Christina Vasilevski

Toronto Writer/Editor for Content Strategy, Content Design & UX.

Resources for Editors

resources_for_editorsIn September I wrote a blog post about my experience with Ryerson’s publishing program. At the end of the post, I said I would provide more info for people who want to learn more about editing or who want to be editors. So here’s a huge list of resources for editors!

These links aren’t organized in any particular order. Some links may be repeated as they apply to multiple sections.

Please note that these links focus on freelance editing. If you’re an in-house editor, or if you’re a designer, bookseller, or marketer, I would love to hear about your recommended resources in the comments.

What does it take to be an editor?

Many people think that editing involves primly marking up errors in red pen. However, it requires more than that. You have to be curious, thoughtful, and aware of your own biases. Here are some excellent pages about what it means to be a good editor.

Professional associations for editors

Joining a professional association will allow you to connect with other editors, and that is extremely important. Depending on the organization, you can also benefit from mediation services, group insurance plans, group discounts, and more. Some organizations also offer discounted membership if you’re still a student.

Mailing lists for editors

Individual editors who tell it like it is

Sometimes you need to hear that other editors are going through the same thing as you. These people offer great info and advice.

Business resources for editors

Tools and technology

Learning about and loving the language

Editing involves more than knowing grammar. You also have to understand the ways that language changes. These people provide varying perspectives on this process.

All-in-one resources for editors

Short on time? These sites provide a concentrated dose of helpful info.

Are there any websites that you think I should add? Let me know in the comments.

Ryerson Publishing: What Other Students Thought

I last wrote about the Ryerson publishing program when I answered some FAQs from prospective students. But what do other publishing students have to say about their experience?

I found out — and I hope you get as much out of their comments as I did.

Note: all quotes below have been lightly edited for grammar or clarity.

J’s thoughts on the Ryerson publishing program

J is finishing up the Ryerson program this fall, and currently works as an in-house editor with a publisher:

The program and the EAC have both been vital in me furthering my editing career. But I’m not sure how much of that was just the timing of when I entered the industry. I think it will be much harder for current students.

J elaborated on this in another email:

The Ryerson courses, as well as the EAC [Editors’ Association of Canada] courses, improved my editing skills immensely. Not to mention the networking opportunities from both.

However, when I started there were many more in-house opportunities than there are now. Many of those in-house positions have been outsourced off-shore. So there is more competition for the freelance, and in-house, jobs available.

I did do an internship and would recommend it to anyone who wants to be an editor, or be in publishing. Just don’t fall into the trap of moving from one internship to another in the hopes of gaining full-time work: it rarely, if ever, happens.

Lea Kaplan, graphic designer

Lea Kaplan is a writer and graphic designer who now lives in Toronto. After completing the publishing program, she studied graphic design in New York. Here’s what she had to say:

I did graduate from the program, though I know plenty of people who did not.  I’m not actually working in publishing right now (though I do still hope to end up in the industry). I went back to school and got another degree, and am now job hunting once again.

Her thoughts on whether the program offers transferable skills:

To be honest… I don’t know if there really were any transferrable skills. At least, not in regards to the direction I’ve gone.

The degree I received was in graphic design, and I am hoping to end up back in the publishing industry as a designer. I suppose that some of the skills learned in the book design course I took were transferable, but otherwise…

I suppose some of the tricks and tips learned in the marketing and/or publicity classes could be transferable, because being able to sell things is an important skill set regardless of what you’re selling. And I’m of the firm belief that everyone should have the skills to be able to copy edit text.

What I loved about the program was that it was specific. It was targeted to books, it gave the student a remarkable overview of all aspects of the publishing industry, and allowed us to connect to professionals who actively worked in that world. For someone trying to break into the publishing industry, that was invaluable. The things learned in the classroom were only half of the strength of the program.

An anonymous editor

This editor and I took classes together at Ryerson, and we reconnected after seeing each other at the 2014 EAC conference. Here’s what she had to say:

I fell into publishing in my third year of my undergraduate degree while fulfilling a voluntary placement. At the time, I was studying to be a teacher and was very unhappy. As a publishing intern, I realized that I could use my best skills – research, editing, and writing – and that teaching wasn’t my only option as a literature student.

I studied publishing at Ryerson in 2009 and then at the graduate level in 2012. I interned in editorial, marketing, and for a literary agency. I currently read for an agency, intern for a magazine publisher, and take on freelance editing projects wherever I can.

I believe that studying publishing is useful for an overview of the industry and to have access to internships and jobs you wouldn’t otherwise be able to get, but I would advise any aspiring publisher to work in the industry rather than studying it. Work in a bookstore, help with a literary festival, assist with digital platforms, freelance, and attend as many conferences and events as possible. If I could go back and tell my younger self anything, it would be to start working in publishing immediately upon finishing my undergraduate degree rather than going on to do graduate work. If I had known then what I know now, things would be very different.

Last spring, I interned for a wonderful company and was under the direction of a woman whose career trajectory I wish I could emulate. She started as a freelancer, worked as an assistant across different publishing sectors, and now – at the age of twenty five – is an assistant editor for a well-respected literary imprint. I would give anything to have what she has and do what she did, but I’m not her and she’s not me (and I didn’t know then what I know now).

I would also advise any aspiring publisher to work across as many sectors as possible. Don’t be picky and don’t limit yourself. You might find something you love that you never thought you would, and you will learn things you never dreamed you could if you step out of your comfort zone and you are open to new possibilities. Also: learn InDesign, Photoshop, Illustrator, and as many other publishing-related systems as you can. Strong administrative skills, attention to detail, efficiency, and a willingness to handle and apply criticism are essential.

A second anonymous editor

This is another person who studied at Ryerson at the same time that I did. She says some pretty strong stuff here — I can’t resist quoting someone who’s stirring the pot. Here are her thoughts:

When anyone asks me about working in publishing, I tell them “don’t do it!” I’ve had at least six friends this year alone lose their job at Random House. And several at other publishers too — or friends in magazines have their company go under. It’s a depressing time. Most internships are keeping things afloat these days. So I’m kinda negative about the whole thing. Ryerson accepts unlimited amounts of people to train for jobs that just don’t exist. The newer courses, such as the one on rights and the eBook production course, are the good ones, though I haven’t taken the digital production one yet, so I can’t really comment on it. I didn’t finish the diploma, mainly because I had a job in publishing and I didn’t think it was really worth it. So maybe I’m not the best person to talk to!

These days, the bigger publishers are more concerned than ever about their bottom lines. This affects the people working in publishing through cutbacks, but it also affects the types or quality of books they’re looking to publish. But maybe this will be a more exciting time for the mid-size or smaller Canadian publishers; they will get those authors usually snapped up by the larger corporations. Still, the point is that people getting into publishing because of a love of books need to choose their passion wisely because the industry has changed a lot.

You start classes and the first thing you hear is that there is NO MONEY in publishing. Well, that’s okay, you think, because I love books! But what you don’t hear (or maybe you do now) is the climate at these larger publishers: what drives them is a need to see return on their investments, not “good books.”

This makes sense, since business is business. But those doing it for a love of books are both out of pocket and lost in the bureaucracy of a larger publisher. And that’s where so many end up because of internships. A job at a smaller/mid-size publisher is really what you want, but those are few and far between.

What are your thoughts?

These are the thoughts of only a few people, and I recognize that far more comprehensive surveys could be made given the right resources. However, I feel it’s a start.

What are your thoughts? Are you a Ryerson publishing graduate who wants to weigh in? Are you a current or prospective student looking for more info? Submit a comment or send me an email.

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.

Change: What I’ve Been Doing and Where I’m Going

Oregon sunset-bIt’s been about two years since I decided to transition to freelance work. However, it’s been a bumpy road. I’ve taken on contract work that took time away from doing freelance work. In some ways, I’ve decided to focus on writing posts on here not about what I do for others, but about my own personal interests.

Lately, I’ve been trying to re-examine the choices I’ve made. Some of those choices, like freelancing, are things I’m still happy with. However, I’ve realized that I really need to try and move my blog beyond book reviews and talking about tea (both of which are quite fun, I admit!) to discussing things that other people want to learn or know more about.

What this means is that over the next few weeks and months, regular readers of this blog are going to see a bit of a shift in what I’m talking about.

I’ll still talk about books and publishing, and write the occasional book review on here if the mood strikes. I’ll still talk about pop culture, geeky things, and things that make me think.

However, I’m also planning to discuss in more depth the things that I’ve learned about the kind of business that I’m trying to run, and also talk about the projects I’m working on. In other words, I’m trying to make my blog more of a personal/business hybrid, instead of a personal one alone. My goal is to do roughly one post a week, alternating between discussing personal topics and professional ones.

Here are a few things I’m planning on talking about soon:

  • The aftermath of being a graduate of Ryerson’s publishing program, including commentary from fellow Ryerson publishing alumni
  • What working with a business coach to change my personal focus and development has been like
  • Interesting things I’m learning about the state of content marketing and what people in my industry/niche have been going through lately
  • What it’s been like to be part of a writing critique group, and what I’ve learned from joining one

This may not be the most exciting-sounding stuff on the planet to the people who have followed my posts in the past, but I figure that being honest about my thoughts and discussing upcoming changes in public is the best thing to do.

I hope that this leads to some good things. And I hope that you readers like it too.

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?

An eBook-shaped hole in my education

In a recent blog post I talked about my writing and editing goals for 2012. However, I forgot to add one very important goal to the list: I need to learn more about eBooks.

The course I took on electronic publishing in 2010 didn’t help me. In fact, it was downright misleading. It contained absolutely no mention of eBooks or eReaders at all. This is rather odd, all things considered – shouldn’t students entering the fast-changing world of publishing be given at least a rudimentary understanding of eBook formatting, eReaders, digital rights management for eBooks, or eBook piracy? This information is becoming increasingly relevant to both self-published authors and publishing houses. Ryerson will have a course in the summer of 2012 called “Publishing in Transition” which I hope will bridge the gaps in my knowledge, but that’s still a way off, and I want to start paving over the holes in my education right now.

So, here is a very basic sketch of how I plan to do that:

  • Bookmark websites and blogs that discuss ebook production, distribution, and marketing, and follow their content.
  • Buy lots of eBooks. (If there’s one thing that’s wonderful, it’s rationalizing entertainment consumption as a form of professional development!)
  • Understand how eBooks work in action and get a grasp of what formatting issues are unique to them. (I just bought a Kobo, but that’s fodder for another post.)
  • Learn about other facets of the self-publishing industry, like price points, royalties, and budgeting

The plan sounds simple in theory, but the amount of information about self-publishing and ePublishing  is increasing so quickly that it’s easy for anyone, especially a newcomer like me, to get overwhelmed. Here are some sites I’ve found useful so far:

Oddly enough, a number of the blogs I’ve been following have talked about the importance of good cover design for eBooks. Synchronicity or not, the news is welcome.

A review of the Ryerson publishing program – Part 3

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

Proofreading

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.)

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.)

 

A review of the Ryerson publishing program – Part 1

I never got to throw a graduation cap into the air when I finished my BA at Trent. Ah well.I’m proud to say that I’ve just reached one of the goals I set for myself when I started out as an editor: I’ve graduated from Ryerson’s publishing program!

My last lecture in my last course – Intro to Book Design – finished the evening before, so I’ve had about a day to bask in the glory of being an official graduate of the publishing program.

In response to a blog post by my Book Design classmate Lisa-Marie that summarizes Ryerson’s publishing program, I’ve decided to record my own thoughts about each course. However, while her interests lie in marketing and publicity, mine lie in editing and production. They’re very different parts of the publishing machine, though obviously interconnected.

Because it’s late and I’m tired, I’ll just talk about the first half of my courses and continue the review in a second post later on this week. Without further ado:

Substantive Editing

Unlike most other publishing students, I took this class first even though it’s not an introductory course – when I registered, the Trade Overview course was full and this was the only one that still had spots available. While it provided a very good crash course in editing full-length manuscripts, the Ryerson journey would have been much smoother overall had I taken the Overview course first and this one second.

The best thing about this course in the long run was the textbook. If you can find a copy of Betsey Lerner’s Forest for the Trees, I beg you, do not let it escape your clutches. Writers will find it useful to understand editors. Editors will find it useful to understand writers. The book is win-win, really.

(Note: This course was taught online by Joy Gugeler. I took it during the summer of 2008.)

Publishing Overview: Trade

Although this is normally the introductory course for most publishing program students, this was the second one I took. This course was also required to complete the program (and still is), so I took it as soon as I was able to get it out of the way. It focused on the economics and psychology of the publishing industry – the nitty-gritty of how advances and royalties work, the way books are marketed, and how books can both conform to, and subvert, our expectations.

However, learning about the economics of publishing dampened my resolve to complete the program because the industry resembles nothing so much as tightrope-walking. Here are some statistics, courtesy of my instructor, Sam Hiyate, co-founder of The Rights Factory.

  • A book needs to sell only 5,000 copies to be considered a best-seller in Canada, a country of over 30 million people.
  • Out of every 100 books published in Canada:
    • 85 books will lose money for the publisher
    • 10 books will break even
    • 4 books will be moderate sellers
    • only 1 book will be a bestseller (and remember, this means only 5,000 copies sold)

The course taught me a lot, but I consider the most valuable lesson to be one I discovered on my own once statistics like these were made clear to me: publishing depends on a constant churn of under-paid labour (aka: internships).

I suppose that this is a topic that deserves its own post, but learning about the money behind the publishing industry (constant government grants and constant reliance on interns) subconsciously contributed to my decision to freelance instead of work in-house.

(Note: I took this course on campus during the winter of 2009.)

Copy Editing for Books, Journals, and Reports

In contrast to Lisa-Marie”s experience, I really enjoyed this course and, in hindsight, I consider it to be the key to understanding what I wanted to do, and why I wanted to do it.

The answer is so obvious now: I love words. I find it akin to pain when they are misused. I enjoy finding the patterns behind them, and this course helped me to understand those patterns more thoroughly.

Often, the day after each copy editing class, I would come to work and babble to my then-coworkers about grammar issues that I found exciting – things like the spellbinding importance of choosing “that” for restrictive clauses and  “which” for non-restrictive clauses, or the evil of misplacing your modifiers.

This course had more homework than most of the others, but I don’t regret it; I still keep the textbooks handy on my reference shelf at home.

In retrospect, this course was my favourite in the program. It taught me a lot of things, and not just about grammar. Most importantly, it helped me realize that there are viable career paths available to editors even if the economics behind the publishing industry look doubtful, because lots of other industries rely on well-written and well-formatted content.

I really can’t stress this enough: there is a lot more text available to edit outside of the traditional confines of the publishing industry. So even if I considered the economic foundation of the publishing industry to be tenuous (and with eBooks, this has become even more of an issue), this course made a strong argument for the relevancy of the entire program, because the skills taught in it can be applied across multiple industries.

(Note: My instructor for this course was Camilla Blakeley. I took this course on campus during the summer of 2009.)

Publishing Overview: Education

The main thing that I remember about this course is that I did a tremendous disservice to it by not organizing my notes regularly. To this day, those notes are sitting at the bottom of my bookshelf in a disheveled pile inside a soft orange binder. However, I did learn a number of things from this course about the creation and editing of textbooks, chief among them being that creating textbooks is a lot harder than it looks.

The Education course is required to pass the program. Unfair as this sounds, I took this course during the first half of my program so I could complete the requirement and focus my time and effort on the electives that really piqued my interest.

(Note: This course was taught by Tony Luengo and Cara Yarzab. I took this course on campus during the fall of 2009.)

Update: Check out part 2 of this series!

Further update: Check out part 3!

Book Design Thoughts, Part 2

So, I am now a few weeks into my book design course at Ryerson, and it felt like it was really slow going until last night’s class (which happened during the Snowmageddon-that-wasn’t). Last night, we finally got around to one of the meaty topics I was most looking forward to: typography.

We covered the bread-and-butter basics, like typeface families, the difference between serif and sans-serif fonts, and the pace of technological change in typesetting up to the present day. We talked about Caslon, coastlines, and how block capitals reduce readability. We also did some font tracery and analyzed how different families treat brackets. On top of that, we lightly touched on the pairing of complementary serif and sans-serif fonts, but I still need to develop the Designer’s Eye to really get a sense for what pops and what doesn’t.

However, it was quite a relief to hear my teacher say that most designers stick to a handful of tried-and-true fonts that they use over and over for different projects. Knowing that even book designers, who can be quite adventurous, usually have comfort zones was, well, comforting. I can definitely name a fiew of my own personally pleasing fonts: Friz Quadrata, Chaparral, Book Antiqua, and so forth. We also got a handout showing the same sample of text repeated side by side in various typefaces, and I’m pleased to say that I’ve found a few more intriguing candidates, like Cambria, to play around with.

Overall, I’d say the biggest challenge I’ll be facing in this course is my own lack of design training: I have yet to fully develop the aesthetic muscles needed to really take apart a book design and see what makes it tick. Futzing around with InDesign has been instructive, but I need to branch beyond making my test documents look like the cover pages to an essay. If Ryerson had an “aesthetic appreciation” course, I’d definitely consider taking advantage of it.