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, September 16, 2010

A Tense Few Hours

Taking a page from the Tylenol playbook, in which I air the dirty laundry. Sometimes this isn't all fun and games:

I spent the last few days working on a rush-rush job from an author whose PhD dissertation I edited a few years back. Nice person, interesting topic. Author contacted me a week or so ago to edit a book covering generally the same ground as the dissertation.

Without giving too much away, the author has some difficulties with the processing of the written word, and that's not a knock or a snide comment. The author is brilliant, top-notch education, and severely dyslexic. Obviously, writing, editing, revisions, etc., take great effort, and even then a lot gets by.

So mostly what I'm hired to do is to make sure that the manuscript is free of the kinds of errors a person with dyslexia might miss or institute in the composition of the manuscript. Spelling, word order . . . The author is not concerned with the writing itself. Quite the contrary, as I came to find out the hard way.

Still, I'm a copyeditor, and since this book is destined for the kinds of publishers I typically work for, I have a passing idea of the ways such books should read and, for example, be punctuated.

I was about three quarters of the way through the editing, trading some emails with the author, and in one short email the author makes the statement:

Make sure to use your eyes, not just spell check, as i have words in the wrong place, etc.

Nonplussed, that prompted a hasty response from me:

If I was just using spell check, it would have been done three days ago.

Tonight, I've completed the book, spending half an hour on the phone with the author to go over queries because the author can't really deal well with queries and keying in changes in response to them, especially when a clean version of the book is supposed to be going off to an acquiring editor tomorrow. We're talking, and I'm going through the questions, and the author seems quite pleased with some of the inconsistencies I've found. I also mention in passing that I cleaned up some of the grammar, removing unnecessary commas, and generally making for a smoother-flowing read.

We get off the phone, and I guess the author got to thinking. I received the following email (which I've cleaned up, because I don't want to give the impression that I fault the author for misspellings):

hey Bob, how long would it take to reinstitute my short sentences?

I actually fancy myself a stylist when it comes to this, and if they're not incorrect, want them the way I very carefully polished them to sound (however crazy I may be).

I could do this, but would take me tons of time probably.

If the answer is yes, then I'd only want you to do it if you could still get it to me by the am. Otherwise I'll just send it in, and work it out later. but my dyslexia's not so good on the back and forth thing.

In other words, dear friends, "Go back over the last three days of work you've done and strip out any place where you might have brought any higher-level editorial thinking or experience to pesky issues such as sentence structure, grammar, word order . . . because, well, I am quite enamored of my own writing style, and you're not going to change it."

My response follows, which probably could have been worded better, but, hey:

Not sure what you mean. I didn't really change much of your writing, and certainly didn't make short sentences longer. If I did, it was for clarity rather than trying to cramp your style.

Mostly what I did was take some commas out to improve syntax and ease of reading. I don't think (I might be wrong) it changed the style of your prose. As far as whether the original text was correct or incorrect, that's sometimes not quite black-and-white. Commas can be used to allow readers a pause where the grammar might not necessitate it -- and maybe that's what you're thinking about -- but overused the drawbacks for the readers might outweigh the author's desire to see a certain style in print. Even though the book is written as a narrative, we're not dealing with a book where readers would expect to encounter many literary devices. Readers want a smooth read, without speed bumps.

In a few places (probably half a dozen), I changed passive voice to active voice, because I thought the text would be clearer as a result.

Overall, I think you have a very engaging style of writing. For a book of nonfiction on a potentially dry topic (and I think I mentioned this with your dissertation), I find myself caring very much for the people you write about, and that's no easy trick to pull off -- especially with an incredibly jaded reader such as myself, who is often as not just focused on payday.

I've attached the tracked and clean versions of the document. I hope you'll agree that the work done was not counterproductive to your intent in sending it to me. If the ultimate desire is to place it in front of readers (and a blind reviewer or two who first have to pass judgment on it), I'd like to think that I've added value here, and increased the possibility of a positive review, rather than negated it.

Pleasure talking with you on the phone tonight. And remember those author/date citations in the last note.

Thanks.
Bob

Responses, sent over a few emails:

Okay, I'll read. You said on the phone you made some shorter sentences into longer ones. Maybe I misheard. I like my sentence style, and have worked super hard on it, and have strong opinions on it (for myself only). It's a literary thing, for me, as long as it's clean grammatically. Anyway, that's why I asked you to focus on bugs, not style- should have clarified ahead of time. And this will be on a trade [publisher's name here], not pure academic. Anyway, I must send this off right now, and will redo the other things when I can breathe. Sorry if I sound irritated, I'm not. I'm grateful, but wish I was somehow more clear about what the precise thing I needed was. Would have saved a bit of time!
———
My final point is here "ease of reading" is a subjective thing. Lots of great writers, in my book, write in ways that catch you in a particular way, sometimes not so easy. My sentences if you read them out loud have a very particular rhythm to them, and it's very intentional. Intentionally rhythmic, and percussive. Thus sometimes short sentences. Not that you have to like it :)

peace!
———
yea, this will take dozens of hours, really, for me to put back the way I want it, in terms of non error changes you've made. Bob, I asked you for an edit to catch errors: I said type-o's bad spelling, misplaced word, wrong grammar. mistakes. i said it like three times over. you've done all that very well, but you've also done a stylistic edit, which i know you meant well to do, and which we could argue over, but which i did not want, did not ask for, and really cannot have. Its up to me to decide my style, and I like it the way it is.

I need to give this to my editor, who likes my style, tomorrow, and am not sure what I should do. I cannot give it to him with so many stylistic changes, which I worked very very hard to craft. Actually I don't see how i can even do this, as its not clear to me where your edits are stylistic vs,. grammatical.

tell me what to do.

———

From me:

Give me an example of what you consider a stylistic change, and I'll go back through the document and undo 'em all. I didn't make that many changes, and I can probably have it back to you in two hours.

———

Thanks, Bob, both for the willingness to tweak, and for putting up with me. It's been a long day around here.

———

We will see where all this ends up. I can argue my case here, but unpacking this phrase gets down to the root of the issue: "it's not clear to me where your edits are stylistic vs,. grammatical."

Dear readers, in your mind, is this not an admission that part of the writer's style indeed flies in the face of standard grammar? And as copyeditor, am I not tasked with fixing it? And if the publishing house looking at your book happens to be the same university press that puts out the premier style guide in the book publishing industry, might not attention to grammatical conventions be a good idea?

Another thought: even in a late-night follow-up phone conversation, the author talked about the effect of the writing style when the book is read aloud. Practical? A good way to approach the written word when it's not poetry/screenplay/script?

This might be the rare case in which proofreading a manuscript was actually in order.

After all this, the author and I will likely still be on friendly terms. I hope so. Hopefully the author doesn't read blogs.

3 comments:

moi said...

Q: What's the difference between proof reading and copy editing?

A: Depends on the writer's ego . .

czar said...

I forget which baseball player it was, but he was the premier third baseman of his generation. Maybe Brooks Robinson. When asked to assess his own skills he'd say, "I'm a pretty good infielder." Not "I'm an all-star" or "The rest of you guys can kiss my butt."

Then there's Hank Aaron, who, one time when asked what ballplayers he admired, answered, "Well, me, for one."

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