Archive for references

A crash course on magazine style guides

As a copy editor, I’ve worked with more than a dozen magazines, including consumer, custom, trade and web publications. No matter what category, magazines benefit from a detailed and up-to-date style guide. If you haven’t refreshed yours in a while—or if you don’t have one—this is a great project for the year-end holiday slowdown when you can’t get anyone to answer your emails anyway!

What is a style guide?

It’s a document that outlines the magazine’s “house style”—the preferences in punctuation, grammar, capitalization, word usage and more that editorial staff should follow. Using a style guide improves consistency, saves everyone time and supports your publication’s unique identity and feel. (Note that a style guide isn’t the same thing as writer’s guidelines, which offer broader direction to contributors pitching stories—see EnRoute’s example.)

What makes a good style guide?

I think style guides should offer enough direction without trying to cover everything. The definition of “enough” depends on your magazine; I’ve seen style guides as short as two pages, and some thick enough to require a binder. If you’re building your style guide from scratch, start with the basics that come up frequently, such as punctuation, numbers, capitalization, abbreviations, symbols and place names.

I don’t know anything about this stuff.

You don’t need to invent your own style—look at commonly used reference books such as Canadian Press Stylebook, Canadian Press Caps and Spelling, The Globe and Mail Style Book, Editing Canadian English, The Chicago Manual of Style and, for web stuff, The Yahoo! Style Guide. You could simply adopt one of the first three as your style guide, but you’ll still need to make some decisions, and you’ll want to make at least a few exceptions. Your magazine might even ban certain words and phrases because they’re overused, outdated or offensive—or just because the editor-in-chief can’t stand them. (See examples of words unwelcome at The Washington Post, New York Magazine and SeriousEats.com.)

What’s a lexicon?

Many magazines keep a list of words, on its own or as part of a style guide, to save editors the time and trouble of looking them up—or because the words aren’t in the dictionary. This unique vocabulary could include specialty lingo, brand names and celebrities’ names, for example. I love lexicons (yep, I’m a geek) because they’re like a snapshot of a magazine’s essence—a taste of what makes it special.

Where can I find examples of style guides and lexicons?

Here are just a few: The Economist, Faith Today, Film Matters, National Geographic, Carleton University and The Guardian. The ones from Vice and Buzzfeed are even kind of fun to read. You can also find specialized style guides, like the one from the Council of Science Editors. Check out UXmag.com, Poynter.org and Smashing Magazine for more thoughts on style guides.

 

Do you have thoughts on magazine style guides?

 

Research Cheat Sheet: Tips From a Librarian

Photo of Mimi SzetoThis week, we’re lucky to have a guest post by Mimi Szeto, who’s both a journalist and a librarian (so, basically, she’s a research ninja). Check out Mimi’s tips for smarter online searching and free resources.  

Online research is easy or daunting depending on how well you can weave through all the information out there on the web. Here are a few librarian-approved sources and easy-to-do tricks—most of which you can try at home in your pajamas—to save time while digging deep into the virtual stacks.

1. Find out what you have access to

Though not often publicized, and sometimes veiled as “e-resources” or “digital collections,” libraries have growing selections of online goodies that you can access with your library card. Download magazines you want to pitch to, research new story angles and find niche publications for your work by signing up for a Zinio account through your public library (for example, the Toronto Public Library). You get free, unlimited access to the current digital editions of hundreds of magazines, and in some cases, back issues. Need to reference works by Alice Munro or Malcolm Gladwell? Download their ebooks through OverDrive 

2. Tap into databases, high-quality web resources and guides

Maybe your first instinct was to Google your topic. Now you have to back up your research with factual information from authoritative sources. Try searching paid databases and web portals via your library for newspaper articles, journals, consumer reports, statistics, encyclopedias and more. If you’re new to a subject, guides are one of the best starting points—search for “guides to [topic].”

3. Access hard-to-get (for free) research

Science, health and medical journals usually aren’t freely available to the public. Nonetheless, it’s worth a shot to search Google Scholar for full-text articles. If you study or teach at a university, there’s a good chance you have an all-access pass via the library website to subject-specific databases containing journal articles, abstracts and other types of documents. Start with the topic and then dive into the suggested resources to gather what you need.

4. Use social media as a research tool

Even if Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn aren’t your thing, they’re a gold mine when it comes to discovering new businesses and interview sources, and listening in on both expert and non-expert commentary. One neat trick you can do on Facebook is pull up posts, discussions and any other mentions of a particular topic by adding a hashtag to your search term. For instance, typing “#snow” into the search box will bring up public posts and comments from people on your friends list that mention snow. This is particularly useful for newsworthy events.

5. Back up documents you may need later

Web links break all the time. Content is taken down or revised. In some cases, entire websites disappear. Documenting webpages for research purposes is as easy as clicking File>Print>Save as PDF, if you’re using a Mac, or taking a screenshot. Skitch is a free app for Macs, Windows and mobile devices that allows you to annotate screenshots, maps and pictures. Do a web search for screenshot apps and plug-ins that create full-page records, and try a few out to find one that suits your needs. (Worried about copyright infringement? Read about fair dealing in the Copyright Act. In Canada, research, private study, criticism and news reporting are exceptions to copyright infringement.)

Mimi Szeto (@mimiszeto) is a freelance researcher and editor from Toronto who holds a Master of Information Studies degree in Library and Information Science. Formerly an online listings editor at St. Joseph Media for torontolife.com and where.ca, she has coordinated fact-checking projects for torontolife.com and worked in various public, academic and non-traditional libraries in the city. 

Q&A: James McCarten on the new Canadian Press Stylebook

JFM01The 17th edition of The Canadian Press Stylebook, a key reference book for Canadian journalists and students since its debut in 1940, came out a few weeks ago. I chatted with James McCarten, stylebook editor and CP’s Ottawa news editor, about the changes in this edition.

 

 

The previous stylebook came out in 2010. What’s new in this edition?

The main centrepiece of the new edition is the social media policy. It’s not the first time we’ve had something on the books, as it were, to help and inform people who work for CP as to how to manage their activity on social media in the context of the news agency and in the context of their daily journalism. But it’s an area that evolves very, very quickly. It wasn’t in the book in a comprehensive way, just mentioned as a great way to gather material, crowdsource grassroots opinion and so forth. [The new policy] coincided with the hiring of Andrew Lundy, our new director of digital. Over several months, we had a committee of reporters and other CP employees discuss what kind of model we’d have and how it should be framed. They were passionate discussions, because people feel quite strongly about social media and what they can do with it. We forged this policy to guide people in how it can be used as a tool, and the importance of using it as a tool both for information gathering and disseminating the work we do, and the pitfalls, the areas where you can get into trouble. Because it was so new, people tended to forget the long-existing policies of objectivity, fairness, accuracy, all the tenets of journalism, apply there too. It is a platform, a place where we’re engaged in discussions and sometimes arguments, and there’s a lot of back and forth. We wanted to ensure we were putting our best face forward representing the company when they were involved in these talks. Also, privacy issues come into play, and accuracy is fundamental. If you’re representing the company on Twitter or Facebook or anywhere else, you have to be in that framework of being a journalist first. … The policy itself is several pages along, with a great amount of detail, and I wanted a concise, condensed version to go in the book.

Stylebook cover 17

What other updates did you make?

Mostly tweaks, which is a fairly typical way to go. It’s the first edition of the stylebook I was involved in as an editor. We’re saving up more changes for down the road. We have a significant anniversary coming up, CP’s 100th anniversary in 2017, and I’m hoping we’ll mark that with comprehensive changes from cover to cover in the next five years or so.

Changes to the online edition happen between books. Does this book crystallize those changes?

It’s always a bit of crystallizing. It wasn’t an overhaul, but filling in a few spots where we don’t have anything in the book and we probably should. Suicide is a good example. It ended up in the section on sensitive subjects, and it will likely be expanded on in later editions. We were silent on that issue until now, and I felt we needed some acknowledgement that this is an area where you need to take your time, think carefully about what you’re doing and the impact it will have on other people, because it is a sensitive subject. Traditionally, in media, it was a verboten subject – the attitude still exists in many newsrooms that if it involves a suicide, you set it side, it’s not something you want to talk about. But that attitude has changed dramatically in recent years, dealing with prominent stories that put suicide at the forefront – First Nations are an example, and cyberbullying and teenage suicide are major issues. And it felt wrong to turn a blind eye to an issue that was dominating so much of the discussion in the national media on a daily basis. So this is us dipping our toe in the water a little bit. … There are lots of experts out there, with different opinions and perspectives on how to approach it. Get advice. Don’t just blunder through a story or dismiss a story out of hand because it touches on this issue. There is very prescriptive advice. If you go to certain mental health agencies or organizations, they often have tips for media, sometimes very heavy-handed, recommending certain language over others, putting certain facts in. We don’t want to go there, we just want to make sure it’s on people’s radar.

There’s new content on dealing with government and corporate officials.

As you know, I’m based in Ottawa now, and it’s been a prominent issue for us up here, very often dealing with government officials or other media relations folks who are less than forthcoming. This is a government that’s made it very clear that it takes a certain approach to the media, and we wanted to give advice on how best to handle situations in which someone who may in fact be being paid to deal with the media isn’t returning calls, or they’re demanding to see questions ahead of time, or refusing to do phone interviews. These are all things we encounter on a regular basis, and we wanted to provides some guidance on that, so that’s in there.

What was updated in the “unnamed sources” section?

It’s quite common among major media outlets, they now have a requirement that if you’re going to quote an anonymous source, you have to explain why, you have to cite the very specific reason why you’re choosing to grant anonymity to a particular person – for example, it’s someone who’s not authorized to speak to the media, or who doesn’t have permission to release certain details, or who’s fearing for their safety. We’re trying to give the reader as much guidance as possible as to why this person has a good reason for choosing not to use their name. The other thing it does, it forces the reporter to take a second look at why it is. There’s a tendency, very much in this day and age, to go to that default position. If somebody doesn’t want their name used because they don’t want to get in trouble, that’s not good enough. Hopefully this policy will get reporters to take a second look…and both parties are forced to think about it, and it discourages the use, the wanton use, of anonymous sources, but still permits it when necessary. There are definitely circumstances where it’s in the public interest for a person to be able to speak out without fear of reprisal. We’ve always tried to find the middle ground and provide flexibility. That section on anonymous sources, there’s a solid two pages now.

How much do controversial news stories inform or drive updates to the stylebook?

It certainly helps to put it on the front burner. When the things we’re dealing with are prominent, it puts them on my radar that much more quickly. An issue like suicide – Rehtaeh Parsons and all the other examples we’ve been wrestling with in recent months – that will bring the issue to my attention more quickly. So I’d say it’s a major driver. The book is a living thing, and we’re trying to keep it up to date and current.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

There’s a section on using online images. A good example is the bus crash in Ottawa. It doesn’t take long for tribute pages and personal Facebook pages to acknowledge a tragedy or event. We felt we weren’t providing staff enough direct guidance on the use of pictures posted online. Sometimes there’s an attitude that if it’s online, it’s fair game, but that’s not always the case and we wanted to give more guidance.

There’s a part about obscenity. We made the change to the online stylebook years ago, around 2010, but this is the first print edition to reflect that. We needed to give ourselves more flexibility. We serve a multitude of different clients with different expectations and needs. Mainstream media clients, newspapers and the like … if there’s obscenity in the news report and it’s relevant and part of the news, oftentimes you’ll see that in print. But when you start to get into online… we’re serving a lot of corporate clients that have their own attitude towards these things. Maybe they have a family-oriented site. They tend to have a higher bar as to whether obscenity and profanity is permissible. So we’ve had to evolve our approach and provide multiple streams. Sometimes we’ll provide a story edited from that higher bar. And it became a very complicated issue, not easy to navigate. And the advent of the Internet has pushed a lot of language into the mainstream that traditionally wouldn’t be there. When Fucked Up won the Polaris Music Prize, we had an issue there. I think at one point we mentioned them as “a band whose name couldn’t be published in a family newspaper.” But at a certain point, you’re providing a disservice – we can’t name the band that won the Polaris Prize! It gets difficult. So our traditional approach, historically, we didn’t use devices, for example, asterisks instead of certain letters. We don’t specifically recommend that approach, but we’ve amended the policy that we no longer have a prohibition on it. If anything, the revisions in the policy have broadened it to let us use different strategies. And we feel that’s a reflection of what the media world at large needs to do now.

This interview has been edited for length. Images courtesy of James McCarten.

WIN A COPY! James is giving away two copies of The Canadian Press Stylebook. To enter, send an email to jaclynlaw[at]gmail[dot]com with CP STYLEBOOK in the subject line. Please include your mailing address. Deadline for entries is Sunday, Nov. 10. 

To order copies of the book, visit the Canadian Press website.

Read the Editfish Q&A with James McCarten about the 20th edition of The Canadian Press Caps and Spelling Guide.

 

Freelancing advice from across the pond

What do freelancers in the U.K. need to know about running their businesses? Pretty much the same things we Canadians do. Here are two helpful new e-books by British freelancers.

Oku_book

Become a Freelance Writer: Your complete guide to the business of writing
By Rachael Oku; Harriman House, 2013; 52 pages
About $7 for Kindle and iBooks editions

London-based writer/editor Rachael Oku provides tips on setting up, promoting and running a freelance business. In a conversational tone, Oku covers networking, finding work, creating a social media presence, positioning yourself as an expert, pricing your services and much more. (Her list of common freelancing pitfalls is, on its own, worth the price of admission.) She also includes ideas that are likely more common in the U.K. than in Canada (such as selling ads on your site or creating a “media kit” with a list of your services and rates, a photo, clips, etc.).

Oku is well acquainted with the ups and downs of freelance life—she’s the driving force behind Creative-Bloc, a social enterprise/hub for writers, launched in 2012. (Disclosure: I’ve written a couple of blog posts for the site.) The wide-ranging topics and encouraging words of Become a Freelance Writer will be especially beneficial for new and aspiring freelancers.

harnby_book

Business Planning for Editorial Freelancers: A Guide for New Starters
By Louise Harnby in association with The Publishing Training Centre, 2013; 126 pages
About $8 for Kindle and Smashwords editions

Editors, there’s an e-book for you too. Author Louise Harnby has been a freelance proofreader since 2005, and she’s also the owner of the Proofreader’s Parlour, a blog for editors and proofreaders. Her e-book covers freelancing essentials such as business plans (yes, you need one), different types of editing, training, promotion, networking, working with clients, resources and more.

Written with absolute beginners in mind, the e-book also contains ideas for gaining work experience, as well as case studies featuring stories from other freelancers (including a Canadian editor). This detailed, practical guide is a great read for anyone hoping to bust out of a cubicle and into a rewarding and sustainable editing career.

Elsewhere in the blogosphere: The Story Board recently reviewed The Freelancers’ Bible, by Sara Horowitz, founder of American organization Freelancers Union. I can’t wait to get my hands on it.

 

 

Q&A: Heidi Waechtler

Photo of editor Heidi Waechtler

Editor Heidi Waechtler

McClelland & Stewart recently released a new edition of The Canadian Writer’s Market: The Essential Guide for Freelance Writers. To find out how the book is staying relevant to today’s freelancers, I checked in with Heidi Waechtler, the editor who updated it.

Can you tell me a bit about yourself?

I grew up in Vancouver and studied English at UBC. While working in communications, I completed an editing certificate through Simon Fraser University and began doing freelance editing work on the side. I was always interested in how editorial fit into the larger publishing process, and so after working for the Magazine Association of British Columbia for three years, I returned to SFU to do the Master of Publishing program. I moved to Toronto recently to intern in the editorial department at McClelland & Stewart as a part of my graduate studies, which led me to my current position as the publishing assistant at Coach House Books.

It’s been almost three years since the 18th edition of The Canadian Writer’s Market, updated by Joanna Karaplis, came out. How does the 19th edition reflect changes in the market since 2010?

One of my priorities for updating the guide was to give due attention to some of the business models and publishing platforms that have taken off in recent years, including publishers that specialize in e-books (such as Iguana Books), print-on-demand (e.g., Frog Eat Frog), and self-publishing (e.g., FriesenPress). The guide recognizes that in addition to applying for grants and awards, authors may seek to finance their writing through crowdfunding websites such as Indiegogo, or participate in collaborative publishing efforts such as those at Deux Voiliers, a small press where authors, editors, and artists pool their skills and resources to bring books to market. Certainly, there have been consolidations and closures in the market since the last edition of the guide was published, but many launches, as well; as noted in the introduction, there are currently almost 2,000 Canadian magazines listed in CARD Online, as compared to 2010 when there were roughly 1,800. (Users of previous editions might also notice the 19th edition also has a spiffy new cover design, by Andrew Roberts, that reflects changing technology!)

Cover of The Canadian Writer's Market

Can you tell me about the process of updating the guide?

I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the framework established by editors of previous editions, including Sandra B. Tooze and Jem Bates. At the outset of the project, I reviewed some of the statistics, reports, and information available through resources including The Writers’ Union of Canada, CARD Online, StatsCan, Masthead Online, Quill & Quire, and the Book and Periodical Council of Canada, to get a current snapshot of the industry. I also spoke informally with a handful of writers, as well as editors and educators, about how the book might be made more useful and relevant from their respective points of view. I then reached out to publishers and editors across the country to find out what kind of writing they’re looking for, how they prefer to receive it, and their rates and payment terms. Often, this information is not readily available on a company’s website, or it’s difficult to find, or outdated, and this is where a central reference helps make the researching and pitching process less opaque. I would suggest that to complement the information found in The Canadian Writer’s Market, writers would do well to attend networking events and participate in the discussions happening on writer-oriented blogs, listservs, and community forums to share information. I should note that I also had assistance from a former colleague, Rachel Geertsema, with updating the awards section of the guide.

The book has a rich directory of Canadian consumer, trade, business, farm and professional publications and newspapers, plus educational resources, writers’ retreats, literary agents, writing contests and grants, organizations and more. As you were researching, what did you find especially useful, compelling or surprising?

What I found most heartening, while doing the research, was the numerous venues for underpublished and emerging writers to get their work out there, including cultural and literary magazines that have launched in the past few years, such as Sad MagLester’s Army and Poetry Is Dead, and small independent presses such as The Workhorsery and Invisible Publishing. Corresponding with the staff at these organizations, and reading through their respective submission guidelines, I found their enthusiasm to be both palpable and infectious! Also, the sheer number of B2B magazines is impressive. We list nearly 300 in the 19th edition—everything from Canadian Pizza Magazine to Manure Manager to Canadian Funeral Director Magazine. B2B is a fast-growing sector, and although it can be a harder market to break into, your persistence, when combined with your passions, could pay off here.

There is no info about working for corporate clients, marketing companies or other agencies. Why doesn’t the guide cover this type of writing?

Indeed, opportunities abound to write for clients outside of traditional publishing channels, and these can be quite lucrative. However, the size and shape of this market is not readily defined—at least not within the scope of this particular guide. I would suggest writers interested in entering these markets connect with groups such as the Professional Writers Association of Canada, the International Association of Business Communicators in Canada, and the Canadian Public Relations Society. I would add, also, that writing for the professional and trade publications listed in the guide could potentially lead to other projects down the line.

As a freelancer myself, I feel like writers today need to arm themselves with a huge amount of information in order to make a decent go of it and protect our assets. The book’s introduction features sections about querying, copyright, taxes, libel and other topics. Based on your research, what are your top three tips for new freelancers?

1. Know your audience. I heard consistently from magazine editors that writers should avoid telling their readers what they already know, such as rehashing already-overworked topics or interviewing the usual suspects. Read several recent back issues to understand the magazine’s tone and focus, and consult their media kit and audience profiles.

2. Follow submission guidelines to the letter. I know this is obvious, but it bears repeating. Forgetting to enclose a SASE or submitting a whole manuscript instead of a query letter indicates to an editor that you might have trouble sticking to a word count or meeting deadlines.

3. Brush up on your photography skills. Even if their magazines employ professional photographers, many editors mentioned they were looking for high-quality photo support from freelancers. If you’re multimedia-savvy, you might also pitch video, slideshows, or podcasts as part of the package.


For more info about Heidi Waechtler, visit heidiwaechtler.com and follow @heidiwaechtler on Twitter.

Links on language

Image of piled-up wordsDid you know that the U.S. government requires its agencies to use plain language when communicating with consumers, businesses and other groups? The Plain Writing Act came into effect in July 2011, and the first-year report card is out. The Dept. of Agriculture scored highest, and the Dept. of Veterans’ Affairs flunked big-time.

There is no single prescription for plain language; in general, it’s language that’s easy to read, understand and use. Learn more from the Center for Plain Language, a non-profit organization whose motto is “Plain language is a civil right.” You can also visit Plain Language Association InterNational—founded in 1993 by a couple of Canadians. And if you’ve got an hour of down time, do an online plain-language course from the Federal Aviation Administration (random, right?).

Here at home, we have the Language Portal of Canada, which offers a wealth of tools, guides, dictionaries, databases and quizzes. The Translation Bureau website has recommendations for translators working with English and French, including how to handle web and Twitter terms. TERMIUM Plus, the government’s terminology and linguistic data bank, provides 17 tools for writers. These include The Canadian Style, a guide to written English in the Canadian context, and HyperGrammar2, a self-teaching tool for better grammar and punctuation. And, last but definitely not least, bookmark A Way with Words and Images, a concise guide to fair and accurate portrayals of people with disabilities.

Can you recommend any language-related websites? Share the links below!

 

Fracking wind chill!

CP releases 20th edition of Caps and Spelling

Cover of Caps and Spelling 20th editionFellow word geeks: Yes, it’s true, Canadian Press is releasing a new edition of Caps and Spelling, on April 25.  (And you can win a copy – details below!)

This handy little guide to troublesome, confusable and oft-misspelled terms has been a fixture on editors’ desks across the country since the first edition came out in 1965. Each book is also a snapshot of the prevailing concerns of its day. That first slim volume (just 46 pages) contained some words rarely heard today, such as “H-bomb” and “Churchillesque.”

The 19th edition of Caps came out in 2009, and it’s overdue for an update. “It’s constantly evolving, and a lot of that evolution has taken place over the last couple of years,” says James McCarten, senior national editor at CP and the editor of both Caps and Spelling and Canadian Press Stylebook. “It’s a living thing, a constantly changing document, and we have to try to keep up with that.”

Please forgive the longish blog post, but I couldn’t resist including a condensed and edited version of my recent Q&A with McCarten.

JL: What’s new in the 20th edition of Caps and Spelling?

JM: There are constantly new terms cropping up that we want to reflect, either driven by general usage in the public domain or by the news. The best example, the most recent, is “fracking,” which is short for “hydraulic fracturing,” a term we expect to see more. Another would be “bitumen,” the proper word for material that’s coming out of the oil sands and will be in the Keystone XL pipeline. These are things we’ve been talking about in the past couple of years and have earned their way into the book. They’re also words people are misusing – people refer to what’s in the pipeline as “crude oil,” which is not true. Opponents of the pipeline would argue it’s “bitumen,” which is much more problematic to have in the environment. It’s a germane point, and it’s significant from the point of view of telling a story accurately and fairly.

There are dozens of additions. Some are almost procedural: names for new MPs elected to Parliament that are potentially problematic. The i-words: “iPad,” “iPhone” and others; we used to only have “iPod.” “Keystone XL.” “PlayBook.” There was a fairly significant name change in the military ranks last year when the government decided to reintroduce the “Royal”: “Royal Canadian Air Force” and “Royal Canadian Navy.” Those are historical terms – 1968 was the last time they were proper names, and the government has reinstated them. We added “Tea Party,” which came into vogue in the last few years in the U.S. Western University has asked to be known as “Western University” instead of “University of Western Ontario.” Everybody refers to it as “Western,” and they wanted it to be codified as that. “Wildrose,” which we’re hearing about right now because of the Alberta election. One term we used to get requests for a lot was “wind chill” – it’s absurd that it wasn’t in there, given that it’s a Canadian book! People were never sure if it’s one word or two. We have it in there as two words.

“Zipline.” And “ebook,” “e-reader,” “e-waste” – those are all new. And interestingly enough, they are frustratingly inconsistent. That’s an interesting example of a term that has evolved over time but you can’t really apply a consistent model to it. Some are just more common that others. “ebook” and “e-reader” – one is hyphenated and one isn’t. The evolution of these terms is that they always start as two words and become hyphenated terms, and as the terms become more and more accepted, the hyphen disappears. That reflects our perspective on “ebook” and “e-reader.” “ebook” has no hyphen, but “e-reader,” it’s kind of awkward without the hyphen, so it cries out for the dash to be there, so we kept that. You have to consider how these words look and sound when you write them down. “Economic action plan” is another term that’s been added. It’s a term the government likes to use to describe its economic strategy. We don’t like to cap terms like that, so it’s lowercase.

Are there any interesting celebrity or pop culture additions? Maybe Justin Bieber? 

Part of the problem with celebrities is they’re fleeting. And I probably would get all kinds of rockets if I said that Justin Bieber isn’t going to be around forever! Maybe he’ll be a fixture for a long time, but you do have to be careful about creating these entries. You don’t want to add a bunch that you’ll just have to delete four years later.

What about deletions from the last edition?

We don’t track omissions or make them very often. We try to be careful with dropping terms – they’re usually in the book because someone’s had trouble with them. If they’re not making a lot of headlines, that doesn’t mean someone doesn’t need to refer to them. So we try to be more judicious about taking them out than putting them in.

How many terms are in Caps?

There are 4,420 current entries.

Caps and Stylebook are available online by subscription. Do you think there will be a time when you’ll stop printing the book?

Logically, I’d have to say yeah. I think cost is going to be an issue. It’s an evolving document, and the online tool is just so much more valuable in that respect than a static book. It’s also a searchable archive that allows you to punch in the word, and it can respond to different spellings of a particular term. So it’s just far easier to use, more effective and cheaper. That said, there’s always going to be a demand for a desktop version. Everybody loves that tactile experience of reaching for a book.

Have you thought of doing a mobile version?

Absolutely. And it’s a sort of newsroom resource issue. We’ve got a very small and very, very burdened IT department. Everything now is focused on reinventing the delivery system, the way we get our news to our readers, and the pace of change has been blinding in the past several years, and the IT department is racing to catch up. [Mobile] is definitely one area where we see some wonderful opportunities. AP is a really good example of a similar organization that has its own apps. Their stylebook app is very much a version of the online one. I definitely think that in the next few years, you’ll see [CP apps] emerge. It’s bound to happen – it’s just a question of when we can make it happen.

What does it mean to you to help shape these guides? I’ve always thought of words in Caps as being somewhat elevated, because they’ve been included.

It’s absolutely an honour and a privilege to be part of it. It’s my perfect, almost dream opportunity in a sense, because I’m particular about these sorts of things. I’m a style geek. The opportunity to make decisions on that score…I do it in consultation with colleagues and supervisors, and we probably don’t wring our hands about these decisions as much as we did in the old days because there just isn’t time, but…we take it seriously, and it’s very satisfying to have the opportunity to make things clearer for people – our staff, but our readers well. You get a lot of feedback from people who agree or disagree with your decisions. To see that level of engagement is gratifying, because in this day and age, it’s hard to know if these things are as important as you think they are, and to have that validation from colleagues on a regular basis is very satisfying.


Follow James McCarten on Twitter @CdnPressStyle “for occasional missives on the world of CP style.”

WIN A COPY of the new Caps and Spelling! I have two to give away, courtesy of editor James McCarten. Just leave a comment about Caps and Spelling below (deadline: Monday, April 30), and I’ll enter your name in a draw. 

Reading list for freelancers

Stack of books about writing and editingI often meet with aspiring freelancers to talk about what it’s like to be an independent editor and writer. After we meet, I email them a list of books on various aspects of the business. Here are my favourites. (A couple of these may be out of print, but try the library.)

The Renegade Writer: A Totally Unconventional Guide to Freelance Success by Linda Formichelli and Diana Burrell

Query Letters That Rock: The Freelance Writer’s Guide to Selling More Work Faster by Linda Formichelli and Diana Burrell

How to Write Irresistible Query Letters by Lisa Collier Cool

Secrets of a Freelance Writer by Robert Bly

How to Make Money Writing Corporate Communications by Maryclaire Collins

The Copywriter’s Handbook by Robert Bly

The Subversive Copy Editor by Carol Fisher Saller

And for those of you interested in writing fiction (and anyone looking for inspiration and motivation), I recommend anything by Natalie Goldberg; Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott; If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland; and On Writing by Stephen King.

 

What are some of your favourite books about editing, writing or freelancing?