The Complete Canadian Book Editor, by Leslie Vermeer
374 pp plus bibliography and index, $49.95 CDN
Brush Education Inc.
This is a resource for editors or writers who know little about the book publishing process. That is, as long as they keep in mind that this book represents one person’s experience in one field, maybe even within only a corner of that field. Vermeer offers a glimpse of her world but I’m concerned about the authoritative tone in light of large gaps and antiquated paper-based procedures.
Don’t believe for a second, for example, that hard copy is always sent to the author to approve copyediting, or that lettered boxes are common on a style sheet and a proofreader will need a pica ruler. Not once in my 20 years working for Canada’s major book publishers has any of those things happened. I searched online for a pica ruler that Vermeer says is essential and could find only one for sale at an artist supply store; it was tagged “vintage.”
So, while readers get a glimpse into nearly all aspects of book publishing, they should take this glimpse with a grain of salt. There was enough info in this book to be useful, but also enough that didn’t gibe with my experience to make me question the accuracy of the rest.
The author’s bio says Leslie Vermeer is an academic with over 25 years and 100 books under her belt and committee experience at Editors Canada; nearly identical to me, minus the academic title. This highlights for me how varied the book publishing industry is.
This is not a guide to “how it’s done.” It’s “how I’ve done it.”
What I Liked
What’s valuable about this book is that it’s one of only a few books about the whole book publishing process—and I’m curious about parts I never see, like acquisitions and marketing. It may not be “complete,” and the author may not even be aware that she knows only one slice of how things are done, but probably the 20 pages explaining contract terms alone makes it a worthwhile read. Just keep the salt-shaker handy.
- A glossary.
- Book publishing divided into sectors of trade, educational, scholarly, children’s, reference, an specialty.
- Sample correspondence (at the development end).
- Explanation of typical writer’s contract terms, including royalties.
- Proposal to distribution coverage.
It feels like this book could use an authoritative substantive edit, because the ideas and approach are somewhat jumbled and unclear. Sometimes Vermeer seems to be talking to writers, such as in the section on what makes a good query letter, but mostly she addresses “you the editor” and interjects a kind of open-ended study question once per chapter.
Other jolts in the flow include that the section on paired proofreading (against final draft) appears in the stylistic section; she talks about “the book’s editor” when discussing various stages and in the same section then refers to the reader as the book’s editor (Who exactly is this “editor”? In fact, it’s not defined until the next chapter.); and the section on permissions comes at a place in the book where Vermeer says only “this should already be done by now.”
Not mentioning any editing technology was a concern. The only mention of PDF is that an editor could scan their markup and keep a copy. I find this in sharp contrast to the pervasive use of PDF proofs and onscreen markup.
It was also off-putting to see unfamiliar terms like “textual editing,” which Vermeer says is “a broad term that encompasses both stylistic editing and copyediting, as well as proofreading.” This term that is likely a quirk of where she works, as I have yet to find another editor among several thousand who knows the term.
In conclusion, while this book makes for perhaps the most comprehensive guide focused on the Canadian reality, it is best paired with a mentor who can fill in the gaps many and provide contemporary advice.