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, December 18, 2012

My Stablepan Overfloweth

The photo at the bottom of the previous post notwithstanding, I’ve tried to keep this blog pretty PG-rated, especially if you discount the comments section and the occasional YouTube link. Yet a particular word has been running through my mind lately to describe not just a few recent projects but the whole genres of books of which they are a part. And I’m going to use that word here. These days, if it were the only such word in a script, the production would merit a PG-13.

Along with the word comes one of the dark secrets of this line of work that I’ve not explored in detail:

Some of the books I edit, proofread, or index are pure horseshit.

There. I’ve said it. Now I can talk about it.

I am surprised, frankly, that the horseshit percentage is not greater than it is now. But over time, I’ve come to identify almost from the get-go certain types of books that have this pungent quality.

First, though, we can note that authors who are overly protective of their writing styles are supreme primers of the horseshit pump. Cowering behind such self-assessments of their prose as “literary” and “subtle” delivered in whiny manifestoes to managing editors, these types of authors bully professionals around them into accepting unclear manuscripts under the excuse of “my voice.” Horseshit. These types of authors are generally masking writerly deficiencies and have too big an ego to accept editorial changes. They’ll routinely trumpet their thirty years of experience in a field, not realizing that their editor has the same thirty years of experience trying to make horseshit writing come across a little better, regardless of the field.

Now, I have no problem with authors who have a particular style that works. I’m thinking in particular of a few pieces of agrammatical experimental fiction that, once I surrendered to the sparse writing styles, read just fine. On the other hand, I had an author once say that a few hundred random commas in the manuscript were intended as pauses for when the book is read aloud. (And actually, this book was not horseshit at all, but I’m speaking to nonworking writing styles.) Well, that’s a horseshit excuse, because you’re writing a book that will be read silently, not a script for an audio book.

Overly protective authors, however, are not the only ones who produce books that, regardless of subject matter, go in the General Horseshit classification of the LandonDemand Card Catalog:

1. Books that try to appear scholarly by association.

2. Books in which authors make themselves part of the research.

3. Books that try too hard to tell you what they are all about.

In good academic or homiletical style, I address each in turn.

1. Books that try to appear scholarly by association.

“I have an idea that some Horseshit Theory can be applied to a particular element of the human psyche. Because A affects B, and studies show that B might affect C, and since C relates to my D . . . well, there you go: A to D, thanks to me. Here’s 240 pages over seven chapters detailing serious studies addressing A and C, and at the end of every 20 pages or so, I’m going to ask you, ‘Now, wouldn’t all that serious stuff lead nicely into my own very special brand of horseshit?’ The answer is, ‘We really don’t know, because I’m not bothering to do any hard research myself. I’d rather do a literature survey, and then fancy myself a scholar by piggybacking my own horseshit onto some earlier, legacy horseshit.’”

("Legacy horseshit." I like that.)

Folks, if you have kids in college (I have one in and one just out), keep in mind that some PhDs under whom your little darlings may be studying have received their pedigree by passing off such garbage as scholarship. You’d not believe the horseshit books I read that are slightly massaged PhD dissertations, and I’m not talking about the obscurity of the topic. It’s the lack of quality of the scholarship.

You’d be well within your rights to ask, “Well, you’ve just got a 30-something-year-old horseshit BA degree in English and political science. What do you know?”

Damn good question.

What I know is a good book versus a bad book. That comes from reading more than a hundred books a year for many years, every character, cover to cover, and I can tell horseshit from something meaningful.

Occasionally I look at the institutions that grant authors their degrees. And I’m amazed. You’re better off not knowing.

2. Books in which authors make themselves part of the research.

Good lord, these might be the worst. Let me qualify the following statement by saying that I’m not talking about anthologies or anything like that. I’m talking about one- or two-author books about some subject of presumptive interest to someone other than a dissertation committee or the authors’ moms.

Readers, take note: Anytime you have front matter — preface, foreword, acknowledgments, special note from the author — that totals more than 20 pages, the horseshit sensors should start going off like mad. If, even after lxvi pages of front matter, the author is still referring to herself or himself by about page 50 of the running text, you know that the book’s featuring a healthy amount of horseshit content.

“I have an idea that some Horseshit Theory can be extended to spiritual practice. I tried it on a really good, statistically scientific sample: Me. You’re reading my book, so I know that in your mind, I’m a celebrity. I know My Self to be the ipsissimus of pious and well-meaning generalities, although I’ll play mock humble for my readers. Because I claim that my practices work for me, they are certainly going to work for you. I’ve read some very important books that back me up, and occasionally these folks are friends of mine, and sometimes I’ll recommend whole systems of life that you can start learning about if you buy their books [and ancillary materials for $400].” (Thankfully, the money thing is rare.)

Note two: If you run into an author who claims that only poetry can sufficiently express what’s going on at that point of the text — and you’re about 150 pages into the book — you’d better strap on some protective gear, because you are getting ready to read some horseshit poetry. Prose horseshit is one thing. It really doesn’t get much worse than horseshit poetry.

I’ve mentioned it back in the bowels of this blog, but I once was reading some front matter — and yes, it was on about page xlviii of the front matter, so by that time I already knew I was in trouble on several horseshit fronts — and the author busted out with, “Thanks to Professor SoandSo, who praised my poetry before I named myself Poet” (bold added, but not the capital P). Alzheimer’s will need to be pretty well established before my brain will cleanse itself of that horseshit.

3. Books that try too hard to tell you what they are all about.

Books in this category are not immediate horseshit deliverers in the manner of the categories above, but their presentation drives them into the fetid realm. For this horseshit, I can partially blame in-house editors for not asking the writer to deliver a tighter manuscript.

In a well-organized and well-written book, an author should not have to remind readers every 10 pages of where they’ve been, where they’re going, or what the book is going to do. Some books are so choked with cross-references that I wonder when the actual content appears.

As an indexer, such horseshit occasionally works in my favor, as I refuse to index content that the author repeats throughout a book as reminders for what the book has already discussed. In a recent book, I was able eventually to skip over the first two pages of the final chapters as the author went through the twelve-days-of-Christmas routine for every previous chapter of the book.

Then there’s “which we will discuss in chapter xx” or “which we covered in chapter xx.” Once in a while, such a phrase may be helpful. Repeated too often, it’s filler — that is, horseshit.

Someone had to say it.


Aunty Belle said...

An' some folks is glad ya said it. Amen!

A first rate philosophy prof I'se privileged to know said this (prolly adapted from Aristotle):

"What is essential if one intends to build a chair?"

Students mumble about nails or wood or tools...

"The essential thing is to know what a chair is!"

heh....essential to yore editorship is know Writing from HS.

Merry merry to all the czars.

czar said...

And to you, Aunty, and Aloysius and the rest of the Belle clan.