Review: The Complete Canadian Book Editor, by Leslie Vermeer

Complete EditorI was excited by this title, a brand new book on being an editor in Canada. I thought it would be aimed at readers like me. Although I’ve never worked in-house, as an experienced freelancer and long-time student of Ryerson’s publishing program, I know a fair bit about the publishing industry. This book, I hoped, would show me what in-house editors do, illuminate what I do as a freelance book editor, and generally add to my editing knowledge and skills.

The result: mixed.

The Complete Canadian Book Editor, as the title telegraphs, is an ambitious project that covers every stage of traditional book publishing from acquisitions and contracts through to substantive editing, copy editing, book design and production, and sales and marketing. The main strength of the book is the thorough overview of the publishing process.

The main weakness is that the claim to be “complete” (can any book really tell us everything?) is somewhat true only from the perspective of the “book editor,” by which Vermeer means the in-house acquistions editor, and only for print books.

I was surprised and disappointed by the minimal discussion about the actual editing of manuscripts, although Vermeer is upfront about her rationale:

Very little of a book editor’s day-to-day work involves working with text … Instead, most of the day involves working with other people in the publishing cycle.

Accordingly, she describes how acquisitions editors handle their workflow and interact with production managers, designers, marketing people, printers, and the like.

Her focus on in-house editors and the publishing process could have been made clearer in the title.

Leslie Vermeer is a professor at Grant MacEwan University in Edmonton, which perhaps explains why the book reads like a college textbook. Each chapter includes questions for discussion or reflection, and design elements like photographs, illustrations, and textboxes. The back matter contains proofreading and copy-editing exercises and answer keys, a grammar primer, a helpful glossary, suggestions for further reading, and an index.

The book seems to be aimed at course adoption, but as a university instructor myself, I think it’s unlikely that the entire book will be assigned as required reading. As far as I know, there are no courses that cover the entire publishing process. And under Canada’s amended Copyright Act, instructors can assign single chapters without compensating the author.

In trying to cover so much ground, Vermeer inevitably makes generalizations. The chapter on acquisitions, for example, does not clearly distinguish between acquiring fiction and nonfiction. The chapter on “textual editing” skims over stylistic editing – the heart of any good edit – and attempts to cover stages as diverse as rewriting and proofreading.

Curiously, Vermeer clings to editing on paper, arguing that editors should edit “in the format readers will consume the text; in the case of books, that’s ink on paper, for the majority of books.” I don’t know any copy editors who still edit on paper, not to mention the popularity of ebooks.

The premise of this book seems to be that readers – aspiring editors – will work through the activities and, by so doing, acquire the knowledge to prepare them for in-house roles. This seems like wishful thinking, although I do recommend the book to anyone interested in the publishing industry.


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