the proofreading stage. Understanding that fact is a great place to start when you’re looking for editorial help.

Need a Crash Course on Web Copy? Try “Nicely Said”

Nicely Said: Writing for the Web with Style and PurposeTitle: Nicely Said: Writing for the Web with Style and Purpose
Authors: Nicole Fenton and Kate Kiefer Lee
Publisher: New Riders Publishing
Rating: 4 out of 5
Format: Print

Writing can be a daunting prospect for many people, and the way that the internet has changed both how we write and how we read can make it even more so. But the realities of the modern marketing world demand writing that’s user-friendly and easy to understand. What’s a verbophobe to do?

Well, a good place to start is by reading Nicely Said: Writing for the Web with Style and Purpose by Nicole Fenton and Kate Kiefer Lee. I’ve been writing for years in the context of websites and content management, and this is one of the most concise, thorough, and welcoming guides to online writing and editing that I’ve come across.

What really makes this book special is that it follows its own advice. All throughout, one of the most constant pieces of advice in it is to write in a friendly way that’s similar to how you would talk – and this book does that! A lot of writing and style guides take on a more authoritative tone, and sound intimidating as a result. This one doesn’t.

Nicely Said also imagines building a website from the ground up. It even uses an imaginary small business as a recurring example throughout the book of how to write and organize a website: Shortstack Books, an independent bookstore.

As the book discusses the process of doing research, writing mission statements, creating a wire frame, implementing consistent vocabulary, and even writing error messages and terms of service pages, it uses the example of Shortstack Books as its frame of reference. Although it’s a familiar technique, it works — it grounds the advice and keeps the topic from getting too abstract.

The book also includes case studies from several online companies like Etsy and Google, and provides several examples of good and bad web copy so you know what to do and what to avoid. What makes my particular editorial heart sing is that there are multiple chapters devoted to the topic of revision and workflow — processes that ordinarily strike non-communication-types with dread.

The only problem I have with Nicely Said is that it takes for granted the way the web works in 2013 and 2014. This book risks sounding dated very quickly.

However, that’s a small caveat. This is an extremely useful resource for people in a variety of contexts, like web developers and designers, not just writers and editors.

How Crutch Words Weaken Your Writing

Just say "no" to crutch words.

Just say “no” to crutch words.

Whoa! The “4 Myths About Editors” post has really taken off in the past few days. Thanks so much for all the positive feedback!

What I want to talk about today is related to one of the myths I discussed in that post: the idea that an editor will change your voice so much that it won’t sound like “you” anymore.

This concern is based on the idea that an editor will dilute what you have to say. However, good editing achieves the opposite — it strengthens and concentrates your voice, instead of weakening it. One way that editors do so is by removing crutch words.

What are crutch words?

Crutch words are the filler words people use that don’t add any value or information, and are often used to buy time when deciding what to say. Adverbs like “really” and “very” are a common culprit here — while they can add emphasis when used judiciously, overusing them makes for flabby writing. Here’s an example of what I mean, courtesy of Camilla Blakely, my copy editing teacher at Ryerson. Look at this sentence:

I was really quite scared.

Then compare that one to this:

I was terrified.

Which sentence sounds more vivid? I think you can guess — it’s the second one. In fact, the first sentence has the curious effect of making the speaker sound less scared than in the second sentence despite the use of multiple intensifiers. Technically, both sentences mean the same thing, but they convey completely opposed images.

However, the true insidiousness of crutch words lies in how goddamned often they pop up in writing, sapping the willpower of your readers as they roll your eyes over your limited vocabulary.

Want an example?

The “Apparently Kid”

You probably remember this kid from when a video featuring him went viral earlier this summer. Here it is:

If you want to skip the video, here’s a transcript, an excerpt of which is below:

Kid: It was great. And apparently I’ve never been on live television before. But, apparently sometimes I don’t watch the – I don’t watch the news. Because I’m a kid. And apparently every time – apparently grandpa gives me the remote after we watch the powerball.

Reporter: Tell me about the ride, what did you think about the ride?

Kid: Well it was great.

Reporter: Why?

Kid: Because, you are spinning around. Apparently every time you get dizzy.

The video became popular because this kid peppered his speech with the word “apparently” so much that it was obvious he had no idea what “apparently” meant. It’s cute when a little kid uses words incorrectly — it’s a sign of their brains developing, and though we don’t want to admit it, much of our laughter was paternalistic.

But you know what’s super annoying? When a person old enough to know better does the same thing. Even worse is that in certain contexts, using a crutch word can undermine your credibility, as this article from Workopolis shows. An excerpt is below:

Him: “I was basically responsible for the content strategy. The senior editor had me running the day to day updates and maintaining the websites. I always kept the sites fresh by having the newest stories featured front and centre.”

Me: “So you weren’t actually in charge of the editorial websites, you just basically updated them with the newest stories as they came in.”

Him: “Basically, yes.”

I suppose it isn’t necessary to say that I didn’t hire this editor for the role. His resume got his foot in the door for the interview, but he proceeded to undercut all of his alleged accomplishments by saying that he had “basically” done them.

I’ve actually not done justice in this piece to how often he said the word. It was so frequent that I suspect it may even have been a nervous tic. If so, I hope he’s overcome it by now.

The best compliment I’ve ever received

Let me tell you a story.

A few years ago, I was at a networking event and chatting with an older gentleman sitting next to me. I spoke at length to him about a book I had read recently and why I found it so interesting. After I was done, here’s what he said:

Him: You know what I like about you?

Me: No. What?

Him: You didn’t use the word “like” at all [as a filler] when you spoke to me just now.

People notice when you use crutch words. I consider this compliment — from a man whose name I don’t even remember! — as one of the best I’ve ever received in my life.

I want you to try something: the next time you’re listening to a friend talk or reading someone’s long-winded status update, pay attention to what words they overuse. Then imagine a big noisy “beep” sound over that word, like it’s being censored on a trashy talk show. Imagine that “beep” popping up every time those words appear. The more you hear that sound, the more it aggravates you, right? Now imagine how your audience feels when you do the same thing in your own writing or speaking — your pauses and tics distract from the core of your message.

Do you really want to sound like a five-year-old, beeping and grasping at that handy yet important-sounding word because you can’t think of others that will do the job?

What’s worse is that it’s hard for us to recognize our own crutch words because they’re an important component of supporting our thought process. They’re the scaffolding we use when structuring what we want to say. What an editor does is take a look at that scaffolding and apply all the material needed to finish the job and make that support structure unnecessary — then the building behind the scaffolding can stand strong and tall as its shining walls catch the sun.

Common crutch words to avoid

You could write books about what to cut out of your writing (and many have), but here’s a list of some common crutch words and phrases that appear in both written and spoken English:

  • really
  • very
  • quite
  • basically
  • truly
  • apparently (I couldn’t resist!)
  • honestly
  • actually
  • focus on (e.g., “I focus on helping people write well” vs “I help people write well” — this is one of my personal crutch words)
  • like
  • you know
  • um/uh
  • so
  • anyway
  • well
  • literally

When you find these words in your text, ask yourself a few questions:

  • Is this word providing any additional meaning or emphasis to what I want to say?
  • Will my meaning be altered if I cut this word?
  • Can I think of a way to make this shorter?
  • How does it sound when I read this out loud?

Applying these questions to your own writing and cutting the words that don’t pass muster — that is, by doing what your editor would do — will make your writing stronger and more memorable.

4 Myths About Editors

An example of text with editorial markup.What editors do is often kept hidden. In fact, a good editor is supposed to remain invisible by giving the text enough care and polish that it shines brightly and speaks for itself.

The thing is, when your goal is to be invisible, people get a distorted image of what you actually do. Myths about editors exist, and they’re pernicious. So what is editing, and what myths about editors are there? Here are four examples.

Myth #1: Editors are just glorified spell-checkers

When most people think of editing, they think of fixing typos and grammatical errors, or what editors call “copy editing.” (This is what others often call “proofreading” — proofreading and copy editing are actually two different things.)

However, even in a typical copy edit, there’s far more going on than just spell-checking. For instance, copy editors are frequently on the lookout for:

  • continuity errors
  • incorrect information or anachronisms
  • inconsistent formatting of elements like tables, graphs, and captions

Let’s say you’re writing a novel set in 1981 and you mention that a character is wearing a pastel shirt like the ones on Miami Vice. MS Word won’t double-check when the show started airing, but an editor will – and they’ll flag it, since the show started in 1984, three years after your story takes place.

Another example: you say your character’s eyes are blue in chapter one, but brown in chapter six. Would a spell-checker catch that?

I doubt it.

Of course, that’s assuming you’re working with a copy editor. A lot of editors don’t copy edit. Instead, they look at the text from a 50,000-foot view, examining the terrain and figuring out the deeper-level issues in your text that need fixing.

These people are known as structural or substantive editors. When reading your text, they ask themselves things like:

  • Are you keeping your audience in mind, or are you using too much technical jargon?
  • Should your conclusion really be the text’s introduction or first chapter?
  • Do your readers need to know about Topic X when the rest of the chapter discusses Topic Y?

That’s more than just being a glorified spell-checker. Editing like that involves being a bloodhound on the trail for gaps, unclear thinking, and logical fallacies. I bet Clippy can’t do all that.

Myth #2: Editors are just waiting to pounce on every mistake you make

People often think of editors as know-it-alls wielding red pens, waiting to call you out on your misuse of a comma. Granted, there are people out there like that, and there is a certain amount of satisfaction in pointing out the spelling and grammar mistakes of others.

But honestly? Getting into a tizzy over every single error is pedantic. More than that, it’s exhausting. People make mistakes. The whole reason editors exist is to keep those mistakes to a minimum and make you look better.

More importantly, ridiculing you for every mistake is counterproductive to an editor’s aim, which is a positive working relationship. As an editor, it’s in my best interest to keep you as happy as possible about the small things, like fixing spelling mistakes, so I can create enough trust to bring up more serious problems, like bad transitions and inconsistent referencing.

Myth #3: Editors will change your writing so much it won’t sound like “you” anymore

Bad editors may do this. Overzealous editors who feel like they have something to prove may do this. I know there are horror stories out there.

But unless your writing is so bad that such heavy rewriting is necessary — and if it is, that’s something that a managing editor or project manager should discuss with you in detail — editors like that are the exception, not the rule.

It all goes back to fostering a good working relationship, like I mentioned in the second point above. Trust is both important and scarce, and the wholesale rewriting of text without consultation burns through a lot of trust quickly with no obvious benefit. Why would we shoot ourselves in the foot like that?

Fellow editor Antonia Morton has a clever saying:

George Orwell wrote: “Good prose is like a window pane.”

Editor Antonia Morton says: “Good editing is like a squirt of Windex.”

Wholesale rewriting is not good editing — that’s just shattering the window entirely.

Update: I delve into this myth more in my follow-up post “How Crutch Words Weaken Your Writing

Myth #4: Editors don’t make mistakes

Remember that bit above about people making mistakes? It applies to editors too.

Embarrassing confession time: there are a lot of errors I haven’t caught when editing something. Usually they occur when the turnaround time for a project is very short. (A lesson to the wise: don’t underestimate the amount of time that good editing takes.)

Hell, I’ll admit to something even worse: I’ve committed the cardinal sin of introducing errors. This is a huge no-no. One time earlier this year, I was doing a rush job (remember what I just said about needing enough time to do good work?) for a client whose company included a bed and breakfast facility. During the process, I wrote the phrase “bread and breakfast” rather than “bed and breakfast”. This happened not once but twice. Once the client informed me of this, I made sure to fix the error as soon as possible and — after doing a quick scan in MS Word to make sure this error didn’t appear anywhere else in the document — sent back a cleaned-up copy.

The point is that no one is perfect. In fact, academics have studied error rates in various contexts. Fellow editor Adrienne Montgomerie discussed last year both on Copyediting.com and subsequently on her own site that no editor catches every single mistake. At best, estimates about error detection rates range from 95% to 99% among professional editors.

So what are editors like?

They’re like anyone else, really. They’re fallible, but they care about doing a good job. The difference here is that this job is an intensely personal one because many people see their writing as an extension of themselves — and if your writing is bad, what does that say about you as a person?

You are not a bad person. Your thoughts are worthy of expression.

All editors do is make that worthiness more apparent to the wider world.

The Value of Plain Language

One of the hardest lessons I ever had to learn as a writer was that using complex words was not a sign of good writing.

It’s a natural assumption to make. “Good” writing means writing that sounds “smart” — and what’s smarter than using vague or polysyllabic words that you really have to think about to understand?

How about using language that’s simple, clear, and gets its point across? In other words, how about plain language?

Understanding the value of plain language is something that a lot of individuals and businesses have trouble with. Hell, even the government of Canada hasn’t implemented plain language rules across all of its departments, as a recent news story about Revenue Canada has made clear.

Quick summary: an American firm reviewed thousands of letters sent to Canadian citizens by Revenue Canada (Canada’s version of the IRS) and found that they were “poorly organized, confusing, unprofessional, unduly severe, bureaucratic, one-sided and just plain dense”.

Ouch.

The cost of not using plain language

It gets worse, though. Turns out that having letters full of bureaucratic, complex language — AKA, what many people think sounds “smart” — has a huge cost:

All that gibberish comes with a human cost: confused taxpayers swamp the agency’s call centres with needless telephone inquiries, or they send thousands of letters to tax offices asking for clarification.

[…]

“Often the main purpose of the documents was not readily apparent, and other important information was scattered throughout the document or embedded in dense paragraphs,” Siegelvision said in its $25,000 review for the government.

The evaluation included an online survey of taxpayers by another firm, which asked respondents to examine a typical CRA notice that required the recipient to send the tax agency money. About half of those surveyed could not figure out they were supposed to write a cheque to the government because the document was so poorly written. [Emphasis added.]

Think about all of the waste in both time and money those poorly-written letters cause. Think about all of the money the government isn’t getting because people can’t understand that they need to submit a cheque.

Would you let “smart” sounding writing get in the way of actually getting the money you need to keep on going, whether you’re a business or individual?

I didn’t think so.

So what is plain language?

I talk about this more in “3 Ways to Make Your Online Content More Readable” (which you can get by signing up in the sidebar) but plain language, put simply, involves using common words and simple phrasing to make sure as many people as possible understand what you’re trying to say.

That doesn’t mean you have to sound like you’re writing for a five-year-old. But it does mean that you need to write clearly, avoiding heavily technical or  insider-friendly terms. You have to assume that the people you’re talking to don’t know as much about your topic as you do.

Let’s face it, no one knows everything — but people do want to learn, and plain language is all about not getting in your reader’s way. Who knows how much money (literal and figurative) you’re leaving on the table otherwise?

My Perspective on Ryerson’s Publishing Program — 3 Years Later

Ever since I graduated from Ryerson’s publishing program in 2011, I’ve been contacted by people asking for more information about it — about whether the program is worth their time, and whether it’s led to the kind of work I’ve expected.

These questions have been hard to answer; as I was going through the program, the publishing industry was dealing with the first real eBook boom. The pace of change in the industry has only sped up since then. It was still a novelty for me back in January 2011 to see a person reading from a Kindle on the subway — but then I bought my own Kobo less than a year later. Now I see eReaders and tablets almost everywhere I go when I’m on public transit. In fact, people openly talk about tablets replacing eReaders and have worried about the prospect for years.

Thus, a lot of my information about the program is out of date. I’ve been asked some of the same questions by different people multiple times, however, and I figure it’s about time for me to do a follow-up post.

Or rather, a series of them.

Although I’m happy that others have seen me as a go-to resource about Ryerson’s publishing program, I don’t want to imply that my experience is the standard one. As a result, I decided to get in touch with fellow Ryerson publishing students (some graduates, some not, some who are editors, some who are not) to get their takes on what effect, if any, the program had on their careers. Over the near future, I’ll write at least one post about their experiences. For this post, though, I’m going to focus on my own experiences as they relate to a few frequently asked questions. Here we go.

FAQ #1: Have you ever done an internship? Are internships worth it?

I haven’t done any internships. I’ve applied for them and even had a few interviews, but never been accepted for one. I know of many other graduates who have done internships, and I recognize their value in understanding the publishing industry, but I dislike the economics surrounding them. (Frankly, all of my internship applications in the past year were ones I sent just to prove that I wasn’t sitting on my ass while looking for work.)

An internship is not a guarantee that you will be hired by a publishing company. Some graduates I’ve been in contact with have talked about how they had to complete multiple internships before finding a paying position. If you take into account that book store revenues are declining and that eBook sales haven’t risen the same amount to compensate, as well as the rise of self-publishing, I honestly don’t know how long the current structure of publishing companies will last. I suspect that the chief benefit of internships is the networking opportunities they provide. But honestly, they haven’t made as much sense for my personal career path.

FAQ #2: Help! I’ve graduated from university and I don’t know what to do with my life! I love books, though, and I can spot typos — should I take the program?

Many people think that all it takes to be a good editor is to spot typos. I certainly thought this myself when I started. However, there are many more different types of editing out there than most people imagine, and being a good editor requires a deeper, more muscular level of thought than just catching a misplaced comma on a menu.

I don’t regret taking the program, as I do feel I’ve learned a lot from it — obviously, I wouldn’t be freelancing if I thought the program wasn’t worth it — but there are a number of things I think prospective students should keep in mind:

First, the popular conception of the publishing industry is full of romance. New York! Book tours! Liquor-filled lunches! However, the reality is much different. Big authors are getting bigger advances, smaller authors are often going the self-publishing route, hybrid authors are now officially A Thing, and the midlist is getting squeezed. Taking courses in publishing and learning about the true economics of the industry will at best make you more practically-minded and at worst shatter your dreams.

Second, don’t assume that you’ll work in the traditional publishing industry when you graduate. Some of the former students that I’ve spoken with do end up working for a publisher but others self-publish, while still others migrate into different industries. Like I mentioned above, I’ve never taken on an internship, and in fact do not do any editorial work with publishers at all. I instead focus my editorial services on small businesses and marketing companies.

Most importantly, the publishing industry has changed a lot in the past few years, and no one is still quite sure how things will shake out. If you do want to take part in the industry, you’ll have to work at it. Follow people on Twitter. Read all the blogs and resources you can to stay on top of things. Go to industry events. Learn more about self-publishing. Learn to promote yourself. This really isn’t a program you should choose just because you love books. It’s a good start — a vital start, even — but the industry demands more of its people than just that. Prospective students need to understand that publishing is a business as much as it’s a cultural pursuit.

FAQ #3: What are your thoughts on the online courses the Ryerson publishing program offers?

It really depends on your learning style. I am lucky enough that I live in the same city as Ryerson, and that Ryerson’s publishing program is very highly thought of. As a result, I took most of my classes on-campus, and only took courses online when it was necessary to. If you live outside of the GTA, however, online classes will probably be the most viable option.

The thing is that the atmosphere of an online class is very different from that of an in-person class. I feel like I’m being held more accountable when I have to shuffle downtown with my books and binders.

Do you have the mental fortitude to check in every week on an online class and hand in assignments on time when there’s no one looking over your shoulder? I find that really hard. Sitting in a class, listening to a teacher, raising my hand, and asking questions is a much better fit for my learning style because the effort involved in doing so makes me value the class more.

FAQ #4: Was the program worth it?

I think so. But I think that’s partly because I realized something very early onthe skills offered by the Ryerson program can be applied to multiple contexts outside of publishing. If there’s anything you take away from this post, it should be this.

Also, I took the effort to join organizations outside of Ryerson to learn more, did volunteer work elsewhere, and networked with a lot of people. For two years I had a job that involved online proofreading; when was there, I learned about other skills like content management and content strategy. When I applied to that job back in 2010, some of the things that helped me stand out from the other candidates were my Ryerson background and the fact that I knew how to code HTML — something I taught myself how to do before I even finished high school.

What matters isn’t that you take the program. It’s that the program becomes part of the totality of what you can offer to people. Can you write? Can you edit? Do you volunteer? Just how much effort do you expend into the world in general? Ryerson was a stepping stone for me — not the whole staircase.

FAQ#5: Where else should I go to learn more?

There are so many resources out there that it would take a lot of space to list them all. I’ll devote a future post just to useful links and resources. However, if you’re interested in editing in particular, I highly recommend the pamphlet So You Want to Be an Editor from the Editors’ Association of Canada.

The EAC 2014 Conference: Live Tweets, Landmarks, and Lost Voices

Conference logo for the Editors' Association of CanadaI’ve been a member of the Editors’ Association of Canada since 2009, but haven’t attended every conference since then. I’ve only attended the ones requiring minimal travel, like the 2010 one in Montreal or the 2012 one in Ottawa. Luckily enough, the EAC 2014 conference, which happened just last weekend, was in my hometown of Toronto. It was a pretty fun ride, most things considered – here’s what it was like.

Friday June 6th

Friday did not start off well for me, as I woke up with an alarmingly scratchy throat. As the day progressed, I felt worse as muscle aches started to set in. Understandably, I was filled with dismay, as having a cold would affect my ability to talk to others, but I soldiered on and went to the reception anyways.

I have to admit that while it was good to talk to people and see familiar faces, I didn’t enjoy the reception as much as I could have, as the cold ruined things. I went out with some other attendants afterwards for dinner in the hope that some Tom Yum soup would fix me up, but alas, it didn’t.

Saturday June 7th

Since I live on the edge of Toronto, it took me a while to travel to the conference location, so I missed the opening moments of Douglas Gibson’s keynote. I enjoyed what I did manage to hear though, especially his anecdotes about Alice Munro and W.O. Mitchell (“now that’s what I call a ‘deadline’!”). I ended up attending the following sessions:

Faster Editing: Using PerfectIt to Check Consistency and House Style with Daniel Heuman: PerfectIt is a software program designed to help editors maintain consistency in a document by automatically checking for things like hyphens and capitalization. I’ve never used it, but this seminar gave everyone in the room plenty of reason to try. The entire room was filled with a low-grade murmur of phrases like “oh my god” and “wow” and “that’s a lifesaver” throughout the hour. I live-tweeted this one.

e-Merging in Social Media to Win Clients with Erin Brenner: Erin is the editor of the Copyediting newsletter, and made an impact with her writing blog and other social media efforts. Her seminar focused on using a blog as an online presence hub with social media profiles as the spokes reaching out from that hub. A lot of this information was already familiar to me (hell, I was live-tweeting this seminar too), but I do admit that it gave me some ideas about how to revamp the static pages on my own site.

Working as an In-house Managing Editor with Brooke Smith, Robert Steckling, and Tracy Torchetti: I didn’t get a lot out of this one, but I attribute that to the fact that I was really crashing due to my cold. However, I did get a chance to reconnect with a former coworker, and that was definitely worth something.

There were a few hours between the end of the sessions and the start of the EAC’s Awards Banquet, and the idea of going back home only to return downtown made little sense. Luckily, I found two editors who came from out of town who were also wondering how to spend the intervening time, so I offered to take them on a little tour of the landmarks close to the conference location.

We ended up going to Old City Hall (which was closed), where I managed to dredge up some of the facts I remembered from Doors Open a few weeks ago, the current City Hall (where we took a look at the diorama of the downtown core), Campbell House, and some of the grassy grounds leading out near the rear of City Hall. We then had an afternoon snack at a local pub, and went back to the hotel where the other two were staying to spruce up for the Awards Banquet.

The Awards Banquet  itself was interesting, but with my cold, I wasn’t able to fully enjoy it. I had run my voice ragged by the time it started, so I couldn’t talk as much as I wanted with the people sitting at the same table as me. Also, as it was the first time I’ve ever attended one of the EAC banquets, I didn’t know what to expect, especially in terms of length – I had to run to catch a taxi after it was done, and if the banquet had lasted one minute longer or if my taxi had stalled for one more minute in traffic, I would have completely missed my train home from Union Station.

Sunday June 8th

This was the day when all of my previous talking took its toll. My throat was sore and scratchy, and any attempts to raise my voice above a whisper resulted in a hoarse squawk. Before I took the train back downtown, I took matters into my own hands, which resulted in this:

I was undaunted, though, and went to seminars in all of the available timespots. On Sunday I attended:

Career Mojo at Work: Deceptively Simple Strategies for Times of “Crazy Busy” with Eileen Chadnick: Lately I’ve been working with a business coach to see how I can make my freelance business more effective. This seminar, run by a different business coach, talked about how stress affects the brain, and discussed methods that freelancers can use to minimize stress and maintain positive well-being. This was a change of pace for me, but I appreciated having the chance to reinforce the lessons I’m learning with my own coach.

Protecting Yourself in Your Digital World: Preventative Maintenance from a Computer Security Perspective with Jeffrey Peck: This session talked all about passwords, encryption, privacy, security breaches, backups, viruses, and more. I admit that I probably piped up a bit too much in this session as it seemed like I already had a lot of these security settings in place, but issues like password management (yay, LastPass!), Carbonite, and two-factor authentification can really do that to a girl. A note to other editors reading this: Lifehacker is your friend. Seriously.

How to Edit a Blog (and When and Why You Should) with Tammy Burns: This seminar talked about the history of blogging and the issues surrounding what it takes to edit blogs for both personal and commercial interests. There was some useful information here, but I’m considering contacting the facilitator directly for more customized advice.

The Future of Self-publishing and Editors with Arlene Prunkl, Donna Dawson, Mark Lefebvre, Vanessa Ricci-Thode: This seminar was definitely the highlight of the conference for me in retrospect. There was so much useful information here about how editors can find self-publishing authors to work with, and what rates are typical for editors to charge. This seminar was done in Q&A format, which I think worked quite well. It also helped that the room was packed. This was the only seminar of the day that I didn’t live-tweet, because I was worried about my phone’s battery.

How to Leverage LinkedIn to Showcase Your Editorial Expertise with Leslie Hughes: The audience for this seminar was so big that it got moved into the auditorium. This was wise, because it was the seminar with the highest attendance of the entire conference. As a bonus, my seat was near an outlet, so I was able to recharge my phone. This seminar served as a good refresher course, since my LinkedIn profile is a bit dusty – I need to work on my social media strategy in general.

The whole thing ended with a closing keynote by Terry Fallis. It was hilarious, but I had heard him deliver almost exactly the same speech in a previous event I had seen him speak at – although this time it had snazzier visuals and a heightened sense of electricity just because of the sheer size of the audience.

That electricity continued as editors filed out the door to return home, because of the final announcement of the conference: Toronto will be next year’s host as well, and the EAC will be partnering with editing organizations from other countries to make the conference fully international. It would be quite the coup if successful – Bryan Garner could be speaking next year, you guys!

Summing it all up

My conference experience would have been better if I hadn’t gotten a cold on Friday. In fact, it’s Wednesday and I’m still in its clutches, despite drinking copious amounts of tea (because of course I am). Otherwise, I felt I got a lot out of it, and have a huge list of ideas about how to develop both personally and professionally.

Other editors have already written about their experiences, too. Check out the roundups below if you want a fuller portrait of the EAC 2014 conference:

Vanessa Ricci-Thode

Suzanne Purkis

Sue Archer

Iva Cheung

Adrienne Montgomerie’s extremely comprehensive Storify of live tweets from the conference, broken down by theme

New Ryerson Course: Grammar and Punctuation

I have a dirty little secret when it comes to being an editor: I rely on my ears to edit text, rather than a thorough knowledge of grammatical rules.

Or rather, I have done so in the past. This secret is no longer quite so dirty because I’m taking (yet another!) course at Ryerson, this time on grammar and punctuation. It started in early September, and I’m now nearly halfway through it.

I didn’t take the course while I was completing my certificate because it was only a half-length one for no credit – it didn’t make sense to take it then. Now, much to my chagrin, the University has decided to convert it into a full-length course that goes towards completing the certificate – a year-and-a-half after I finished the program. However, the utility of such a course is hard to deny, so I’m attending class every Tuesday night until mid-December.

Several things about the course have been surprising. For one thing, I thought my knowledge of grammar would prove to be rudimentary, but it appears that it isn’t so basic after all. Thanks go to a lot of people for that, including my old French teachers, my high-school Latin teacher, and Mignon Fogarty of Grammar Girl fame. Despite this, it’s surprising how hard my reliance on things just “sounding right” has been to break, especially after learning which grammar rules are correct despite contradicting my ear-sense.

I’ve discussed grammar topics before, like my stance on the serial comma. But there are other grammatical debates I have a clear stance on. For example, I’m a staunch advocate of “they” being used as a gender-neutral third-person singular pronoun, considering that gender-neutrality is in the bones of English’s linguistic forebears. Beyond all this, though, there are plenty of things about grammar I still have yet to learn (and develop an opinion on).

So what about you? What sort of grammar rules do you hold dear, or feel are outmoded?

Saying Yes to Full-time Freelancing

I’ve been managing this website through its various incarnations since late 2009. Since then, there have been a lot of changes – new web addresses, new business names, and new clients. However, a few weeks ago, an even bigger change happened: I stopped being a full-time, in-house employee.

Apart from the occasional mention of commutes and coworkers, this is not something I’ve mentioned a lot. When I started doing freelance work (and thus started this site), I also worked full-time in a position not related to writing or editing. In the summer of 2010, I found a new job formatting and proofreading web content. It was a wonderful place to work, and I learned a lot there over the following 2 years. However, I found out a month ago that my contract was not being renewed, and my final day at work was two weeks after that.

Although this was unpleasant news, it also helped me decide to make my freelance business my main focus. I am now making the leap from employee to independent professional for hire.

Is this change going to be easy? Not at first. However, I’m ready to hustle. I’ve contacted other editors and writers I know. I’ve contacted companies I’m interested in working with. Most of all, I’ve got the professional training and the family support that made this decision possible in the first place.

Since I’ve made the leap, I’ve gotten many encouraging signs. In particular, I discovered this blog post by John Scalzi about what it was like to become an independent writer, where the following paragraph really stood out:

And this is one of the reasons why I tell people that being laid off from AOL was one of the best things that ever happened to me — because as much as it knocked me for a loop, it made me ask myself who I wanted to be in control of my life — and it made me make a choice about how my life would be. It was the right crisis at the right time; it was something I think was necessary for me. In a very real way, it’s the moment I can point to and say “this is when I knew I was a grown up.” It’s maybe a silly way to put it, but it was important all the same. So: Thanks, AOL, for laying me off. I appreciate it. It’s done more for me than you know.

Speaking of encouraging signs, as I was writing out this very post, a company of editors I follow on Twitter asked me if I wanted to write a guest blog post for them. I said yes – because who in their right mind wouldn’t?

In essence, that’s a lot of what becoming a freelancer means: Saying yes. Yes to change. Yes to trepidation. But also yes to new projects, yes to new skills, and yes to new and interesting people.

So here I am: I’ve said yes. And I’m hoping that when it comes down to it, I’ll be hearing the word “yes” too.

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.