Tag Archives: proofreading

Writing: The Great Wheel of Publishing

 This wheel is large and ungainly, held together with sweat, tears, slush pile manuscripts, spit, unbought or returned books and elbow grease. It lumbers along, turning ever so slowly, sometimes looking more as if it will tumble over then keep rolling. But roll it does, usually, sometimes losing an author, or a novel, some staff or advertising revenue. It does not turn smoothly but continues until the gap of lost material becomes so big that the wheel must be overhauled.

Such is the case with various publishers along the long road of years. Ten years ago I was trying to get copy editing work with US publishers. This Herculean task met many difficulties. Publishers and the editors in charge are over-busy, always reading and procuring manuscripts and then going through the myriad phases of production. Send a letter and if it isn’t imperative to answer (we want your manuscript, pay our invoice) it never gets answered, not even if you include a SASE and you’re looking for employment. The next stage is to phone and hope you get the right editor in the right department. Should you call and only get their voicemail, presume they won’t return your call. And if you live on the west coast and have a three-hour time difference it will take early hours and a crystal ball to figure out the best time and day to try and catch and editor. Give up on Fridays altogether.

Should you get through these first layers of the publishing house inferno, you will most likely get a copy editing test. Once that’s done you send it back. I did two over two-three years with Tor, where they subsequently lost the test both times. Then said oh well you have to go through St. Martins as they’re our boss. Uh, they didn’t know this beforehand when they gave me the test? And Ace gave me the test; I sent it back and heard nothing. When I queried twice they said, oh we can’t hire Canadians. I didn’t know that when I sent you a test. Great, I’ve had a lot of practice with editing tests.

With Harper Collins, I passed the test. Then they sent me disks because they used a specific computer-based editing system. (This was about ten years ago and I’m not sure Word’s track changes feature was that developed then.) So, I received the disks but then had to buy a new computer because I didn’t have the memory capacity. At that time the guy who was going to train me was on holidays for a month. When he got back, he quit. So they were then trying to find someone else. In that time, they also bought out Avon books.

What ensued was two years of frustration and nary a job out of it. The editor I was dealing with was transferred to a different dept., then let go. Others came and went. I was given various names of people and would call every month. Each time I had to explain the situation who I had talked to, where it had changed, what area of copy editing I specialized in (SF/spec fiction) etc. Each time, it was a different person, a new department, a new system. Two years of calling every month after being told I would be hired as a freelancer and I never got one job out of it. But I had a bigger, better computer.

Over the years I have edited for a few US publishers and Canadian publishers but the sheer frustration of getting New York publishers was enough to stop most people. You really do have to live there. The longest stint I had copy editing with one publisher was three years or so with Byron Preiss book packagers (now gone the way of the dodo). And I got my first job because I was at the World Fantasy Convention standing in the lineup for the hotel. The guy in front told me he had just got a promotion to editor and I said, hey do you need any copy editors. He said send a resume when you get back but before I could he called because he had a rush job. Keith DeCandido gave me my first real break in copy editing. He quit before the company imploded and I had stopped doing work form them before that because getting paid was becoming difficult. He now writes novels. I now think of writing my novel, still copy edit and still write.

Other hurdles in the publishing world are managing editors who ask you to copy edit but don’t clarify by how much. Some publishers (or working on some authors) means that you’re required to only correct typos and punctuation. Copy editing is more than this and includes correcting sentence structure and continuity. It can be structural editing, which looks at the overall structure of chapters, pacing and flow, or very close to proofreading. Over the years I have found most companies who wanted proofreading really wanted more than that.

It’s common for individuals looking for an editor to say they want proofreading when in almost all cases they mean copy editing. It can be confusing for the new writer but just as confusing for the freelance editor. I’ve had publishers cancel a project in the middle (they were moving into movies, but did pay for what I’d ) or wanting a book padded (requiring that one line paragraphs be left in and the worst sentences be reworked but not deleted).

Publishing houses usually have a house style and often a style sheet. If they don’t give me one, I usually ask if they have a house style as it can affect the overall product. I’ve started to see some weird things in some books of late. Tor is an American publisher yet I’ve seen a book or two done with British spellings. In one case it may have been to give it the flavor of an earlier era as it was about a world in the 1800s.

But editing and acquisition of books are just a couple spokes of that great wheel. There is design production, advertising, marketing, distribution, return and paying the employees, artists and authors. Some spokes seem to have more weight, or, if you were looking a wooden wheel, some would be sturdier or decorated, but without all of the spokes the wheel fails. And to carry the analogy to the end the hub of the wheel is the writer and the publisher. Without the writer there is no story to sell. Without the publisher there are still stories but it’s harder to get them out to the public.

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Editing: A Job Interview

This happened some time last year when a job for editing showed up on one of editors’ lists I am on: a publisher looking for freelance content editors. I sent my resume in and got a forwarded email that said sign into an instant messaging group to discuss this. Now this was for book editing and that’s my specialty, been doing it for 15 years. So the managing editor asks if I use story arcs and I ask her to define what she means in terms of editing as people use this term differently. Basically, she means plot, conflict, resolution and flow. Etc. The usual. She says editing is usually between 25-50 hours a manuscript, which is fine; nothing unusual.Then I ask what they pay and she says 10%. O-kay. So I said, could you please break this down for me as I’m not sure what 10% is from and I’ve always worked hourly contracts before. (I mean it could be 10% of cover price and books printed, or sold, or 10% of wholesale.) I don’t know. It’s a simple question.

She then goes on to say that line editing is a waste of time and that if a writer can’t write, then they (the publisher) don’t want the book. I said, I understand, however when I did copy editing it was never for the same repetitive mistakes but sometimes to correct grammar, odd typos, and check for consistency (continuity). After all, we all miss things in our own writing from seeing it too often, and copy editors give a fresh eye to the grammar.

Then she says, “We love our proofreaders. We don’t need proofreaders.” She says this a couple of times, adding they have no work for hire. So I say, I’m sorry, I thought you were looking for content editors.

Through all this she has not yet given me that breakdown of 10% but basically, from what I can tell, the editor gets paid if the book sells. It could be $5 for all I know. I have already said, yes but I’ve worked hourly before so I don’t know how this breaks down. She says, “Hon, I’m not disputing (but she is) and I’ve worked for 5 publishing houses in 7 years.” I didn’t bother to get into the one-upmanship and say I’ve worked for as many if not more in 15 years. Hon? From someone I don’t know? That’s pretty condescending. It’s like she hasn’t read my resume, nor heard what I was saying and was on a personal crusade.

At this point I’m getting angry as she seems to presume I’m talking about proofreading. I’ve already talked about content and have said I’ve done proofreading, copyediting, line as well as structural and stylistic editing. I know the difference. I’m not sure she does. Then she blathers that she’s had 200 responses and needs to make sure she has a content editor (after once saying she had 3000 manuscripts and rejected them all).

I haven’t met this person in person but I’m already getting a sense that her pile is bigger than everyone else’s. And working for her would be a personality conflict waiting to happen. At that point I say, I think I’ll pass on this as I’d like to know I’ll be paid a base rate for what I do. MFG! Does this woman think all publishing is based out of her ebusiness? (Turns out she’s the CEO too.)

Fine, name as many publishing houses as you want, but don’t discount there is more than one way to do things and pay people. She seemed to believe her way of paying was the only way, and indeed it may be for ebooks, but it’s not for other publishers. Having worked for US and Canadian publishers, I know. I have invoices. I’ve been paid an hourly fee on all of them. In a few cases when I freelance I might have charged by the project but usually I charged by the hour.

I think I avoided a very uncomfortable and possibly not lucrative job editing books for peanuts.

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