Image: Participants gathered at PubPro 2013

When it comes to conferences on publishing, panels and presentations generally focus on macro topics and the future - from digital-only content to next steps towards open access. But, when do editors get the opportunity to get down to the nitty gritty of the way they currently manage their publications and approach editing and production?

In the experience of Iva Cheung, certified professional editor and active member of the Editors’ Association of Canada, editors rarely get the opportunity to talk shop with their peers from other publications. That’s why she decided to launch PubPro, an “unconference” for managing editors that started in 2013. This year’s unconference, which is being co-hosted by the Editors Association of Canada and Simon Fraser University (SFU), will be held at the SFU Harbour Centre on Saturday April 25th, 2015.

PubPro 2015 appeals to editors working in a wide-range of publications, including academic books and journals, trade books, and even mainstream magazines. This year’s unconference is expected to attract editors working in diverse roles including publication directors, copyeditors, managing editors, production editors and more. Cheung says editors who attend PubPro 2015 can expect free-flowing conversations during attendee-led sessions on editorial techniques, tools, and best practices. She took the time to share some details about PubPro with us and to explain the definition and benefits of hosting an unconference.

Interview with Iva Cheung

Can you tell me a bit about how the PubPro unconference got started and how you’ve been involved?

IC: I used to be the editorial coordinator at D&M Publishers, which was one of Canada’s largest independent trade book publishers at the time. My responsibilities included testing and training freelance editors, proofreaders, and indexers; updating our house style guidelines; and developing and maintaining a wiki to house our templates, checklists, and other quality-assurance systems.

I saw a terrific checklist that one of my colleagues at another publishing house gave her proofreaders, and I asked if I could adapt it for our proofreaders. She agreed and traded it for a peek at my wiki. We talked about how much we could learn from each other—and other professionals in the same line of work—if only we had the right forum. After I left my company to freelance, I finally had enough flexibility in my schedule to put one together. I proposed PubPro to my local branch of the Editors’ Association of Canada and to Simon Fraser University’s publishing program, and they’ve been co-hosting the event since its launch in 2013.

My main roles with PubPro are planning the event—booking rooms, renting projection equipment, organizing catering, and so on—getting the word out about it, and hosting the plenary sessions the day of.

I like the quote from the PubPro 2015 website, “rarely do people who actually make the publications happen get to gather and brain share.” Can you explain what is meant by that quote and how PubPro serves a need among the editorial community?

IC: Thanks! Before I started PubPro, I noticed that most professional development opportunities in publishing seemed to focus on discrete tasks: editing, designing, marketing, selling rights, etc. There weren’t a lot of workshops or conferences for the people who manage the publication projects and shepherd them from beginning to end, yet they’re the glue that holds the publishing process together. Further, a typical mid-size publisher might have a group of editors who can bounce ideas off one another, but usually there’s only one person who does the publication project management for the whole operation.

When I began freelancing and working with production managers in different sectors of publishing, I saw that they were all reinventing the wheel at their respective publishing houses, which seemed like a huge waste of resources, and they never got the chance to talk and pick each other’s brains. I hoped that PubPro would fill that void.

What complicates bringing this group together is that everyone seems to have a different title: managing editors, production editors, production managers, editorial directors, publication directors, publishing coordinators, and instructional designers might all be doing similar work in different settings. I also wanted to reach more than just conventional publishers. I knew of several nonprofit organizations that hired in-house staff to put together grant applications and reports, as well as corporations in the technology sector that hired technical communicators to produce manuals and other documentation, for example, and I figured they’d benefit from meeting others in the same role. Who knows? Maybe production techniques that technical communicators have been using for years would benefit grant writers in their work. I wanted to start demolishing some of those silos and find out.

Can you explain the meaning of “unconference” and why you chose this format for the event?

IC: At an unconference, the participants run the show. Rather than inviting speakers and setting the schedule beforehand, we invite participants to pitch topics they’d like to talk about. I chose this format because there’s so much wisdom and experience among our participants that it only makes sense to learn from each other, and unconferences are terrific for peer-to-peer learning. By setting their own agenda, participants ensure the sessions will be relevant to them.

How and when will this year’s unconference sessions be determined? And do you have any idea of what may be on the agenda?

IC: I never know what will be on the agenda until we determine it the morning of the unconference! At our opening session, participants who are interested in presenting or leading a discussion pitch their session to the crowd. If there are more sessions than time slots, the crowd votes on what topics they’d most like to hear about.

How can editors become involved in PubPro 2015 - can anyone suggest and lead a discussion topic? And what types of editors is this conference meant for (books, journals, etc.)?

IC: Yes, any participant can pitch a topic, and the sessions can be any format, from formal presentations complete with PowerPoint slides to free-form discussions. This event is for anyone who does any kind of publication production management, regardless of publication type. Our participants have represented journals, book publishers, magazine publishers, online publishers, self-publishers, educational institutions, credit unions, and more. If you have to ensure the quality of a print or e-publication, juggling production schedules and managing editorial staff, you’ll probably get something out of PubPro.

What do you hope editors will take away from this year’s unconference?

IC: The main motivation behind PubPro is for managing and production editors to learn techniques and tricks from one another to help make their work easier, but what I’ve most enjoyed from previous years is seeing how happy people are to be able to meet others who play the same roles and speak the same language. I hope this year’s event will be equally collegial and uplifting.

Danielle Padula

This post was written by Danielle Padula,
Community Development