Well, it’s been quite a while since my last discussion of Ryerson’s courses. However, with the new academic year on the horizon, it seems appropriate to finish off my series about Ryerson’s publishing courses. However, if you’re new, take a look at these posts first:
A review of the Ryerson publishing program – Part 1
A review of the Ryerson publishing program – Part 2
This course provided a useful parallel to the copy editing course that I took in 2009. It reinforced many of the concepts behind that course (attention to detail, rigorous adherence to the style guide, etc.), but it also tweaked them. For example, many of the marks used in proofreading have slightly different meanings than they do in copy editing. And while copy editing and proofreading both involve checking for typos and mistakes, both roles have duties that fall outside of the other’s purview.
The course included in-class exercises, tests, and large take-home projects. Funnily enough, although I proofread content before it’s published on the web every day, this course was not my most successful. In web content, you don’t have to worry (as much) about bad breaks, stacks, and rivers, because a lot of the time, how the text is displayed depends on the resolution of the computer you’re using, the browser, and window size.
Ultimately, I think this course was a worthwhile one to take, because the distinctions between copy editing and proofreading are small but crucial – it’s worth it for any editor to know and appreciate those differences.
The only problem with the course was that it was too short. Seven weeks is not nearly enough time to really grasp the essentials, especially since the course discussed proofreading both on paper and on screen using Adobe Acrobat. The compressed timeline also meant having to do two big assignments in clumps rather than a larger number of smaller ones. Overall, the publishing program would well-served by making this a full course, and by interspersing smaller assignments throughout.
(Note: This course is only 7 weeks long, and is thus worth only a half-credit towards the Certificate. You need to take another 7-week course to make up the other half-credit. I took it in the autumn of 2010 on the Ryerson Campus. The instructor was Craig Saunders.)
Trade Books: Fiction
There are only two words I need to use to sell this course to prospective students: Greg Ioannou.
For those unfamiliar with the name, he was one of the first members of the Editors’ Association of Canada. He runs a publishing services company that has proved to be a training ground for future fiction editors. He’s part of a trivia league. Hell, he’s helped produce editions of Trivial Pursuit.
In short, this is a guy who knows what he’s doing, and is a big part of Canada’s editing community. And this is the only course he teaches at Ryerson – and he does it only once a year. So if you have the opportunity to register for it, do not let it pass by.
I should note that the course had a second instructor – Barbara Berson, a former in-house editor who has been profiled in the Globe and Mail. They took turns teaching the course, either alternating from week to week, or talking to the class together on the same night.
Anyways, the course itself involved reading short stories, figuring out their flaws, and discussing ways to improve them. And boy, the stories he selected for my class were doozies of the worst order: they contained impossible timelines, narrators who couldn’t get to the point to save their lives, underdeveloped themes, and erroneous geography (Pape and Eglinton do not intersect!).
The kicker is that all of these stories have been legitimately published in Canadian anthologies. This illustrated that (1) there are definitely bad stories out there that get published, and (2) these stories often get published because they fulfill some sort of quota by the publisher. One story met the identity-politics trifecta of being written by a female writer about Jewish lesbians, and the two women in question didn’t even show up in person until the last few pages.
This was another useful facet of the course: seeing the politics behind what gets published, and why. The impression that this class gave was that many anthologies blow their budget on getting a few stories by blockbuster authors, and then spread the rest of the money around by buying the most (ahem) cost-effective stories that fit the anthology’s theme. So in effect, one of the inadvertent lessons of the course was that publishing seems to be as full of horse-trading as any other industry.
Ultimately, I learned about how to apply a more discerning eye to fiction, taking into account such things as setting, plot, premise, characterization, tone, and point of view. Considering my subsequent involvement in reviewing short stories for one of the WCDR’s writing contests, the course was both timely and useful.
(Note: This course is only 7 weeks long, and is thus worth only a half-credit towards the Certificate. You need to take another 7-week course to make up the other half-credit. I took it in the autumn of 2010 on the Ryerson Campus.)
Introduction to Book Design
I’ve mentioned this course in passing both here and on my Twitter feed. Let me say up front that while it’s a very valuable course, it wasn’t what I expected. Part of this is due to the fact that being a good designer takes both a solid technical background and a discerning, intuitive eye towards proportion. Both of these are things I need to develop more fully.
However, part of it is also because that I assumed that the course would include progressive, step-by-step instructions on how to use Adobe InDesign. I was particularly looking forward to this – to getting help deciphering the innumerable icons and menus at my disposal.
However, this did not happen. This course’s approach to teaching InDesign is akin to that of pushing a kid into the deep end and letting them sink or swim alone. Only one lesson out of the 14 weeks was specifically devoted to teaching the students how to use InDesign, although several subsequent lessons involved working on book design projects using InDesign in class.
The insufficiency of that one single class was exacerbated by the fact that all of the computers in the classroom did not face the front of the room and the projector screen – they were in fact perpendicular to the teacher’s screen, making it particularly difficult if you wanted to follow the teacher’s actions and reproduce them on your own computer. Even further, all of the computers in the computer lab ran on Windows, while the teacher used a Mac, meaning that the menus, commands, and keystrokes weren’t completely analogous. Seriously, the technical aspect of the course could have been a lot better.
So, one thing I learned from this class is that InDesign is hard. And it was made even harder for me because I felt that I didn’t have the time to learn useful shortcuts and tips (which, you know, more classes devoted to InDesign instruction could have fixed); I just used the brute force method of placing text boxes wherever I needed them to get the job done.
Aside from InDesign, we also learned about colour theory, typography, the CRAP (colour, repetition, alignment, and proximity) principle, and the history of book printing and design. We also went on a field trip to the Toronto Reference Library, toured their special collection, and got to see how archivists restore old papers and texts – that trip was definitely a highlight.
In short, if you have a well-developed aesthetic sense, this course will be worth your while. But don’t expect a comprehensive primer on InDesign, because you won’t get it.
(Note: I took this course on-campus during the winter of 2011. My instructor was Jaqcueline Hope Raynor.)