In the Desert Together: Author Iain Reid Talks Editing

by Cat London

Iain Reid talks editing, film adaptations, and camels at Editors Kingston on November 13.

I don’t think anyone predicted that the November meeting of Editors Kingston would take place as a snowstorm was settling us all into winter, but living in Kingston does come with the occasional weather surprise. We were particularly excited to come together for this meeting because it is not a regular occurrence for our gatherings to feature renowned, award-winning authors — but then, another surprise that comes with living in Kingston is the extraordinary literary scene it boasts for a town this size.

Our guest for the evening of November 13 was Iain Reid, a Kingston-based author of memoir, essays, and, more recently, novels. Surprisingly humble in light of his impressive and continued success — his books have been published in multiple countries to excellent reception — Iain spoke frankly about his writing journey so far and his experiences working with different editors on each of his books, including, in one case, with two editors in two far-flung countries at the same time.

The meeting took the form of a relaxed conversation, and it was made even more interesting by the presence of Alex Schultz, an editor with over two decades’ experience in book publishing, who was an acquiring editor at Penguin when Iain began to explore the process of getting his books into print — with a submission to Penguin. Hearing the story of Iain’s initial contact with the publishing world from the two perspectives was fascinating.

Iain had many kind things to say about his experience of the collaborative relationship between authors and editors, of which this one was clearly the crowd favourite:

It’s like you’re on riding a camel on a journey in the desert, out of water, and you can’t quite make it on your own, but then someone rides up on another camel with fresh water, and they help you get the rest of the way there.

When Adrienne Montgomerie pointed out that sometimes the editor tells the author to go back another 10 kilometres into the desert and travel it again, Iain agreed, but pointed out that at least the editor has more water.

Iain described the skill set of an editor as being different from his own as an author: an editor brings a new level of thoroughness to the table, and an ability to quickly grasp the big picture of a book and identify ways to improve it.

He also talked about where and how he has found and developed ideas, as well as about his recent experiences in the filmmaking world — both his novels, I’m Thinking of Ending Things and Foe, are being turned into movies. Iain is co-writing the screenplay for Foe.

With the usual lovely array of snacks and beverages and a sizable turnout of editors, would-be editors, and other word enthusiasts, the meeting was a bright spot in a gloomy, early winter night. Thanks so much to the Editors Kingston coordinators for bringing Iain to talk to us, and many, many thanks to Iain for coming, and for all his kind words about editors. (He even wrote a short essay in praise of editors for the National Post a few years ago.)

I’m looking forward to our December fête at Milestones.

Announcements

Webinars

Don’t forget to check out the upcoming Editors Canada Webinars: short, practical training units you can attend from anywhere with an internet connection. Registration includes a webinar recording (so you can review it any time, or catch up if you miss part or even all of it) and digital copies of any handouts. Elizabeth can particularly recommend Graphs 101 with Toronto Editor Robin Marwick on Wednesday, December 6.

Conference

It’s not too early to start thinking about attending the Editors Canada annual conference, which will be in Montreal, June 19 through 21 (much closer for twiggers than last year’s conference in Halifax or the previous year’s in Saskatoon). The theme is From Papyrus to Pixels: International Editing Trends. Building on the success of its first international conference in 2015, which included presenters and attendees from the U.S., the U.K., and as far afield as India and Australia, the association expects a full weekend of learning, networking — and fun! The conference is also a great volunteering opportunity for Editors Canada members: contact conferencevolunteers@editors.ca.

Coming Up December 11

Come share some winter cheer with friends and colleagues at our Holiday social on Wednesday, December 11, from 6:30 p.m. at Milestones, 27 Princess Street at Ontario.

Please RSVP to Nancy Wills (nancwills@gmail.com) by Monday, December 9.

Pay as you go. Partners and friends welcome.

Coming Up January 8

You think Kingston is cold in January? Join us for a talk from twig member John Thompson about his work editing in and about the Canadian Arctic!

Our usual date, time, and place: Wednesday, January 8, from 7 to 9 p.m., at Ongwanada. Watch this space for more details.

Coming Up November 13: Meet Iain Reid

Iain Reid
Iain Reid visits the twig to talk editing and more on November 13.

Iain Reid, well-known Kingston writer of both delightful memoir and chilling suspense, will join us for our November meeting. We’re excited that he’s able to fit us into his busy schedule!

We first tried to book Iain for our 2016 Authors Talk Editing event. At the time, he had recently won the $10,000 RBC Taylor Emerging Writer Award for The Truth about Luck, his second book of memoir, which tells the story of a five-day “staycation” he took, at age 28, with his 92-year-old grandmother. Unfortunately, our date conflicted with an appearance he was booked for at an authors festival.

I'm Thinking of Ending Things

Since then, Iain’s literary star has done nothing but rise. He made a major switch in genres, producing two bestselling suspense novels: I’m Thinking of Ending Things, which Vice calls an “unsettling sensation” (and almost every reviewer calls “impossible to put down”) and Foe, which Goodreads calls “an eerily entrancing page-turner.” Both are being turned into films.

So we’re honoured that he was able and willing to come to our November meeting for his own Authors Talk Editing event. (Read about the great authors who did join us that night and the sequel with Merilyn Simonds and Wayne Grady.)

Foe

We can’t wait to ask him about his experiences of being edited and more—such as the differences in writing two such very different genres, and what it’s like for a former employee of the Screening Room in Kingston to have his novel adapted for Netflix by Oscar-winning director Charlie Kaufman.

Come join us! Whether you’ve read Iain’s work or not, you’ll hear a smart conversation about books and editing. (Read more about Iain Reid in the Kingston Whig Standard, in Maclean’s, or in Vice.)

As always, there will also be news from Editors Canada, networking, and snacks.

We’ve also invited Iain to bring books for sale; please come with cash if you think you might like to shop.

Join Us!

We’ll meet at the usual place and time: Ongwanada Resource Centre, 191 Portsmouth Avenue in Kingston, 7 to 9 p.m. (doors open at 6:30). Light refreshments, coffee, and cold drinks. All are welcome. Free for Editors Canada members; $5 for visitors (first meeting free)

Talking Canadian Linguistics and the Strathy Language Unit

by Wade Guyitt

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You knew Anastasia Riehl’s presentation on Canadian linguistics had to include this slide….

As editors, we’re trained to intervene in written language, whenever needed, to maximize its effects. You’ve heard of helicopter parents? Editors are helicopter readers, always poised, proverbial red pen at the ready, to tighten awkward phrases or tidy inconsistencies of spelling.

But if we’re the zookeepers of language, linguists are more like animal biologists – they watch words just as closely but do so while peering through the bushes, trying not to spook their prey. Linguistics seeks not to correct usage but to draw conclusions about it – although editors, like all who work with words, have much to learn from what linguists have to say.

Riehl

Anastasia Riehl, director of the Queen’s University Strathy Language Unit

To find out more about some cutting-edge linguistic work happening right in our own back yard, on April 10 Editors Kingston welcomed Anastasia Riehl, director of Queen’s University’s Strathy Language Unit, to speak about “Exploring Canadian English with Linguistic Corpora.” The unit is a research unit founded in 1981 by Queen’s alumnus J. R. Strathy, who, Anastasia says, observed that “English departments tend to focus on literature instead of language.” Strathy felt that looking at English – and Canadian English in particular, compared to other Englishes spoken around the world – was important. Today, thanks to his bequest, the Strathy Language Unit (queensu.ca/strathy/) is internationally renowned as a centre for Canadian English linguistic studies.

What is Canadian English? It’s typically described as a mixture of US and UK styles, but of course, it has aspects all its own. And it contains multitudes: British English, American English, Canadian French, Aboriginal languages, and a host of immigrant languages from around the world influence what English is in Canada. The Strathy website says, “We are interested in English as it is used by all speakers throughout the country, not just those from a particular region or with a particular background. The variety we find within communities and throughout the country is in part what makes the study of Canadian English such an engaging one.”

What Does the Unit Do?

Probably the Strathy Language Unit’s most prominent achievement – and the one that intersects most directly with the world of editing – is the Oxford Guide to Canadian English Usage (full disclosure: I worked on this and other Strathy projects while a student years ago). Falling “somewhere between an encyclopedia and a dictionary,” according to Anastasia, this usage guide uses real examples gathered from quoted Canadian English to explore thorny style questions and offer guidance to help Canadians feel more confident in their writing and speaking, particularly in situations where existing US and UK guidebooks don’t quite fit.

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Wade, Bob, and Kait listen to Anastasia Riehl talk about the Strathy Language Unit’s work.

The Strathy Unit has also produced series of occasional papers, digital publications, corpus projects (more on this later), and an online bibliography for the study of Canadian English (4,000 sources to date). It supports Canadian English courses at Queen’s and also hosts and supports conferences. (One upcoming will focus on “nonbinary pronouns” – not just the generic singular “they,” with which editors must often grapple, but also pronouns preferred by those not identifying with a particular binary gender, an increasingly important social and grammatical issue of recent years.)

A number of exciting projects are in progress. One is a student project on Canadian slang that will include videos on YouTube (“everyone wants to work on slang,” Anastasia says). Another project is a “digital voice map,” allowing contributors to upload samples of their own speech and listen to others, all pegged to location. The unit also contributed to a recent mammoth scholarly achievement, the second edition of A Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles, which charts changes in Canadian English over time. (To keep up, check out the Strathy blog at queensu.ca/strathy/blog.)

The Strathy Corpus

Much of this work is underpinned by the Strathy Unit’s secret weapon: its corpus. A corpus is essentially a large sample of language that meets the requirements of researchers: in this case, multiple examples of English as written or spoken by Canadians, in different registers and contexts – formal, informal, academic, creative, and so on. By gathering enough examples of usage, a corpus allows language use to be studied systematically, in statistical fashion, rather than based on assumptions that may or may not be correct.

Anastasia recounted a story about an early meeting of the Freelance Editors’ Association of Canada (FEAC), at which the editors attending were polled about “preferences when editing for the Canadian market.” As it turned out, she quoted, “the response of a handful of editors to the set ‘mould/mold’ was quite dazzling and typified the confusion, if not mayhem, that we occasionally encounter” (Lydia Burton, 1982, “In search of a Canadian style,” Scholars Publishing 13.4.347–54). The twig members were amused to inform Anastasia that FEAC had ultimately morphed into Editors Canada, and thus the meeting where this polling took place was a precursor to the one at which she was speaking!

Today, with access to a resource like the Strathy Corpus, national preferences can be explored much more precisely. Targeted searches show exactly how often writers use “travelled” compared to “traveled,” say, or which adjectives most often complement which nouns. The group was pleased to learn that the Strathy Corpus is available online at www.english-corpora.org/.

Most linguistic work on Canadian English today, Anastasia says, would be termed “variationist sociolinguistics.” Speaking simply, this means looking at, first, how language changes over time and, second, how it varies based on social factors like gender, race, region, education, class, ethnicity, and so on. By comparing speech patterns of, for instance, young and old speakers, we not only gain insight into how language has changed but can also start to make guesses about how it will change in years to come.

The Wolfe Island English Corpus

The bulk of Anastasia’s presentation looked at a more specific corpus she has been assembling. Because most of the larger Strathy Corpus is written English, Anastasia sought to develop a unique spoken corpus, gathered in partnership with the Wolfe Island Historical Society. Comprising over 90 hours of interviews (with respondents between 55 and 97 years of age), totalling over a million words, the Wolfe Island English Corpus (WIEC) is starting to reveal fascinating conclusions about how the rural island life of the past has shaped language use among residents. Spoken informal usage is the most difficult to capture without subjects becoming self-conscious, distorting their true way of speaking.

File:Wolfe island canada.jpg

Wolfe Island (NASA photo)

Today the island links up easily with mainland Kingston, but for most of its history, its four separate communities saw very little interaction, and islanders were likely more closely connected to Cape Vincent, New York, than to Kingston. Pre-ferry, a crossing in winter meant travelling over ice by horse and later by car. Farming, fishing, cheese-making, and boat-building industries gave otherwise specialized vocabulary common currency on the island.

Analysis of the material in the corpus is only just starting, but Canadians will surely be interested to know that “eh” – a “discourse particle, seeking confirmation or analysis” – constitutes a full 0.21 per cent of the WIEC. How that, and other vocabulary, compares to other regional corpora across Canada is sure to turn up fascinating insights into language formation and how – and why – the places we live in help to determine how we speak.

In the brief recording excerpts Anastasia played, we also heard how what we as editors would likely consider “non-standard” usage brings a richness and evocative musical tone to language. For instance, one dramatic story about a horse almost drowning ended with the memorable phrasing “after that I never had any time for crossing the ice none” – no doubt a reminder that editing that removes style is not good editing at all.

Have Your Say!

Do you have ideas about how a corpus could be useful in your editing work? Contact Anastasia Riehl at the Strathy Language Unit, Queen’s University: riehla@queensu.ca.

Announcements

The meeting included, as usual, some national announcements from coordinator Elizabeth d’Anjou:

  • The conference is coming up in Halifax! Celebrate Editors Canada’s 40th anniversary with hundreds of fellow editors. Full program now available on the conference website.
  • Some great webinars are coming up! Two fantastic instructors in May:
    • Frances Peck presents “Plain Language Tips” on May 8
    • The inimitable Dr. Freelance, Jake Poinier, offers “Strategic Pricing and Persuasive Estimating” on May 21

Also, past webinar recordings are available for sale (you get a download of the video and audio session to watch any time, plus a copy of all the slides and any handouts). Great training at a bargain price! Some more are in the works (including, soon, Elizabeth’s own “Top Ten Things I Wish I’d Known When Starting as a Freelance Editor”); check the webinars website for updates.

Coming Up May 8: Workspace Show-and-Tell

We at the twig often share about what we do; for our May gathering, we thought it would be fun to talk about where and with what. Come join us and share whatever details you’d like about your workspace.

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Does your workspace include easy access to snacks? Our twig meetings do!

Tell us about your desk/chair/monitor(s)/local café/cubicle. Snap a photo if you like and send it to Stephanie Stone (sstone4@cogeco.ca) or post it on the Facebook group’s page — we’ll have a slide show.

(Feel free to participate even if you can’t make the meeting!)

See the blog post for more details.

 

 

Professional Editorial Standards with Elizabeth d’Anjou

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Kingston Twiggers puzzle over the Professional Editorial Standards word game.

Nine people came together on Wednesday, March 13, to learn more about these standards and share their experiences of using them. Afterwards, we tested our knowledge by playing standards matching games.

At the request of student member Monica Laane-Fralick, who isn’t able to attend meetings in person, Brenda Leifso set her up to attend using Zoom. Our meeting venue has wifi, and since Elizabeth was using slides for her presentation, she used the Share Screen function of Zoom to enable Monica to see the slides. Monica reported that she thought the meeting was “terrific.”

As a lead-in to her presentation, Elizabeth d’Anjou talked about her upcoming trip to attend the annual conference of the American Copy Editors Society (ACES) on March 30–31, representing Editors Canada. At previous conferences, several people have told her that they use our standards. (There isn’t anything similar in the United States.) Many U.S. editors are also intrigued by our certification program; according to – and thanks in large part to – honorary life member Lee d’Anjou, who said, “We invented it!” Elizabeth will be giving a talk on standards and certification at ACES.

What Are the Professional Editorial Standards?

The Professional Editorial Standards (PES) set out (to quote the 2009 version) “the knowledge, skills, and practices most commonly required for editing English-language material.” They clarify what is expected of Canadian editors working at a professional level, and they define the criteria against which an editor’s knowledge, skills, and practice can be measured. There are five categories: The Fundamentals of Editing, Structural Editing, Stylistic Editing, Copy Editing, and Proofreading. They’re comprehensive but succinct – only 16 pages long. And they’re available to anyone – you don’t need to be a member of Editors Canada – and can be downloaded from the association’s website.

Who Uses PES?

Editors use PES to guide their professional development, expand their editing skills, explain what editing is and what editors do, and prepare for certification. The word professional is key: to call oneself an editor, it isn’t enough to have a flair for noticing grammar errors; the job is more comprehensive than that. Standards provide a method for agreeing on what it is we’re talking about. Cat London suggested that freelance editors can use the standards as a tool for explaining to clients what’s involved in the type of editing they’re planning to do and as a rationale for their fee.

Editors Canada uses PES to develop and maintain certification, explain what editors should do when performing various stages of editing, increase awareness of the value of editing, and design material, seminars, and courses on editing. An example of such material is the set of four Editors Canada workbooks, Meeting Professional Editorial Standards, each of which contains exercises based on the standards in one of the four main areas (plus the fundamentals). A new edition is  in the works – Elizabeth is the project’s volunteer editor-in-chief – under the new title Edit Like a Pro, and it will include downloadable Word and PDF files for realistic, hands-on practice. The Proofreading volume is expected to launch in June and the Structural Editing one in the fall.

Those who hire editors (both employers and freelance clients) use PES to determine what skills will be needed for the level of edit, to define the scope of a project, to help write statements of work, and to train in-house editors.

Instructors of editors use them to prepare and mark teaching material for seminars and editing courses. Twig member Brenda Leifso is currently teaching the Fundamentals of Editing course, which is part of Queen’s University’s Professional Editing Standards Certificate. Each of the five courses is based on one category of the PES. Brenda said that many of her students are taking the course to determine their skill level. Most students have no experience in editing, but some are at the top level.

History of PES

Development of PES began in the 1980s and arose out of discussions about certification as it became clear that a test of editing skills needed to have a clear set of expectations to test against. Developing a set of standards required a long consultation process and approval by the membership. The original categories were Structure and Style Editing, Copy Editing, Proofreading, and Knowledge of the Publishing Process. These were updated in 2009 to Fundamentals, Structural Editing, Stylistic Editing, Copy Editing, and Proofreading.

The update in 2016 kept the same categories, but with a number of smaller changes – in particular, updating many examples. It also changed some standards and added a few more to improve clarity and reflect new realities. For example, in The Fundamentals of Editing, the introduction was updated to define the difference between knowledge and practice. A new standard was added (A11.1: Ensure everyone on the team is aware of the appropriate level of intervention for the edit). Standard A6.1 added “and accessibility in print and electronic media,” and A8.1 added “Use editorial judgment when deciding whether to intervene, leave as is, query, change, or recommend a change.”

Structural Editing has two new standards – B3: If necessary, recommend headings and navigation aids to clarify or highlight organization of material; and B4: Recommend or implement the most effective positioning of auxiliary textual material (e.g., sidebars and pull quotes). Stylistic Editing was reorganized to add an explanation to the preamble and explain when a stylistic edit is performed, and it includes one new standard (C1: Improve paragraph construction to more effectively convey meaning). Standard C4 changed “rewrite” to “revise,” and C11 was changed to “Establish, maintain, or enhance tone, mood, style, and authorial voice or level of formality … (e.g., making text more engaging or entertaining).” Elizabeth likes to call this the “make it not be boring!” standard.

Copy Editing has one new standard (D6: Review visual materials and organizational information to ensure they are accurate and correct, or query as required). Standard D5 added “historical details, narrative timelines” to the examples, and D11 changed the wording to include “arbitrary and confusing shifts and variations in terminology, logic, and mechanics.” Proofreading has two new standards – E6: Whenever possible, proofread the material in its intended medium; and E7: Understand English spelling, grammar, and punctuation, and correct errors within the limits of the proofreading role.

More Information on Standards

Did you know that Editors Canada has a YouTube channel? Watch “Professional Editorial Standards: Do They Matter?” (1:15 minutes) at

https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=editors+canada

Editors Canada hosts the Editors Weekly blog, which has featured a series of posts on PES, starting with “Professional Editorial Standards: What Does an Editor Do Today?”

Follow PES on Twitter! @ProEdStandards tweets excerpts from the standards about twice a week, and sometimes examples from other people’s tweets are connected to the standards.

Our Own Standards

We had a brief session of sharing examples from our own editing that represented various standards and using the standards in our editing work (for example, to justify fees for a job or make clear that a particular task was an expected part of an edit).

Fun with Standards

Elizabeth passed out brightly coloured standards stickers, and then we matched our wits against the PES matching games. Each game listed five random standards on the left side of a page and the five standards categories on the right; several letters were printed in the middle. As we drew a line from each standard to its category, the line would pass through a letter. We then had to unscramble the letters to reveal the hidden word. If no word emerged, we hadn’t matched a standard to the correct category. Each game was challenging and a lot of fun. (Most of us had little trouble matching the standards, but struggled with the unscrambling!)

Announcements

Upcoming Editors Canada Webinars:

  • What’s the GST? with Michelle Waitzman – April 2 – Everything a freelance editor needs to know about GST/HST.
  • Starting a Freelance Editing or Writing Career with Christine LeBlanc – April 6 & 13 – Learn the basic steps to your dream job!
  • Usage Traps and Myths with Frances Peck – April 10 – Is impact accepted as a verb? Why are prevent and avoid so often confused? Is it okay to verbify? Learn the answers to these and many more scintillating syntax questions from one of Editors Canada’s most accomplished members and best presenters.

Visit the Editors Canada training site for more info on upcoming webinars. You can also purchase past webinar recordings.

Conference – June 7–9 in Halifax. It’s Editors Canada’s 40th anniversary!

Twig and Branch Zoom Meeting Report

Stephanie and Elizabeth attended a conference call with other twig and branch leaders in February. After learning about the governance of the organization from President Gael Spivak, we had a lively discussion about attracting and retaining members. All groups find this a challenge, and several people offered their trials and tribulations. One branch finds that people join when they’re working as freelancers but stop renewing their membership when they’re hired for in-house jobs. Attendance at meetings is often low. Two groups give presentations to students: Quebec and Barrie (the latter meets at the local community college, which has a writing and editing program).

Graduated Student Member Fees

Student members can now transition to regular membership over two years instead of paying for full membership in one shot. They’ll pay $100 the first year after they’ve graduated from their program, then the regular membership fee starting the second year. Editors Canada wants to encourage student members to become full members.

Coming Up March 13: Professional Editorial Standards with Elizabeth d’Anjou

Professional Editorial Standards (2016)What exactly does a professional editor do? How can you tell when they’re doing it well? There’s no single answer to these questions. But with its Professional Editorial Standards, Editors Canada provides one way of describing and categorizing editorial knowledge and skill that has proven invaluable to editors at all skill levels as well as to those who hire, work with, and train them. Editors Canada’s professional certification, which offers a way in which editors can demonstrate excellence, is based on these standards. As are the exercises in the association’s popular workbook series, called, not coincidentally, Meeting Editorial Standards. (It’s soon to be relaunched in a third edition, featuring downloadable electronic files for realistic, hands-on practice, with the new title Edit Like a Pro!)

Elizabeth will give a short presentation about the standards, including some background information and a discussion of

  • how they apply to a wide range of editing genres
  • how they can be useful to both freelance and in-house editors with various levels of experience
  • what changed with the most recent update in 2016

Then we’ll have an open discussion. We’ll also ask twig co-coordinator Brenda Leifso to tell us a bit about her work as an instructor of a course leading to the Queen’s University Professional Editing Standards Certificate. Plus, standards word puzzles—and stickers!

The latest standards are available as a free download on the Editors Canada website. We suggest you take a look at them before the meeting. If you can, please print (or save on your laptop) a copy to refer to during the discussion. (We’ll have a few printed copies on hand to share as well.)

You might also like to read the series of posts about the standards on the Editors’ Weekly blog—including an interview with fantasy editor Karen Conlin, who definitely wins the prize for best style sheet examples!

About the Presenter

Elizabeth d'AnjouA co-coordinator of Editors Kingston, Elizabeth d’Anjou literally grew up in Editors Canada (her mother was a founding member), and she recently served as director of standards and certification on the National Executive Council. She has 24 years of experience as a freelance editor with a diverse clientele, from trade and educational publishers to government departments and non-profit agencies. A lively and personable presenter, she is a sought-after leader of seminars and webinars for editors and other communications professionals, including the unique Copy Editing Live! and perennial favourite Eight-Step Editing. She also teaches both copy editing and grammar courses for Ryerson University’s Publishing Certificate program. Elizabeth is also volunteer editor-in-chief for the update of Edit Like a Pro!

Join Us!

Wednesday, March 13

Ongwanada Resource Centre, 191 Portsmouth Avenue

7:00 p.m. (doors open at 6:30).

Free for Editors Canada members; $5 fee for visitors (first meeting free).

Coming up April 10

Meet Anastasia Riehl of the Queen’s University Strathy Language Unit! Watch this space for details.

Indexes, Importance of: Nancy Wills Talks about Finding the “Heart of the Book”

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A page from the index of Editing Canadian English. (Blurry photo taken by Elizabeth.)

by Wade Guyitt

Is there a more unsung part of a book than its index? A cover alone is enough – warnings aside – for potential buyers to render judgment on the thing as a whole. The dedication and epigraphs are read with tingling anticipation. The table of contents unfurls like a menu of servings to come. And then you dive in, to worlds unknown. By the time you reach the book’s final lines, they seem to take on extra weight – some readers even slow down while reading them, to savour the finale. There, you think, I’ve finished it. And some readers stop there, never looking at what comes next: for, bibliography aside (which is perhaps like an index but in reverse), the lowly index is the only part of the book you don’t even have to have read in order to say that you’ve read the book.

And yet, think of its power – it vivisects narrative, scouring away rhetoric and turn of phrase to reveal what remains; it condenses arcs and appearances into orderly rows of ideas; it reaches across hundreds of pages to draw connections between one word and another, then points the reader to precisely where those connections began. Like pins for strings stretched neatly across a map, index entries are neat, detailed, orderly – they’re the book’s raw chemical components, as if all the confusion and wonder and pure verbiage of a book had been broken down into its constituent elements, one giant atom split.

This may sound scientific, ruthless, reductive. According to Nancy Wills, however, a Kingston-based freelance editor and indexer, compiling the index can and should be a creative act. And it’s the opportunity to contribute creatively to someone else’s book – as she puts it, “unstitching the entirety of the manuscript” to see what’s inside – that draws her to indexing’s challenge.

Nancy spoke to the Kingston twig of Editors Canada about indexing during the meeting of February 13, giving attendees a glimpse at a publishing role rarely thought of, not even by fellow editors. Nancy splits her time roughly 50/50 between editing and indexing, but she says indexing proves the more rewarding of the two for her. While editors play an important role in preparing a writer’s manuscript for publication, they must take care “not to trample”; indexers, meanwhile, in a sense are writers themselves, and their raw material and inspiration are the contents of the book they’re indexing. In some ways, the index is the book’s first review: a poem of locators, to which one could turn first to judge what is inside, as Nancy says she does when browsing in bookshops herself.

“The heart of the book is the index,” Nancy says, and it’s her job to capture the strands – from mentions of items or individuals to broader concepts and themes. While authors sometimes provide a list of key terms they would like included in the index, Nancy says she works best when she enters a manuscript with a fresh mind, consulting that list only later, to make sure she has everything gathered.

Being at once granular and overarching, an index in preparation can reveal anything from inconsistencies of spelling to book-length themes even the author didn’t realize were present. Nancy says she reads like a reader, however, anticipating their needs rather than those of the author; she must consider which subjects are usefully included in an index and which are best left out.

Even 15 years ago, constructing an index meant working with recipe cards (no surprise they’re also called index cards). Today, as with everything in society, there are computer programs to help with the process – Cindex, Macrex, and Sky are most common – but each has its strengths and weaknesses. Nancy still finds it best to print the manuscript and read it, with a ruler, line by line. She reads closely – even more closely than editing requires – and is alert to any item that might be a potential entry.

At the same time, she has Cindex (the most popular of the three, in Canada) open on her computer, with the manuscript also open in Word or PDF format in another window. Finding a term in the hard copy, she’ll do a search in the digital version for other instances of that word. If no others come up, there’s no need for that heading. If there are others, a new entry begins.

Just like writing a book itself, writing an index starts with a few words and builds from there. “It’s like having clay,” Nancy says. “It’s coarse, and you don’t know what it is, and then you refine and refine.”

There are two types of index preparation: back-of-book and embedded. The terms refer to how the indexes are created. Back-of-book indexes grow as they are written, with no electronic generation involved: the indexer starts adding entries, and the index takes shape as work progresses through the manuscript. For an embedded index, meanwhile, index terms are tagged electronically wherever they appear in (for example) Word files, and these tags are used by the editing program to generate the index all at once: only at the end of the process does the index get compiled and spit out for review and revision.

As a result, the growth of an embedded index is less organic and much less rewarding to work on. It takes about 25 percent longer for the indexer to compile, compared to a back-of-book index, and the process is much more fiddly, as any slight disparity in spelling, font, or style means multiple entries generated for what should be the same term, which then need to be resolved. However, because the index can be prepared at the same time as copy editing or proofreading happens elsewhere, using embedded indexing shortens the production period for a new title as the indexer doesn’t need to wait for a page-perfect, laid-out proof to arrive before beginning the job. Embedded indexes are increasingly being requested by publishers.

Other quirks of indexes have to do with the demands of particular publishers or projects: bold or italic emphasis for figures; indented versus run-in (run-in restricts subheading use, so it’s usually best for trade non-fiction or less technical works); alphabetization (word by word versus letter by letter); sequencing of, for instance, Asian names, in which the family surname comes first, or Spanish names, in which a maternal name comes before a paternal name, and the question arises as to how a reader would think to search for these.

Indexing Books, Second Edition (Chicago Guides to Writing, Editing, and Publishing) by [Mulvany, Nancy C.]Fortunately, as when solving thorny issues of editing, others have bravely come before. Nancy was inspired to take up indexing by an Editors Kingston talk by Ellen Hawman, indexer for Queen’s University’s mammoth Disraeli Project, who, Nancy says, makes “beautiful” indexes, works of art “like a paisley pattern.” Essential reference books include Indexing Books, by Nancy C. Mulvany, and Indexing Biographies and Other Stories of Human Lives, by Hazel K. Bell, both classics of the trade. ISC/SCI Magpie PinAlso useful for indexers is membership in the Indexing Society of Canada (see www.indexers.ca), which holds regular conferences and issues a bimonthly magazine, The Indexer, free for members. Nancy has the highest praise for the society’s membership and activities.

Examples of indexes can be found as far back as the earliest printed books. Some resembled modern indexes, though the word often referred to what we would now think of as tables of contents. Henry Benjamin Wheatley (1838–1917) is often cited as the father of modern English indexes, having founded the (short-lived) Index Society and written two foundational and still-read indexing books, What Is an Index (1878) and How to Make an Index (1902).

Today, indexing continues to develop to meet modern needs. Nancy cites the federal government’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission Final Report as a massive contemporary Canadian indexing achievement, requiring bilingual teams working in concert to solve issues of, among other things, how to identify people known by multiple names or those remaining anonymous. British Columbia’s legislative assembly also engages in leading-edge work by tagging its video recordings of proceedings and then providing indexes keyed to time stamps.

Like everything to do with publishing, indexing has been changed dramatically by technology. Yet it also remains stubbornly, stalwartly, a creative, individual act. In the early days of indexing, Nancy says, there was a fear that indexes would lead people to stop reading books. Fortunately, quite the opposite occurred: an index simply makes a book more useful. And what could be more useful than that?

Announcements

Remember the Editors Canada 40th anniversary conference taking place in Halifax on June 7–9!

Check out the upcoming webinars here.

Coming Up Next

Next meeting, we’ll be talking about Editors Canada’s Professional Editorial Standards. Watch this space for more details!

Join us at the usual place and time:

Free for Editors Canada members; $5 fee for visitors (first meeting free).

Make MS Word Work for YOU: A Hands-On Workshop

AMontgomerie medby Stephanie Stone

Editors Kingston hosted this workshop on Saturday, November 18, at the Tett Centre for Creativity and Learning. It was led by Adrienne Montgomerie, who is an experienced instructor and knows Word inside out.

313251851The goal of the workshop was for attendees to learn skills that make online revising faster, more accurate, and efficient—using wildcards, macros, Track Changes, shortcuts, styles, and more. By applying our new-found skills, we would be able to reduce the mechanics and tedium of revising and editing so that we could focus on developing our ideas and honing our arguments.

 

Editing In Word 2016 - College EditionA week before the seminar, Adrienne asked us to send her a list of topics we wanted to cover, and she amalgamated them into an overall list for the day. We also referred to her recently published and indispensable book, Editing in Word 2016, which she provided (in PDF format) as part of the seminar fee.

Adrienne began the day on the topic of macros because it can be the hardest and she wanted to discuss it off the top, while we were fresh. That was an interesting approach, and it worked well. She was a good instructor—explaining Word features clearly, setting the right pace, and giving us time to practise what we’d just learned. She also accommodated users on both Macintosh and Windows platforms as well as different versions of Word, and she did that flawlessly.

The seminar went very well, and we learned a lot. It was a small group, which helped people feel comfortable, and it allowed Adrienne to answer all our questions. We covered almost everything on Adrienne’s list of topics, and there was still time for a long lunch and an afternoon break.

We were in a room on the lowest level of the Tett Centre, down the hall from the café, so people could easily get a coffee or tea. And lunch was delicious—a small buffet of sandwiches and salads, with huge, decadent cookies for dessert.