What It Is (posts below left; rate sheet, client list, other stuff below right)

My name is Bob Land. I am a full-time freelance editor and proofreader, and occasional indexer. This blog is my website.

You'll find my rate sheet and client list here, as well as musings on the life of a freelancer; editing, proofreading, and indexing concerns and issues; my ongoing battles with books and production; and the occasional personal revelation.

Feel free to contact me directly with additional questions: landondemand@gmail.com.

Thanks for visiting. Leave me a comment. Come back often.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

RANT, not publishing related

A few days ago, some jagoff opened fire in a mall in Omaha. Killed eight people, then himself. Don't you wish these idiots would just reverse the order? Would save a lot of headache.

Anyway, the inevitable headline today is: Omaha Mall Reopens With Extra Security.

My favorite phrase of recent times is "Closing the barn door after the horse has gotten out."

Now extra security is needed? We're gonna have a rash of copycat psychokillers at that particular mall? Wasn't the time for extra security beforehand? And would it have helped? (No, no, undoubtedly, unlikely)

A few years ago, some dolt had some stuff in his shoes that could maybe have made a bomb, if he knew what he was doing. Now every traveler in America should wear bedroom slippers to the airport to make security go quicker. And someone had some bad liquids on a plane, so let's make it so you can only carry three ounces of something on a plane. (There's no doubt that even 3 ounces of the proper substance could create a whole lot of hell. I remember what a friend of mine said could be done with a small amount of magnesium.) A radio talk show host pointed out that you can file down a credit card edge to be as sharp as any box cutter. You going to ban credit cards in airports? Oh, hell no. Can't do that. Hmm. Wonder why.

"Reopens with extra security." Give me a break.

APA-style author indexes: The forecast calls for pain

New task, bad move.

I’ve spent much of the last few days battling an APA-style author index. Allow me to explain.

I’ve referred elsewhere to the Chicago Manual of Style, one of the style books that guides what people like me do for a living. It’s designed generally for people working in the humanities. Other style manuals, all of which I’ve used, are from the Associated Press (the formerly called AP Style Book and Libel Manual [I love that title]), the Society of Biblical Literature (great for classical works, not just scripture), the MLA (mostly for literary criticism), and the American Psychological Association (mostly for social sciences). Individual publishers also have their own style manuals. I have one for the Chicken Soup for the Soul series which looks just like a Chicken Soup book. Shows what you can do when you have the printing press in your basement, as this particular publisher does.

This wonderful new client of mine, who essentially created the paradigm under which I now work (see earlier post), wants me to do an author index for a APA-styled book. OK, no biggie. I’ve done indexes for books that seemed to be in foreign languages (see earlier posts), I’ve done extensive scriptural and classical work indexes (pains in the butt on a major scale), I’ve done proper name indexes. What’s the problem?

The problems (note the plural) are that you’re not just identifying individual authors, but you also have to identify them by their initials. So, you might have 10 different Smiths. You might only have one McKinney, for example, but because of the individual chapter authors’ styles, he might be X. McKinney in one place and X. S. McKinney somewhere else, and those have to be kept different, because X. and X. S. might not actually be the same person (could be father and son, for example), so being precise is important.

Which brings up another problem. What if the only thing different is the authors’ styles from one chapter to the next in a multiauthor book? What if one only cited one initial, and the other cited two? Do you merge the listings? And if you do, at what point do you stop second-guessing the author and copyeditor? Best answer is, you don't second-guess them at all.

Problem 3: et freaking al. OK, so you have a listing of Smith et al. in the text. All the names aren’t listed, so you have to go to the list of references at end of chapter or book, which means twice the work. This book includes some listings in the references that read Smith, Jones, Brown, Black, Johnson, Grillo, McCarthy, Weinstein, Lee, Li, Garrity et al. That’s not an indexing problem, as much as a commonsense issue. If you’ve listed 11 names before the et al, you gotta wonder: how many people are needed to screw in a lightbulb?

The only other client that follows APA for whom I’ve done indexes had an interesting approach: only cite them in the index if their full name was mentioned in the chapter, which happens rarely in most APA books, because they use an author-date citation style (Land, 2007). So there are not many opportunities to use a full name, unless it’s, I guess, the author’s friend.

Already I’ve gone through three possibilities of how to build this author index, which have involved PDF searches building from the references list, keying in the names of the researchers as I’m going along, having my wife read the names to me . . . . 40-something hours later I am left with an 18-page, 10-point, two-column list that seemingly has more questions than answers, mostly revolving around initials. I’ve probably got about 6 hours of dicking around with that document until I get it right. Oh, and now I'm writing the subject index, too.

Then, at about 5 this morning, the solution hits me for the authors. Key in the references exactly as they appear in the chapters: name, year, everything. Alphabetize/sort at end of each chapter. Compare this list with the end-of-chapter references, adding initials and deleting years. Then also, the et als will be right where I need them. Then re-sort. I did this for about five pages of a chapter just as a test. Works beautifully. Looks wonderful. I am considering going back and scrapping the previous three days of work and rebuilding the index this way. I might not tell my wife, though, as I don’t want her thinking her efforts were wasted. But I guess in the long run they weren’t, as it took a bit of trial and error to get to the proper solution. And I need to remember that that’s the way it was when I started indexing about 10 years ago. I didn’t have all the tricks I do now, so there was a learning curve.

Irony: The book on which all this is happening deals with growth following trauma. Life imitates art.

Back to work.

Friday, December 7, 2007

India: the rant rising

Around our house, we have a name for customer service people from India who we end up talking with on the phone: Priscilla. If I tell my wife or sons that I had a long talk with Priscilla today, they know exactly who I'm referring to. In the past it's usually been representatives of CompuServe or Delta Air Lines. And it's always frustrating.

These people are taught how to interact with Americans . . . sort of. They are fed some warm and fuzzy catchphrases that if you're lucky will jibe with the time of the day you have called them. They are coached in losing their delightful accents, and sorry to say, they probably have to stuff a good bit of their IQs to deal with the folks who call. But some things still just don't get across.

Mostly with me it deals with my name: Bob. Not a hard one. Pronounced almost universally through the contiguous United States as "Bahb." When I’m speaking to Priscilla or her boyfriend, usually it comes back to me as “Bawp.” Kind of like the Ramones when they’re singing “Blitzkreig Bop.”

OK? So why "Priscilla"? Because invariably these obvious South Asians do not have names that go with their country like Aruna or Swaminandahili or well, anything else that’s fourteen syllables long with a vowel for every second consonant. After their scripted spiel, it’s always, “This is Priscilla” or “My name is Oliver Wendell Douglas” or “Hi, I’m Joseph.” And they will meet every one of my requests perfectly and I will leave the phone happy. I was actually told exactly those words one day. I hope they have since discarded that script.

So, I’m on the phone with Joseph one day, and he has my account information in front of him as I’m reciting my name, rank, and serial number. Over the thousands of miles and dozen time zones, I can tell that Joseph is having trouble processing the information. He stops me and says, “You say you’re name is Bawp. So who is Rawbert?”

Quickwitted as I was that day, I put on the friendly downhome American voice and say, “C’mon, Joseph. All your friends call you Joe, don’t they? It's the same thing."


I really like my current Internet provider because they are 24/7, and they are almost literally right up the street here in Bristol. The best time to call them is about 4 in the morning. You have their undivided attention, they always know the answers, they don't give me any guff for being an idiot (because you're always an idiot when you're calling), and not a freaking one of them is named Priscilla.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007


Libera nos, domine.

I think I've got my Latin right there. What I'm trying to say is "good lord, deliver us."

Most of the last five days were spent proofreading a 920-page psychiatry manual. Not only was it 920 pages, but it was also in 9/11 type. For you nonproduction folks, that's got nothing to do with terrorist attacks, but means 9 point type on 11 point leading. And on a 7x10 page, and did I mention 920 pages of it? Well, folks, that's a lot of damn reading. If I had to guess, it'd probably be in the 300- to 400,000 word range. And 9/11 type is, well, small for the task.

I'd have been bitching a whole lot more, except for the roughly 60 percent markup for rush charges.

This job comes to me courtesy of a company that lays claim to being the first in the US (about 40 years ago) to deliver outsourcing services for publishing company production. That is, proofreading, copyediting, typesetting is not done by the publisher, but by an outside firm. This is common practice today, and that 40-year-old innovation allows me now to do what I do in the friendly confines of my own basement.

Problem: the company I'm working for did not handle the typesetting. That particular task was parceled off to India.

Good god.

I had heard some months ago that work done in India comes back sloppy, and that's what happened here. They do exactly what they are told to do and not a centimeter more. No extra thought goes into the process. The queries come back in some form of pidgin English. The tabular material looks like hell.

I have no doubt it's cheaper to do business there. Will it in the long run remain that way? What about the charges for printers' errors? Directions lost in translation? Frustration trying to interpret queries?

I'm too tired to work up much of a rant on this topic. I've got three indexes to get done by next Wednesday, on (1) Catholic Social Justice, (2) the psychological effects of terror and trauma, and (3) the history of Christianity in Micronesia and Melanesia in the late 19th century. Who says this stuff isn't exciting?


Side note, speaking of excitement: one of our neighbors was arrested Thanksgiving morning for attempted murder. There's much more to the story so it's not as lurid as it seems. Frankly I'm happy to have him close by.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


First, dear reader(s), my apologies. It's been three weeks since my last post. Some of that time was spent out of town; most of that time has been spent working or avoiding it. With any luck, the lottery tickets I bought today will make the avoiding work time more profitable. By the way, I disagree with the wags who says that the lottery is for idiots. I'd rather spend a dollar and fantasize for three days about what good uses I'd have for multiple millions of dollars than spend 8 bucks on a two-hour movie and come out disappointed. Maybe that's apples and oranges, but I think I get a good return on my entertainment/fantasy dollar when I buy a lotto ticket. So be it.

Anyway, why am I stumped? Two items this week.

First is a publisher I have done some work with, and I use the term "publisher" loosely because this individual is really more of a marketing and PR person who has helped authors with books. However, from past projects, I know also that this person works with Quark (the page layout program of choice for many graphic designers) so is at least somewhat familiar with print production.

This person sent me two pages in advance of a book that I was to be receiving later this month. When I returned the first page marked up for corrections and changes, this person was totally baffled by the proofreading marks. Never had worked with them before and couldn't decipher what they meant, even after I sent along a PDF of the standard marks that can be found in any good dictionary (see page 995 of Merriam Webster's 11th).

I was stunned. We went over the changes on the phone, and I could tell that this person seemed no more enlightened about the whole process at the end of the conversation than at the beginning. I felt like I was giving a how-to-do-brain-surgery symposium over the phone with someone who'd never held a scalpel.

The second page arrived a few days later, which I again marked up, but now this person had the guide to go by. The second conversation was no better than the first. I grew increasingly frustrated and was about three decibels away from shouting into the phone. Remember, now, that this is a conversation with a client. The concept of the customer is always right did not apply to a situation like this.

I have lived with proofreading marks since I was 14 years old, training to be on the high school newspaper two and three years hence. To use the vernacular, I know them as well as I know my own . . . uh . . . well, figure it out. That someone who knows Quark, who has been in publishing for years, who has written books and published books for others was totally unfamiliar with proofreading marks -- to quote one of Meg Ryan's characters in Joe versus the Volcano, "I have no response to that."

Which brings me to stumped number 2. I am proofreading a handbook of social work. Many pages of small print, and thankfully all but one chapter is well written. I am paging through the front matter -- the usual: copyright page, acknowledgments, contents . . . I see the running head: Prolusion. WHAT? What the hell is "prolusion"? I go to my trusty Merriam Websters 11th, ironically on the page facing the page with the aforementioned proofreading marks, and I read, "prolusion: 1. a preliminary trial or exercise: PRELUDE. 2. an introduction and often tentative discourse."

I'm sorry. In the course of my freelancing in the book publishing industry, it's not an exaggeration to say that I've probably had a hand in over 1,000 books and publications. I actually even read a few books before that, before I was paid to do so. I have never come across the word "prolusion," and to see it where I might otherwise see the word "preface" or "introduction" seems just like a heavyhanded attempt at showing off.

Then again, maybe when I read this book section tomorrow, I'll throw up my hands and say, "Well, damn, that's a mighty fine prolusion. And I can't see calling it anything except a prolusion. It's probably the best freaking prolusion I'll read in this or any lifetime."

Somehow, though, I don't think it's my hands I'll be throwing up.

Thursday, November 1, 2007


Characters was the name of a typesetting and design shop I once worked for in Atlanta. I will always remember them fondly because it was the second night I was working there when I said I couldn't report to work for about a week because I had a gig selling souvenirs at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium during the World Series. They didn't mind. That was in the early 1990s, when the idea of a Braves team in the World Series made everyone happy. Worst-to-first, and all that. Times change. And I made far better money screaming, "Programs, get yer programs here," than I would have made telling some careless typesetter that their text alignment was off by 1/64 of an inch.

Characters also refers the types of people I ran into in proofrooms around Atlanta during the course of about 16 years plying my trade in various full-time and part-time gigs in that city. I worked every possible shift in just about every possible venue and for every type of client -- from high-rise downtown office buildings on the graveyard shift reading SEC filings (a dying art form) to laboring eight hours a day in a cramped little room next to the furnace in a converted house on Clairmont Road. Both businesses are long gone; the house itself on Clairmont, right across from Century Center, is also long gone. Some places I'd go to for a couple of hours, never to darken their doors again, and other places I haunted for a decade and more.


Being run out of the high-rise after about 6 weeks for being too good, or so I was told by one of the typesetters. The second-shift proofreader was having an affair with the night manager, and she did not appreciate my productivity nor my ability, and conspired to have me not called in anymore. This turn of events was rather unfortunate, as I was 22 years old and making about $20 an hour in 1982.

Working at a type/design firm off and on for 11 years, full-time second shift, part-time, on-call, whatever. I had more tenure there than most of the employees and managers. The proprietor thought that anyone could be a proofreader, so he would bring in a series of untrained and inexperienced people off the streets to do the job. He'd bring me in for a few weeks to train them (as best as I could), then three months later bring me in to read behind them so he could build a file to fire them. The first time or two, I felt bad. Then I got used to it.

While at this firm, one of the jokers he brought in informed me one night that he had gone through aversion therapy (think Clockwork Orange) for sharp objects after serving in Vietnam, that he'd been a heroin addict, etc. I am sitting in a room with him looking at Exacto knives as he's telling me this.

My first job out of college was at a commercial printing plant that employed 11 or 12 full-time proofreaders to be there 24/7/365, three or four at a time. Friday would come, and they'd say, "You're working this weekend, 12-hour shifts." Or you'd be there during the day and they'd say, "Three hours overtime today." At one point I worked 42 days in a row, often with 11- and 12-hour days. I never had more spending money in my life, and I was making about $5.75 an hour. Then again, rent was $150, and my biggest expense otherwise was, well, never mind. My record there was the day after Atlanta's big 1982 ice storm. I made it into work the following day, other people were calling in and saying they couldn't make it, and I said, "That's fine." So I covered a 16-hour shift by myself. It was actually kind of fun.

In those kinds of situations (well, not when you're doing it solo)--where it's high stress and long hours and of course crappy work (reading airline timetables and scratch-off lottery tickets)--you get to know people rather well. One of my dearest and longest-term friends dates from that time. I developed at least one serious infatuation (unrequited, of course), and learned a lot about and from an interesting variety of people.

This was the early 1980s, when the AIDS crisis didn't even yet have a name (then it was Gay Men's Cancer), and there were two openly gay men in the proofroom. One was a party boy, and I have little doubt he probably didn't last the decade. The other was a brilliant individual, a translator with a working knowledge of seven languages (from Polish to Spanish), the seventh son of a seventh son. He used to tell me he was born with three strikes against him: he was a gay Jew from Mississippi. I used to give him a ride home after third shift (he didn't drive). One morning I went into his apartment to have a cup of coffee, and the first piece of artwork a visitor's eye would fall on was a very close-up shot of a penis and the accompanying testicles -- probably about an 11x16-inch photograph. I don't think they were his or his lover's, but I'm not sure. He's still in Atlanta somewhere, and I've got a book of his that one day I will manage to return to him, if I can track him down. Somehow, I think he'll remember me, and he'll appreciate getting the book back.

As I mentioned, it was 1981-82 when I was at this plant, before the days when MLK Day was an official national holiday. We were in Georgia, though, so there was more notice of his birthday as a statewide memorial day . . . in certain quarters, anyway. It was either 1981 or 1982 when it came up to a vote in the plant, which was mostly populated by redneck union guys, whether to recognize as a plant holiday King's birthday or Confederate Memorial Day. Thus it was, dear readers, that I received a day off from the proofroom to honor the Confederate war dead. As the grandson of Eastern European immigrants who didn't make it to this country until the 1890s and 1910s, I certainly appreciated the thoughtfulness of my brothers down on the pressroom floor.

One of the all-time proofreading characters, although I've never worked directly with him, and we've only collaborated on a single book of fewer than 100 words, happens to be my brother, whose memoirs/remembrances he claims he is compiling into a volume entitled The History of Proofreading, Volume 1 (alternate titles: The Days of the Green Impala and Cousin Lazar's Overcoat). My brother remains one of my heroes for many reasons, none of which might make any sense. He was a proofreader in the World Trade Center when it was first attacked in 1993, and thankfully he took a sabbatical from the emerging family business of editorial services to work at the old family business, HL Motors, in its final years, or I might have been writing a memorial here rather than an anecdote. Big Brother is still plying the aforementioned art of financial proofreading, while also laboring in other fashions for midtown NYC law firms. Perhaps I should open up this blog to his authorial talents as well, as he can give an entirely different perspective on this way we have of making it in this world . . . and he's incidentally a far better writer than I am. And unlike me, he'll read a book without being paid to do so.

Parting shot: Jesse Helms was a proofreader. I seem to remember that David Berkowitz was also.

Vermont: A Quick Note

Tere (my wife) and I spent most of the last week traveling.

Observations: New England is different from the South. Vermont is different from the world.

We spent a little time in a few different little cities: Brattleboro (home of recent antinudity laws, because too many young [and presumably healthy] folks were taking to strolling downtown naked; also home to a formerly underground FM radio station partially manned by a childhood buddy of mine), Montpelier (nation's smallest state capital), Waterbury (neat tea company), Burlington (state university main campus). While one of the nationwide book chains was in Burlington, each of the other towns (and Burlington itself) had what appeared to be no fewer than three independent booksellers. And these were in small, condensed downtowns.

You can draw your own conclusions, but one of mine is that if literacy is important to you, Vermont would be hard to beat. (For that matter, Cuba is high on the literacy scale too, and I heard some good things about Zimbabwe last night. But last I checked, Vermont was not under the thumb of a dictator. And I daresay the breadth of opinions available in your local Havana or Harare book merchant might be somewhat limited.)

On the other hand, if you needed gas on a Saturday night to get from one Vermont town to another, you might be SOL.

eyes have it; festival; variety

I might have mentioned some time back that I was preparing materials (new business cards, marketing piece, photos, etc.) for a women's expo that was being held in mid-October in a neighboring town. Of course, after securing the photo and writing the blurb about what I do, those materials were promptly lost by the convention planners, so I inadvertently spent two hours sitting behind a desk fronted by a poster advertising some woman and her book . . . which I did not know until her husband came and took the poster away. Because I approached my perch from the back, I did not know this poster was on the front. I told the guy that if I had known it was there, I would have taken it off myself -- not that it really mattered, but he seemed to take offense, as if it disturbed me that her particular photo and advertisement were there. Not really, but he wasn't the only person who I apparently ticked off that day.

The one who got me going was a barker (in terms of a carnival barker) who was the marketing rep for a Lasik surgery center. I might as well tell the whole story, because failing eyesight is an occupational hazard here.

I'm walking around the expo, which is basically a mall transported to a convention center. Stores, kiosks, services (home- and health-based), home businesses, gift vendors, etc. All those items that in the eyes of the convention organizers would appeal to a cross-section of the Tri-Cities TN/VA female populace.

I'm strolling past a Lasik surgery desk, and I see a sign saying, "Drop your name here for a chance at free Lasik surgery." Now, if you know me, you'll know that Coke-bottle glasses is an apt description. If these numbers mean anything to you, my eyesight is -10.75 in one eye, and -12.25 in the other. Without vision correction, everything is one big blur. Lasik to me was never a consideration because of (a) the cost and (b) the small risk that everything doesn't go perfectly. Doing what I do, my eyes are rather important. I got contacts last year but never wear them because I can't see 8- to 10-point type (forget 6-point type) without reading glasses on top of them, and even then it's not so reliable.

But FREE gets my attention. I stop to fill out the form, and Lasik Lady begins her spiel. I'll give the conversation more or less as it took place, without interrupting for all the stuff going through my mind:

She: I can change your life!!
Me: Really.
She: Look at those glasses! What if someone breaks into your house in the middle of the night? You wouldn't be able to identify them. Don't you want to be able to see as soon as you wake up?
Me: My glasses are right at my bedside. It's usually not a problem.
She: But to open your eyes and have complete vision! And without glasses!
Me: I've been wearing glasses for 42 years. They are totally reliable and I have no vanity issues about them. I finally got contacts last year and can't wear them because I can't work with them. Will Lasik be able to correct me totally? To where I won't need readers?
She: What do you mean?

(At this point we are drawing a crowd, and the marketing of her product begins going straight to hell.)

Me: Well, I need to be able to read type this small (showing her some printed material) reliably, like where I can tell a period from a comma every time.
She: But if someone breaks into your house in the middle of the night . . .
Me: I don't live my life falling asleep every night wondering if I can identify someone in a lineup the next morning. I'm more concerned about being able to do my job.
She: What do you do?
Me: I'm an editor and proofreader. I need to be able to read.
She: Well, for that kind of work, you'll probably need to get glasses after the Lasik, but you'll just need them while you're reading.
Me: OK. For $3500, you're telling me that I'll still be wearing glasses 14 hours a day. I'm wearing them now. I replace my glasses about every three years, and insurance covers a lot of that. I'm not going to spend $3500 during the rest of my life buying new glasses, which correct my vision entirely, but you're telling me it'll change my life to spend that money with you and not be guaranteed a satisfactory result.
She: (Very huffily) Well, Lasik is for people who want to see, not for people who want to read!
Me: (Leaving) Well, if reading is the way you put food on the table, you might have a different outlook.

Her last comment also speaks to a general approach to literacy that I won't go into here.

It's about 15 minutes until I have to be personable for a few hours, so I go somewhere to settle down.

Calmer, I find where I'm supposed to be set up, and realize that I am next to a Fabio lookalike who is signing calendars for a romance publishing group. After getting a calendar signed for my wife (it's a joke; her reading tastes do not include romance, pulp or the e-version), I strike up a conversation with one of their authors. She finds out what I do and says that she needs a new editor/proofreader because she's fired her last four -- three for lack of consistent good work, the fourth for plagiarizing her work. I assure her that the latter would not be an issue, and that I've got good experience and references on the former. She says that she writes erotica, and would that be a problem?

I'm thinking of what I spend most of my days reading, and how nice it would be to take a break. Can I work for denominational presses some days and read erotic romance novels the next? Last I checked, they would all pay me in the same currency . . . and while I've not mentioned it yet in this blog, my corporate credo has always been, "I will work for anyone who does not advocate violence against me or my family directly."

I'm waiting to hear from the author. She was actually rather fascinating with a very interesting ancestral history that would make for good reading, although perhaps not as lucrative. I'm also waiting to hear from the publisher, which is making the move into nonfiction as well.

For the second hour, a new author is squeezed in between me and the romance folks. She is a university professor who is self-publishing a book on living with and surviving cancer. She has a copy of the bound galleys, a review copy, as it's being sent out for blurbs and reviews to print on the cover. I mention that the book would really benefit from an index. (Damn, I'm smooth. Where was this talent when I was 19 years old?) She asks why; I tell her; she hands me the bound galleys and says, "Here. Would you index it?"

Of course.

So, three hours well spent. I leave with a job, two prospects, a signed calendar, and a public denunciation of Lasik surgery. When I was speaking to the romance author, I told her about my dust-up with the Lasik Lady. The author said, "And with your vision, you'd probably end up with halos." Great. If you ever meet me, you'll know me by the Coke bottles perched on my nose.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Getting famous writing


If you want to get famous writing, you have it all backward. To be a famous published writer, you should be famous first.

I'm working on a book now that, to put it mildly, is poorly written and poorly organized. Illogical at times, cutesy to the point of distraction, and many, many cases of wrong word usage which show a certain lack of higher-functioning literacy. Yet this book is being published by a publishing house that sells millions of books a year. Millions, I tell you.

How does this happen?

Simple. It was all summed up for me at the 2006 convention of the American Academy of Religion. There was a panel discussion on getting published; the people in the audience were largely folks who were finishing up their dissertations and wondering how to parlay that achievement into a publishing deal. The panelists were from Doubleday, HarperSanFrancisco, Oxford University Press, Westminster John Knox, and one other press that I forget. In answer to the basic first question, "How do I get published?" the guy from Doubleday said -- and all the others agreed -- "When you come to us, the first thing we'll want to know is what is your platform."

I didn't know what he meant at first, but then it became very clear. "Because of who you are, what your title is, how many people you know, and how many people know you, how are we going to be able to sell your book for you without us doing a damn thing?" In other words, since we as the publishers cannot commit time and energy to your book, you'll be selling it yourself. So, if you want to be a famous author in this environment, concentrate first on being famous; then worry about the secondary writing-a-readable-book nonsense.

Sad but true.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Split decision

I've got to watch it here, because I'm trying to circulate knowledge of this blog through, if nothing else, including it on my email signature. Maybe someone other than Moi will read it. If you're out there, anybody, throw me a bone, willya?

Today's thought comes from a book designer that Moi and I work with: "Lack of planning on your part does not create an emergency on my end." Good thing to remember, but then there's the customer service side of the business which recognizes that things happen. But imagine this.

I heard a few weeks ago from a freelance book packager/editor who used to call me occasionally on behalf of a particular Well-Known Publisher for whom she labored. I say "well-known" not to boast, because it's really nothing to boast about, but if you've looked at my client list, let's just say that the names are not ones that readers in nonacademic fields have heard of.

(Side note: my wife looked at my client list on a little marketing piece I had created recently and said, "Industrial Hydro-Blast?")

So, anyway, now this book packager is an off-site full-time employee of this same publisher, and she emails with a possible job. The publisher has a 2000-page book/manual on psychology that's coming in for proofreading. They have 2 weeks to get it all read and ready. In order to get the work done, they are splitting up the work among 4 different proofreaders, 500 pages per head.

The only way a 2000-page book must be read in 2 weeks is that someone up the line fell down on the job -- author, in-house editor, etc. Certainly no publisher plans for that. And the later you get in the production cycle, the more someone's going to have to step up and bail someone else's butt out of hot water.

Or in this case, four people.

And naturally, I feel that this is an unfortunate maneuver. Splitting up a function like this isn't as bad as splitting up a copyediting job among two or more people, because hopefully all the proofreaders are of a similar skill set and will be catching the same types of errors. Not too many judgment calls at the proofreading stage. But still. And I fear that such a job will be accompanied by style sheets galore. I have discussed in earlier posts my disdain for style sheets.

And imagine yourself as the typesetter, dealing with four sets of handwriting, proofing symbols (standardized, of course, but everyone's got their own quirky way of doing things), and style.

Another curiosity is that the job is being paid by the hour. Would be interesting to see on the back end if there is a wide variety of hours submitted, and also correlating that to quality of work done.

At least it should be interesting, being about psychology. At least it's not theology . . . not that there's anything wrong with that.

Well, dear reader(s), it's time to go to bed. It's almost Wednesday. So far this week, beginning Sunday morning, I slept from 12 noon to 2pm Monday and from 12:30am to 6:30am today. Which means I've gotten 7 hours of sleep in the last 67; is that math right? I'm amazed I'm still at it. I've done an index on St. Francis of Assisi, copyedited most of a book on being a Buff Dad (don't even ask), mowed the lawn, and maybe done one or two other productive things.

Going to Connecticut next week to see our younger son, and thence to Vermont for a few days. I'm trying to line up some work to take, to kill time in airports and also to read while on break, because then we come back and after a day or two go to Chattanooga to watch our older son play the lead in The Man Who Came to Dinner. Neither son has expressed an interest in entering the family business. For that matter, neither did I, but that was when the family business was being a car dealer.

Fading fast.

the dollar

Edward M. Welch, in “The Church Was Right about Capitalism,” noted the problem in a short article in the Jesuit weekly America. He concluded: “One does not get rich by taking money
from the poor. They do not have much money to take. You get wealthy by taking from the middle class. Perhaps taking from the poor is more of a sin, but the problem will never be dealt with until the majority in the middle realize that they too are being victimized.” (Crosby, Finding Francis, Following Christ, Orbis Books, 2008)

Monday, October 15, 2007

A nice word

from a syndicated columnist I work for:

"Thanks. You made a passable idea clumsily executed into a damned good essay. It's a pleasure to have editing like that."

Friday, October 5, 2007

art imitates life

My wife, who suffers through far more of the type of information sharing and complaining that I provide on this blog, works at Barter Theatre, the state theatre of Virginia. The relationship has been mutually beneficial for the theatre and our family. The theatre benefits because she is passionate about, and thus excellent at, what she does for the organization; we benefit not only because we get to see a lot of plays for free or for discounted rates (I am also nominally an employee because of some publishing-related duties I do for them), but because of our association with the people of the theatre, who represent much of our social group, and because of their influence and the example they set for our sons, both of whom are interested in performing.

Having said that, we saw a play earlier this week, and will be seeing it again tomorrow, called Doubting Thomas. It is the world premiere of this piece, with four fine actors and directed by my wife's boss, who is responsible for just about all my favorite plays up there over the last few years.

Why does art imitate life? Because it's a play about theological arguments. Without going into the details (don't want to spoil the show for those of you who might see it over the years), it deals with the conflicts of an about-to-be-married couple, a pastor, and a professor of comparative religions. In other words, the script sounded a lot like much of the reading I do, which gave me an interesting perspective. A little more specifically, if you're familiar with the output of Pilgrim Press (of the United Church of Christ), you'd see a lot of similar themes.

But what a great show, its content overlap with my real life notwithstanding. The show has grown on me since its first viewing, and I am looking forward to the performance tomorrow, when we'll be taking one of my publisher friends from northern Virginia to see it.

Another content note: Dedicated readers of this blog (you know who you are, or is) will remember my ongoing issues of working on books I don't understand. I am proofreading a small book dealing with Christian faith, and call and response, and the author is talking about going to a jazz club in Memphis. He has misspelled the names of Dizzy Gillespie and Wynton Marsalis, and he has gotten wrong the name of a John Coltrane piece. The copyeditor missed them too. I am gleefully correcting these items, with a side note to the managing editor, informing him that I am finally in my element.

The good news, too, is that this managing editor is my pal who sends me most of the impossible jobs that I work on. This one is an easy little proofread. He realizes, I think, that it's time to reward me for the hell I've had to slog through over the last year or so.

Giving props

Just so this blog doesn't seem like a perpetual tale of woe: I'm presently indexing a very interesting book, Preacher of Righteousness by Joshua David Hawley (Yale UP). The topic is the intellectual development of Theodore Roosevelt.

The initial image in the book is of the ferry going to Staten Island the day after TR was born. I'm not sure yet why this image appears, but as a Staten Islander, it made me smile.

(And props to Yale: they voluntarily went up on their indexing rates a few months back. Other publishers, take note.)

Another productivity note: The books I work on that mysteriously float to the top of the stack are those that (a) are interesting, (b) pay well and quickly, and (c) are easy to get off my desk. (a) and (b) certainly influence (c).

Back to work, he said happily.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

style sheets: lord, deliver me

I received a call today from Book Packager A working with Book Packager B, who had sent me a job for copyediting and indexing. Book Packager A ended up farming out the proofreading work to another individual. No problem there.

A asks me if I had developed a style sheet for the book that the proofreader could use. I responded that I follow Chicago 15 and Merriam Webster's 11th Collegiate.

In some cases, copyeditors and/or in-house editors will develop a style sheet for a particular book. A publisher may develop a style manual for the press, or a magazine will do the same. The style sheet indicates decisions made by the editor to indicate particular word usages employed in the editing of that particular book. The purpose is to ensure editorial consistency.

My opinion, shared by many who actually labor in the fields, is that style sheets are often as worthless as, as they say, tits on a bishop (well, maybe in these days and times, such a reference no longer holds true, for many reasons).

Style sheets serve no purpose if all they do is echo other accepted reference works, such as Chicago 15 or MW 11. There is no reason for me to keep a list of word treatments that one can find spelled correctly in a dictionary.

Another thing: when I'm proofreading a book and I receive a style sheet, as often as not, the copyeditor has not followed through on the decisions that he or she (or per) has made, which simply leads to confusion.

After telling Book Packager A in three or four different ways that, indeed, there was no style sheet and explaining why, I began to feel that the call was a waste of my time. I grew less apologetic as each minute passed.

Somewhat exasperated, my caller tried another tack: "What about the medical and scientific terms? Certainly you kept a list of those?"



"I checked the terms that needed checking and ensured they were correct and treated them consistently through the manuscript. That's all I can say. I don't generally keep style sheets for all the reasons I have mentioned."

A lazy person's style sheet, and actually quite a functional one--especially for proper names, foreign words, and words that might be particular to a specific field--can be presented in the form of a custom dictionary created from a spell check. One rather enlightened publisher I work for requires that I submit a custom dictionary with any electronically copyedited manuscript. Custom dictionaries are wonderful for uncovering inconsistencies in spellings.

And style manuals from publishers are also typically losing propositions. As a friend said today, they are often created by a staff editor who feels that "We need a style manual," so everyone puts a lot of effort into it, only to have it slowly grow dated, not followed by working editors, or not supported over the years.

Probably the best style manual to which I have access from a publisher is that of Westminster John Knox, because it's comprehensive, and the in-house editors enforce it.

And a great style manual if you're interested in the Bible or classical works is the Society of Biblical Literature's, which I originally did not care for, but it's grown on me over the years.

But style sheets for individual books that merely duplicate available sources? Unnecessary. Not worth the time. And often not helpful at all.

My two cents.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

city books; Word style sheets

The indexes are done, finally. It's at least four days 'til I have to write the next one. I will enjoy the break.

I spent today reading a Chamber of Commerce book on Fayetteville, NC, the text for which I'd already copyedited. Most of the time when I read one of these books, I want to move to that city. Done right, everywhere seems like paradise. Two exceptions: Springfield, MO, which came across as the US capital of the Aryan Nation, and Fayetteville, NC, which is probably a great place if you want to listen to even more of a daily drumbeat of how, properly used, the US military can save the world, and is actually doing so as we speak. Oh, please.

Tomorrow I begin copyediting The Deed and the Doer in the Bible: David Daube's Gifford Lectures, Volume 1. Naturally, I have no idea who David Daube is, nor what the Gifford lectures are. This publisher usually gets stuff to me in great shape, though. Bad news/good news on this project: They want the copyeditor to prepare the m/s for the typesetter in a big way, which is to say, applying Word's style sheets to the entire document -- and it's about a 400-page manuscript. Also, hundreds of auto-footnotes need to be converted to hard characters -- both in the manuscript and in the notes section. The good news is that this is one of those times I am glad to be paid by the hour.

On Word's style sheets: In the hands of a good copyeditor and a typesetter who knows what s/he is doing, these style sheets can make typesetting a breeze -- saving hours and days on the task. This publisher refers to the style sheets as XML style sheets. I mentioned that one time to a typesetter who said their nomenclature was wrong: that XML style sheets are another thing entirely, which made for about 15 minutes of very confusing conversation. Because of my work with this publisher, though, I've tried to get some other typesetters on board with the Word style sheets, but there's some trick to getting them to import properly into Quark, blah, blah. So not everyone can do it or is willing to take the time to learn. But what do I know?

After getting some other work done, I might actually be facing a night when I can sleep for 6 or 7 consecutive hours. Not that my body will allow this, of course, but it's nice to imagine that it might happen someday.


Wednesday, September 26, 2007

1. an author figures it out. 2. the pronoun "per"

I was speaking today with one of my most favored (and favorite) clients -- a managing editor for a denominational press who sends me an awful lot of work, and some of it is awful indeed.

(Class, take notes: In a publishing house, "managing editor" is the title of the person who keeps me busy -- that is, the person who manages the production process, farming work out to freelancers, among other duties.)

We were discussing, of all things, indexing when I don't have a clue about the topic, which if you've been following the story to date is my present albatross, and it continues. I'm still struggling with the index I mentioned yesterday, with much of today being consumed by yard work, planting ground cover on a hill at the house, a trip to the dentist, and making dinner (untried crockpot recipe). Hoo boy.

Anyway, we were discussing two particular authors in the last few months who had written books that are way over my pedestrian head, but for which the indexing duties fell to me. One author loved my work (and has loved it for each of his books, and each book of his baffles me more than the last). He liked the detail, thought I had covered the topics very nicely. Amazing, given that even some of the chapter titles might as well have been written in Finnish.

The other author thought the index could have been better. While my managing editor reviewed the index and thought it was fine, the author said that I did not seem to have a grasp of the overall concepts of the book, and thus the index did not present those concepts accordingly. Well, damn. Bingo. Amazing that an author gets it right now and then.

He nailed the problem on the head. I do not have an overall understanding of the concepts and the book's central theme(s). I'm the first to admit it, just couldn't find the proper words during my years of bitching and complaining. The author said that perhaps he should have written the index. I couldn't agree more, except that it's the rare author who also knows how to write an index. One day, and perhaps that day has come, a geneticist will determine which gene causes one to be able to compose an index. I suppose it'll be a gene that is also common to people with names like Manson, Gacy, Berkowitz. (Note to self: a subsequent post on bizarro characters who have been proofreaders.)

In this case and in similar cases, a number of options are available. Yes, the author can write it. Or, better yet, the author can compose cross-references (See; See also) that direct his or her readers from the larger concepts to the more specific entries and subentries in the index. Thus the heavy lifting of the entries is provided by a professional indexer, but the conceptual work is done by the author, who obviously (hopefully) has a grasp of the material that goes beyond what is written on the page.

(Another note, class: the index prior to this one was for a book on heterosexism in the world's religions -- actually kind of interesting if you go for that kind of thing. I believe the chapter I'm thinking of was dealing with intersex individuals, that is, those born with physical attributes of both sexes, which happens far more often than one might think. [This is a topic for a different post, if not a different blog entirely.] Anyway, the author used the pronoun "per" as a unisex version of him/her . . . given that "him" or "her" would not have been appropriate. So, if you're writing and you're using "he or she" -- and I really don't mind s/he for those cases -- then "per" might be a good if somewhat unusual approach for the related pronoun. Of course, it would require explaining. Use it in a sentence, class: "Pat retrieved per laptop from the car." Something to think about.)

Do I have to get back to work now? (Yes.) Did it rain today? (Of course not.) My son turns eighteen tomorrow. Is that possible? (No way in hell.)

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Fly time

Still struggling. The indexing kink in my brain seems to be on sabbatical, which sucks with deadlines rushing in. Once this beast is done -- one of those where I don't really understand the material -- at least there are some easy jobs coming up. A Chamber of Commerce proofread, a long copyedit from a typically reliable publisher -- that is, a publisher whose manuscripts are in generally good shape -- and a proofread of a plain dumb novel, which I've already copyedited. And then another index, but at least one that should be interesting: about Teddy Roosevelt.

Adding to my woes, which include the earlier-mentioned lawn-watering regimen, is that it's fly time in SW VA. Every year at this time, the flies come out. Big-ass flies. In one small room in our house a few years ago with a bunch of windows, they were so prevalent that you could hear the hum. (And in this room, as in most others in our house, the windows don't open.) Frightening. But they come for a few weeks, then they go.

But this year they seem to like my office, along with some kind of little blood-sucking gnats. It's tough to type when my hands are flailing to clear out the flies or clapping to kill the vampirebugs, which scares the dogs out of their sleep.

Sleep? I seem to remember the concept. You'd think that not having real restful nighttime hours would translate into the ability to work all night. I wish.

I've thought of trying to train my body to go back to third shift, like when I was 21 years old and working at the printing plant. Wake up at 10:30pm and go to work. Ah, those were the days. I never had more money in my life than when I was making $6.15 an hour (plus 15-20 hours a week of time-and-a-half). Rent was $150 per month (no utilities). Oh, and no spouse and no kids and no pets and no debt.

Third shift wouldn't be so bad . . . actually would be a boon to my productivity.

But it just isn't the best solution. Nor is getting nothing done.

Back to work. Well, after I check to see how many states away the rain is now.

Maybe this blog will get interesting soon. Thanks to my one reader for hanging in there.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

20 cents per mile

"Our achievements have become our atrocities." — Diarmuid O’Murchu, Quantum Theology (Crossroad, 2004)

This quote is apropos of nothing. Just found it among old material.

It's been about two months since I've posted anything, and I'll try to restart the habit. What I'm doing here so far is not talking about what I do for a living, but avoiding what I do for a living.

If I could get paid for the work I avoid, I'd be a rich man . . . well, until I started spending whatever I made, plus a percentage just to keep the stress level high.

The work I'm presently avoiding is an index for what ought to be a relatively simple book, and I'm only about 25 pages from the end of it. It's due tomorrow, and there's probably no more than about 3 hours of work remaining on it. Then a somewhat more difficult index follows it. At least I've already proofread the book, although of course I've largely forgotten the details. The theme has something to do with Christian sacrifice, and feminist approach to same, but it's a scholarly tome. At least I'll have the benefit of a tight deadline (two days) which will keep me motivated. That is the theory anyway.

I waste time by checking the Internet for unnecessaries. I waste time by reading nonessential emails. If I could bring these two addictions under control, my days would be much more productive. Simple enough to do: restrict my email checking to twice per day (say, 10am and 2pm). Read and respond to only the work-related stuff; save the rest of it for when the day's work is done.

Internet s/b on a need-to-see basis. Checking the weather forecast will not bring rain. And rain is important, because now I'm necessarily spending 3 hours a day watering the lawn, because it was just aerated and seeded, and I need to move the sprinklers around. There's no getting an index done when I'm standing up every 15 minutes to do that. I've got a book of devotionals that I need to be copyediting. Maybe that can be my sprinkler-moving diversion, but that's still not helping me get these indexes done on time.

And more travel time coming up in October/November. Good travel, but always throws the rest of the affected month into panic. The cabbie don't make money if the meter ain't running.

Friday, July 27, 2007

The Blind Pig

No, this is not a self-reference, funsters.

It's that even the blind pig (or squirrel) finds an acorn now and then.

I'm actually editing a book now that is well-written and interesting (so far). Trust me, folks, it doesn't happen often. The book is about the rebuilding of New Orleans, and for now that's about all I'll say. I don't want to jinx anything.

But the copyediting brings up an interesting question of when do you forgo the style manual in favor of what seems logical or easier on the reader.

According to Chicago, there should be an s after the possessive form for New Orleans; thus, New Orleans's levees.

This book does not follow Chicago, but rather seems to be more of an APA style (American Psychological Association), which is standard for social science. But APA is silent on apostrophes. So, the tendency is to default to Chicago.

The authors/editors (it's a multiauthor book, and they or the press has done a fine job cleaning it up before it came to me) have not put the apostrophe after New Orleans', or Corps', for that matter.

To me it looks funny, because I spend most of my life in a Chicago world. But do I controvert the apparently intentional decision of the press and the authors to make it look right to me? Or do I leave it alone, under the labor-saving law, not to mention that most readers would think "New Orleans's" would look funny.

I'm coming down on the side of leaving it alone. And this press, in its notes to the copyeditor, seems to take an approach of "if it's logical and consistent, that's OK with us."

This post isn't particularly interesting, but it's a glimpse into the minutiae of the business.

Far more important to me is that a friend of mine who I haven't seen in 20-something years is coming here day after tomorrow . . . and is trying to move here, to Bristol VA, of all places that he could choose from. Not only is this good news for me, but it's good news for Bristol on any number of different accounts.

Well, back to a project that I actually don't mind working on. And how many times have I said that thus far? Let's all keep our collective fingers crossed, although that's hell on typing.


Friday, July 20, 2007

Book Design: Leave It to the Pros

Writers, take note. Treat your word processors like a typewriter with memory. Don't design your manuscripts -- that is, no boxes, no tables, not a bunch of different fonts and colors, not different font sizes, and so on. Not only will all that formatting be for naught when your precious prose gets dumped into some page design program, but, nothing personal, hopefully your strength is in writing and authoring. Just because you have page design tools at your fingertips doesn't make you a book designer, any more than having a piano in your house makes you Mozart.

Here's a comment I received today from a book designer I've worked with. She's speaking here mostly of cover designs, but many of the same feelings apply to a book's insides as well:

I love it when I have a client who says "Wow, this is great!" I seem to go in spurts, I will get huge amounts of positive feedback for a period, and then I'll have several clients who aren't satisfied with my brilliance (IMHO) and insist on tweaking incessantly or seeing more choices. I designed some covers a few months back for a client that I thought were fresh, original, and compelling. Nope, didn't fly. Then, after much struggling with getting something that made everyone happy (author, marketing dept., publisher, distributor, etc) I gave them a cover that was attractive, but to me looked like 100 others already out there. That's the one they chose. The lesson to me was that I can't give my clients design sensibility, I have to design for the design sense they have. Ugh.

I worked years ago for perhaps the most ill-qualified individual in my working career. She'd hired me to edit a scholarly economics journal. A friend of my wife's was a great illustrator, and I convinced my boss to feature his work for two articles per issue: one on the cover, and one that would appear only on the inside. The boss's idea was that the illustrations needed to replicate reality . . . that if we were showing a ship that was to represent imports and exports, then the cargo on the ship had to be shown in direct relation to the actual percentages of US imports and exports. So, if 50 percent of the imports were automobiles and 25 percent were electronics, then the car had to be twice the size of the container clearly marked electronics. This kind of thinking drives creative people crazy . . . well, it drives just about anyone crazy.

Lesson: leave the design stuff to the people who know what they are doing. If you want a book to fulfill your vision for it 100 percent, self-publish it and maintain complete control over the product. If you want to hire pros, give them the latitude they need to do their jobs. That's not to say you shouldn't have input, but realize where your own strengths are and stick with them.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

With copy like this, who needs a blurb writer?

Unedited sentences from a recent book:

"I grew up an eccentric and extremely quiet adorable kid. According to my older siblings, I was simply brilliant."

I'm forty-seven years old. I have an older brother who still is, in his own way, one of my heroes, and certainly about the funniest person I've ever known. We don't communicate much, although in these days of email, we correspond about 100 times more than we did when we were in our 20s and 30s. Not that there has ever been a single solitary problem between us (well, maybe except for that one time he tried to drown me), but let's just say that the Lands would never be mistaken for the Walton family. Not even Bill Walton . . .

But I don't think my brother would ever, even if prompted, use such gushing language about me. And that's fine, but this is only the beginning of the types of prose this author uses in 1st-person references. And in case you're curious, his name does not appear among my "recent work." By the end, I felt like maybe I should have been paying him to work on his book.

Oh, my brother? He's a . . . proofreader. Must have been something in the water on Staten Island in those years. Funny, though. My brother says that where he works, he cannot claim the steepest descent into proofreading. No, that prize would be awarded to a certain gentleman who attended Harvard Business School with our current president. Think how much better we'd be as a nation if George W. Bush were holed up working third-shift somewhere proofreading filings for the SEC.

Something to think about.

Gotta run. More bad prose awaits.

And then an index for a 900-page book. Yow.

Recent Work

Industrial Hydro-Blast Safety Manual (copyedit)
Natural History Guide to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Linzey (copyedit, U Tennessee Press)
Environmentalism, ed. Adelson et al. (proof, Yale)
Gridiron Dementia (substantive edit, Bookwrights)

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Blog in a Nutshell

"But I should not have it thought from what I have said that I am devoted to solitude. . . . Rather, I am like a sick man weary of people, or someone who is tired of the world. What is there to say? I have not led a clerical life, nor have I served in normal pursuits. Ever since I was very young I have been fond of my eccentric ways, and once I had come to make them the source of a livelihood, temporarily I thought, I discovered myself bound for life to the one line of my art, incapable and talentless as I am. I labor without results, am worn of spirit and wrinkled of brow. Now, when autumn is half over, and every morning and each evening brings changes to the scene, I wonder if that is not what is meant by dwelling in unreality. And here too I end my words."

> Matsuo Bashao, from “Prose Poem on the Unreal Dwelling” (1691), translated by Donald Keene

Before the Shoe Falling Comes the Apple . . .

. . . which hasn't fallen far from the tree, apparently.

My 17-year-old son worked with me today. I gave him some of the most mind-numbing work that a proofreader encounters: checking the table of contents, chapter heads, credit lines, author names, and running heads/feet . . . for a 920-page multiauthor book. He kept at it, never got up (like father, like son), never complained, and asked great questions. I'm proud. The kid wants to be an actor (with maybe a secondary career as a rock-and-roll star), and I'm trying to convince him that having some portable freelance skill will help pay the bills wherever he goes, and he might not have to work in restaurants as much as his peers.

(Both Mom and Dad have worked in restaurants. Mom as a babe working as a waitron in a Buckhead/Atlanta barbecue joint made far better money than Dad working as a busboy in a college pizza joint.)

Whether he takes the advice, I don't know. The advice my own father gave me when I was 17 seemed ludicrous to me, but in retrospect makes perfect sense. But had I taken my own father's advice, I wouldn't be where I am today and wouldn't have the family I do. I might still have ended up OK, but everything works out as it's supposed to, more or less, and I'm doin' jes' fine. As I've heard in more than one place, if you had a group of people, and everyone threw their own problems on the table, you'd be grabbing your own back so fast it would make your head spin.

My father's advice: "You want to be an editor? Fine. Go into the army. You're almost blind, so you'll never see combat. You'll end up editing a base newspaper or something. Do that for 20 years, retire when you're 37 with a pension and benefits, then you can do what you want to with the rest of your life."

Really, pretty sound advice, and my father's particular brand of logic. But it was 1977, and I'd been looking forward to being a hippie since I was about 9 years old, and the armed forces would have put the definite crimp in those plans.

And these days, young readers, I'm not sure that having 20/off-the-charts vision is going to keep you from doing anything in our nation's service.

In sum, I got more than I asked for, and there ain't nothin' I need. And my son will actually be paid for his work today, which makes any 17-year-old happy.

When I was his age, I was a volunteer counselor at a day camp for brain-injured children, which isn't bad parenting training. And as a friend-of-a-friend's mother once said, "When I was 17, I was working for a Jew in a gift shop."

How'd we get here? Jeez, I need to get to work before this gets personal.

Nobody's Perfect: The Other Shoe Falls

Readers of this blog will remember, maybe, that a pal and I were being called on the carpet a week or so ago for an error that made it into print. "Carpet" might be a bit severe in this case. Maybe we were called on the washcloth.

From the publisher:

Hi, XX and XX:

The proofreading question came up when I noticed that one of our reviewers had, as reviewers sometimes do, marked mistakes in the unedited ms. The mistake he noted made it all the way to final pages: a sentence ending in a comma (or a word erroneously uppercased), which tends to be the most obvious of typos. Seeing one glitch like [sic] makes one wonder about others, but if it was Bob Land, I'll assume it was a rare mistake. (See below.) Tx. XX

"As the process goes on, constant explanation of what is happening and full communication with the public would be vitally important, Steps toward unity would have to be tested and modeled among the rank-and-file faithful of all the participating denominations, and final decisions would necessarily require approval at these levels too."

Folks, here was my response to my pal upon receipt of the above memo, which my pal also viewed as ludicrous:

1. Every error is glaring when it's pointed out.

2. I appreciate the compliment from him, I guess, but this is hardly a stop-the-presses moment. If this is the worst he can come up with after the, I suspect, literally millions of words that you and I (especially you) have cranked out for him over the years, often delivering on deadlines that most people would refuse, he should keep his freaking mouth shut.

If you are a potential client reading this, please do not take offense. But please also consider an entire body of work done over the years. As I've said, I don't mind being told I'm wrong (really, I don't), but it at least should be a substantive error. I've proofed and indexed dozens of books -- probably representing tens of thousands of pages of work -- for this particular publisher over the last 5 years, and if this is the first I'm hearing, I'm not doing so bad.

A credo I live by is that when someone is trying to justify or explain something or make excuses, listen to the first thing out of their mouths, because you presume you're hearing their best shot, and everything after that is embellishment or backtracking. This is the first feedback I've heard from them, other than that they continue to use me regularly, which is the best feedback I receive.

PS: Don't write me about this kind of error when you're past 30 days on paying invoices. That doesn't help either.

Monday, July 16, 2007

bodily harm

Sitting on one's butt for 18 hours a day working can make a butt really tired. And a mind, too.

But I don't really know the line between the tiredness being physical/mental and the mind just wanting to give up. It's an element of depression in a way.

Even back in college, when I was overwhelmed with the amount I had to do, I would get sleepy, even when I'd had enough rest . . . which makes working impossible, of course.

I'll say these days that I'm too tired to work and have too much work to relax enough to sleep. It's not hard to see where this goes.

Every once in a while, the load gets nerve-wracking, as it is now. I count my blessings daily as a freelancer that the amount of work is too much rather than not enough, because trust me, if I am ever truly caught up and have nothing to do and nothing scheduled, that is the day you do not want to be around me.

So, what was it the saint said, "Lord, give me chastity, but not just yet." Something like that.

I read a Carl Sandburg quote about retirement today that basically said it's fine, as long as it doesn't get in the way of work.

Years of Knowledge Boiled Down

The topics of the books I work on, or even certain words I've never seen before, tend to bunch up. I can go for years and never read a book on a certain topic; then I'll get two or more in a row. Or a word I've never seen shows up in four books in a month. I guess this has something to do with Jung's synchronicity concept, or maybe another one that I've forgotten over the years.

Along these same lines, sort of, there are few new ideas about certain topics, but just different ways to package or present the same information -- and this is why an author should never get bogged down under the idea of "Why should I write a book about that? Someone else has already covered that, and better than I can." Yes, but one particular author might say something in a certain way that resonates with a whole different group of people. And some folks also like reminders and reinforcement. Diet books and investments books offer two examples. Is there anything really new to say? And how many diet/health/exercise books are published every year?

A friend was editing a book for his father-in-law on the book of Revelation. He searched Amazon and found 1000 books written on Revelation and wanted to discourage his father-in-law. I told him not to, because these were only the first 1000 books written on Revelation, and his father-in-law might say something different or differently.

So recently I'm working on two books about football (which is rare but enjoyable for me) and two books about the environment . . . and I've already gotten far afield from my original topic.

But because I am on some particularly sick deadlines this week, I need to cut to the chase here. I'll save you a lot of time and money with the following reminders.

Investing: Buy low, sell high. Invest for value. Spend a lot less than you earn.

Health: Eat right and walk around the block a few times, a few times a week.

The environment: We're screwed. The best thing everyone around the world can do is to grow our own food and share what we don't use with our neighbors. And have our neighbors do the same. Not so ironically, this will also help our financial situation and particularly our health.

Religion: It's all about the questions. There are no answers that will satisfy you, unless you just really want to be satisfied. And if you want to be satisfied in that way, then spend everything you got, sit around and watch TV, and eat whatever crap the big corporations put in front of you.

I feel worse already.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Staying Out of the Author's Way . . . and My Own

A few years ago, I got over the idea that every manuscript I was paid to read needed to sound like I wrote it. That's a good thing, because my writing style was largely stifled after 10 years of editing and composing self-study insurance textbooks.

A fellow editor brought to my attention that I need not feel obligated to alter the beginning of every sentence that starts out "It is," "There is," and so on. Certainly not every sentence should start out that way, but the occasional one is not too troublesome, especially if the end result is more tortuous than how it started out. And this editor had a vested interest in the matter, because as the typesetter who was inputting my changes, I was creating a lot of unnecessary work for him.

Then there's the case of the press that often tells me, "Don't change too much of the author's writing. We know the author writes in a lot of passive tense, but ignore it. He'll just change it back the way he wrote it originally, and besides, most of his audience writes the same way he does, so it's OK by them." Ironically, I receive this instruction on books of literary criticism, from English professors who should know better.

The way I look at it, being sent a job and told not to edit it is like being a farmer and being paid not to plant. If you're still going to pay me the same amount, and I have a choice of producing 100 widgets or 10, what should I choose? What would you choose?

Not all publishers approach books and editing this way. I certainly have some that say, "Change everything you want, and if you have to rewrite, feel free to do so." As a copyeditor, I have contacted publishers to say that a book was uneditable, and that all I could do was rewrite. They were more than happy to have me do so. I don't know how the author reacted, but it's the publisher's book too. The product must reflect their desire for quality (we hope) as much as the author's.

So, am I a better editor now than I was 5 or 10 years ago because I'm letting more of the author come through in the work? I guess it depends on the author. What's important is that I'm flexible enough to realize that each project (author, publisher, etc.) requires a different level of attention.

Recent Work

Horsley, Scribes, Visionaries, and the Politics of Second Temple Judea (index; WJKP); Perry, Drunk, Divorced and Covered in Cat Hair (proof; HCI)

A testament to variety.

Personal health note: 31 "perfect teeth," says the dentist. The 32nd is a wisdom tooth that is at this point more cavity than tooth, abscessed, infected, requiring oral surgery as soon as they can schedule me. i am presently accepting love offerings of industrial-strength narcotics. see elsewhere on this blog for mailing address. confidentiality guaranteed.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Unfamous Quotations 1

Most of the books I work on are suited for an audience of no more than about 1000 people, and for some that number is a lot lower. That's a function of my clients (see below) and the particular field of publishing in which I've found myself. When people want to know more about what I do, I tell them I'm one of the premier Taoist/Jew/atheist editor/indexer/proofreaders in the Christian publishing industry. Which is kind of like being Art Shamsky: the best lefthanded Jewish rightfielder in New York Mets history.

But just because the books are obscure doesn't mean they don't offer some gems once in a while. A while back I began compiling quotes with an eye toward possible future publication. Having given up hope of that, I'll just start posting them here. Chances are that you're not going to run into most of these books at your local Books-a-Million.


Then I found the most influential tool in the decision-making process: lack of choice. — Deanna Harris, “It Hurt Not to Cry,” in Born in Our Hearts, ed. Filis M. Casey and Marisa Catalina Casey (HCI, 2004)

Modern science is unaware that our teeth are the most important of all our organs of thought. — Rudolf Steiner, 1923, in A Modern Art of Education (Steiner Books, 2004)

Friday, July 6, 2007

Nobody's Perfect

It happens sometimes, believe it or not. Proofreaders, editors, indexers make mistakes. Might as well address it now.

I received a call and an email today from a gentleman with whom and for whom I do a lot of work. Between us, I'd say we have 60-some years of editorial experience, and a lot of his is far more impressive than mine.

A book came across our respective desks in the last few months; he did the copyediting and typesetting, and I did the indexing and proofreading. The author proofread it. The in-house editor worked with it before it came to any of us on the production side.

Well, the publishing house is close to printing it, and some typos have been discovered. Of what significance or nature they are, I don't know, but they've "been there from the beginning," in the words of the publisher.

So my pal calls me and asks, "How do you handle this when it happens?" And it has happened before. Believe it or not, when you work on 120 books or so a year, of the 7 million or so words in those books, it's not entirely unlikely that a few might be misspelled or skipped or repeated. If I hear about this kind of error once a year, that's really not too bad. I'm not saying it's pleasant when it happens, but it doesn't happen often.

I responded:

1. "Well, if the invoice wasn't for that much, I'd offer to refund their money." I've done that before, or told someone not to pay an invoice (this was for magazine work some years back), which naturally doesn't fix the error, but it's a good goodwill gesture. In the case of this magazine, the editor was someone I'd worked with for years. He did not pay the invoice, which was OK by me, but he did make me feel better by saying, "It's OK. You still have a fielder's percentage." That was a compliment I'll always remember, and a good comment on this particular magazine editor's grasp on reality.

For you non-baseball-fans, batting averages usually fall in the .200 to .300 range. If you are a .300 hitter over the course of a lifetime, you're probably heading to the Hall of Fame, but still, you are not getting a hit 7 out of ten times you go to the plate. As a fielder, your fielding percentage is probably in the .970 to .990 range, depending on your position, which means that you only make a mistake 10 to 30 times out of 1000 chances. To be told I have a fielder's percentage is very nice indeed.

(Which isn't to say that I get 10 or 30 words wrong out of a 1000; if that's the case, I'm mowing yards for a living. But if there's an error in 10 or 30 books out of 1000 I read, well, if the mistakes are minor, I'm staying in business.)

So, I tell the publisher (who hopefully maintains a sense of humor) that I still have a fielder's percentage.

2. I bring up, especially to my religious publishers, the story that Torah transcriptionists always make one mistake in the calligraphy for a particular letter of the Torah, to indicate that only God is perfect -- that anything of human hands will always have some error. I wish I had kept note in which book I read this statement about the Torah, and which letter is always imprecisely drawn. Perhaps some enlightened reader will let me know.

3. My pal who raised this question -- who is complicit in the error, sort of -- brought up a line I've heard him say before: Auto insurance companies never give you credit for all the telephone poles you missed. They just want to know about the one you hit.

4. Being asked to see the mistake is rarely helpful, unless you can turn it around and blame it on the author or the publisher, which rarely wins you any points anyway. Because, of course, when you see that you've missed an obvious error, all there really is to do is say, "Yup, you're right. That's wrong and I should have caught it." Sometimes, if an error is repeated, it's probably more an issue of miscommunication about style.

Mistakes are made, unfortunately. And as an editor/proofreader/indexer, I want to know about them (most of the time). One particular client asked that I write entries for her indexes in a different way -- she didn't like the way I was handling certain kinds of subentries -- and I've changed the way I work for her, and it's changed the way I write subentries for many of my clients. So that's a case where I've learned from feedback from a publisher.

Sometimes a publisher wants to show an error for reasons more along the line of "Nyah, nyah, you screwed up." I guess the attitude can go both ways. I don't want to hear that any more than I want to return a copyedited or proofread book with a general comment like, "What the hell was wrong with you when you sent this book to me?" When I was proofreading full-time (or permanent part-time, as a second source of income), I'd tell folks I had one of the greatest jobs in the world: for 8 hours a day, I'd tell people where they screwed up, and they loved me for it. That was half the talent of the job -- working well enough with the typesetters where they wanted to fix that 1/64th-of-an-inch spacing error for you without thinking you were just a huge pain in the butt. Well, they might have thought that, but they understood it was my job to point out such problems.

The bottom line: yes, mistakes are made. Yes, no one likes them. Yes, let's hope we can fix them without too much headache or expense. No, it doesn't feel good to know you made an error. Yes, at times like this I'm glad I'm not a brain surgeon or a car mechanic or working on technical manuals for the mining industry. It might not seem like it to the author or publisher, but nothing I do is truly life or death. Doesn't make making a mistake any better, and it doesn't fix the error, but hopefully no one dies as a result. If that ever happens, just let me know when you want your lawn done.

Completing the Unholy Triumvirate: Indexing

For Cajun cooks, the holy trinity is green peppers, onion, and celery . . . the basis of a good roux.

In the world of this freelancer, the (un)holy trinity is editing, proofreading, and indexing . . . the basis of any good mortgage payment.

I've covered the first two; now for a few words (of many to come) on indexing.

When I started indexing, it seemed kind of fun. Like an impressionist or pointillist work, you have a ton of little elements that when sorted or arranged properly create a valuable whole. Some readers may wonder how any task as tedious-seeming as writing an index can be fun. Well, trust me, I wonder how household repairs or building furniture can be fun. I spent eight months in eighth-grade wood shop, and a good day for me was creating sawdust. I eventually constructed a two-shelf bookshelf that listed permanently to port. It would have looked right at home in Pisa.

Computers don't write indexes on their own, any more than they write books on their own. A computer is a tool for writing an index, not a substitute for the human element. I tell authors who want to be "good authors" for a publishing company to treat their computers like typewriters with memory: don't design your manuscripts in Word. For indexing, I treat a Word document like index cards with a sort feature. I index the old-fashioned way; I've just eliminated the index cards.

To index a book, I sit down with the pages next to my computer. I read a little, and compose an entry. I read a little, and compose an entry. There are tricks to entering this information so that it mostly sorts at the end of the task, and then there are tricks to doing subentries. All this was learned via trial and error; there may be better ways to do it. This approach works for me.

As far as I'm concerned, the best indexers I know have never bragged about what software they have. They don't have indexing software.

(My favorite line from Sunset Blvd.: "We didn't need dialogue. We had faces!")

If you're hiring an indexer and within the first 15 minutes of explaining why s/he should be working for you, you hear about their great software, politely say your car just blew up or the extraterrestrials just landed in your kitchen again, and you need to get off the phone.

I'll talk more another time about the great indexing mystery: how to index a book when you don't understand a word of it. Because of my client base (another topic for the future), it happens all the time.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Proofreading 101

Get a copy of Highlights for Children. Go to the page where you are comparing two pictures to find the 18 differences. Keep working at it until you find No. 19. You might be called in for overtime if you can find No. 20.

If you are a freelancer, go to "Goofus and Gallant." Study the character traits of both. This knowledge will come in handy one day.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

One Post Does Not a Blogger Make

So here is the 2nd. Neither, frankly, do two posts a blogger make. I'm not sure what constitutes a real-live blogger. Maybe having someone read it who doesn't already know you. Otherwise, it's more like whipping out your diary from under your bed and showing it to a few close friends. Or breaking out the notebooks of jottings and passing them around. I tossed enough of those 8 years ago to begin a pretty good landfill. And not a moment too soon either. All the teenage warblings of
unrequited love and
line breaks that revealed the
my soul.

Well, I'm glad those days are over. As my heartbeats dwindle and I edge closer to embracing the inevitable senility, I think of "one post does not a blogger make," and about a friend from a while back who wanted to be a published author. It helped that he knew an editor (me) who could help make his prose a bit more readable.

"Blue balls," I think, is the technical publishing industry term for what he had, although the phrase doesn't show up in Merriam-Webster's.* He was so eager to be a published author. No matter that it was essentially a vanity project, a collection of other writings of his, underwritten by a local business. No matter that many of the essays were likely derivative from public-speaking help books. What he ended up with was a little paperback that had his name and picture on the cover. He was a happy man . . .

While it lasted.

A year or so later, he comes to me for editing the second one. His reasoning: he didn't want to die and have "one-book author" on his gravestone.

*Merriam-Webster's note. I was talking to a writers group last year, and during my rant had displayed a copy of Merriam-Webster's 11th Collegiate. Afterward, a woman came up to me, very agitated/proud/indignant, because she wanted to show me what she had found in the very dictionary I was holding. She had managed to navigate her way to the 's' section, and had happened upon the word "shit." The general impression I got from her demeanor was that this was not a "family" type of book. I also gathered that she felt that she was kind of naughty for even reading this word, because certainly nothing she would ever voluntarily read would use that kind of language. I didn't want to point her to even choicer usages of the English language that appear in there. And now I find that "blue balls" doesn't appear. Disappointment.

So, if you don't know me, or don't know anyone who knows me, leave me a comment. Then I can put "blogger" on my tombstone. Or maybe I'll just tattoo it on my eyelids. Subliminal blogging. "Hey, what did that say?"

Monday, July 2, 2007

When the Paid Literate Let You Down

Last week I performed a second-round proof on a book about awe, which incidentally didn't inspire much of it on my part. The first proofreader took it upon him/herself to change all references to Kim Jong-Il to Kim Jong II. Aside from my rage -- that, among other things, such a person potentially gets jobs from this publisher that could be coming to me -- I wondered why a person would change the name of a world leader without at least checking the spelling through any number of available sources. I also wonder how many publishing professionals might actually be slogging through their lives without reading a news article.

I'll admit it: I probably could not reliably name more than five heads of state. (We were once playing the game of seeing if you could write down the names of all 50 states in five minutes, and I forgot Tennessee, which was all of a mile from where I was sitting at the time.) Kim Jong-Il happens to be one of the leaders who I can name, mostly because he is a rather bizarre character. Yes, I want to know more about a world leader who shoots 17 holes-in-one in a typical round of golf. Yes, I want to know more about the man on whose 60th birthday the skies delivered 60 inches of snow in celebration. Hell, even if you watch SouthPark to catch up on current events, you know the poor joker's name is not Kim Jong the Second. My wife reminded me of a former coworker of ours whose wife came home one day talking about this amazing man she had read about: Malcolm the Tenth.

So, if the head of state whose name I'm proofreading is one of the 219 or so with which I am unfamiliar, I am sure as hell not going to change it to something that looks better to me without checking it out first.

Reminds me, too, of a story I heard at an American Academy of Religion convention in 2003. Seems that the final set of a book's page proofs fell into the hands of a proofreader who felt certain that all references to the decade of the 60s needed a little fleshing out, so the proofreader dutifully (and without the necessary oversight) changed 60s to 1960s, not understanding what that would do to the integrity of a book dealing with first-century Christianity. Yes, the book made it into print . . . and perhaps this proofreader has been exiled to labor in Kim Jong II's fields. One can only hope.

Recent Work

July 2
Birnbaum, ed., Take Heart: Catholic Writers on Hope in Our Time (proof, index; Crossroad)
D'Antonio, Voices of the Faithful (proof, index; Crossroad)
Chafin, Ordinary Hero (copyedit; story of Smilin' Sid Hatfield of Matewan, WV)
Korgen, Solidarity Will Change the World (proof, Orbis Books, on Catholic social services)

June 28
Sobrino, No Salvation Outside the Poor: Prophetic-Utopian Essays (copyedit, Orbis)
Cobb, A Christian Natural Theology: Based on the Thought of Alfred North Whitehead (2nd ed.) (index, WJKP)
Ongoing work: America's Greatest Brands, Asheville and Fayetteville coffee-table books

June 25
Copyediting History of Auburn University Football (U. of Alabama Press, through 3rd party)
Copyediting Asheville NC Chamber of Commerce Book (Riverbend Books)
Copyediting columns for 2 syndicated columnists