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.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Ain't It the Truth

Muphry's Law


Sharon Rudd said...

Hate when I miss a dyslexic typo like that :)

moi said...

I was just now asked to look at something that a client's ad agency spent three days going over and over. I found this: "The region's top black power shooters will go head-to-head . . ."

So, yeah. Word.

fishy said...

I share Murphry with others?
I thought I had an exclusive affliction.

czar said...

Eggy: Where I used to write textbooks, we would have an official two-day oooh-and-aaah period when a book came in from the printer. No one was allowed to point out anything wrong to the editor, no matter how egregious.

Moi: This wouldn't be happening if Huey Newton were around.

Fishy: I forget the source, but I once heard that a certain character in the Hebrew Torah is always miswritten, to show that nothing human-made can be perfect. I've trotted that excuse out a time or two.

I was discussing this with Moi: one of my publishing clients' divisions does not routinely send books out for professional proofreading. The affliction of embarrassment upon publication might become more of an epidemic.

Aunty Belle said...

Timely post--Have just received a newsletter an' a book to review.Both have mistakes.

Do it seem to y'all that copy editin' ain't bein' done or, is it that the editors is untrained? relyin' on software? Overstretched?

@ Moi--oh thas' ripe.

czar said...

Aunty: I'd say A or B, with a little C thrown in. A lot of old-school knowledge is going down the tubes as technology marches on. Very few true typographers are left, now that everyone thinks they know all about fonts and page design because the tools are at their fingertips. We have a piano in the house; that doesn't make me Keith Jarrett. Nor does a Gatesian spell check make me Daniel Webster.

Back in the old days, we used to have rules. And we paid the price if those rules were broken. In Mrs. O'Donnell's 7th-grade English class, a comma splice in an essay earned a "D." No questions asked. This woman made Aunt Bea look like Kate Moss -- the quintessential school marm. Tough, and a heart of gold.

And this old saw has defenestrated in the digital age: "What costs a nickel to fix on the manuscript costs 50 cents to fix on page proofs and five dollars to fix on the press." When fixing errors becomes easier and is less fraught with peril and ramifications, some motivation for quality control goes away.

I do think some publishers are cutting costs by cutting out quality-control functions like professional copyediting and proofreading -- and leaving it in the hands of authors, for example. That's dangerous. I know if I ever wrote a book (not in this lifetime), I have a few folks that I'd consider lining up to proofread it. None are named czar.

As more and more is brought in-house, especially things like newsletters, people think they can do everything themselves. I told the czarina about a dozen years ago to stop telling me about people who hear what I do and tell her, "If the czar ever needs someone to help him out, people tell me I should be a proofreader." As I've said before on this blog, there's a difference between finding errors in a menu or your church bulletin, and doing this kind of work 362 days a year for your whole damn life (or even just 40 hours a week). So, people are lured into the impression that copyediting and proofreading are things that anyone can do. To me, one of the biggest red flags of any book I read appears in the Acknowledgments: "I'd like to thank my [family member/neighbor/retired teacher] for [editing/proofreading/manuscript review]." That's a guarantee that the book is going to be a holy mess.

As a certain member of this blog neighborhood once pointed out to me in a fit of pique, I don't have a real job. I'm doing the work of undergraduates at third-rate colleges. Sure, anyone can do this gig.

Much of it also comes down to pride in one's product.

I can go on.

moi said...

I had the same kind of English teacher. As a class, we literally SHOOK in our space boots at the thought of ever commiting the high crime of sentence splicing. Because of that and more, I think I can safely say that my generation was perhaps the last literate one graduated from high school. A friend of mine recently got a thank you note from a late-twenties couple who just got married and, no lie, every other word was misspelled. She was so appalled, she had to call me immediately to vent about it.

Any idiot can be a proofreader? WTF?
I started off as a proofreader at a print shop, and I graduated with a degree in Art History. I got the job because, yes, I was literate, but also because I spent four years writing compare and contrast papers for teachers who didn't accept one single mistake in any essay. Sure, I knew my AP styleguide like the back of my hand but most importantly, I could pay attention to detail and pay attention for long periods of time. Still, it was the toughest work I've ever done, and not just because of the rules, but because the human brain does some bizarre stuff when looking at symbols, not the least of which is "filling in" what it knows to be correct, when in fact it is looking at a mistake. Proofreaders are always battling their own minds. The work is taxing, tedious, sometimes rewarding, but it is not easy and certainly NOT for any idiot fresh out of kollitch with an English degree.

And that's just proofreading. Editing? That's not just a craft, that's an art.

As for publishers, that term should be used more loosely today than it actually is. I recently quoted a gal what I thought was a very reasonable price for proofreading her third rendition of her first novel. She doesn't trust the publishing house and I don't blame her. But neither did she have the money to pay me to make sure it looked okay before hitting the shelves. Shame. She's the one who ultimately comes out looking like a dummy.

Yes, language is fluid and yes, rules changes. But to allow the devolution of even the most basic grammar and syntax in the English language is not an act of progression; it's an act of betrayal and disrepsect.

czar said...


What exactly is a "third rendition of a first novel"? Presumably it was the first time it was placed with a publishing house? And this was the first time it was typeset?

And just to disclose: indeed, three weeks after graduating college as an English (and PoliSci) major, I had a taxing and tedious job as a proofreader. Twenty years old. Then again, I was proofreading airline timetables and lottery tickets. Not exactly literature . . . or even words.

The reward was the people I got to hang out with 70 hours a week. One is still one of my dearest friends (Fleur knows him well), and I'm still in contact with others I met through him. And then there was the young married cutie whom I was infatuated with and who I thoroughly embarrassed myself in front of any number of times as a result. (God, I was a pathetic young man.) Then there was the brilliant multilinguist who was the seventh son of a seventh son, and who claimed to be born with three strikes against him: a gay Jew from Mississippi (from Jackson . . . I wonder if Aunty knows the family).

Oh, the tales from that job. It's amazing what kinds of relationships you can build very quickly with people when you're working seven days a week and 11 hours a day with them, sitting in a small room, doing miserable, mind-numbing work.

I remember 1981 or '82. Before the feds did so, Georgia made MLK's birthday an official holiday. The pressmen and compositors were not happy about being given a day off to commemorate the event. So it went up to a vote in the plant: if we're taking a day off, should it be MLK Day or Confederate Memorial Day? Yep, that was the choice -- not that the proofreaders were asked for their opinion. It was all the union guys.

Thus it was that I got a day off with pay (or I worked with holiday pay) for Confederate Memorial Day. Interesting times.

moi said...

I'm not saying that the English-degreed don't make excellent proofreaders. In fact, if I were hiring one, that's the criteria I'd look for first. I'm responding to the member of this blog community who suggested that it's a third rate job, one that can be done by anyone with an English degree, and I'm saying it's more than that :o)

I guess I should have written, the third "proof" of her novel. The publishing house (a small press) ran it through their "editor" and the author still found mistakes. So a friend of hers looked at it for free. Now, she wants a third read-through. I think with the very small presses today, this isn't unusual. A friend of mine likewise just published her first novel and I'm having a hard time reading it, not because of her writing skills, but because of the obvious fact that no one proofread it. When I asked her about it she said, "They don't have the money for a final proofread. That's left up to the author." WTF? Then they have no business publishing anything.

czar said...

I sorta work for one very small press that handles mostly fiction. It appears to be an authors' collective -- an interesting idea. They have their own journal as well.

I say "sorta" because I am not working for the press directly, but somehow they've found out about me, and two authors in the collective have sent me their novels to read this year. I think the word is getting around that a proofreader adds value to a book . . . as does a copyeditor, as does an indexer.

And that's the point that the penny-wise, pound-foolish folks are missing. Editorial services are not simply an expense. They add value. They enhance the readers' experience and help the authors feel proud of their work. Most important, they either encourage further readership from that author or press or, at the very least, don't make readers want to put the book down in spite of what might be very worthwhile and entertaining content.

When it comes to authors proofing, editing, or indexing their own work, I quote the great editorial master, Mr. T: "I pity da fool."

Aunty Belle said...

Gracious, a good review of why editin' services is crucial. Besides value added, good editin' is a mercy an' a charity to folks who read a bazillion books/ papers/ newsletters as part of the research they must do in connection with their work.

To mah mind, both for fiction an' non-fiction, editin' is an art. Thar's folks whose true talent is not writin' but knowing waht IS good writin or how to take decent writin' an' make it sing.

Onc't I had lunch wif' a lady thas' an editor an' whose husband were a famous poet. She tole me that in truth, her husband was a "decent " poet, but that he was a gifted translator. I'd never thought of that, but she said translation is more than word fer word substitution, rather a feeling for the deeper meanings of words in certain contexts. Mah idea here is to note that within "services" thar's many different skills an' talents.

( an' yes, I admit one thang: writin' in Cracker is an easy way to ignore the expectation of correct grammar an' spellin.')

As fer the family in Jackson, the name doan ring no bell, but we did live across the street from a Jewish family--but as a chile' I had no idea what that meant. Their two boys were our friends, their Mama an' Granny were coffee drinkin' buddies.

On atheism as a superstition, I'se entertainin' a Back Porch free-fer-all on the matter. I might do it anyway, but I will commit fer shure if ya' come help keep thangs stirred up---

czar said...

@Aunty: Translations are like indexes. Better to not have one than have a bad one.

I think between us we can stir on atheism, although I'm not sure anything could match your epic culture of death posting.

Only hitch is, for the next 48 days, I'm trying to avoid all unnecessary distractions, and a blog discussion that grabs my interest is exactly the kind of time-suck I'm trying to avoid. If I can also find a way to avoid email, the news, and Haiku Monday, I'd be in good shape.

Aunty Belle said...

48 days? About right, I reckon--I'se preparin' to be gone, then will be gone, then will worrk like a maniac to catch up from bein' gone. Think I'll be up fer air end of Oct. I does respect a workin' man.

Culture of death wuz epic?

An' I will make a jawbone breakin' book review post an order of bidness soon (ish)--ain't fergot it. Can ya guess which book I chose fer a post???

czar said...

@Aunty: Yes, the culture of death posting was epic . . . the original essay and the discussion it generated. Of course, I disagreed with much of the general discourse, but as you say, I respect the work.

Regarding which book you've chosen for the initial salvo: the surprise and pleasure will be all mine, as I've entirely forgotten what I sent you. I do seem to remember, though, including a title or two at which I thought you'd be able to aim your sights.

At this point, I'm like my late mother-in-law when she was in the middle stages of Alzheimer's: every hamburger she ate was the best one she ever had, because she couldn't remember the last one -- which really isn't a bad way to go through life. I'll look forward to your review whenever it comes.

Jenny said...

I have a post up just for you.

for reals.