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.

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.