September 26, 2011

Red Pencil in the Woods

I spent Saturday in the company of editors, at a day-long conference presented by the Northwest Independent Editors Guild. This post is a rundown of sessions I attended and thoughts I took away.

Keynote by Carol Fisher Saller

Carol Fisher Saller, author of The Subversive Copyeditor, gave the keynote speech, titled “Navigating the New Publishing Landscape.” The theme was “journey,” which does seem a useful metaphor for a career in freelance editing. What I took away was that editorial skills remain necessary regardless of the way words are published. Lots and lots of words are published these days, and as Carol said, “Quality content will always have to be written by writers and edited by editors.” However, creativity will continue to be necessary for navigating the changing technical and economic landscapes. And a level of comfort with creative thinking and change may be necessary for feeling at home in our freelance careers.

Of interest:
  • Research from BookStats 2011, showing that the publishing industry is growing. (Search the New York Times online for “BookStats” over the last 12 months for a few summaries.)
  • Next-generation publisher Namelos, product of creativity, vision, and years of experience in traditional publishing, who mixes and matches publishing with author services in an economic model that may be fair to author, editor, publisher as well as, hopefully, economically successful. (Namelos published Carol’s children’s book Eddie’s War.)

Following the keynote was an exceptional panel on ebooks:

(Almost) Everything Editors Need to Know about E-books

Panelists Judith Dern of, Kate Rogers of The Mountaineers Books’ Skipstone imprint, and Bob Mayer of Who Dares Wins Publishing confirmed, for me, the need to look at publishing as a journey. Judith and Kate have both spent several years overseeing ebook production, and in both cases they’ve already been through several successive strategies, first outsourcing ebook file conversion, and later hiring technology consultants to bring ebook production in-house. It sounds like proofreading is the most likely task to be offered to freelancers, and those freelancers ought to be comfortable with operating in a still-changing technological environment.

Bob, who was a best-selling writer before going into ebook (and print) publishing with Who Dares Wins, made it clear that self-published writers who want to succeed need editing—including developmental editing. Romance and science fiction appear to be the best selling genres in the ebook realm.

Bob and Kate agreed that ebooks are changing the economics of publishing, in particular with backlists: authors with large backlists can use ebook publishing to their advantage, and ebooks (as well as POD) allow publishers to keep older titles in print as well as promote them when new interests arises in the topic. Here again is the need for proofreading, for authors who put their backlists into ebook formats by scanning the printed books.

None of the panelists spend much time reading ebooks themselves. Moderator Waverly Fitzgerald admitted that part of the reason is that she often reads books in the bath.

Of interest:
  • The day before the conference, Bob’s business partner posted “Keeping up with eBook technology” on their blog, which outlines and explains the 4 (currently) most common ebook platforms.
  • Bob also suggests searching and commenting on’s KindleBoards for information about ebooks and ebook publishing.
  • I can’t remember which panelist mentioned this New York Times article, “From Scroll to Screen,” about the history of the reading experience.

I skipped Twitter for Word Lovers (and then of course heard people talking about the session all day afterward). The presenter, Catherine Carr, can be followed on Twitter as @mamatweeta. Carol Fisher Saller is on Twitter as @SubvCopyEd (and you can follow the Author-Editor Clinic at @ae_clinic). Tweets about the conference can be found by searching for the hashtag #RedPen11.

Instead of the Twitter session, I attended a panel on Writing and Editing for Video and Board Games. It was an energetic and fascinating glimpse into an industry that is very definitely not for me. Other developmental editors may be interested however—there’s generally no “editor” position in the industry, but developmental and content editing are very much in play by writer/editors with titles like Narrative Designer). The PowerPoint presentation is available for download from the Northwest Independent Editors Guild’s conference page.

I had to miss the workshops on Self-Publishing: What Editors Need to Know and Secrets of a Successful Proposal in order to attend this one:

Just Enough Marketing for Freelancers

Frank Catalano’s outline is also available online. He was particularly good at bringing “marketing” down to earth and focusing us on the pieces that are necessary for the freelance services we provide. Advertising and promotion are unnecessary, direct contacts and events are absolute musts, and social media is part of an ecosystem anchored by a personal website. (The tweets under #RedPen11 show there are several editors already inspired to create their own websites. And Frank, do you see I’m following your advice exactly on the blog+tweet+Facebook combo?)

Saturday may have been the last warm, sunny day in Seattle for a long time to come, and yet I did not make it outside of the conference walls to the reflexology path on the Bastyr University grounds or down the hill to the wooded trails in St. Edward State Park.

Instead I attended a round table discussion on Collaborative Editing as a Business Model, hosted by editor Leslie A Miller and book publicist Andrea Dunlop, both of Girl Friday Productions. The editors (and publicist) at Girl Friday demonstrate the creativity that was called for in Carol Fisher Saller’s keynote: navigating the changing publishing landscape, experimenting with new economic models and collaborations, broadening the array of services they can offer and building partnerships with other publishing professionals.

The last session of the day was again by the elegant and inexhaustible Carol Fisher Saller, on “Subversive” Copyediting—because, she said, nobody would buy a book called “The Sensible Copyeditor.”

For me, one of the greatest benefits to the conference overall was hearing from and talking with so many other editors on the journey. I have been re-inspired to reach for creativity and excellence not only in my editorial skills, but in my technological, negotiating, marketing, and work/life skills as well.

What did you take away?

—Kyra Freestar

P.S. For more comments about the conference, go to Twitter and search for the hashtag #RedPen11, or find the Northwest Independent Editors Guild on Facebook.

Updates November 2011
Vancouver, B.C., editor Eva van Emden has posted her own summary comments on the conference, including links to summaries of the book proposal and marketing sessions. She also reminded me that some of the conference session handouts are available on the Northwest Independent Editors Guild website.


  1. Kyra,
    Thank you for the terrific overview of the conference. It went by so quickly, and I haven't had a chance to fully mull it over myself yet. The thoughts I sent to the conference committee were along these lines:

    The conference covered so many current issues in the publishing world through the very specific lens of freelance editors - this is SO hard to find! I really felt like through all the sessions, in one day I was brought up to date on the state of the industry for US, editors. I also loved meeting such a variety of editors. And I really liked that the sessions were entertaining (not dry at all!) but filled with concrete, useful info -- not just surface info about trendy things.

    I've been to a lot of multi-day conferences where only one or two sessions stood out, but every one I went to, I felt I got a lot out of. And there were others I wanted to go to. For me, as primarily a developmental editor (and sometime writer), the Secrets of a Successful Proposal, with Kerry Colburn and Jennifer Worick session really stood out.

    I kept thinking about how it was such a CRAZY good value! I can't believe something that good could come at that price.

    And finally, the subversive copyediting session at the end was fun, and really showed many editors' true colors (specificity!) and ways of thinking about/analyzing content.

  2. For me, Carol Fisher Saller’s morning keynote at Red Pencil in the Woods was the highlight of the conference, particularly her very winning opening. She told the story of being asked to copyedit a new version of Homer’s Iliad in the Richard Lattimore translation from 1951 and how honored she was to be part of a long chain of people who had told and retold, transcribed, translated, typed, and generally carried on the story of a faraway and long-ago people who are so strangely, beautifully like us (and yes, we’re still fighting pointless wars, too). Carol’s witty story had much to do with copyediting—the realization that she wanted to change the British punctuation, for instance, on this revered classic. But it also had to do with the persistence of literature through many forms and formats through the centuries.

    To me, as a writer and an editor who works directly with other writers on their manuscripts, this was a heartening reminder that writing—I prefer to continue to call it that instead of content––that is original, heart-felt, and elegantly wrought is more timeless than the technologies that convey it to readers.

    That said, I was very glad that so many sessions touched on aspects of E-publishing and communication. The sessions I attended were all well-prepared and informative and I came away with great ideas to follow up on. I was totally impressed with the organization and volunteer hours that went into this conference.

  3. The conference was a reminder of how many editors are struggling with the same things, whether finding clients, staying on top of changes in publishing workflows and formats, rethinking working relationships, or finding out what new skills are needed. The conference was very effective at drawing attention to many trends that editors should be aware of.

    It also highlighted the collegiality of the Northwest Independent Editors Guild, such as the fairly extensive network of relationships among the editors, both formal and informal. To cite one example, several editors I met mentioned referring projects to other members of the Guild. The organization seems like an excellent model for other editorial associations.

    One drawback of the conference was that it was fairly large for a one-day conference, which made more informal interacts difficult; there were no sessions specifically designed to allow editors to meet and exchange perspectives, which seemed like a lost opportunity (though mostly for those of us who came from out of the area, and were therefore not Guild members). Maybe a two-day conference? Or adding some sessions less focused on presenting information to a large group than on fostering an exchange of ideas?

    My main disappointment is that I'd hoped to learn something new about both e-publishing and self-publishing, but while the sessions on these topics offered a couple of insights, neither provided a comprehensive look at the nuts and bolts of how to self-publish in print and electronic formats, something that many of the authors I work for are clamoring for. In my case, a how-to would have been more valuable.

  4. Barbara — Thank you for putting this in perspective, so elegantly, in your second paragraph.

    Kara — I didn't get to the session on proposals. I'm sure there are several of us who would love to hear anything you have to share about what you learned there.

    Marta — Meeting you in person, after all our emails and phone calls and mutual editing of each other's blog posts, was one of the highlights of the conference for me. I'm so glad you were able to make it to Seattle.

    ... and chat over tea about trilogy structure and sample edits.
    ... AND show me your new graphic short story!

    Hey everyone, Marta, who wrote a series of posts for this blog about developmental editing of graphic novels (, is now a published graphic story author herself (

  5. Oh, and read THIS recap of #RedPen11—full summary plus comedy. From Catherine Carr, aka @mamatweeta:

  6. The blog post on Write It Forward about epublishing is now further down the page as we just had a new post. The digital reader as a scroll was in the NY Times about 3 weeks ago in the book section and is quite interesting to read.
    Thanks for the mention and hope you enjoyed the conference.

  7. Nice to see you here, Bob! Thanks so much for contributing to the e-book panel for editors, which was wonderful. (Update: the link above to the Write It Forward blog is attached directly to the relevant post (not to the blog's ever-changing home page.)

    In additional news: one conference participant, instead of sleeping in Sunday morning, went to a lecture on 15th-century books at the Seattle Public Library: "I got to touch them. The paper was thick. The pages snapped when turned." ( Made me wish I'd gotten up early too.

  8. Kyra, thanks for a great blog report on the conference. I appreciate your capturing so many details that I missed.

    Like my fellow commenter, Marta, I was looking to the E-books Panel for some how-to information, and appreciated it when Judith described her process for taking recipes from the Allrecipes website to e-book publication. Kyra, thanks for providing the link to the blog post written by Bob Mayer’s business partner, Jenni Holbrook. I found useful how-to information there, including a video that shows how she uses a macro to produce clean html code for a book that will be uploaded on Kindle.

    I attended Carol Fisher Saller’s session on children’s book writing and editing without a clear idea of what I hoped to learn. From the moment she started, by reading selections from Eddie’s War, I was enchanted by the book and delighted to be in her company. She described her efforts to market the book. (Already having 3,000 Twitter followers and being well known as the author of The Subversive Copyeditor did her no good when it came to marketing this new children’s book.) She talked about choosing namelos as her publisher. (From their website: namelos—pronounced na-meh-lohs—means "nameless." It speaks to the anonymous role of an editor in working with an author to bring a work to fruition).

    The Marketing session by Frank Catalano was great—very specific how-to information here—and I came away with three full pages of notes! He is a funny, personable man and an excellent speaker, but the pleasant surprise was that he spoke my language, the language of an editor.

    It was a wonderful conference.