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, October 28, 2008

Taken aback

I never thought much about the physical toll of spending most of my waking hours sitting on my butt editing, indexing, and proofreading.

Until about 24 hours ago.

It's three in the morning. I'm at my wife's office at the theatre because I can often get more done there in the same amount of time. I stand up to get a drink of water . . . and all of a sudden I can't sit down again. My lower back had totally seized up, and movement became impossible.

I do not understand the mechanics of how this kind of thing happens all of a sudden--although the chiropractor today said it is an inevitable result of what I do, and that it hardly happened all of a sudden. But what I mean by "all of a sudden" is without warning, no pain preceding it.

Not that there's sharp pain now. I just can't move. Well, not very well. The first step anywhere is virtually impossible.

But to avoid spending the rest of my life like this, I'm going to have to apply some ergonomic changes to the patent-pending LandonDemand work methods. I might be doing most of my proofreading or copyediting standing at a lectern and swaying back and forth like Al Gore doing the thorazine shuffle. I managed an hour or so ago to stack a bunch of coffee-table books I've worked on to elevate my reading space. I'm going to put a milk crate under the laptop so I can type standing up. Hopefully the printer cord is long enough to still reach the printer.

Class, I'm in a world of hurt, although I just managed to walk around the block with the help of an elephant-headed staff that my younger son bought for $5 at Universal Studios a few years ago on a band trip. Creeping around the neighborhood in the middle of the night in a light snow with an elephant-headed staff in my hand and a flask of Wild Turkey in my pocket in case I collapse in someone's front yard -- just to keep me warm until they wake up to go to work and call 911 or Animal Control. That's exactly what I need in this town: another dinger on the eccentricity scale. As if being a New York Jew book editor who works at home and sends his kids away for schooling and has been a skinhead and a longhair and everything in between in my time here weren't enough.

Well, I'm going to attempt to stand up and proofread some book about process biology. Or maybe try to write a short index, but that would entail sitting down (more; I'm sitting now). Something. But whatever I do, I'm supposed to stand up and walk around every 20 minutes or so. Wonderful. At age 48 I'm going to turn into the Mexican Jumping Czar.

I slept from 5pm to 2am earlier, and at this point I'm not looking forward to the climb back out of the bunker. Back to the chiropractor at 2pm today.

Wish me luck. Unselfinduced immobility is new ground for me.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Fat? Blame Edison and Carrier

From the recent project:

"Ever since the invention of the lightbulb, our days have been lengthened and our nights have been shortened. Add to this artificial heat and abundant food, and our hormones constantly tell us we are in a perpetual summer. Summertime to a caveman meant eat energy-rich food and get fat for the coming winter. The only problem is, if winter never comes, hormone balance is never restored."

Books aren't a bad thing

I spent a little time tonight (too much, given deadlines) looking around at some blogs that have a good bit of partisan political comment. I saw one in particular that was full of rants about the election: words heaped upon words, invective, mean-spirited, ill-informed, BIG PRONOUNCEMENTS about the EVIL of one of the candidates.

I looked at the profile of the blogger. Under books per likes to read, the answer was essentially, "I don't read books, except for Clancy and Grisham." It seems that most of per's viewpoints come from bloggers, youtube, television . . . and it didn't really come across that per spent a lot of time balancing per's viewpoint with others. I daresay that each encounter with information was undertaken with a filter the size of an iron skillet, and one with about as much opacity.

Any visitor to this blog knows that I've got problems with books, in that my life is essentially an ongoing tug-of-war with them. But they do teach me a great deal. I daresay that books are largely responsible for my worldview these days, much more than the TV or the Internet or how I was brought up or what a religious body tells me to think.

And the books I read are generally exhaustively researched. They are not screeds. I'd have a lot more fun if they were. A look at the client list shows a hefty number of university and denominational or theological presses. These are not lightweights who can afford to sully a reputation.

My guess is that the person's whose blog I looked at could look at this list and say that I read the output of a bunch of ivory-tower academics and leftist religious institutions.

But you know what? I'd rather read books that ask a lot of questions than just spout out a lot of dogmatic answers. And while the questions might make people uncomfortable (as they do me sometimes), I've learned a lot in my discomfort . . . and I've had to open my mind to do so.

My wife had a conversation a month or two ago with someone who starting talking politics in a place where it probably shouldn't have been brought up. He went on a mild rant about the candidate whom Tere is supporting and said he'd read a lot about that candidate. When asked to name one book he'd read on the topic he was discussing (and he is a bright individual), he couldn't. Tere suggested to him that when he'd read a book, perhaps his viewpoint would be a little more meaningful. And I couldn't agree more.

If the only books you read are potboiler fiction, and you restrict yourself to the input of people who agree with you, and you enter into every encounter with information as a battle to defend the truths you already hold -- and moreover to insult the millions of people who might not happen to agree with you -- AND YOU DO IT IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS, please don't be proud or public about your lack of intellectual stimulation.

That is, unless you have a book you want to publish. Then by all means, get in touch with me. I'd be happy to read whatever you have to say -- and I'm housebroken enough not to give you a hard time about it.

The long-established LandonDemand corporate credo has been: "I will work for anyone who does not advocate violence against me or my family directly."

But these days, it might be hard to tell the players without a scorecard.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

copyediting and design

Sometimes my publishers will ask me for design input, and I defer by default. I am no designer. Don't ask about fonts, layout, spacing, and so on -- not because I don't have opinions, but I have no training as a designer. I've worked on literally (and depressingly) probably a thousand books or more in my freelance career, and I can tell you what I like or don't like, but I couldn't really tell you why. I can also tell you if pages are laid out consistently, or if your leading or spacing is off by some minuscule amount that most readers would not see, but don't ask me -- except for the basics -- what a page should look like.

Having said that, for a number of my publishers, part of my job as a copyeditor is to give the designer instructions on how to lay out a book. This is done typically through Word style sheets or a series of codes. Examples:

PN (part number)
PT (part title)
PST (part subtitle)
CN (chapter number)
CT (chapter title)
CST (chapter subtitle)
1 (1-level head)
2 (2-level head)
3 (3-level head)
4 (4-level head)
BL (bulleted list)
NL (numbered list)
UL (unnumbered list)
2C (two-column text)
FM (front matter)
BM (back matter)
BIB (bibliography)
PE (prose extract)
VE (verse extract)
BOX (I'll leave this one to you)

Such codes are highlighted, placed in square brackets or angle brackets . . . whatever will catch the designer's attention so that per can search for the codes and apply the proper typographical attributes to that section of text. Whatever is not coded is presumed to be body text.

One publisher in particular has a list of codes that goes way beyond this and gets down to specific characters, such as for an apostrophe at the beginning of a word (for an elided character) that if left uncoded would appear as a single opening quote.

Where am I going with all this? Because of this coding function, the copyeditor becomes a de facto designer -- not in terms of fonts and spacing and the overall look of the book -- but how certain text is to be treated.

For example, paragraphs that begin with numbers: should they be treated as numbered lists, or just as paragraphs that begin with numbers? What about chapter-ending questions in a book of curriculum? Should the header for that list of questions be treated as a 1-level head, or have some different typographical treatment? Should some copy that doesn't apply directly to the running text be treated as a box or as a prose extract (PE)? Should heads for front matter be treated as chapter titles?

These are not life-or-death decisions. Ultimately a page designer is going to work with the in-house editor to determine what looks best. But the first pass at book design is often made by the copyeditor, especially when a publisher does not simply work off a series of templates for all of its books. Even then, deciding what code to apply to a given portion of text can be a conundrum.

This message brought to you by the Editors-Trying-to-Avoid-Real-Work Committee at the Land on Demand Intergalactic Corporate HQ.


I think people are losing sight of what acronyms are all about. In an email I received a day or two ago, a sentence started, "For your FYI . . ." I am hoping this was just an oversight.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Gates of hell

Regular reader(s) of this space know that I am often swimming in arcane material. Typically scholarly, directed to very small and academic audiences.

Today I've been proofreading what I guess would be considered a technical manual. Without getting too specific, because as usual I'm totally out of my league, it's essentially an instructional book for teaching some aspect of administering a particular Microsoft system. I could give the title of the book -- which would probably explain it enough -- but I don't want to get in trouble.

I want to relay here one sentence from the book, not to give an idea of its difficulty, because really it has been a pretty simple and straightforward job, but for another reason that I will explain after the sentence:

At the Exchange Management Shell prompt, type New-Mailbox -UserPrincipalName 'test.user@StudentXX.com' -Alias 'test.user' -Database 'StudentXX-A\Fourth Storage Group\Third Mailbox Database' -Name 'Test User' -OrganizationalUnit 'StudentXX.com/Accounting' -FirstName 'Test' -LastName 'User' -DisplayName 'Test User' --ResetPasswordOnNextLogon $true and press Enter.

You know what? If you can get that character-for-character correct within the first three tries (and I'm not sure I did, and I'm damn sure not going to check it), you'd make a helluva proofreader.

FYI: The whole book didn't read like this. Only the exciting parts.

Time to walk the puppies.

Naming names

Back before this freelance thing took over my life, I used to write and edit textbooks for a living. Mind-numbingly boring textbooks for life and health insurance home office bureaucrats. Wonderful company, incredible people to work with, and mind-numbingly boring textbooks.

But with plenty of examples. You know, "XXX is buying 20-year term life insurance from his agent YYY."

In addition to trying to be politically correct and making sure that every culture and gender possibility were represented among the names you'd use in these examples, occasionally you could manufacture a little fun and slide in the name of a friend or relative on the sly. A shout out, as it would be called these days.

I'm proofreading a book now, an aspect of which will be the subject of a post later tonight if I finish the book and am still awake -- in that order -- and it includes one of the great example names I've ever come across. Whoever wrote the book must be a golf fan, because there's a Daly followed by a Tiger, but that is kid stuff compared to this masterwork:

Juan Ton

I laugh every time I read it.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

spoke too soon; self-publishing 2: the platform

Looks like November's going to be another month of indexes. How long, o lord, how long?


"Platform" is a hot word in publishing these days. If you're trying to go the traditional royalty publishing route -- that is, where someone actually pays you to publish your book, up front and then with mailbox money (royalties) -- the publisher will want to know what your platform is. This is code for "How many books are you going to sell just because of who you are?"

Tom Clancy
Shaquille O'Neal
Pat Robertson
Sarah Palin
Tom Wolfe
Zig Ziglar
Alan Keyes

have platforms, of varying sizes.

Bob Land

has no platform whatsoever.

So who's going to get the book deal?

Royalty publishers are not going to spend a dime marketing your book if you're not bringing a crowd with you. It's like going for a loan. They'll give you one if you don't need it. Or that's how it used to be anyway.

And that's one of the hidden secrets of royalty publishing. It's the author's responsibility to sell the book. As it is with self-publishing.

I worked for years with an author on an essentially unpublishable volume. Why it was unpublishable is of no concern. But I told the author that if indeed some publisher picked it up, they would ask the author to do radio interviews, festivals, book signings, etc., to market the book. The author's response? "I wouldn't do any of that." Well, suit yourself, because that's what it takes, unless you have your own gift shop that tour buses bring people to on a daily basis. And even that's no guarantee.

Shameless promotion is the key to selling just about anything, especially in the times to come. If you want people to part with their money, you'd better give them a good reason for doing so. This blog is a form of shameless promotion, in case you hadn't noticed.

Great story I heard from a self-publishing author who is very persistent at being at festivals every weekend selling his books (and there are a lot of festivals in this part of the country). He said that people love meeting the author and leaving with a signed book. Love it. They'll buy the book even if they don't care what's inside of it or how good it may or may not be.

He was working a festival and a bus full of Japanese tourists let out right in front of the author signing table. They couldn't get enough of him. He said each person bought three or four books, and he happily signed them all. Most probably couldn't even read the language, but here was the author and the books. Local color and all that. So, he sold about 100 to 150 books at the full cover price of probably in the $15 range. Do the math. Not a bad way to spend an afternoon. Compare that with 2-8 percent of the wholesale price of the books you're going to sell in a bookstore if you can manage to publish with a royalty press, and presuming they can even place your book in a bookstore, the shelf space at which is very expensive real estate.

So, if you don't have a platform, you'd better have a yen, so to speak, for creating one, because writing the book might be the easy part of the equation. But once you've written and sold enough of that first one, you are building your platform. And if you build enough of one, and you want the prestige that comes with having a recognizable imprint on the spine of your book, you can go to a royalty publisher and say, "Lookee here. I've sold three thousand of these sitting in a folding chair watching the leaves change. You want a piece of that?"

And don't double-space after periods.

Monday, October 20, 2008

my ignorance

and that of most of my fellow citizens . . . there are dots showing up on the Clustr map in places I didn't even know existed. When did they put land masses there? I'd love to hear from you folks from around the world, even if you don't know what you're reading. As I explained to one of my clients today, if understanding what I was reading was a prerequisite for getting work, I'd be largely unemployable with my current client base.

Sign in and post something. I don't care what language it is. Moi is carrying too much of the readers' load here.

I see activity from the NYC area. Brother, is that you?

nice quote from a recent project

"In recent years the government has claimed more privacy for its actions but has provided the citizenry with less. That trend leads to a dictatorship."

Self-Publishing: 1 of many to come

I'm not sure why I'm writing this now. I'm actually experiencing a burst of energy here a little after midnight and should be applying myself to getting books off my desk, but. . . .

I'm going to take up the subject of self-publishing in small chunks. So much to say.

It used to be that self-publishing was the last refuge of the unpublishable author. No more. My favorite story about self-publishing (formerly known as vanity publishing) is that Vantage Books, which runs a regular ad in the New Yorker and probably has for decades, was in the 1960s a CIA front operation. What better way to find out what crazies are thinking than to publish the books they are paying their own money to publish that no other publisher would touch?

These days, self-publishing has been made quite easy because of technological advances, such as print on demand. You don't have to have five thousand copies of your unsold book deteriorating in your garage anymore. Also, given that royalty houses expect authors to market their own books anyway, especially if you don't have a platform (note to self: future blog entry on platforms), why not publish the book yourself and get back some money -- like 40 percent or more of the cover price as opposed to a percentage of a percentage of the wholesale value minus returns, etc.? If any royalty publishers happen to be reading this blog, feel free to argue with me on this point.

There are so many ways to go with this, but let me step on my primary soapbox: If you are self-publishing, it doesn't mean that your book has to look like crap, and many self-published books do. The key is to find proper vendors, just like the big companies do, and put out a proper product that you won't be ashamed of in two years time. Ideally, your self-published product can look and feel as good as the best of the best. Like anything else, it's a matter of time, effort, and money.

Sure, you can put out a book quick and easy and dirty and cheap. And you'll get exactly that kind of product.

If you are self-publishing--and yes, this comment is as self-serving as it sounds--make sure that it is still professionally edited and proofread and indexed, if an index is necessary; the other two functions absolutely are. Make sure you have someone good design the inside pages in a proper book design program, and pay to have a good cover design created. Work with a printer (or have your book designer work with one) and use good paper and good cover stock.

Will all this drive up your costs? Yes. Will all this give you an infinitely better product? Yes.

I've seen so many locally self-published books that are obviously the output of someone who didn't know what to do or who to go to. Don't double-space after periods. Don't design your book while you're writing it. These types of books end up looking like fifth-grade class projects. Is that what you're hoping for?

Some people--I've worked with them--just want to die with "author" on their tombstone, and these days, it's easier and easier to accomplish just that. But once you're composting, what type of book are you leaving behind? People aren't going to be reading your tombstone.

Back to work.

Friday, October 17, 2008

return to a real world

Just returned from a week out of the bunker. Traveling with Tere, Mitchell, and Harry in Connecticut, New Hampshire, and New York -- a couple of nights on the island of my birth, some time in NYC, a little visiting with my brother (also a proofreader) and sister-in-law, and a long day coming back home today.

A few non-work-related observations: New England is lovely when you can pick and choose which seasons you spend there. Having no inclination toward winter sports, lost my enjoyment long ago of very cold weather, and an absence of desire to spend multiple thousands of dollars on heating oil each winter, SW Virginia suits me just fine. But spending time seeing lakes that are not the creation of the Tennessee Valley Authority is a nice change.

If you are within 250 miles of New York City and have a free night, go to the Music Box Theater on 45th Street and see August: Osage County. Good Lord, there's hardly anything better than incredible live theatre. And this is as good as it gets.

Keeping up via email with the LandonDemand intergalactic empire, some issues are being raised about proofreading of manuscripts: my standard line is that manuscripts are copyedited and page proofs are proofread. Different functions, different tasks.

Some indexes are coming in that don't appear to be the kind that will have me dialing the suicide hotline.

Payments are picking up a little. Nice.

I've maintained for 20-plus years that a bad economy is good for freelancers. I think what will be important for me going forward is reminding companies of my availability. I exchanged some emails with a formerly very good client that I've not heard from so much lately; I used to do dozens of books for them each year, but this year have done only three. I wrote to make sure I'd done nothing to cause offense, and was told that work was being sent to those freelancers who told the publisher that they were available. Not that I've been lacking for work, but I like working for these folks very much and would rather have a lot of their work on my schedule than some of the other things through which I've been slogging. So, to the extent I need to market at all, it's more a matter of keeping good clients active than breaking new ground.

I'm working now with two or three self-publishing authors, and while sometimes there's a little more hand-holding than I like, my impression of self-publishing is a whole lot better than it used to be, and I should probably devote some blog entries to that topic.

Financial markets, election tensions, and so on . . . I used to be a newshound. These days, silence is a more and more attractive alternative. I'm tiring of hearing the same things day after day, and little is more tiresome than the sound of my own voice.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Russia, too

My people! Let's go. Represent.

See the dude to the left? The same blood runs in our veins. His name's Lazar Moiseyevich Kaganovich. Trust me, you wouldn't want to have messed with him. As Yogi Berra is reported to have said, "You could look it up."

I'm a lot nicer. Hell, someone posing behind the name "The Troll" posted on a friend's blog tonight (bitetheapple64.blogspot.com) that I am a homosexual Jimmy Stewart. (His post has since been deleted.) What in god's name that was supposed to mean, I have no idea. I guess my wife might have something to say about it. Or my two kids. I think he didn't like my politics, and it had something to do with a "What Leading Man Are You?" quiz.

But anyway, this is supposed to be a blog about the world of editing. So how am I going to tie this randomness together? Yale University Press, one of my clients, has been running a series of books on twentieth-century Russian history, mining recently released archives. One of the books is the no-doubt bestselling Kaganovich-Stalin correspondence of 1931-37 (I think I've got the dates right). Comrade Stalin apparently used to give Cousin Lazar a hard time about his inability to grasp certain points of grammar. Maybe my brother and I got our proofreading chops from the Leibowitz side of the family.

And one more thing on Stalin -- an update on his famous quote: The Internet tolerates anything written on it (for reference, see "a homosexual Jimmy Stewart").

Sunday, October 5, 2008

I want Alaska

Come on. Now that some random South American has checked in, it's time to reach north. Let's go, Alaska. Fire one up and check in here. It's cold up there. Y'all got plenty of time to read. First Alaskan to read this blog and get in touch with me via email gets 10 percent off their next proofreading or copyediting job. I'm not giving anything away on indexes.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Ebony and ivory

It's 2 am and I should be working or asleep. The combination of the two can be dangerous. More than once while indexing I have fallen asleep with my finger on the back delete key, wiping out precious blocks of work. Live and don't learn.

Anyway, today's topic is capitalization. Chicago Manual of Style and most other guides instruct the writer/editor to lowercase "black" and "white" when referring to race. Fine. Couldn't agree more.

But I was working on a book of curriculum instruction today that uniformly uppercased Black and lowercased white.

Now, I have nothing against black people overall. I probably have a far less favorable impression of white people, just because I know so many more of them. (As Linus said, "I love humanity. It's people I can't stand.")

Class, when writing a book that addresses most of its content to the mistreatment of minorities in the United States -- perfectly obvious and true -- please don't uppercase Black and lowercase white. To me that editorial decision creates an undercurrent of race bias that undercuts the thesis.

Any disagreement?

I believe the twin blessings of Nepenthe and the god of Hypnos have finally visited. Signing out.