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.

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.