Eva van Emden

Freelance Editor and Certified Proofreader


June 20, 2015

“When to use bad English” with James Harbeck (Editors Canada Conference 2015)

James Harbeck gave a great talk on when to use “bad” English. Bad English in this case means nonstandard English: ungrammatical constructions, jargon, slang, and vulgarity. And the first lesson for editors is that you should use bad English when it’s not bad. Some of the rules taught in the past never had much basis in logic, grammar, or common usage, and are now widely dismissed as superstitions. So go ahead: split infinitives and end your sentences with prepositions.

James has posted a writeup of his talk on his blog Sesquiotica.

“Honing your elevator speech” with Laura Poole (Editors Canada Conference 2015)

“What do you do?” People ask each other this question all the time, and how many of us can summarize the scope of our business activities, convey the extent of our expertise and enthusiasm, and make the listener want to know more, all in the amount of time it takes for an elevator to travel a few floors? I know I can’t—yet.

Laura Poole, a freelance editor herself, gave us some tips on how to get your message across.

Goal of your speech

  • Remember that your goal is to start a conversation.
  • Adapt your speech to fit the person you’re talking to. If you’re talking to your editing colleagues, you can say “I do a lot of substantive editing,” but for the general public, it might be better to say, “I edit and proofread books and magazines.”
  • Consider what you want people to know, and what’s unique about you.

Delivering your speech

  • Smile and make eye contact. Use a conversational tone of voice and show your enthusiasm.
  • Memorize the speech so that you don’t have to think about the words. That lets you pay attention to delivering your speech effectively.
  • If this kind of speaking doesn’t come naturally to you, try to pretend that you’re someone who does enjoy it.

Bonus tip

To keep your hand from getting crushed in a handshake, try shaking hands with your index finger (or first two fingers) sticking out along the inside of the other person’s wrist.

June 19, 2015

Editors’ Association of Canada conference 2015

Newly certified editors. Photo courtesy of Paul Cipywnyk. All rights reserved.

I’m back from the Editors’ Association of Canada’s 2015 conference “Editing Goes Global.” I have jet lag, a new copy of Merriam–Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage, a stack of business cards, a list of LinkedIn invitations, a pile of receipts, and notes all over the place.

Conference co-chairs Gael Spivak and Greg Ioannou did an amazing job of putting together the conference. The attendance was the highest ever, and people attended from as far away as India and Australia.

Some highlights included John McIntyre on newspaper writing (some articles can’t be fixed), Carol Fisher Saller on assertionists, Sue Archer and Suzanne Purkis on networking (including the defensive handshake), Joe Kimble on legalese (the myth of precision: legalese isn’t really more precise than plain language), and James Harbeck on when to use bad English (to make yourself seem like “just folks”). Christina Vasilevski kindly invited me to stay with her during the conference, so I also got to chat about some of my favourite fiction on the way into town each day. An important part of the conference is awards and recognition. At the annual general meeting, I got my certified proofreader certificate, and at the awards banquet I was thrilled to see fellow EAC-BC member Grace Yaginuma win the 2014 Tom Fairley award. Finally, I put a lot of faces to names as I met people who I’d only exchanged email with.

As I catch up, I’ll post some summaries from the sessions I went to.

January 1, 2015

Canadian Copyright Law, 4th ed.: An Updated Guide to Canadian Copyright Law for an Age of Reckless Infringement by Lesley Ellen Harris

Lesley Ellen Harris: Canadian Copyright Law
ISBN: 978-1-118-0751-8
October 2013, 368 pp.
When it comes to producing anxiety in writers and editors, copyright is right up there with citation styles, libel, and the correct use of the subjunctive mood. Most people get by on a combination of hearsay and superstition (“Mrs. Thistlebottom said it’s always OK to quote less than fifty words” . . . “It’s for noncommercial use” . . . “It’s in a public place” . . . “We have to change that to ‘candy bar’”), and that doesn’t work too badly until it comes to publishing online, where the stories sometimes get weird. I’ve seen people ask whether they can publish a URL without permission, while others have tried to claim that nothing on the web has any copyright protection (see “But honestly Monica”).

Lesley Ellen Harris’s Canadian Copyright Law is a readable, complete introduction to Canadian copyright law, covering text, photographs, art, video, music, and more. Harris explains what types of intellectual property fall under copyright as opposed to patents, trademarks, industrial design protection, and trade secrets. She summarizes what rights are included in copyright, how they can be exploited, and how copyright is infringed, and discusses how violations are handled. She also explains how to license content and gives some guidelines on fair dealing. There’s discussion of international copyright treaties, and a full chapter on U.S. copyright law.

The book contained just about everything I wanted to know, and it was well organized and easy to understand. It’s quite a reasonable length, so you can realistically read it cover to cover. The author seems to take a neutral point of view, which is helpful given that there is some controversy over how to interpret recent Supreme Court decisions. I think the book takes into account the results of the “copyright pentalogy,” five decisions by the Canadian Supreme Court on copyright that were delivered on July 12, 2012, but there’s no direct discussion or analysis of the cases. This book seems like an excellent starting point for the lay reader who needs to get a grip on how to protect, license, and use creative works.

Lesley Ellen Harris is a lawyer, writer, and teacher who specializes in copyright law.

Accompanying material online

Reviewed from a copy borrowed from the library.

November 7, 2014

Ethics for Editors Seminar

Understand your role.

Keep your promises.

These were the guiding principles behind our discussions during an Editors’ Association of Canada seminar taught by Mary Schendlinger of Geist magazine.

Why does a copy editor need to understand ethical issues?

Editors are the front line of the publishing industry: after authors, editors work most closely with manuscripts, and often, that makes them the publishing professionals who flag potential libel, copyright infringement, plagiarism, invasion of privacy, and biased language. If you work with self-publishing authors, you might be the only publishing expert who can warn the author about these issues.

Responsibilities to many stakeholders

You may think of publishing ethics in terms of dealing with your employers or clients, but there is a much wider range of stakeholders to consider: authors; readers; your colleagues and the larger community of writers and artists; other publishing professionals, such as printers, designers, booksellers, libraries, advertisers, and investors; and the environment.
  • The author’s hard work and creativity should be respected. Copyright law gives them the right to be credited and compensated, and for their work to be published without distortion.
  • The reader deserves a good product.
  • You can support your colleagues and the publishing community by participating in industry events and supporting professional associations. Treat your clients and staff well. Be honest and fair with your professional recommendations.
  • Consider the environmental footprint of your publications and your work methods. Even Internet use has an energy cost.

Some questions and common problems

Here are a few questions that came up together with answers that were offered.

When you’re a freelance editor, is it OK to turn away a manuscript because you don’t agree with the opinions expressed in it or you just don’t feel like working on it? Yes. It’s OK to choose projects that you’ll enjoy working on, and the editing process works best when the editor is enthusiastic about the project.

Conversely, is it OK to accept a project you’re not enthusiastic about? Yes. You can do an excellent, professional job editing a manuscript even if you’re not personally passionate about wing-nut-manufacturing specifications, the life cycle of the hookworm, or cooking with kale.

What should you do when you find plagiarism in a manuscript? If you find racist or sexist statements? Plagiarism can happen by accident, and biased language might be completely invisible to the author. Treat the problem as a problem with the writing, not a problem with the author, and address it in terms of how it could distract the reader from the book’s message.

What if you’re working on a manuscript and you find errors that should have been fixed at an earlier stage in the editing? Don’t just complain to your employer that the earlier editor didn’t do her job. It may be that what looks like an error was kept at the insistence of the author.

Further reading

  • See also my introduction to Canadian libel law.
  • Various style guides have sections on legal issues: Editing Canadian English, 2nd Ed., Chapter 11, “Editors and the Law,” Chicago Manual of Style, 16th Ed., Chapter 4 “Rights, Permissions, and Copyright Administration,” Associated Press Stylebook, “Briefing on Media Law,” and Canadian Press Stylebook, various sections including “Legal.”
  • Canadian Copyright Law by Lesley Ellen Harris has a newly updated edition.