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, January 31, 2012

Doubling Down on "The Making of Americans," or Life Imitates Art

Loyal readers will know that I am attempting to read Gertrude Stein's The Making of Americans. Reading two pages per night, that leaves me about another 450 days. I'm up to page 26. Only 900 to go. I should have a little counter.

What comes across my desk today? Nine-hundred-page family history.


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

For GVB and Moi

This song has helped me immensely through today. I think I've listened to it 30 times via the following link. Don't think I've ever made it through a minute watching the video, although I like the one with her playing it in an LA park with Bon Iver, in which you can watch her and a band. Check it out if you're so inclined.

Rough few days, folks. Don't know what's up here lately.
And I don't even like to dance.
Love this, though.

PS: It's not hard to trace the line from there back to the song below. And, yes, if you're keeping score at home, singing in the following video would be Maureen Tucker (lower right), drummer in perhaps (ahem) the most influential rock band in history as well as future Walmart assistant manager, future Tea Party advocate, and future partial inspiration for a Haiku Monday entry:

Monday, January 23, 2012

New Feature (sorta): Quotes Wrap-Up

I used to post the occasional quote I liked from what crossed my work desk. I'm still going to do so, but compile them rather than present them individually — kind of a mix tape from the bunker.

Nothing in particular connects these tidbits, except that they attracted my attention enough at the time to stop what I was doing and write "blog" in the margin.


O’Shaughnessy claims that even ordinary, everyday seeing of a fork, say, involves seeing the fork as a fork, although he notes that Wittgenstein himself may not have been prepared to go that far.
—Jonathan Ellis and Daniel Guevara

Our disease is one of wanting to explain.
—Ludwig Wittgenstein

One successful approach to changing cultural norms is to encourage family planning and delayed marriage through the actions of sympathetic soap opera characters.
—Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer

There is nothing so wise as a circle.
—Rainer Maria Rilke

“But Ed’s quite a talker,” he says. “He can talk a dog off a meat wagon.”
—Tom Dunlop

One person might say, “When I look in your eyes, time stands still,” implying a mesmerizing connection between the two people. Another person might rephrase the message and say, “Your face could stop a clock.”
—Barry Brewster and Eileen Dowse

The U.S. military now has more people in its marching bands than the State Department has in its foreign service.
—Nicholas Kristof

Believe that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Believe that you might be that light for someone else.
—Kobi Yamada

Friday, January 20, 2012

Some Advice for Authors

Four things that do not make you a better author:

1. Roman numerals. I don't think your readers will consider that your book is more worthy or that you are more scholarly if your part and chapter numbers are rendered in letters.

2. Citations in a book that doesn't need them. Don't use your exhaustive library of photocopied articles from scores or hundreds of different sources amassed over the last thirty years to impress your readers. Most of them -- unless you're writing a scholarly/academic volume or in a topic area where such documentation is the norm -- want to understand your thoughts on the subject, not look at the spines on your bookshelf. The point of most books is to educate your audience, not please your peers. [Note: This section updated based on Paisan's insightful comments, in which he brings up a most salient point that I neglected to address in the initial posting.]

3. Heavily formatted manuscripts. In my experience, a direct inverse correlation exists -- 95 percent of the time -- between the quality of your writing and the number of different fonts, colors, images, extra spaces, and instances of centered text present within the file. Very few heavily formatted manuscripts are also well written. When it leaves my desk, not only will your book read differently, but all of the time you've spent formatting it will be for naught. I change everything that's not Times 12-point double-spaced to make it so -- unless you've tried to jam so much text in a table that I have to make it smaller to make sense of it and make it appear on my screen in a usable fashion. Yes, believe it or not, I can make more sense of a manuscript that looks like it came from Microsoft Word as opposed to a nine-year-old playing in Microsoft Paint.

4. Ellipses. When you're quoting from someone else, trust that your readers are smart enough to know that another person's entire thought process did not begin and end with the few words you've cited. Also, don't introduce quotes with ellipses, as if you're building anticipation for the reader. A simple comma works.

Two things that might not make you a better author, but they'll make every editorial or production professional  looking at your work praise you:

1. Leave the design to the designers. Treat your computer like a typewriter with memory, except don't hit the Enter key at the end of every line.

2. Understand that the people working on your book after you are trying to make you look better to your readers. Editors, proofreaders, indexers, designers . . . none of these folks' names appear on the cover of your book. We are not in this for the glory or the royalties or the book tours or being known as published authors. We are not trying to insult you by making changes. Trust me, we'd all love to see perfect manuscripts that don't need a mark on them or any intervention other than putting the book into print. I'd rather be paid the same rate for easier work. Who wouldn't? But if we change something or suggest a change, it's not to gratify ourselves; it's to make your work better. We've done this before, folks. Listen to your editors. This might be the eighth book you've written. Fine. It might be the three hundredth book I've edited, not to mention the next in the thousands of books your publisher has printed. Think about it.

One other note: Pick the appropriate tense and stick with it. Unless you're a really good writer, don't attempt to write a book about past events in the present tense. Very few authors can pull this off successfully in English, although I understand it's easier in German. I just finished an absolutely delightful book in which the author managed to write quite nicely in the historical present tense. It's about as rare as a complete day off.

You can file this advice under "Trying to Turn a Foul Mood into Something Productive." I hope I've succeeded.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

A Not Infrequent Albeit Frightening Thought in the Bunker

What do you do when you have no confidence that authors have the capability to answer your queries or follow through on requests for information, such as completing bibliographic entries correctly or unpacking confusing passages?

I might eventually expand on this point, but for now the question stands on its own.

The issue, though, is a common one.

Monday, January 16, 2012

An Oldie but Goodie: Proofreading and MLK Day

Quick story:

I went to college in Atlanta (and stayed for another 17 years), and my first job out of college was proofreading airline timetables and lottery tickets at a printing plant. In 1981 or 1982, MLK Day was not yet a federal holiday, but Georgia had made it a state holiday. The powers-that-be at the plant considered shutting down the plant and offices for the holiday, but the pressmen and compositors -- a pretty redneck bunch, quite frankly -- didn't exactly like the idea. By any means. 

So, in fairness to the competing cultures at the plant, it was put to a vote: do we give folks a day off for MLK Day or Confederate Memorial Day? Yes, you read that right.

Thus it ended up that this nice Jewish boy from New York City, whose forebears didn't see US shores until the late 19th century, received a day off with pay for Confederate Memorial Day. Democracy in action.

Friday, January 13, 2012

I Love You, Alice B. Toklas, and My Favorite Proofreading Quote

Nope. I never saw the movie I Love You, Alice B. Toklas. This story concerns your humble correspondent and a particular book, beginning back in the days before book reading made the shift in my life from entertainment to commerce.

As an undergraduate, or maybe just after, I liberated a hardback copy of Gertrude Stein’s The Making of Americans from my college library. I don’t think the library or anyone there misses it.

[Blogger confession: I will admit to liberating more than a few books from this library, a couple of small volumes from an Ivy League library in middle New York state almost 36 years ago, and an unknown number of paperbacks and blank cassette tapes from Staten Island Mall back in 1974. That’s about as far as my teenage waywardness went.]

I cannot remember when or why or what I read about The Making of Americans that made me seek it out. The possibility exists that I found it while wandering around the stacks avoiding work . . . something that I am doing even as I type.

This posting isn’t about the book so much, except to say that I’m going to try to commit myself to read it. All 925 oversized pages of it. Here’s an entirely random excerpt from page 7:

Henry Dehning was a grown man and for his day a rich one when his father died away and left them. Truly he had made everything for himself very different; but it is not as a young man making himself rich that we are now to feel him, he is for us an old grown man telling it all over to his children.

And from page 907:

Very many who were being living are not being living have come to be a dead one. Not every one has come to be one being an old one. Not every one has come to be one being almost an old one. Not every one has come to be a dead one. Some have come to be an old one and have come to be a dead one. Some have come to be almost an old one and have come to be a dead one. Some have not come to be a dead one, they are being living. Some have come to be a dead one.
         Some are not believing that any other one can really be only doing the thing that the other one is doing. Some are not believing that some one can be coming to be doing every other thing than anything some other one would naturally be doing then. Some then come to be old ones. Some then come to be almost old ones. Any one then comes to be one who is going to be almost any old one. Any one is one not being a dead one. Any one is one coming to be an old one. Any one is one being a dead one. Any one is one being such a one. Any one is one coming to be almost an old one.

Much of the last few hundred pages reads like the second excerpt, and I could pluck out examples far denser than this. Whether it’s good or readable is almost beside the point. Consider the stamina and thought and attention to detail, however bizarre, that went into composing this piece. I’m thinking that if someone can write it, I can read it. If I received this from a publisher I would have to read it.

I was trying to figure how long I would give myself on the LandonDemand schedule to read this if it came in over the transom: I settled on five days. Then again, if it was done as in the old days — where this text would have been read against a typewritten copy of the original — I might have gone crazy. Cold read, yes. Against a typewritten copy, and one perhaps marked up at that? Gertrude, pass the hash pipe.

Anyway, for Christmas, our younger son wanted books. That’s all he said. So he received a wide range, mostly classics in one genre or another. I also found online — and while it’s his, I’m going to borrow it for a few years (like my college library, he won’t miss it) — a newer paperback edition of The Making of Americans. The hardback, I fear, is buried in the permafrost of the dungeon, and I hope it turns up whenever spring cleaning hits. Yes, Aunty, the dungeon is as it was last year.

This edition includes a wide mixture of reviews, none exactly positive. My favorite reads, “The first stunningly original disaster of modernism.” I live in a NASCAR town; I guess I’m just looking for a reliable wreck.

But the edition I purchased also includes a foreword and an introduction that give the book some context. I’m much more familiar with this type of academic discourse than I am with early-twentieth-century modernist American literature. I’ve read the foreword, which is mostly about the linguistics of the work, and read only the beginning and end of the introduction, because I don’t want to know too much about the book before endeavoring to tackle it. The end of the introduction is really what this posting is all about.

For all my stating that I never read new books for pleasure — and I don’t — why in the world would I want to read what has been referred to as “one of the great unread novels of all time”?

I give you the end of the introduction, which brought a tear to my eye.

The present text is a facsimile reprint of the original edition. Aside from the addition of a table of contents—combining the chapter titles of the 1925 edition with, in brackets, the 1934 abridged version’s headings for sections originally left untitled—the text is identical with the one that Stein and Toklas proofread during the summer of 1925; hence it is literally authoritative. Typographical errors that escaped their attention—and in a text of this complexity there were bound to be a good many—have not been corrected. (A typical typo is “stregnth,” which has been corrected in the quotation from page 165 cited on page xxiii of the introduction.) In addition, there are a number of passages that appear in the manuscript and typescript but not in the printed version. A fully corrected and edited text would be immensely desirable but is not feasible at present. . . . In the meantime, one must proofread while one reads, taking comfort in an observation Stein attributed to Alice Toklas in The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas: “I always say that you cannot tell what a picture really is or what an object really is until you dust it every day and you cannot tell what a book is until you type it or proof-read it. It then does something to you that only reading it can never do” (emphasis added).

My intent is not to proofread my way through this book, dear readers, nor to catch all those things that Stein and Toklas missed. My intent is to pay homage to an incredible effort on a writer's part. I now have the added motivation of giving thanks that someone out there — even a dead one — has enlivened an aspect of my life that has remained unchanged for almost forty years. 

I love you, Alice B. Toklas. And god knows, it ain't for your looks.

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Difference between Copyediting and Proofreading

A publisher I’ve worked with a little bit in the scholarly field has an interesting acquisitions and distribution method that I won’t get into here, but the manuscripts the publisher accepts are often not in great shape. As far as I can tell, the publisher — let’s call it FN Books — agrees to print the book, then sends it out to an editor for whatever is necessary to make the book publishable. That includes formatting the Word document to precise standards, because the Word document is going to serve as the image for the printed volume. I’ve seen some blog postings about this press from the authors’ perspective, and the reports are about 50/50. One of the issues is that some universities won’t consider books that FN Books publishes when assessing professors for promotions, tenure, and so on. It’s not a vanity press, but the business model is unique, and to describe it would give away the company’s identity . . . for those who are familiar with the field. If you’re just dying to know the company, you can email me. I’ve only worked for one author publishing with FN, and I don’t think my experience was that bad  —  mostly because the work was interesting and the author was friendly and entertaining. But I just finished writing an email to the production editor requesting to be taken off of its recommended vendors list.

Two problems:

1. Lot of tire-kicking. I don’t mind some of that from individual authors, but a press that sends me three or four people over a few months with faulty instructions and little knowledge is more trouble than it’s worth. The authors don’t know what they’re looking for, and the back-and-forth is nonproductive for all concerned.

2. The aforementioned faulty instructions. I don’t blame the authors. I blame the press.

The typical query from the author is for a “bid on proofreading a manuscript.” As I’ve said before and I’ll say again, manuscripts are for copyediting, and that’s what most authors have in mind when they say “proofread a manuscript.” The authors want someone to perform quality control: grammar, spelling, sentence structure, consistency. . . . I could rattle off another half-dozen things that authors will say “yes” to if I ask them what exactly they want me to do. I explain that what they want is copyediting.

I told the story a few years ago of a screw-up on my part that led to three hours of midnight panic and a run of semi-hostile phone calls and emails with the author. I point to that as about the only situation I can think of where I actually should have proofread a manuscript. The author is severely dyslexic, but a very good writer, and he wanted not a word or comma changed. I did a standard copyedit. He was looking for the most basic of errors that you’d expect from a seriously dyslexic writer working on a book, and he flipped out when he saw what I did (in retrospect, I didn’t understand the author’s desires. Mea culpa). Hence the emails, the calls, and two hours of me backtracking 95 percent of the changes in the Word document. All’s okay between the author and me now. I hope.

The issue is that FN Books gives its authors the instruction that, to have the book published, someone needs to “proofread the manuscript.” FN then sends the authors off into the ether with a list of recommended editors.

Forthwith, I give you the opening paragraph of a sample chapter that an author sent me a few weeks back, looking for a bid on the work and requesting a sample edit. I feel bad reproducing this excerpt on the blog for fear of embarrassing the author, but I also feel that this text will never be published in the following form. If it is, then shame on everyone concerned.

Strap in, folks.

To begin with Western countries that had a gloomy history with Africa thought approaching the post-colonial continent with cautious but also was tactful, international institution in this case used by the former as a mediator or rather they became an ideal platform for powerful countries to pursue their global agendas. Power always instrumentalised and maintained through discursive practice. A practice that proclaimed the blessings of a new era is globalisation under neo liberal market policies, global governance, and multilateralism and new paradigms were set in thorough out the world using these non-economic base. Some joined some did not others watched but those who joined succumbed to governmentality hence the subjectivity.

After picking my jaw off the dungeon floor, I wrote the author. You can file this correspondence under “Not really wanting the job, so putting in a ridiculous bid for it, knowing that even if the author paid my son’s college tuition for a few years, it probably still wouldn’t be worth the headache” [fledgling editors, take note. And you can use the copy below without crediting me]:

While I’ve worked on a number of academic books about African resources, societies, and economies (mostly through XXX Press; also through YYY and ZZZ), they have all come to me after having been through the usual publishing and in-house editorial channels. That is, the books are basically readable and understandable when they come to me. And most of my work is done for academic publishers, so an academic presentation doesn’t faze me. [UPDATE 2/9/2012: Thanks to an eagle-eyed reader for calling me to task on an error that formerly appeared here.]

The chapter you’ve attached would require an entire rewrite to be comprehensible to an English-speaking (-reading) audience. While I’ve worked on numerous occasions with authors for whom English is not their primary language, usually I can make a pretty good stab at discerning what they’re discussing. I’m afraid that the chapter attached doesn’t lend itself to such easy interpretation. Working on this book would entail not only a complete rewrite, but likely much in the way of author/editor contact.

My bid for the editing would be $40 per manuscript page, and let’s define a standardized manuscript page as 265 words, which includes all notes and bibliographies. I would ask for eight weeks turnaround.

Proofreading would be done at an entirely separate stage -- after the book has been edited and formatted according to LN’s directions. Three dollars per page would be the rate there, but understand that it would involve no rewriting, but only reading for typographical errors.

Formatting: I would do that at the same time as the editing, at no additional charge.

Forty dollars per manuscript page. That’s roughly ten times my base rate for editing. And it still wouldn’t have been enough. Guaranteed. 

The author didn’t blink, and I admire the hell out of that:

Thank you for your reply. Yet I still need to see your quality of editing by obliging to my request as per my email.  When it comes to rewriting, I will not agree to it and my work had been read accepted to by English speaking community before. So if you wish, I can consider you doing my work, but only if I can see your editing first.

Wow. Sounds like the author might not have minded the $40/page bid. Fledgling editors, take note again: When you’re dealing with an author overseas, sometimes it helps that the dollar sucks. 

My response:

I don’t see how the present manuscript can be published without almost an entire rewrite. If that’s not an option, then I’ll have to pass on the job.


Craziness averted. It’s also called setting boundaries. (Homies, is this the most useful LoD post in history, or what?)

Now, would you believe that while this episode was taking place, I received an email from my dear brother, who — wait for the punch line, folks — is a proofreader working a few different jobs in NYC?

[Brief interlude: What the hell was going on in the Land family that it created two proofreaders? Well, Mom was a special ed. teacher, but not until I was twelve years old — and my brother is five years my senior. Dad was a car dealer who came up just shy of finishing college, although he graduated high school at age sixteen with (he claims) the highest IQ or grades or something as of that time at the school (PS 1 on Staten Island, if you’re keeping score at home). The argument for a genetic element to proofreading is rather strong, but I’d rather not know what genes are involved, or what other damage they cause. I can think of a few things.] 

Anyway, this from my brother:

I had to resort to the outstanding website to be able to quote a rate to someone whom a coworker put me in touch with. The potential client, my coworker told me, was named XXX and needed someone to proofread a manuscript.

I called said Mr. XXX, who informed me that he had prepared with 2 coauthors a 130-page manuscript concerning [a semiscientific topic]. He asked me what my rate would be. Resorting to the LOD website, I told Mr XXX that the usual rate for this type of work was $1.50 per page, but since this was a rate charged to large universities I would only charge him $1.25 per page.

Mr. XXX told me to meet him at his place on 40th Street between [two of the tonier East Side avenues]. For some reason I envisioned a five-floor walk-up, a poorly lit one-bedroom apartment, a manuscript given to me off a table in a dinette where there was a Tupperware container full of some awful-smelling food.

Of course, Mr. XXX is Dr. XXX. His office was on the second floor of a condominium near the corner of XXX Avenue. His office was complete with chandeliers and fountains. I sat in this office for about 8 seconds and realized I probably should have charged $2.00 per page; this feeling was reinforced when he told me he needed quick 48-hour turnaround.

Moral of the story: I could never survive on the open proofreading market and must periodically thank Allah that I have two sponsors willing to pay an hourly wage. . . .

From a dropping jaw to a sinking stomach. My brother, bless his heart . . . Shoulda called me first. Then again, I think the last time my brother picked up the phone and called me was in the summer of 1974. We get along great. Always have. (Well, except for the time he tried to drown me.) But he should have charged three or four times what he did.

So, here’s the deal:

As an author, do you want me to make your manuscript read as nicely as possible while keeping your voice? Fix spelling, grammar, sentence structure, stylistic consistency (numbers, titles, and so forth)? Do that kind of stuff at manuscript stage — while it’s still a Word document? Copyediting.

Or would you rather I take your typeset pages and do a final quality-control check on them for design, layout, treatment of heads, footers, contents, chapter titles, and — of course — reading every single character of the book? Proofreading. Naturally, if something looked drastically wrong, I’d query it — but the proofreader’s job is not to rewrite copy nor do the kind of consistency making expected from the copyeditor.

If you’re a publisher, and you don’t know the difference between copyediting and proofreading, or you don’t know how to tell your authors accurately what they need  —  and you seem puzzled when I call wondering about expectations, and you explain that everything has always seemed clear before  —  please forget about me.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Haiku Monday: New Beginnings

[text, image, and photo expunged, but in honor of the blog homies, comments remain.]