What I learned while editing a textbook

I remember the day that I interviewed for my current position as senior research associate for the Purdy Crawford Chair in Aboriginal Business Studies. I was asked how I would approach the production of a textbook on Aboriginal business. And when I got the job and started at Cape Breton University in the fall of 2011, one of my objectives was indeed to facilitate the publication of said textbook. It was a project scheduled to begin in the third year fiscal year of a five year program of work – and it would take several years to complete. Well, that first five year program of work has come to an end and I’m happy to say that on May 17th, we will be launching Indigenous Business in Canada: Principles and Practices, published by Cape Breton University Press.

The production of any book is a true test of one’s project management skills. I’ve always prided myself on my ability to meet deadlines through a planned approach. My coworkers joke about the fact that I set my own internal deadlines for projects and tasks to ensure that the real deadlines are met (and they laugh when they realize they’ve been duped again, but I’m not entirely sure it’s a good sort of laughter…). Despite my penchant for excessive timeline cushioning, I learned that sometimes no amount of planning can anticipate all of the scenarios that could impact the production timeline. I won’t detail our set-backs here – all projects have them. But suffice it to say, I learned (grudgingly) that sometimes I simply was not in control.

Once the final versions of chapters were received from authors who had incorporated the feedback of anonymous peer reviewers and we moved into the layout phase, I learned the importance of clearly communicating intentions. In my head, I think I had assumed that once all the files were transferred to the editor in chief, we would actually get together and discuss the layout before it began. I was wrong. My flawed thinking produced only a minor issue to be addressed (mercifully), but it was a good lesson to learn. Here’s what happened. One of the editors had written introductions for each chapter. As shorthand, this person had put “Land” and “Marketing” (and so on) at the top of each so that we would know which chapter they corresponded with. When I was preparing the text to be sent for layout, I didn’t bother changing this, since I thought it was obvious what it meant. Of course, when I received the first layout, these words had become chapter headings (instead of the intended Chapter 1, Chapter 2, etc). Lessons learned! Nothing is obvious, make no assumptions, and expect a verbatim reproduction in layout!

If I may dwell for a moment on the notion of “final versions of chapters” in the previous paragraph, I’ve learned that final does not ever mean final – even if it is typed in all caps in the subject of an email. We used the words “final version” and “final edit” so many times that I may have to strike the word “final” from my vocabulary entirely. When it comes to publishing a book, the reality is that you do as many reviews and edits as you can before the timer counts down and you have to submit it to the printer. And then you request the “final final final final final version” of the book for your own files.

Of course, the most important lesson from this project was the need for a sense of humour. This sort of detailed editing is, frankly, difficult (and more difficult than I would have ever anticipated). The ability to remember style conventions, layout decisions, and content through 300+ pages of (sometimes dense) material is one that I now have a much greater appreciation for. When it came to the final proof of the book, I conscripted my colleague Alyce MacLean (special projects manager). Our method for this daunting task? We read the entire thing – every word – out loud to each other and, where necessary, I marked the document for required changes. I can’t stress enough how important laughter was in this process (or how annoying we were to our colleagues despite being behind the closed doors of our boardroom when giggle fits hit). These moments of humour and laughter released tension, provided a break for our brains and eyes, and helped us to refocus on our task.

And so I end this blog post with a thank you to everyone at the Purdy Crawford Chair in Aboriginal Business Studies who contributed to the final product (yes, that’s a deliberate use of “final” on my part), especially Mary Beth Doucette, Keith Brown, and Alyce MacLean. Thanks also to Mike Hunter for his dedication to the project and insight into the publication process – I’ve learned a great deal from you. It is because of this team effort that on May 17th I’ll hold a copy of Indigenous Business in Canada in my hands and be able to share it with everyone.

If you’d like to join us for the launch at the Membertou Trade and Convention Centre, please email celia_oshea@cbu.ca for details.


Janice Esther Tulk