Friday, July 27, 2007
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
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
"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.
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
"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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
unrequited love and
line breaks that revealed the
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
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.
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)
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
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