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.

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.


Wendy said...

Hi Bob! Moi told me to check you out. I once copyedited a couple of chapters of a law textbook. I'd never used track changes before that--and I never will again. You have my admiration.

czar said...

Wendy: Thanks for checking in. When using Track Changes, I always turn off the view so I can't see what's happening. It's impossible, in my mind, to edit accurately with the changes feature on where you can see it.

A freelance editor I know -- actually the one who started me off almost 20 years ago -- wrote me a few weeks back because all the footnotes in her document were screwing up, not renumbering, skipping numbers, numbers no longer matching up. I asked her if the track changes feature was on . . . and that was the problem. She said she'd scratched her head for an hour before writing me, had looked through manuals and such, and no manual anywhere mentioned the effect that tracking changes can have on the auto-numbering footnote function. I'd say the effect is akin to giving a hyper six-year-old a few jiggers of grain alcohol with his Juicy Juice. I'd been through that hell a few times before I figured out what was going on. It's not pretty.

I hope you'll come back, or if you know any other editors, send 'em here. I enjoy the feedback.