Eva van Emden (she/her), freelance editor

Certified copy editor and proofreader


December 29, 2012

Referring to foreign place names in English

Woerthersee foreign terms for geographic entities
Picture: Google Maps
When referring to places in other countries, here’s a question I came across recently. When a foreign place name contains a geographical descriptor, like “lake” or “mountain,” should you keep the name as is, or split out the generic descriptor?

I was editing an article that referred to the Wörthersee, in Austria. As it stood, the copy referred to “Lake Wörthersee,” but a reader who speaks a little German might know that See is German for “lake,” and find that wording redundant.

A fellow editor who used to work for a news service in Japan told me that their house style was to replace the Japanese suffix for the geographical entity with the English word: Fujisan would become “Mount Fuji.”

The Chicago Manual of Style recommends leaving out the English term: “the Rio Grande” not “the Rio Grande River.” (Chicago Manual of Style, 16th ed., 8.54 “Foreign terms for geographic entities.”)

For the Wörthersee, I chose “Lake Wörther” instead of “the Wörthersee,” since a) it isn’t a very well-known place, so I didn’t think changing the name would cause confusion; and b) the German for “lake” isn’t that widely known. Based on the same considerations, I would leave Rio Grande, which is more widely known to North American readers, as is instead of changing it to “the Grande River.”

November 24, 2012

Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James

E. L. James, Fifty Shades of Grey review
I finally got around to reading Fifty Shades of Grey. I thought that when my name finally came to the top of the library’s hold list I’d read the first chapter and put it down with a sneer, but that’s not what happened.

Yes, the writing is clunky and the book lacks polish. There are plenty of little things that don’t ring true (Anastasia doesn’t have a computer; she trips over a clean, well-lit floor; the dancing in the nightclub scene), and I could have done with a bit less of the inner goddess. But overall I found the book fun. Everyone in the book is nice, including the brooding Mr. Grey. The story is quite upbeat, and it’s easy to read. If you’re in the right mood to fantasize along, you can have a good time.

A voyage of self-discovery and transformation can be a great story, especially in the erotica genre. But the book failed for me—and I suspect this is at the root of many the complaints about Ana—by not being that. Ana shows bravery when she ventures into Christian’s world. She faces some pretty daunting challenges, and she does a good job in negotiating her boundaries. But instead of realizing that she’s kink-curious and exploring her own interests and needs, she makes it all about the man, and she gets stuck in a loop of “I want him so much, but I don’t know if I can give him what he wants.” The story comes off as being about her picking and choosing between different options offered to her instead of being about her taking action to discover who she is and what she wants. The ending is also seriously disappointing. It looks as if the author noticed she was running out of space and cobbled together a weak climax at the expense of making Ana do something that’s both ridiculous and inconsistent with her earlier actions.

The book probably isn’t going to win any awards for the Most Realistic Depiction of Kinky People. The kinky person here is high-functioning but emotionally damaged. Of course that’s necessary to raise the emotional stakes in the story—if Ana were having a relationship with a happy, well-balanced person who happened to like spanking, the conflict wouldn’t be nearly big enough—but it’s still disappointing. The BDSM is rather mild—I was kind of waiting for it to start. Some BDSM-themed books (Sleeping Beauty Trilogy, Story of O) plunge quickly into activities that would endanger life and limb, but Fifty Shades keeps things tame. Where Anne Rice’s masters hang their slaves up by their wrists all night, Christian Grey “aims for pink.”

The book combines easy reading, romance, erotic spice, and better writing than your average pulp romance with some kind of genre-busting spark. I hope it will help open the door to distinctive, well-written, entertaining, and well-produced erotica hitting the mainstream.

Reviewed from a library copy of the book.

October 29, 2012

The basics of libel law in Canada and the new responsible communication defence

I recently attended a Tyee master class: Responsible Journalism in 2012: The Changing Legal Landscape for Journalists, taught by Leo McGrady of McGrady and Company, a firm whose specialties include libel law and intellectual property.

The biggest take-home message? Libel risk is manageable. Don’t be too afraid to write. In the last few years, courts have set precedents in libel law that have shifted the balance toward freedom to publish, and it’s important to use this new freedom from libel chill to build a new culture of freedom of expression.

Why does “libel chill” matter? Don’t people only get sued for libel if they lie?

I saw this sentiment in a blog comment just now, and I think it’s an important misconception to address. No, you’re not only at risk if you lie. Consider the following situations:

You review a book. You say it’s terrible, that the author doesn’t know what they’re talking about, and that they can’t write for beans. You could get sued. See this case about negative book reviews on Amazon’s website, and this case about a negative academic review.

Or perhaps you find out that a Canadian company is doing business with a supplier in a developing country who treats its employees very badly. You know this because you have done interviews with reputable sources. But if you publish a statement like, “John Doe, who works for an NGO in the country, reports that workers don’t have access to basic safety equipment,” could you prove in a court of law that workers don’t have access to basic safety equipment? If not, you may not feel safe publishing that sentence.

That’s what they mean by “chill.”

What is libel?

Libel refers to defamation in written, printed, broadcasted, or other lasting form.
Defamation is an attack on a person’s character that attributes to the person some form of disgraceful conduct—dishonesty, cruelty, sexual misbehaviour, irresponsibility, and the like—in either personal or professional concerns.

Editing Canadian English, 2nd Ed. 11.67

How to protect yourself when you publish

  • Be right. If your statement is true and you can prove it (more about that later), you’re safe. In this case it doesn’t matter if your reporting is malicious, unfair, or unbalanced.
  • Be able to show that you’re right: be diligent in your research, and save your documentation.
  • If it turns out that you were wrong about something, you can mitigate the damages against you if you take the material down, publish a correction, and apologize. Make sure the apology is honest and sincere: don’t backtrack, don’t make an “attack” apology, and don’t say it was the plaintiff’s fault.

What are the consequences?

If you mitigate the damage as described above, by retracting and apologizing, the lawsuit may not happen at all. A typical award for damages is about $70,000, which isn’t really worth suing for. Although the loser may have to pay court fees (something like $120,000), they would typically end up paying only about a quarter of that unless an award for special costs was granted (unusual). If the defendant was very reasonable about mitigating the damage, they might not even have to pay the court costs.

Main legal defences against libel

  1. Truth. If your facts are correct and your evidence satisfies the court, then you’re not liable. However, if your statements are difficult to prove, or if you made a mistake and published something that wasn’t true, read on.
  2. Fair comment. Remember that a defamatory statement is more or less anything that damages a person’s reputation. Maybe you made statements of opinion that were highly uncomplimentary. For your writing to qualify as fair comment, you need to show that the statement was comment or opinion, that it is your honest opinion, that it’s based on true facts, and that it regards a matter of public interest. If you are proven to be malicious, that defeats this defence.
  3. Privilege. In some situations when the communicator and the receiver have an interest and a duty to exchange certain information, that communication may be protected. For example, an employer giving a reference to a future employer is a situation of “qualified privilege.” This defence is lost if the person making the statements is malicious or if the information is communicated beyond the group of people who have an interest in receiving the information. Increasingly, it seems that the public may be the interested party.
  4. Responsible publication. This is a relatively new defence that came out of the Grant v. Torstar case (see below). The defendant has to show two things:
    1. The matter is of public interest.
    2. The defendant acted in a responsible way.
    In deciding whether the defendant acted responsibly, a number of factors are considered:
    1. The seriousness of the allegation. More serious allegations require stronger evidence.
    2. The public importance of the matter.
    3. The urgency of the matter.
    4. The reliability of the source.
    5. Whether the plaintiff’s side of the story was sought and accurately reported. How important this is depends on the circumstances, but generally, consulting the person you’re writing about decreases your chances of getting your facts wrong.
    6. Whether the inclusion of the defamatory statement was justifiable.
    7. Whether the statement’s public interest lay in the fact that it was made rather than its truth. This can protect situations like reporting on a libel case, where it would be difficult to avoid repeating the defamatory statement.

Recent changes in Canadian libel law

Grant v. Torstar in 2009 was the case that resulted in the new guidelines for responsible journalism or responsible communication. The Court commented:
The existing common law rules mean, in effect, that the publisher must be certain before publication that it can prove the statement to be true in a court of law, should a suit be filed. Verification of the facts and reliability of the sources may lead a publisher to a reasonable certainty of their truth, but that is different from knowing that one will be able to prove their truth in a court of law, perhaps years later. This, in turn, may have a chilling effect on what is published. Information that is reliable and in the public’s interest to know may never see the light of day.

—paragraph 53

Wikipedia summary of Grant v. Torstar

Supreme Court of Canada Grant v. Torstar

Other considerations


“Actual malice” in a libel case is not personal dislike or even a personal vendetta. It means that the person making the statement had an ulterior motive or a lack of honest belief in the statement.

Repeating a statement

Quoting someone else does not distance you from liability. The contentious statement in the Grant v. Torstar case was a quoted statement from a local resident. The resident made the statement, but the newspaper was sued for printing it.

Differences between Canadian and US law

Because libel law is different in the United States, previous publication in the United States does not mean that a statement is safe to publish in Canada. In particular, be aware that public figures are not given different treatment in Canadian libel law.

Libel on the internet

Linking to libellous content is generally safe, but if someone tells you the linked content is libellous and you refuse to take the link down, you may be considered to be endorsing the libellous content.

You are responsible for the comments on your blog. You should moderate your comment feeds. Even if a libellous comment slips through, having a moderation process in place will count in your favour.

Web pages are considered to be published globally. Yikes.

Resources and further reading about libel

The Tyee on the Furlong libel case (Update: decisions for Furlong v. Robinson and Robinson v. Furlong)

Damage Awards for Libel in Canada

CanLII: free Canadian law on the internet

Quicklaw is a pay research service

October 3, 2012

Banned Books Week

And Tango Makes Three
I forgot it was Banned Books Week! Banned Books Week raises awareness of banned or challenged books and to persecution of authors.

Freedom to Read has a page on Censorship in Canada with a searchable list of banned and challenged books and magazines.

Most books that are challenged remain available; a challenge just means that someone made an effort to get a library or school to withdraw a book. However, some books and magazines are successfully made unavailable when they are seized at the border. Little Sister’s book shop in Vancouver has been fighting legal battles for years over censorship of books that describe gay and BDSM sexuality.

Read more

Banned Books Week on the American Library Association website.

Excerpt from Joseph Anton, Salman Rushdie’s memoir about living in hiding after he was threatened with death for writing The Satanic Verses.

September 11, 2012

Love Trumps Grief released

Book cover: Love Trumps Grief by Kristin Akin I’m excited to see that Love Trumps Grief, a book that I worked on this spring, has been released. It’s a memoir of a mother whose two sons were diagnosed with hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis (HLH), a rare blood disease. The only long-term treatment was a bone marrow transplant. Kristin Akin writes with strong emotion and unflinching courage about her family’s experience throughout her sons’ illness. I was deeply impressed not just by her perseverance, but at her ability to create love, joy, and even fun and humour in between the grimmest medical necessities.

The Matthew and Andrew Akin Foundation
OneMatch: Canadian bone marrow donation. The Canadian registry shares information internationally.
US National Marrow Donor Program

September 4, 2012

Advanced Proofreading workshop September 22

Image courtesy of Jeremy Keith
I can only imagine how the proofreader felt. Photo by Jeremy Keith (adactio) at Flickr. Some rights reserved.
The Editors’ Association of Canada, BC branch is offering a workshop on advanced proofreading taught by Ruth Wilson. The workshop will be on Saturday, September 22 from 9 to 4 at SFU Harbour Centre. Register by September 7 for early bird pricing (registration closes on September 14).

August 15, 2012

Stephen King’s Danse Macabre

Stephen King Danse Macabre I came to this book not as a horror fan, but because I really like Stephen King’s non-fiction writing. If nothing else, he broadened my view of horror; it’s much more than just haunting and slashing. He discusses books by Shirley Jackson and John Wyndham and goes into detail about Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, a book I’m very fond of.

King’s enthusiasm for the genre makes this book a lot of fun to read. In chapter 7, “The Horror Movie as Junk Food,” he explains, “Once you’ve seen enough horror films, you begin to get a taste for really shitty movies . . . Real fans of the genre look back on a film like The brain from Planet Arous (It Came From Another World WITH AN INSATIABLE LUST FOR EARTH WOMEN!) with something like real love.” (This chapter shows a great still from a movie called Robot Monster featuring a man in a gorilla suit wearing a diving helmet. What makes the picture even funnier is that to my Canadian eye it looks exactly like a bear in a diving helmet.)

The only drawback is that this book was written in 1979. This is great if you’re a fan of the books and movies of that era, but I’d love to hear about what King thinks of what’s come out in the last thirty years. Another book, perhaps?

On giving lectures: “I have written my belief that no one is exactly sure of what they mean on any given subject until they have written their thoughts down; I similarly believe that we have very little understanding of what we have thought until we have submitted those thoughts to others who are at least as intelligent as ourselves.”

On art versus exploitation (skating over thin ice): “Hooper works in Chainsaw Massacre, in his own queerly apt way, with taste and conscience.”

Children and scary movies: “The irony of all this is that children are better able to deal with fantasy and terror on its own terms than their elders are . . . The point is, if you put a little kid of six in the front row at a screening of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre along with an adult who was temporarily unable to distinguish between make-believe and ‘real things’ . . . my guess is that the kid would have maybe a week’s worth of bad dreams. The adult might spend a year or so in a rubber room, writing home with Crayolas.”

Some of the books he discusses in the text:

  • Ghost Story—Peter Straub
  • The House Next Door—Anne Rivers Siddons
  • Some of Your Blood—Theodore Sturgeon
  • The Haunting of Hill House—Shirley Jackson
  • Strange Wine—Harlan Ellison
Stephen King’s list of recommended horror books.

Reviewed from my own copy of the book.

July 22, 2012

Neil Gaiman on freelancing

A while ago Neil Gaiman gave a commencement address in which he shared some secrets of freelancing (starts at 13:00 on the video). He says there are three secrets to keeping work:
  1. Do good work.
  2. Deliver on time.
  3. Be pleasant to work with.
You get work however you get work. But people keep working in a freelance world—and more and more of today’s world is freelance—because their work is good, and because they’re easy to get along with, and because they deliver the work on time.

And you don’t even need all three. Two out of three is fine. People will tolerate how unpleasant you are if your work is good and you deliver it on time. People will forgive the lateness of your work if it’s good and they like you. And you don’t have to be as good as everyone else if you’re on time and it’s always a pleasure to hear from you.

—Neil Gaiman (transcription mine)

March 22, 2012

Strange Flesh by Michael Olson

One thing the internet reveals is that the world contains multitudes of people just like you . . . Some people are looking to share their thoughts, others are looking to share . . . other things.
Strange Flesh Michael Olson As heartbreak leads to loneliness, which leads in turn to net porn and no-strings dating sites, the wear and tear on James Pryce’s body and soul are beginning to build up. When the Randall twins, rich acquaintances from college, hire him to go undercover to find their brother, it seems like an opportunity to step off the path his life has taken recently. Instead, it leads to an online world defined by the escalating demands of the Fever, orchestrated by an artist who likes nothing better than to see his virtual creations bleed into real life.

I loved it. The ongoing themes of compulsion and addiction, secrecy and shame make for a satisfying underpinning to a well-plotted story of digital trickery and a feuding family. The technical detail rings true (although I’d never heard of using foot pedals for your modifier keys). Best of all, the writing is very good indeed, and the narrator’s dry delivery makes certain grotesqueries funnier than perhaps they should be.

So is it Neal Stephenson plus titillation? Not really. There’s geek service, but our hero is a social engineer, not a brain. And social though he is, don’t expect to find too much erotica here. It reminded me more of Chuck Palahniuk, with maybe the slightest whiff of Less than Zero. Call it a thriller with geek appeal. Transgressive geek appeal.

Publication date April 3, 2012
Strange Flesh excerpt

Reviewed from a free copy sent by the publisher.

January 26, 2012

Writing income for novelists

I just ran across this writeup by Jim C. Hines on his writing income throughout his career. (See also 2020.) Some things I notice: And while we’re on the subject, see Unasked-for Advice to New Writers About Money from John Scalzi, who made $164,000 in 2007.

January 15, 2012

Better than Great: A Plenitudinous Compendium of Wallopingly Fresh Superlatives by Arthur Plotnik

Oh, that word amazing—enforced by dropping one’s mandible on the second syllable and stretching out the MAYYY sound until a listener seems convinced. “I just ate the most aMAYYYzing cupcake.”

Better than Great Arthur PlotnikThe purpose of this book is to help people praise things more effectively, so it seems ironic that when I try to describe it, I’m struck with acute performance anxiety. It’s like being faced with the final exam, right now.

In Better than Great, the always-entertaining Arthur Plotnik (see also Spunk & Bite and The Elements of Editing) turns his attention to the problem of what to say when you’ve said “great”—or “perfect,” or “amazing”—too many times already. Faced with the challenge, I tend to wimp out, myself—to go the understatement route. “It was pretty good,” I mutter. What a missed opportunity!

Plotnik lays out the main categories of superlatives, separating the great from the sublime, the large from the intense, exploring the contradictions of baditude, and offers the reader a list of words to try out for each. Thus we have tyrannosaurian cockroaches and Niagaras of tears, and people who are so stellar they could carry water in a sieve. Your signature dish is pie-hole heaven, it’s so scarfable. That woman? A stoater; I’ve-fallen-and-I-can’t-get-up gorgeous. And who wouldn’t want to try a racy but quaffable red?

The appendices offer a few bonuses: a handy list for eponymous acclaim from Austenian to Zorroesque, with instructions for forming your own (is it Plotnikian or Plotnikesque?) and finally, to get you going, there’s the starter set of habit-breakers. It’s grea— wait, raveworthy!

So read this book and learn to blow the un-ignorable vuvuzela of praise.

Reviewed from an advance reading copy kindly sent to me by Viva Editions.

January 8, 2012

Author & Editor: A Working Guide

by Rick Archbold, Doug Gibson, Dennis Lee, John Pearce, and Jan Walter

Author and Editor: A Working Relationship

“There are books, even great ones, that make their way into print without ever being touched by an editor’s pencil, just as there are babies born without midwife or doctor. But they are not the norm and the dangers involved—in both cases—are considerable.”
This booklet outlines what an author needs to know about the publishing process. It covers the basics of manuscript acquisition, the decision to publish, contracts, how a publisher decides on the format and selling price of a book, the publishing schedule, and finally, it provides insight into and advice on managing the working relationship of the author and editor. It presents all of this information into a short (only 35 pages) and very readable package.

Where to get it

Publisher: The Book and Periodical Development Council, Toronto, Canada
Date: 1983
ISBN: 0130539260
Vancouver Library

Reviewed from a library copy of the book.

January 7, 2012

Standard rates for freelance editing jobs

How much can you expect to pay a freelance editor? How do you estimate a freelance editing job?

For freelance editors and their clients, estimating the cost and time for a project is an important skill. Here are some of the factors to consider when estimating a project, as well as some industry rates.

Factors that affect editing speed

Difficulty of the material

The level of specialization and complexity of the document are important factors.
  • Is the material very specialized? Is there a lot of specialized terminology that the editor will have to look up or define a style for? Scientific, academic, and technical material (such as user manuals) takes longer to edit.
  • Is the formatting complex? Are there many levels of headings, figure and table captions, footnotes and endnotes, and citations to format?
  • Are there complex stylistic considerations such as mathematical formulas, other languages, units, currencies, etc.?
  • Is there a defined style for the document, or does the editor have to try to infer the style from the document itself? A style sheet can make the work go more quickly. On the other hand, long, complex, and contradictory guidelines can slow it down.

Current state of the manuscript

The state of the manuscript before editing makes a huge difference. The more errors the manuscript contains, the more time it will take to edit, especially if there are places where the meaning is unclear, or if the style and formatting are very inconsistent.

Clarity of requirements

Has the editing task been clearly defined? Has all the information needed to complete the job been provided? For instance for a stylistic edit, has the level and style of language to be used been specified? For a copy edit or proofread, is there a style sheet, and is it complete and consistent? Does the client respond quickly to questions?

Freelance editing rates

Some suggested standard pay scales and productivity rates for editing:
  1. What editors charge. Some guidelines on productivity rates and billing from the Editors’ Association of Canada.
  2. Janet Mackenzie suggested in her book The Editor’s Companion, written in 2004, that an editor who is competent according to the Australian Standards for Editing Practice is worth at least AUD 50 per hour (about CAN 53).
  3. Editorial Rates (updated April 2020) from the Editorial Freelancers Association in the US. A lot of people consider these rates to be low.

Freelance indexing rates

The Indexing Society of Canada has some notes on rates for indexing services. This is helpful both for indexers and their clients.

But that’s more than my hourly rate in my salaried job!

A freelancer’s hourly rate is higher than a salaried employee’s rate for a comparable job because it reflects the total cost of doing business. This includes expenses that are included in a salaried employee’s compensation:
  • Medical insurance premiums and medical and dental treatment.
  • Canada Pension Plan. Employees have half their CPP contributions covered by their employer. Self-employed people pay the whole thing. For the 2019 tax year, the deduction is 10.2% of taxable income to a maximum of $5,498.
  • Vacation pay, which is minimum 4% in BC.
  • Maintaining a workspace, computer, software, and reference materials.
A freelance business has some extra expenses as well:
  • Non-billable time spent finding work and handling administration.
  • Professional development: improving skills, staying up to date, and taking courses and certification exams.
  • Many editors need disability insurance, commercial liability insurance, and errors and omissions insurance.
There are various rules of thumb for how much a contractor needs to add to their hourly rate to approximate the pay of a salaried in-house employee. I think I’ve heard everything from 25% to 150% on top of the employee’s rate. A simple rule of thumb for calculating a freelancer’s hourly rate is to take the target annual salary and divide by 1,000.

These numbers can give you something to work with when you’re comparing the cost of freelancers to in-house employees. And if you see that you’re paying an unsustainably low rate for freelance work, you’ll know that you can expect a high turnover as your freelancers leave you for higher-paying contracts.