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Three months in marketing made me an even better editor

By Whitney Matusiakgreek pillar

If you have read my BoldFace post “Three months at a literary agency made me a better editor,” then you’ll remember I figured out a systematic editorial approach that I developed from repetition. I looked at a lot of manuscripts and worked out the steps to increase an author’s chance of getting accepted by an agent and eventually published. When I switched industries from publishing to marketing, that repertoire only got me so far. It was by breaking the editor’s cardinal rule—and nearly making a career-limiting move—during my three months in marketing that taught me to be an even better editor.

Earlier this year I started a contract with a global architectural firm. They had a short-term project for me: something I could quickly sink my teeth into before moving on to another adventure in editing. The project was the firm’s second-annual “best of” publication on design excellence—a collection of 10 projects submitted by people from their offices around the world that exhibited, well, excellence in design. On my first day I was given a stack of project questionnaires that had been filled out by each of the project’s designers. The answers covered the context, design challenges, and technical merit of each project. As the gal tasked with compiling the content for this year’s publication, I thought, “Geez, I’m in heaven. Look at all this content to work with!” So, I worried less about the words and focused on other elements of the publication, like the layout and the marriage of text with image—things decidedly less content related.

While there are a lot of “rules” that editors should, and do, routinely follow, here’s the one that tops my list: what’s written is necessarily what should be published. As a result, I accepted the native content, and made very few changes under the rationale of wanting to preserve the author’s tone and intention. Of course, this seemed logical at the time. I wanted things to go as smoothly as possible—perhaps my strategy would make me more likeable, land me another job, or help me avoid those tense conversations where you have to say to an author, “This is good, but I’d like to help you make it better.” (more…)

By the Book: Copy editor and writer Laura Godfrey’s book highlights

Interview conducted by Jennifer D. FosterLaura Godfrey

Have you ever wondered what fellow editors like to read? We have, too. In our interview series “By the Book,” we get the inside scoop on editors’ all-time favourite books, their top style guides, and what their alternate-universe careers would be.

Tell us about your current job, Laura, plus a little-known quirky fact about you.

Well, I currently have two jobs. My full-time job is as a newspaper copy editor and page designer at Pagemasters North America (owned by The Canadian Press) where I work on the Toronto Star desk drawing pages, editing for print and online, and writing headlines and other display copy. I work at this job five evenings a week—newspaper editors work odd hours preparing the paper for the printer—which actually works out well, because it gives me time to do freelance work during the day.

My freelance job is as the Canadian correspondent for Publishers Weekly, the New York–based magazine about the book publishing industry. I get to write about everything from literary awards to Indigo’s quarterly reports to new Canadian children’s books—I’m excited about Hark! A Vagrant creator Kate Beaton’s first picture book, The Princess and the Pony, which comes out at the end of June.


Three months at a literary agency made me a better editor


Getting noticed in a literary agent’s slush pile can be tough.

By Whitney Matusiak

In the changing landscape of the publishing industry, one thing has remained the same: literary agents will advocate for your work—they’re the Jerry Maguires of the author world. That is, if you’re lucky enough to get one.

Since January 2015, I’ve been interning with Anne McDermid & Associates, a Toronto-based literary agency representing amazing talents such as Andrew Pyper (The Damned), Sabrina Ramnanan (Nothing Like Love), Sarah Lazarovic (A Bunch of Pretty Things I Did Not Buy), and Governor General’s Literary Award–winner Michael Harris (The End of Absence: Reclaiming What We’ve Lost in a World of Constant Connection).

For those who have already been published in print, the road may be a little less bumpy for book two, but for everyone else, getting published is about sending their works to the big slush pile. After NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and the Christmas break, manuscripts of all genres from all over the world poured into our submission account.

There’s no magic formula for getting noticed, and there’s no substitution for an amazing and unique concept, but here are a few tips to help you or your client’s work stand out.

Facing Facts—Why fact checking is the first and last thing you should do

LaptopBy Whitney Matusiak

Fact checking is an ongoing process, and there’s no wrong time to start asking why that Macy’s dress went from red to blue, or since when did the space race take place in the ‘70s? While checking facts can be considered an art form—based on the powers of observation, curiosity, and listening to that pesky voice of doubt—it is the practical act of catching statements where something either sounds wrong or just catches our attention and makes us wonder, “Is that true?”

Imagine this—on intuition, a Macleans fact checker decided to phone a couple described in an article as “both blind.” As it turned out, the wife initially thought the reporter calling from the magazine was trying to sell a subscription, so she told him that she and her husband were both blind—a “fact” that made its way into the article.

This was one of many anecdotes on the subject of fact checking from Fred Betterman, a seasoned Toronto-based copy editor and lecturer at George Brown College. He impresses upon his students the importance and scale of fact checking—from catching cowboys wearing wristwatches to Nanna’s name changing from Jo to Joanne to Joey. There are dates to be concerned with, consistency in plot, how clients are referred to, among many other examples. Neither fiction nor non-fiction is immune to such gaffes.


Freelance fashion: What should I wear?

By Whitney Matusiak

I haven’t always worked freelance. I spent eight years in anEAC-Wardrobe office where the dress code was business casual, which loosely translated to dressing well, but not trendily, not comfortably, and certainly not better than my clients or boss.

One year ago, I started working freelance, and I went from itchy-waist dress pants and impossible-to-wash knit sweaters to the other extreme: pajamas. Not only had the mighty fallen, but they were also still in bed.

And so the big question is, what should I wear? (more…)

Book review: Pigeon English, by Stephen Kelman

By Whitney Matusiak

Author Stephen Kelman grips readers and deftly conjures compassion withpigeon-english-stephen-kelman the use of a culturally and socially magnetic dialect in his debut novel Pigeon English (2011).

Set in a rough London estate, Pigeon English is a modern-day coming-of-age tale with dark leanings centring on the gang-related death of a young boy. With childlike but remarkably poignant humour and honesty, Ghanaian-born Harri investigates the murder with his best friend Dean. With hints of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and Miriam Toews’ The Flying Troutmans, readers are engaged in thought-provoking social questions, and Harri’s boundless curiosity and sympathy give way to a tale that is as beautiful as it is heartbreaking.

The success of Pigeon English is undoubtedly a result of Kelman’s extraordinarily imaginative and realistic characters. Kelman takes a literary risk, using a lot of informal language, and the title of the novel evokes this language play. Kelman brilliantly uses interjections of West African Pidgin English, or Guinea Coast Creole English, to breathe life into Harri and the supporting characters. (more…)

In a world fraught with jargon, are we drowning in English?

By Whitney Matusiak

jargon-cloudI had a conversation with a friend of mine recently, and I casually mentioned my love for words. After that initial statement, irony set in, and I called my linguaphilia indescribable. Is that even possible? Have I failed my passion of writing and editing by being incapable of wielding its power to describe my love for it? I have a theory on this difficulty: Words are losing meaning.

Who’s surprised? In a world fraught with coined expressions, buzzwords and an under-appreciated history of English, it’s no wonder I feel surrounded by meaningless banter. On occasion, I prefer the mysterious illusion of sentiment because I don’t trust words (or maybe readers) enough to convey my feelings.

Lately it seems as though the sound bites of life fit into one extreme of corporate jargon, or the other of hippie nonsense. Both can fall on deaf ears after a time. The stuff in the middle is what’s been branded, pre-packaged and played ad nauseam: green design, sustainability, conscious uncoupling, authentic and genuine. If ever these words, terms and phrases had worthwhile definitions, it’s been a long time since we’ve heard them.


Book review: The Word Exchange, by Alena Graedon

By Whitney Matusiak

The-Word-ExchangeAlena Graedon’s debut novel, The Word Exchange, explores an imagined time of conquered print-media prowess—replaced by “smart” technology bordering on artificial intelligence. Graedon’s “dystopian novel for the digital age” follows the perils of Anana Johnson with clever thematic nods to George Orwell’s 1984, Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, and John Wyndham’s The Chrysalids.

Forecasting a future nearly devoid of books, magazines, and libraries, Graedon’s The Word Exchange paints the bleak picture of print media, six feet under. Embellishing the all-too-familiar scene of mental, emotional, and physical attachment to handheld devices, we are introduced to Synchronic’s market-cornering technology—the Meme. Intuitive by design, the Meme takes over the wheel of life and does taxes, beams money, fills in writer’s (thinker’s) block, satiates hunger pains, and interfaces with friends and family (actually that doesn’t sound too bad) enabled by only a wisp of thought from its user.

Set in New York City, Anana works for the North American Dictionary of the English Language (NADEL) along with her father, Doug Johnson, who can remember the pre-Meme days of paying with cash and communicating in person. On the cusp of releasing the third and final print version of the dictionary, Doug’s mysterious disappearance renders the launch inexplicably cancelled—but well timed due to the fresh success of Synchronic.