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, indexer, and proofreader. 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.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

five women, one screen, great work

I don't know what the problem is with some graphic designers these days. It's not the ones I know personally, but the ones whose efforts I must endure when working for publishers when it comes time to proofread simple pie charts, bar charts, flow charts, etc.

I'm not going to go through my whole work history, which actually wouldn't take very long, but my second full-time job was proofreading at a small typesetting shop in Atlanta, 1983-84. Mostly they did things like brochures, newspaper/Yellow Pages ads, that kind of stuff. Also, ironically, they produced curriculum for John Knox Press, at the time located in Atlanta; now in Louisville and one of my biggest clients. (I'm not even sure I had a name there. One time I came back from my daily lunch at the Waffle House a block away, walked in the door, and the owner's wife said, "Oh, it's the proofreader." This was in a business that employed ten people.)

Five typesetters worked there -- all women. One was a bit younger than the rest; she was the niece of the woman whose name was on the business, but who no longer owned it, and if I'm not mistaken the typesetter was either the sister or the first cousin of one of the leaders of the Atlanta Rhythm Section. The other four were semi-matronly sorts who would sit there and crank out things like tables and charts with lines and columns and text boxes that aligned just like they were supposed to. Here's the thing: except for the youngest one (who presumably had the perk of being related to the business's founder), they did it without what in those days were known as "preview screens."

Think of it, dear readers. Think of posting to your blog or writing your emails, or creating spreadsheets . . . but you only have your keyboard. No screen. Nothing to look at to verify what you are doing. And no fancy-dancy software to do all the cipherin' for you. These women would figure out the specs (widths of columns, sizes of type, leading), jot 'em down on a piece of note paper, key in all their variables (not to mention the text itself -- no one was sending in Word files in those days either), and hope for the best. And 90 percent of the time, their best was pretty damn good, requiring only minor tweaking after my proofreading to get it right.

These days, with all the software and tools and hard stuff done by some high-dollar programmer out in Silicon Valley, typesetters are lucky if they can center a five-letter word in a two-inch-by-two-inch box. Or, God forbid, center text next to a piece of art. What is up with that?

I guess there are still some people out there who know what they are doing, or who care enough to get it right. The occasional time I have to look at an annual report, the charts look pretty clean. But the textbook and workbook stuff I've been seeing in this millennium looks like crap.

At the other typesetting shops I worked at in Atlanta through the '80s and '90s, the typesetters were craftspeople and perfectionists. They would spend hours fussing with this kind of material getting it just right before it would come to me, and part of the reason they would do so was frankly because I'd rip 'em a new one until it looked just right. And while they sometimes would get exasperated with me, they appreciated my efforts, and I did theirs. They really cared about quality. And we'd bitch at each other and get along great. Hell, at two in the morning you'd better get along great.

I hate to beat a dead horse (maybe that's what this blog should be called), but I wonder if some of the problem is overseas typesetters who aren't getting paid to make it right; they're getting paid (barely) to get it on the page, one way or the other, and quickly.

An unrelated note: A great client of mine develops corporate histories. He told me last week of the time they received an entire manuscript embedded in an Excel document. And this was some executive who was writing it; Excel was the only progam he knew how to operate. Now, I'm sorry. Couldn't some poor sap have opened up a Word document for him and said, "There you go"? And oh, by the way, hit Ctrl S every once in a while, just as you would in Excel. (That's "Save" for you Mac jockeys.)

I speak in front of some author groups whose authors began writing just after Gutenberg finished his gig. I tell them that a computer is nothing but a typewriter with memory. Excel? For a 50,000-word story? How do some people make it through the day?

1 comment:

moi said...

One of my first jobs was as a paste-up artist at a print shop. A year later, the Mac Plus came out and I went running into the hills, flinging my Exacto knives into the trash as I ran, free, free as a bird.