Talking to Oscar Malan of Novel Idea

by John Thompson


Around the big table with Oscar Malan  on September 12.

During our September gathering, Editors Kingston heard from Oscar Malan, proprietor of Kingston’s independent bookstore, Novel Idea.

He spoke about how his business managed to survive 15 years of competition with Indigo in Kingston’s downtown, how technology has changed bookselling and working in retail as a whole, and how he manages to carry such a well-stocked fiction section, among other subjects.

Malan moved from Toronto to Kingston in 1988, with the idea of opening a bookstore with a friend. That initial business soon foundered, but not long afterwards he helped launch Novel Idea, which he at first managed and later came to own.

The business took a beating when Indigo opened downtown.

“The day Indigo opened, our business declined 50 per cent. A year later, Chapters opened in the township, and business was down another 10 per cent,” Malan recalled.

But while other independent businesses shuttered during those years, Novel Idea held on. And once Indigo closed in 2013, sales bobbed back up about 40 per cent.

Similarly, this year he had a “crazy busy summer,” thanks in part to Chapters’ move to a new location in July. Immediately upon the township store’s closure, Malan says, his workload doubled.

Novel Idea is known for its comprehensive fiction section. That’s thanks to Malan spending a lot of time digging through the “backlists” of book publishers—the older titles that aren’t being actively pushed by salespeople.

“I carry all the Murukami, all the Vonnegut,” he said.

Malan can do this, in part, thanks to how quickly he’s able to reorder books today, allowing him to carry single copies of many of these books. “That’s the blessing of computer technology.”

Similarly, when Malan started out, he’d have to place an order in the summer months for howe

ver many copies of the latest Stephen King novel he thought he could sell at Christmas. Now he can get away with planning a week ahead.

Malan contends that he isn’t competing with online book sellers like Amazon. Instead, the natu

Malan in his shop. The T-shirt’s slogan is “What, me worry?” in Latin.

re of retail business itself has changed. Kingston was once home to five appliance stores, whereas there’s only one now—the same holds with independent bookstores. It’s the big chain stores that took the worst hit from the growth of Amazon; smaller “boutiques” like Novel Idea are able to operate in a different niche by offering customers superior service.

“They’ll be treated like humans and get what they want—or not, and be told why,” he said.

As well, Malan has noticed that the price gap between Amazon and his store has narrowed considerably in recent years. He reckons the big online booksellers have begun to ask themselves, now that their customers have grown used to ordering through them, “Why give it away?”

Events help. In fact, Malan’s store was hosting two book readings by authors the night that he spoke to the twig. And each year Kingston WritersFest provides a big opportunity for Novel Idea to sell books, through a pop-up shop set up at the event.

“[That arrangement] was a major cash injection that helped me survive the Indigo years,” said Malan.

Malan is now 63, and he envisions his daughter one day taking over the business.

Why does he still keep at it? “I could have stopped doing it, but then I’d need to get a job,” said Malan.

He followed that up with a sentiment that may ring true to many freelance editors:  “After so many years of working for myself, I’d no longer be fit to work for someone else.”


Conference: Elizabeth d’Anjou reported that the Editors Canada national conference May 25–27 in Saskatoon was a great success and a lot of fun. (Twig member Beth Bedore was there, too!) A highlight was the stream of sessions related to editing texts relating to Indigenous people, and the pre-conference workshop with Greg Younging, author of the Elements of Indigenous Style.

Webinars: Editors Canada upcoming webinars include a four-part series on plain language led by Kate Harrison Whiteside, a well-known expert in the area.

Recordings of earlier webinars are available for purchase, including

  • Starting a Freelance Editing Career (with Christine LeBlanc)
  • Manuscript Evaluation (with Greg Ioannou)
  • Eight-Step Editing (with Elizabeth herself)

Fee policy: The twig’s new fee policy is in effect: Editors Canada members continue to attend twig meetings free, and visitors are charged $5 per meeting (after the first; we were pleased to see a new visitor, Kathleen Hamilton, take advantage of this provision).

Twig Leadership & AGM: Ellie Barton will be stepping down as one of the twig coordinators after three dedicated years. Stephanie Stone is willing to continue, as is Elizabeth; Brenda Leifso is willing to join the coordinating triumvirate.

We’ll be trying something new this year: a brief AGM, to be held online using Zoom meeting software, on Wednesday, September 19, at 4:30 p.m. We’ll share a brief report on how the twig has fared over the last year and members can officially elect the twig leadership. Everyone on the twig’s email list was sent information on how to attend.

Coming Up

We’ll be talking and sharing about books on October 10! More details TBA.

Coming Up September 12: Meet Oscar Malan of Novel Idea

Somehow it is September!

What better way to celebrate the start of the school year than by talking books? Join us Wednesday, September 12, to meet Oscar Malan, proprietor of Novel Idea, Kingston’s independent bookstore. Longtime friend of the twig Carla Douglas will host as Oscar shares his experiences of the joys and challenges of running a small independent bookstore in the twenty-first century.

If you’re a Kingston resident you’re probably familiar with the store; you can read a bit about its background, including how it weathered the coming (and going!) of Chapters Indigo, in this article for Publishing Perspectives written by our own Carla Douglas. We’re lucky enough to have Carla hosting Oscar’s talk for us.

Editors Kingston is gearing back up for a fun and productive year. We are back to meeting on the second Wednesday of each month at Ongwanada Resource Centre, beginning with a short discussion of Twig business and national announcements before moving on to introduce a discussion topic or visiting speaker.

We’re also trying something new: a twig annual general meeting, to be held online via videoconference, later in the month. Details coming soon!

Meanwhile, we hope to see you on the 12th. Bring a friend!

Join Us!

We meet at the usual place and time:


Coming Up June 20: Summer Social

Come celebrate the arrival of summer with Editors Kingston!

We have a booking at the Merchant Tap Room, 6a Princess Street, Kingston (just north of the Holiday Inn), for 6:30 p.m. this Wednesday, June 20. It’s an accessible, historic stone building and has an extensive menu of food and draft beers.
Merchant Tap House PatioJoin us for this last Kingston get-together until September to eat, drink, share our successes and summer plans, catch up on news (editorial and otherwise), and appreciate the longest day of the year as only the inhabitants of a northern country can. Partners welcome!
Food and drink are pay-as-you-go. The $5 fee for meeting visitors does *not* apply for this social event.

Coming? Please Let Stephanie Know

If you’ll be joining us, please RSVP to Stephanie Stone by Monday, June 18, at


The closest street parking is on Ontario Street or else Clarence Street. There are also the parking lots on Ontario Street at Brock and opposite the Holiday Inn. There is a walkway just below the pub that takes one to the Brock Street pier and the waterfront park.

Hope to see you there.

Talking to Invisible Publishing’s Leigh Nash


At this month’s meeting we spoke with Leigh Nash of Invisible Publishing. Leigh summarized her career in editing and publishing and then discussed the various quirks and challenges of running a nonprofit small press.

Leigh describes herself as a “professional magpie,” having bounced between multiple editing assistant jobs and a few lateral moves into yoga, legal documentation, and organizing sled-dog competitions. She eventually landed at Invisible when it was located in Marmora, Ontario (where it had moved from its original Nova Scotia location, seeking the better funding opportunities in Ontario). Invisible relocated to Picton in 2017 and Leigh gradually slid into her current role as its sole publisher.

Prompted by questions from Ellie and the group, Leigh gave us an overview of the process at Invisible Publishing. Invisible’s status as a nonprofit press supported in part by public funding means it can focus on first-time authors and offbeat, experimental projects like Fairy Tale Museum by Susannah M. Smith — a poetry-short-story-novel anthology… thing.

Its small size, however, means a press like Invisible will always be the “farm team” for the larger publishing landscape; successes like Giller-nominated I Am a Truck by Michelle Winters are likely to carry their authors away to larger commissions at the big publishing houses.

Leigh also told us a bit about Invisible’s approach to working with authors. She discussed the process of finding the right editor to help a new author develop their voice, and how that often means being able to recognize when one is not the right editor for a given work. Leigh said the number-one thing she looks for when evaluating a new manuscript is a distinct voice — minor details like plot and theme can be fixed later!

This emphasis on authorial voice is also reflected in Invisible’s approach to design: authors are given direct input on the cover art and designs. This is evidently working out well, since all of the books Leigh brought to show (and give to!) us were gorgeous.
Talking to Leigh offered some key insights into an area of publishing and editing that many of us are unfamiliar with. Personally, I was pretty intrigued by the work Invisible is doing and am looking forward to reading the copy of Fairy Tale Museum I managed to snag.

Coming Up: Meet Leigh Nash of Invisible Publishing

Invisible PublishingWhat’s it like to run a small, nonprofit indie publisher located in a town of 4,800 people? Join us at the Editors Kingston gathering on May 9 and find out. We’ll be welcoming Leigh Nash, the publisher of Invisible Publishing, which has its offices over the bookstore in Picton, Ontario.

Invisible produces “cool and contemporary” Canadian fiction, creative non-fiction, and poetry. As a not-for-profit publisher, its aim is to publish diverse voices and stories in beautifully designed and affordable editions.

Even though we’re small in scale, we take our work and our mission seriously: we believe in building communities that sustain and encourage engaging, literary, and current writing.

— Invisible Publishing

Trophy ShelfIn addition to fiction (including last year’s Giller-nominated I Am a Truck by Michelle Winters), the catalogue at Invisible includes works of graphic fiction and non-fiction, pop culture biographies, experimental poetry, and prose. The publisher is also home to the Bibliophonic series (music bios) and the Throwback series (reinvented reissues). You can read more about Invisible Publishing in this Literary Press Group article.

Leigh will give us an introduction to the organization, then answer some prepared questions in conversation with Ellie. She’ll also be happy to take questions from attendees.

Leigh NashLeigh Nash currently serves as chair of the board of directors for eBOUND Canada, as treasurer for Canadian Women in the Literary Arts (CWILA), and on the Association of Canadian Publishers’ (ACP’s) board of directors. She received her BA in Creative Writing and Communications from York University and her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Guelph. Her first book of poetry, Goodbye, Ukulele, was published by Mansfield Press in 2010.

Join Us!

We meet at the usual place and time:

Reminder: New Meeting Fee Policy

After much discussion and with overwhelming support from the group, we began in March to ask nonmembers of Editors Canada to pay $5 each when attending our meetings. Newcomers are invited to attend their first meeting for free.

Coming Up Wednesday, June 20*: Summer Social

*NOTE unusual timing (this is the THIRD Wednesday of June).

Join us for a pay-as-you-go meal and/or drinks in a casual Kingston spot.

All welcome!

Location & time TBA.

Diagramming Sentences: A “Punk Rock” Approach to Grammar

Sentence diagram

A sentence diagram (reproduced from the English Grammar Revolution website by kind permission of Elizabeth O’Brien).

by Gregory Hicks

On April 11 we had a small but animated meeting on the intricacies of sentence diagramming. Ellie had put together a short lesson on the topic wherein we watched a couple short videos about the history and process of sentence diagramming. We spent the rest of the meeting working through and discussing a set of examples prepared by Ellie based on the English Grammar Revolution book and website.

Everybody had an easy time picking the process up until we started running up against the nuances of participles and subordinate clauses. This led to Elizabeth to crowd-source some expert opinions via Twitter (special thanks to Editors Toronto member James Harbeck, a.k.a. @sesquiotic, and to U.S. editor @MadamGrammar, for sharing their grammar wisdom). It should also be reported that several Twig members temporarily lost their ability to apply normal English syntax, erupting into vaguely poetic declarations like “Dough is!” and “Socks had gone where was mystery.” It was a good time, overall.

Working through the examples, many of us were at first struck by the elegance of the system but then perplexed by its ambiguities. The system is not particularly interested in designating tense or differentiating adjectives from adverbs, for example, or in signalling the order of sentence elements; it remains relentlessly focused on the relationships between sentence elements. As one of the interviewees in the clips above pointed out, it does indeed have a bit of a “punk rock” aspect, as it forces the diagrammer to question and dismantle everything they take for granted in a sentence.  


Elizabeth d’Anjou announced that early registration was open until April 19 for the Editors Canada national conference coming up May 25–27 in Saskatoon. The theme is Bridging Communities: Bringing Together Communications-Related Professions. One particularly interesting element is a stream of sessions related to editing texts relating to Indigenous people. Greg Younging, author of the Elements of Indigenous Style, is presenting one of the pre-conference workshops on Friday. The conference room rate at the Radisson Hotel is $139 for single or double occupancy.

The upcoming webinars include

  • The Mighty Verb Under the Microscope (May 2)
  • Starting a Freelance Editing Career (May 5 & 12)
  • Manuscript Evaluation (May 14)
  • Demystifying Permissions (June 5, 6, & 7)
  • Eight-Step Editing (presented by Elizabeth herself)

Stephanie Stone reminded everyone that the twig’s new fee policy was now in effect: Editors Canada members continue to attend twig meetings free, and visitors are charged $5 per meeting (after the first).

Coming Up

Meet Leigh Nash of Invisible Publishing, a non-profit indie publisher located in Picton, Ontario.

Coming Up April 11: Diagramming Sentences

“It was a bit like art, a bit like mathematics. It was much more than words uttered, or words written on a piece of paper: it was a picture of language.”

— Kitty Burns Florey

For nearly a hundred years, diagramminSister Bernadette's Barking Dog: The Quirky History and Lost Art of Diagramming sentences ,by Florey, Kitty Burns ( 2007 ) Paperbackg sentences was a standard part of the English curriculum in North American schools. (There is even a description of a teenaged Laura Ingalls diagramming sentences in Little Town on the Prairie.) Like much of the rest of formal grammar education, diagramming fell out of favour in the 1960s, but it is enjoying something of a renaissance.

Elizabeth and Ellie know and love grammar and have always been curious to try sentence diagramming. Come explore this wonderfully word-nerdy pastime with us! We’ll focus on modifiers (one of the most useful aspects of sentence structure for editors and writers, as it can help clarify what elements go with what).

If you enjoy playing with language and grammar, if you like charts, diagrams, and other graphic organizers, or if you just want to snack and socialize with the Editors Kingston gang, come on out!

If you’d like to investigate sentence diagramming a bit in advance, check out the Grammar Revolution website.

Reminder: New Meeting Fee Policy

After much discussion and with overwhelming support from the group, we began in March to ask nonmembers of Editors Canada to pay $5 each to help cover the costs of room rental, gift cards for speakers, and refreshments. Newcomers will be invited to attend their first meeting for free.

Join Us!

We meet at the usual place and time:

Coming Up

Wednesday, May 9

Meet Leigh Nash, publisher of Invisible Publishing, an independent, not-for-profit publisher, located in Picton, ON (population 4800) that is committed to publishing diverse voices and stories in beautifully designed and affordable editions.

Wednesday, June 20

NOTE unusual timing (this is the THIRD Wednesday of June).

Summer social. Join us for a pay-as-you-go meal and/or drinks in a casual Kingston spot. All welcome! Location & time TBA.

Picture Credit: Sample Diagrams by Tjo3ya, used under Creative Commons Licence 3.0.

Marketing Follow-Up: Create Your To-Do List

3596829214_93ddeb6cbf_mTo market ourselves effectively to the clients we want to work with, we should

  • understand what we can offer them and what makes that offering valuable
  • have a clearly defined set of goals and to-do list of steps that will help us reach them.

These were key takeaways from our March 14th gathering, a follow-up to January’s marketing-focused evening.

We started the evening sharing overviews of our goals with one another: some of us wanted to develop websites and fluency with social media, while others hoped to attend more publishing-related events or print up-to-date business cards. The most frequently mentioned goal among the freelancers present was to achieve a greater level of income stability. Using Adrienne’s worksheets, we noted such things as who our ideal clients were, what types of editing we could offer them, in what areas of publishing (subject/genre) we desired to work, and what other qualities we had that would differentiate ourselves and our skills from other editors. We compiled notes for cold calling, elevator pitches, and to-do lists.

Who knew competitive marketing could be such a strenuous exercise of looking inward? Some of us might feel overwhelmed just by the idea of marketing ourselves competitively. We’re editors first, after all—our primary focus should be the quality of our editing, right? Nevertheless, good marketing needs to be one of an editor’s priorities.

At night’s end each of us trudged out into the cold from our gathering more confident and ready to do better marketing for our businesses.

Special thanks to Adrienne Montgomerie, who granted us permission to use several worksheets from her upcoming book on marketing a  freelance editorial business. (The book is currently available as handouts for Adrienne’s online course through


Elizabeth d’Anjou announced that registration was open for the Editors Canada national conference coming up May 25–27 in Saskatoon. The theme is Bridging Communities: Bringing Together Communications-Related Professions. Come party on the prairie with 150 editors! Hear the hilarious James Harbeck, in full tux, host the post-banquet Oops Awards! Stay at the (surprisingly affordable) Radisson Hotel in Saskatchewan’s City of Bridges!

She also mentioned the upcoming webinars, which include

  • The Mighty Verb Under the Microscope (May 2)
  • Starting a Freelance Editing Career (May 5 & 12)
  • Manuscript Evaluation (May 14)
  • Demystifying Permissions (June 5, 6, & 7)

Stephanie Stone reminded everyone that the twig’s new fee policy was now in effect: Editors Canada members continue to attend twig meetings free, and visitors are charged $5 per meeting (after the first).

Photo by Justin See (licensed under Creative Commons).

Coming Up March 14: Marketing Yourself Follow-Up—Create Your To-Do List

Given the large turnout and positive response to our January get-together, which focused on marketing yourself as an editor, we’re dedicating our March 14 evening to a follow-up session with a workshop format.

We’ll supply six worksheets from Adrienne Montgomerie’s book, Freelance Marketing Action Plan for Editors (enough copies to go around this time!). These worksheets will help you to

  • describe your ideal client
  • craft an “elevator pitch”
  • present yourself to new clients (cold calling)
  • decide what conferences to attend to meet clients and colleagues
  • chart your path on social media
  • create your own “To Do” list

We’ll spend some time working on our own, in small groups, and all together. Thanks to Adrienne for kindly giving Editors Kingston permission to use this material.

You’ll go home with a great start on developing a practical, doable, personalized plan for marketing your editing and related services.

This activity is not just for freelancers! People who have, or hope to have, full- or part-time jobs also benefit from doing ongoing marketing to reach their goals.

Note: Adrienne’s workbook is a work in progress and is not yet available for purchase as a stand-alone book. It is, however, included as part of Adrienne’s online course on marketing, available through

Join Us!

Anyone interested in editing or related careers is welcome. Bring a friend!

We meet at the usual place and time:

Ongwanada Resource Centre, 191 Portsmouth Avenue

7 to 9 p.m. (Doors open at 6:30)

Light refreshments

Free for Editors Canada members

$5 for non-members (first meeting free)


ECE3 Book Club: Chapter 2, “Inclusivity”

by Beth Bedore

Image may contain: food

Considering that the latest meeting of Editors Kingston twig took place on Valentine’s Day, we had an impressive turnout of eight editors eager to indulge their love of language before any other possible indulgences! The discussions were so animated, at the inaugural meeting of the Editing Canadian English book club, that we nearly forgot to take a break, even though an ample supply of heart- and maple leaf-shaped sugar cookies and other goodies beckoned throughout.

The third edition of Editing Canadian English, published in hardcover by UBC Press in 2016, was also recently released as an ebook. Lee and Elizabeth d’Anjou kindly brought hardcover copies of the first and second editions to the gathering, providing a visual history of the evolution of this flagship publication of Editors Canada.

As soon as Ellie Barton had finished our introductory housekeeping, a thoughtful conversation began of where Editing Canadian English fit along the style-guide/reference-book continuum. Subtitled “A guide for editors, writers, and everyone who works with words,” the book is, we concluded, a great complementary reference to the mainstream style manuals, but does not supersede them by any stretch of the imagination.

The Canadian version of the English language certainly has its quirks and editorial niches, and it’s in the specifics of these that ECE3 really shines. Spelling is the most obvious example, but editors can find guidance in ECE3’s pages on specifically Canadian language issues from the use of the metric system in recipes to the capitalization of government organizations to the styling of parliamentary documents in a bibliography. A lively discussion revealed a range of opinions on how necessary the non-Canada-specific aspects of the book are and how many of its book’s topics warranted an entire chapter.

A lengthy exchange on the benefits and pitfalls of plain language launched our exploration of Chapter 2, “Inclusivity,” with some chuckling at the reference to “plain language evangelists.” The subsequent discussion ranged widely, and included concerns about the feasibility of reference and style guides keeping up with rapid changes to terminology showing linguistic sensitivity toward people with disabilities, individuals who identify as LGBTQ+, and other groups.

While the plan had been to discuss Chapter 4 (“Compounds and Hyphenation”) as well, Chapter 2 monopolized most of the evening, leaving only time for a quick exchange of opinions on the maddening issue of hyphenation. Several of us noted that they found the ECE3 chapter on the issue especially handy.

Ultimately, most participants agreed that ECE3 has done well with staying current and even anticipating future developments, and is a commendable addition to any Canadian editor’s toolbox.

*Photo credit: Beth Bedore



Conference 2018: Bridging Communities—Bringing together communication-related professions Elizabeth d’Anjou reminded everyone about the Editors Canada webinar programme; upcoming titles include “How to Handle Digital Photos” and “Getting Your Self-Published Client to a Finished Product.” She also put in an early plug for the national Editors Canada conference, which will be held May 25–27 in Saskatoon. The theme is “Bridging Communities: Bringing Together Communications-Related Professions.” If you’ve been to a national conference, you know the experience is both invaluable professionally and a whole lot of fun. There is nothing quite like spending a long weekend with 200+ other people who get what you do!


Stephanie Stone announced that next month the twig would begin charging non-members $5 to attend meetings. The idea has been discussed for several months and found widespread support among both members and non-members. (All visitors will be welcome to attend their first meeting for free.)

Coming Up Next

Our next meeting will be on Wednesday, March 14.
Programme TBA. (Watch this space!)

Join Us!

We meet at the usual place and time:

Ongwanada Resource Centre, 191 Portsmouth Avenue

7 to 9 p.m. (Doors open at 6:30)

Light refreshments

All welcome.

Editors Canada members: free

Non-members: $5 (visitors may attend one meeting for free)