Sunday, August 16, 2015

Proofreading and copyediting.

I'm in the midst of a fight with a publisher. Rally 'round the flag, boys!

And I don't mean I'm fighting with the fine people who work with me on my books; heaven, no. Most writers of novels do other things to help pay the mortgage while they wait to hit the big James Patterson payday. Many teach, the poor sorry souls. Many others edit books or magazine articles. Still others, like your humble Fred, do a lot of copyediting, as well as some proofreading and fact-checking.

Everyone knows what fact-checking is: It's what newspapers and magazines desperately need but usually fail to do; or they pay money to hire people as blinkered by ideology as the writers, which is just a waste of money. ("'Hmm---'Handguns kill more people annually than every other single cause of death combined.' Sounds good to me!")

But few people outside the industry know the difference between copyediting and proofreading, and it is the cause of my current conflict.


In brief: There are three distinct editorial jobs in standard book publishing---editor, copy editor, and proofreader. The editor is the most creative of the three, usually working with the author to improve structure and development of the book, whether fiction or nonfiction; the editor may correct the written language as he goes, but it is not his real concern. That falls to the copy editor, who corrects spelling and grammar, adjusts the book to the house style (for example, some publishers would never use the generic "he" anymore as I have done in this paragraph), queries inconsistencies or other problems, make suggestions to fix such problems where possible, and essentially functions as the first reader---the man outside the creative process who will approach the book with the eye of the public. The proofreader is the nitty-gritty man, looking at each line and word and letter to fix that spelling and grammar; he doesn't care what the book says as long as it says it properly. (Much more about the process if you're interested at Upwork.)

A publisher whose name I shall not divulge---yet---hired me to proofread an instructional book. What I did not know at the time is that it had not been copyedited. Even a little. It also appeared to have not been edited.

You can get away with this if you have a highly competent writer who is dedicated to turning in a clean, well-organized, well-written manuscript. That would describe the writer of this book... on Bizarro World.

Proofreaders work very hard, often just at staying awake. But there is a reason that copy editors get paid more. Copyediting is much more time-consuming. You can zip over sentences when you're not reading for sense. When you copyedit, you have to make sure each sentence is logical, each paragraph, every page. This is the position I found myself in when I got into the book (under a very tight deadline, I may add).

At first I thought they had sent me an early draft by mistake---but no, they expected it to be proofed as is.

Let me offer an example of the problem on two lines of text:
This is a lnie that can easliy be fixed in teh proofreading stage.
This a required line   is copy editng . Must be dun.  
As you can tell, the writing done on the second line is barely understandable, but is the kind of thing a copy editor can deal with. You query things a lot. If you're getting a whole book of that crap, you cannot call what you have to do proofreading. It would be like taking a crate of parts to your mechanic and asking him to assemble a Buick.

When I complained, I was told that I just had to buckle down, take a deep breath, and proofread as best I could. I explained that it is impossible to proofread something that is so completely bollixed up---proofreading is for minor errors, not major overhauls. I insisted that they pay me the higher copyediting rate. This went on for days, during which time I continued to work on the thing because (A) I am an idiot and (B) I never expected them to hold out on me in the face of reason. After all, they are publishers, with a company that releases hundreds of titles a year; surely they must know the difference between copyediting and proofreading, right?

Finally, reluctantly, seethingly they agreed, with the warning that they would not do me this huge favor again in the future. I agreed, promising that I would look over each job before I agreed to do it and refuse if it was improperly assigned. So we shook hands like professionals (well, over e-mail, but you get the idea) and they continued to assign me work.

Here's the problem: They have not paid me for the book, and this all went down in June. I've been paid for two jobs I did, but about a dozen more have been billed, and of those three were billed more than 60 days ago; five more than 30 days ago. Either they are broke, they are irresponsible, or they have it in for me. I'm sensing the latter.

And this is the kicker: When all the dust settled, the difference between what I asked for on the job and what they wanted to pay was a little over SIXTY DOLLARS. Because they offered a flat fee rather than an hourly wage, I was so underpaid that Bernie Sanders wanted to make me a poster boy.

So, I'm being forced to consider legal action; I hope it doesn't come to it, but for the sake of any other idiots they hire I think they need a lesson. And I guess my lesson for you is: Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be copy editors. Please, please tell them to skip college and go to plumbing school. Yes, sometimes they'll have to deal with real crap rather than metaphorical crap. But they'll be happier and probably be seen as more useful members of society. And while their clients may occasionally try to stiff them, they'll still be clearing more money than your average editor.
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