Pages in the Hands of an Angry Editor

Thanks Nathan Sturgis for the title of this week’s blog, and thanks Jonathan Edwards for the sermon that inspired it.

Let me clarify, however. I’m not angry. I tend to be on a pretty even keel most of the time. Frustration is more the word than anger. Part of it is my own obsessive compulsive desire to get things right. A printed book should not have errors. That’s a given. So forgive me for a little anger when a document gets sent to the printer who then prints a book with blatant errors.

angryI just spent the last week proofreading two books for a publisher. One was printed with such blatant errors that I was hired to do a full proofread quickly so they can do a reprint and send new books to everyone who got the old error-ridden books. Somewhere along the line, someone dropped the ball. The other book was a revision with updated chapters replacing old chapters. Problem is, the new author didn’t take into account any kind of style issues from the old book. While the former book had endnotes in the standard superscripted numbers, the new chapters incorporated the notations within the text. Then there were the capitalization and other stylistic issues (Oxford commas, anyone?). Someone (that would be me) had to go through and make it all consistent.

Don’t get me wrong. I get kind of gleeful when I’m catching and cleaning up errors. I’m thrilled to standardize a book that’s in process. But when a book has been published and went “out there” for all the world to see (with, among other sins, a running header that had only one word from the title instead of the full title) . . . well, that just makes me angry.

Someone should have known better. But then I remember that I’ve had my share of times when I let something slip on by.

So much can go wrong. A Word document or pdf can get lost or corrupted. Changes don’t get saved. Someone picks up the wrong version and then the dominoes just keep falling. A lack of a clean template wreaks havoc  (oh my goodness, I wish everyone knew style tags). Edits get misplaced. A single page change gets forgotten. A change randomly requested by email gets waylaid.

It’s difficult to keep everything straight as files fly back and forth. Even with Dropbox and Google docs, the possibility of error remains high.

And if a busy editor gets the bluelines (the set of pages, in blue ink, sent from the printer to show exactly how the book will look when printed–it’s the last last last chance to make a change, and if you do, it’ll probably cost money) at a time when harried by another deadline, it’s tempting to do a quick scan and send it on its way.

And miss the fact that a word from the title that is supposed to appear on every verso running head is not there.

Arrgh!

It comes down to having a good project management system in place. It comes down to being organized. There are so many steps a manuscript goes through:

  1. The manuscript comes in as a Word doc from the author.
  2. The editor saves a new version and does an edit filled with queries for the author.
  3. The editor and author go back and forth with the electronic document, new versions made and saved each time.
  4. Once the manuscript is the way the author and editor want it, it goes to a copyeditor.
  5. The copyeditor makes a new electronic version and reads for clarity, consistency, correctness, and readability. Style tags are added at this point.
  6. That manuscript goes back and forth with queries to the author and/or the editor, and the copyeditor has to collate those changes (here’s a nice place for Google docs!).
  7. A final clean manuscript goes to the typesetter.checklist
  8. The typesetter flows the manuscript into the designer’s template and creates a pdf.
  9. The pdf goes to the proofreader who marks corrections.
  10. The typesetter makes the corrections, but, not being an editorial person, often notoriously misinterprets the proofreader’s corrections (proofreaders need to be extremely clear!).
  11. The proofreader checks all of the corrections, sends another version of the pdf for corrections still to be made, and this goes back and forth.
  12. The typesetter then creates the final pdf that gets uploaded to the printer.

See how many places things can go wrong?

It comes down to being careful, being organized, being watchful. Even a little obsessive compulsive in order to get it right.

And then, after all that organization and care and watching, the printed book comes out.

And there’s always an error somewhere.

We do our best. That’s all we can do.

6 thoughts on “Pages in the Hands of an Angry Editor

  1. You’re so right. We do our best. And it is very frustrating when somewhere along the process, the wrong file gets saved. I’ve been there. And sadly, I’ve done this with some of my own files while moving them from a flash drive to my computer. Or so I thought. I wound up working off the wrong document, instead of transferring the current document from my flash drive.

  2. Good editing Is a little like good PR-if you do your work well, no one knows you’re there. I have seen plenty of advance reader copies before an editor worked her magic, and I know how very skilled most editors are. Thanks for making the process understandable to a wider audience, Linda.

  3. I sympathize with your frustration… I’m proofreading senior theses as part of my job at the honors college, and it’s shocking how many students go through 4 years of honors education and still don’t know how to use “it’s” correctly.

    Then, when I was taking some theses to the library for digitization, the librarian couldn’t understand what I meant when I said “theses.” Once she did, she repeated my request to her coworker as “thesises.”

    #facepalm

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