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.

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.


moi said...

There is another person in this process you failed to mention and that person is the editor. I realize that with many presses today, books start and end with the author and then jump straight to the copy editor, skipping the editing process entirely. Correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems more and more copy editors today are also doing what editors used to do.

As a copy editor, I want a good editor; as a writer, I want a good copy editor. I'm not precious about my words, not at all, and if you can help me make them better, terrific. I'll take those lessons to heart instead of having a hissy fit.

czar said...


Most of the presses I work for couldn't entrust the heavy lifting to the copyeditor because of the nature of the subject material. However, those few presses I work for that produce work of a more general nature let me know up front if the book requires a substantive edit -- and the rate is adjusted accordingly.

But your bottom line is spot-on. Anytime a link in the quality-control chain is left out, we all suffer. And the acquisitions editors start that whole ball rolling.

Fleurdeleo said...

That's really interesting! Especially as I am now editing my Spanish friend's second novel. She wants to write in English, so many things have to be adjusted. She paid me $50 for the first book and $100 for the second! It will probably end up having taken me 10 full hours to accomplish this, plus 5 more hours sitting down and reviewing things with her. But she's a very good writer and it's very entertaining to read the the English expressions that she peppers her sentences with--usually in incorrect word order.

czar said...

Great. So one of my longest-term friends in the world and my brother are in an unspoken conspiracy to provide dirt-cheap editing rates in one of the world's most expensive cities -- and an international publishing hub, to boot.

Remind me, if I ever win the lottery, all y'all's gonna get is a postcard. Unless I take a flight up to NYC and slap some folks upside the head.

Does anyone out there listen to me? Hello??


Fleurdeleo said...

Lol! You must understand that I told my friend I would help her FOR FREE! She insisted on paying me $50 for her short book and $100 for her long book.

Once I take a class and get a book that tells you what kind of exact squiggly marks a real proofreader and copyeditor make, I will add this service to my consulting skills (along with conference planning and "international business communication, aka English tutoring.) Don't worry! I will charge a LOT of money in keeping with the worthiness and dignity of your chosen profession, Csar.

czar said...


After a flurry (so to speak) of 'Tones-related emails today, I am inspired to offer the following: unlike the Bavarian Illuminati, we editors (the nonsmarmy ones) keep no secrets:


Your explanation that this was originally offered for free [pro bono editing, I suppose] makes more sense. Also, your friend appears to have set a pattern in which she will offer you double the compensation for each of her labors of love. I would encourage her to write many books.

I have just entered into a bartering arrangement with a person here in which I will exchange editing that person's novels for, well, what that person does. I am trying to ignore the fact that I have to do for three hours what it takes that person one hour to make.

Moi? You still out there? I shoulda been a plumber?

czar said...

PS: I would rather enjoy reading a Fleur-edited volume. Are you adding touches of Fleuriana amid the word shuffling?