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Toronto SfEP Mini-conference

sfep, red letters logo of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders

The Toronto SfEP November 5–6 mini-conference will be my ninth conference in thirteen months in four countries, half of those at the mic. I have been somewhat of a perpetual student all my life (I think I’m in grade 46), but why do I gravitate to these professional development opportunities so often? More to the point, what keeps me going back to certain ones?

Last year, I wrote a summary for the SfEP member newsletter, Editing Matters (Jan/Feb 2019), sharing my reflections on the sense of community and inclusion I felt at the Toronto branch’s inaugural mini-conference. I believe I was uncharacteristically soppy and talked about hugging people a little tighter upon each meeting…but it’s true! While I enjoy seeing colleagues at annual events, picking up on past conversations and updating them on local industry developments, it’s pretty rare to feel like you’re meeting up with friends at some of them.

Now, I’m about as introverted as they come, but that’s about managing energy, not sociability. Yes, I get excited by discussing punctuation, but at the more intimate mini-conferences, I also get to know how kiddo’s first day of school went, how dog obedience class is going, and what the latest purple purchase was. Freelancers don’t just trip upon collegiality, we create it through our connections online and we foster it in person. I’m looking forward to #SfEPTO19 for the PD but also for the relationship-building, because there’s no laborious networking going on there.

Like last year, there will be international speakers, both on the day of the mini-conference (November 6) and for a workshop the day before. Tickets are sold separately but many people are opting to attend both.

Malini Devadas (Australia) will provide the afternoon workshop (November 5) on beating the freelance feast-or-famine scenario and overcoming the pitfalls that we all sometimes face in money matters and income development.

The one-track full day will again cover a range of topics. Paul Beverley (UK) will show the best macros to start with, explain which are the essential macros for all users, and offer pointers about a wide range of macros. Jennifer Glossop (Canada) will share her vast expertise in working with fiction (and non-fiction), in particular techniques to uncover the missing narratives. Erin Brenner (US) will address how to edit quickly and knowing your resources and tools to speed up your work. Heather Ebbs (Canada) will present an editor’s guide to indexing. Amy Schneider (US) will help us customize our workspaces with templates.

We’ll be at the same lovely, wheelchair-accessible venue and, if we haven’t overdone it on the excellent catering, in the evening we’ll chat and exchange ideas and tips over more food at the pub across the road.

For info on how to register for this event, SfEP members can go to the link on the SfEP mini-conference page; non-members should email the organizers at, indicating that they would like to attend. Non-members will be notified after October 15 if there is a space for them.

Join me for the famous SfEP camaraderie and the top-notch learning opportunities. Both the atmosphere and the program will bolster your business life, whether you’re a newbie or an experienced editor. You’ll leave the boutique event richer in skills, ideas, and connections. And if there’s a Twelve-Step program for conference addicts, maybe I’ll see you there too. 😉

My Masterclass Guest Post

ALT: image from @LouiseHarnby’s tweet, showing a circular vignette black and white photo of Vanessa on a reddish background image with an index and of the post’s title, Self-Publishing Masterclass: De-Mystifying Book Indexing With Vanessa Wells. Tweet says “A humorous guide to the art of indexing!” with a link.

I was honoured to be included in my colleague Louise’s website and self-publishing masterclass.

Membership Announcement

I’m proud to have been accepted as an Intermediate Member of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP), based in the UK. It offers accreditation and training, and I am honoured to have the opportunity to add it to my sources of learning and membership.


Making Indexes Sing Out


Book Review

Ten Characteristics of Quality Indexes: Confessions of an Award-Winning Indexer by Margie Towery (ASI, 2016)


As a relative newcomer to indexing, I was interested in adding Ten Characteristics to my professional development work and my library. What delighted me was the tone of the content, which recommended flexibility, common sense and options. Margie Towery’s book goes beyond introductory lessons but remains accessible and helpful.


Her advice reminds us about basic issues in indexing such as parallel construction, clarity, conciseness and double-postings. But she also offers us broad choices (with useful illustrative examples) about deciding what does or does not go into an index—sometimes a daunting task for the newbie. I had the good fortune to read the book right before I got my most challenging indexing project to date, and it served me well. Some of the guide posts I bore in mind during that gig were: to keep in mind the less skilled or -experienced index user; to reflect the text but skilfully play with wording; and to point the reader to information without telling the whole story. This last point might seem in contradiction to her anecdote on page 85: “I once had a managing editor proofread my index for a lengthy, complicated text after which she emailed me to say that she really understood what the book was about from reading the index.” I kept this in mind as one of my goals for that behemoth; I didn’t regurgitate the text but really focused on teasing out the content to create a pertinent tool for the user.


Towery also offers more in-depth discussion on some topics that might not be addressed at length in indexing training courses. Comma reversals, getting subheadings to flow, condensing as a strategy for gathering headings, and “elegant additions” (pg. 96–98) were useful topics for me to consider. She also shared her “AIRS,” individualized Adjustable Indexing Rules (pg. 79-80), which are project-specific and acceptable when the indexer is transparent with the author and press about their reasons for implementing them.


She does, indeed, provide confessions as well as tips for indexer’s block, the editing stage and streamlining author queries, and two key elements are her lists on readability tips (pg. 109) and the process of index evaluation (pg. 116–117). Topics that I have seen debated extensively on indexing listservs were also part of the text, such as digestion and the treatment of the metatopic(s). Here again, she is not so much being prescriptive as using common sense (another of her subjects) and offering suggestions to approaches.


The one point on which I disagree with Towery is her take on index-users’ reactions. She writes:


Usability studies show that users don’t understand what [unruly] locators indicate. That’s the bottom line for me: If the meaning of unruly locators is unclear to users, then indexers shouldn’t be using them. [Janet] Russell adds, “Asking readers to experiment by looking up a stray locator and guessing the principle behind its selection is unfair to the readers and risks annoying them. Don’t tick off the reader.”[i]

(pg. 90)


One of the reasons my work life took on the shape it did was my sense of curiosity and passion for learning. I love to find several books on a given topic and broaden my knowledge by checking out every single locator in their indexes: to me, those unruly locators point me to new and exciting things, and if I am going to them blindly, it’s akin to opening a treasure chest every time I check out those mentions. Maybe the indexing gods will smite me for that or maybe I’m just a nerd. I’m just suggesting that while we should aim to manage unruly locators cautiously, we can’t know all the goals or interests of the index’s future users, and some exceptions may not be so much breaking the rules as offering up opportunities for readers.


In a job that involves intellect, skill, analysis and, indeed, common sense, it’s reassuring to have this additional resource on the desk to help us navigate the oft-deep waters of “it depends.”




The title of this review was adapted from a phrase on page 114 of Margie Towery’s book, with her permission.


[i] Russell, J., “Locators, Differentiating,” pg. 43–44.

Why Can’t We See Our Own Typos?!

Fear not: even editors use other editors to proofread their own writing. Here’s one take on why you need a professional to catch them.


by Nick Stockton August 12, 2014  Retrieved from
YOU HAVE FINALLY finished writing your article. You’ve sweat over your choice of words and agonized about the best way to arrange them to effectively get your point across. You comb for errors, and by the time you publish you are absolutely certain that not a single typo survived. But, the first thing your readers notice isn’t your carefully crafted message, it’s the misspelled word in the fourth sentence.

What’s Up With That?
Each week, we’ll explain the science behind a strange phenomenon that you may be wondering about, or may be hearing about for the first time right here.
Typos suck. They are saboteurs, undermining your intent, causing your resume to land in the “pass” pile, or providing sustenance for an army of pedantic critics. Frustratingly, they are usually words you know how to spell, but somehow skimmed over in your rounds of editing. If we are our own harshest critics, why do we miss those annoying little details?

The reason typos get through isn’t because we’re stupid or careless, it’s because what we’re doing is actually very smart, explains psychologist Tom Stafford, who studies typos of the University of Sheffield in the UK. “When you’re writing, you’re trying to convey meaning. It’s a very high level task,” he said.

As with all high level tasks, your brain generalizes simple, component parts (like turning letters into words and words into sentences) so it can focus on more complex tasks (like combining sentences into complex ideas). “We don’t catch every detail, we’re not like computers or NSA databases,” said Stafford. “Rather, we take in sensory information and combine it with what we expect, and we extract meaning.” When we’re reading other peoples’ work, this helps us arrive at meaning faster by using less brain power. When we’re proof reading our own work, we know the meaning we want to convey. Because we expect that meaning to be there, it’s easier for us to miss when parts (or all) of it are absent. The reason we don’t see our own typos is because what we see on the screen is competing with the version that exists in our heads.

This can be something as trivial as transposing the letters in “the” to “hte,” or something as significant as omitting the core explanation of your article. In fact, I made both of these mistakes when I wrote this story. The first was a misspelling in a sentence that my editor had to read aloud for me before I saw it for myself. The second mistake was leaving out the entire preceding paragraph that explains why we miss our own typos.

Generalization is the hallmark of all higher-level brain functions. It’s similar to how our brains build maps of familiar places, compiling the sights, smells, and feel of a route. That mental map frees your brain up to think about other things. Sometimes this works against you, like when you accidentally drive to work on your way to a barbecue, because the route to your friend’s house includes a section of your daily commute. We can become blind to details because our brain is operating on instinct. By the time you proof read your own work, your brain already knows the destination.

This explains why your readers are more likely to pick up on your errors. Even if you are using words and concepts that they are also familiar with, their brains are on this journey for the first time, so they are paying more attention to the details along the way and not anticipating the final destination.

But even if familiarization handicaps your ability to pick out mistakes in the long run, we’re actually pretty awesome at catching ourselves in the act. (According to Microsoft, backspace is the third-most used button on the keyboard.) In fact, touch typists—people who can type without looking at their fingers—know they’ve made a mistake even before it shows up on the screen. Their brain is so used to turning thoughts into letters that it alerts them when they make even minor mistakes, like hitting the wrong key or transposing two characters. In a study published earlier this year, Stafford and a colleague covered both the screen and keyboard of typists and monitored their word rate. These “blind” typists slowed down their word rate just before they made a mistake.

Touch typists are working off a subconscious map of the keyboard. As they type, their brains are instinctually preparing for their next move. “But, there’s a lag between the signal to hit the key and the actual hitting of the key,” Stafford said. In that split second, your brain has time to run the signal it sent your finger through a simulation telling it what the correct response will feel like. When it senses an error, it sends a signal to the fingers, slowing them down so they have more time to adjust.

As any typist knows, hitting keys happens too fast to divert a finger when it’s in the process of making a mistake. But, Stafford says this evolved from the same mental mechanism that helped our ancestors’ brains make micro adjustments when they were throwing spears.

Unfortunately, that kind of instinctual feedback doesn’t exist in the editing process. When you’re proof reading, you are trying to trick your brain into pretending that it’s reading the thing for the first time. Stafford suggests that if you want to catch your own errors, you should try to make your work as unfamiliar as possible. Change the font or background color, or print it out and edit by hand. “Once you’ve learned something in a particular way, it’s hard to see the details without changing the visual form,” he said.

An Explanation of Various Types of Printers, Publishers and Packagers

If you’d like to self-publish but you’re getting confused about all the different types of printing and publishing companies vying for your project, here is a primer from Dick Margulis:

REGARDLESS OF WHAT COMPANIES CALL THEMSELVES OR SAY THEY OFFER, what we’re interested in is what the are and whether they provide the services we need. So let’s use our own bafflegab-free definitions and ignore the marketing materials.

A publisher is someone who puts money at risk to produce and market a book.

A publishing services company is someone who provides services such as editing, design, indexing, or proofreading to publishers.

A book packager is a company that prepares books for publication on behalf of a publisher.

A printer is someone who owns printing equipment and accepts customer files for printing.

A book manufacturer is someone who prints and binds books under one roof.

Offset printing is printing from metal plates hung on a press and is typically used for 300 or more copies of a book.

Short-run digital printing is using digital printing equipment to produce one or more copies of a book for delivery to the publisher (or to a fulfillment warehouse).

On-demand printing is using digital printing equipment to produce a single copy of a book for direct delivery to a retail customer on behalf of the publisher.

A print broker is someone who accepts a job from a publisher and then forwards it to selected vendors for the required services.

A vanity press is a company that combines the services of a publishing services provider and a print broker and overcharges for both, making it impossible for a publisher that contracts with them to make a reasonable profit. Otherwise known as pond scum.

Now, WITHIN A CATEGORY, it is possible to compare companies and evaluate whether one provides better quality or better services than another, and that can be a productive exercise.

There are book manufacturers who specialize in working with amateur publishers (high school yearbook staffs, for example) and have customer service reps (CSRs) who are adept at hand-holding. Some of these companies also do a superb job of book manufacturing. Others tend to cut corners.

In contrast, there are book manufacturers whose CSRs are nothing more than traffic managers (friendly, competent, polite traffic managers). Any technical questions are forwarded to a technician, and the answer that eventually comes back may or may not be clear. These companies work directly with professional print buyers at publishing companies and with professional book designers, customers who are expected to provide trouble-free files for printing and clear specifications for the job. Within this subgroup of book manufacturers, some companies focus on quality and some focus on price.

Similarly, with short-run digital printers, there are companies that specialize in book manufacturing for publishers, and there are others that specialize in church cookbooks, machinery service manuals, and programs for the local high school football awards banquets. And, oh yeah, if you have a book of your weekly newspaper columns from the local shopper, they’ll throw that together for you too. So, again, you can compare on quality and price.

You can read more about Dick’s creative services here.


A few times a year, I offer pro bono work to non-profits, particularly Christian artists. Usually this is in the form of proofreading (not copy editing, generally) short documents such as simple websites, closed captions, press releases or ads. If you know of someone who could use a fresh pair of eyes before they publish, contact me well in advance to discuss my availability. If I can help out, I won’t charge but I will ask for recommendations to new clients and/or a testimonial for my website.

On occasion, I may be able to help with obituaries, too.

To see one take on why we all need a proofreader to check for typos (it doesn’t mean you can’t write!), read this article.

Interview: YA Fantasy Author Scarlett Van Dijk

Guardian Core pic

WRE: You have a medical career but you’re writing fantasy. What’s the pull?

SVD: Being a radiographer in a medical world, I am confronted with reality every day. I suppose part of why I read and write mainly in the fantasy genre is to escape reality.[pullquote]I read and write mainly in the fantasy genre to escape reality.[/pullquote] In my head, I have created new lands and worlds in which my characters face challenges that ‘normal’ people would never face in a ‘normal’ world.

WRE: How did your writing career start?

SVD: I began writing my first novel at the age of 13… but that was a flunk and a half. Even though that was a failure and writers block hit me hard, I would call that the beginning of my love for writing.

I began my first novel Sky Stone at the age of 15; this was when I first truly believed myself to be a writer. It all began with me listening to music, creating daydreams which gradually became a story begging to be written. I couldn’t refuse it.

WRE: The protagonist in your series, Skyla, is a strong role model for young women. What kinds of pressures do you think can be addressed with the lessons in your series?

SVD: Skyla is loosely based on myself during my teens. She portrays the ups and downs of teenage life for girls. Skyla, like myself, never believed that she belonged in this world, but then she discovered a land where she didn’t just belong but was needed. One lesson that I feel could be taught to other young girls who wonder about their place in the world is that sometimes your purpose finds you. You do belong and there are people that need you; just believe and give it time.

[pullquote]Sometimes your purpose finds you…[/pullquote]

Another lesson that I believe is important is to allow yourself to share the burden. Young people all experience stress as they transition from childhood to adulthood. Skyla suddenly finds herself with the fate of a land upon her shoulders, with the stresses and expectations weighing her down. She finds that she requires the help of the people around her, and that it is all right to let others help and guide her. Carrying the burden alone will only cause you more pain when there are others around who are willing to listen, give advice, and help where they can.

WRE: Do you have a sense yet of how many books there will be or are you going to wing it and let your Muse direct you?

SVD: Well, let’s just say that when I wrote Sky Stone I wasn’t intending for there to be a series at all! It was supposed to stand alone…and then here came Guardian Core. I have some vague plans for a third book in the Sky Stone series; however, I have decided to take a short break from this series and will work on a new novel which stands alone.

WRE: It’s a saturated market with lots of authors vying for readers. What advice would you share with writers, who are just starting out, about motivation and tenacity?

SVD: I believe it is important not to lose sight of why you began writing in the beginning. I began writing for the love of it and as a release. Don’t let criticism or a lack of sales discourage you from what you love to do. Just keep writing.

WRE: Your website has several concept images which informed your novels’ settings. Do you see your storylines as needing to be in the past or are the stories essentially timeless?

SVD: These stories are set in a land similar to that of the English/European medieval period. Branzia, the land in which the Sky Stone series is set, is cut off from the modern world and hence has not been able to progress at the same rate. Technically, it is therefore set in the present day but the technology of Branzia has not advanced.

My stories are not all set in a past-like setting, however: my latest work in progress, which has the working title of Nexus, is actually set in a future Earth.

WRE: Is there anything else you would like to share with readers?

SVD: Guardian Core, Book 2 of the Sky Stone series, will be released on August 2.

If you are interested in finding out more about the Sky Stone series, please head over to my website:

Sky Stone is currently available on,, and other retailers. Please check it out here.

WRE:  Thank you for chatting with me and I wish you much success with your launch!

Resources for Writers

There are lots of resources you can access for information while you are writing and revising. You can find: Print on Demand info; up to date Canadian permissions guidelines; style guides such as CMOS and dictionaries like Canadian Oxford or Webster’s for Americans; grammar checkers like this; and answers to these questions:

Why does editing cost so much?!?

Why can’t I just use the Word index generator for my book’s index?

Ultimately, you need a human to analyse the nuances of language, tweak subtly and maintain your voice. Computers can’t do that. Editors work alongside you.