An American Editor

May 26, 2014

The Proofreader’s Corner: Page Proofs and the Domino Effect

Page Proofs and the Domino Effect

by Louise Harnby

If we want to proofread for publishers, we need to be comfortable with working on page proofs. Good proofreading practice requires us to acknowledge that, for example, changing one word, or moving one line, can have unintended and damaging consequences throughout the rest of the book if we aren’t careful.

What are Page Proofs?

The mainstream publisher will usually require the proofreader to work on page proofs: “Page proofs are so-called because they are laid out as exactly as they will appear in the final printed book. If all has gone well, what the proofreader is looking at will be almost what the reader sees if they were to walk into a bookshop, pull this title off the shelf and browse through the pages. The layout process has been taken care of by a professional typesetter who designs the text in a way that is pleasing to the eye and in accordance with a publisher’s brief” (Harnby, 2014. “Not all proofreading is the same: Part I–Working with page proofs”). In this case, the proofreader does not amend the text directly. She annotates the page proofs.

I work on both hard-copy page and PDF page proofs—it depends on the client’s preference. I’m looking for any final spelling, punctuation, grammatical, and consistency errors that remain in the text. However, I’m also expected to check the appearance of the text. There’s a more comprehensive list of what this entails here. Suffice it to say that every amendment I suggest might have an impact somewhere else. That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t make the amendment; it means, rather, that I need to be mindful of the consequences of my actions—the “domino effect.”

What’s the Domino Effect?

In the UK, proofreaders refer to the indirect consequences of our mark-up as knock-on effects. But let’s stick with the term “domino effect” here because it provides us with the perfect description of what’s at stake.

You line up four dominos: A, B, C, and D. You push over A and it pushes over B. B then knocks over C, which in turn causes D to fall. Domino D’s topple was caused indirectly by Domino A, even though A didn’t touch D. This process can occur on page proofs and can have serious consequences. The changes we make can, if we’re not careful, impact on the text flow, the pagination, the contents list, and the index.

Here’s an example to illustrate the point. Imagine the publisher’s brief tasks the proofreader with attending to orphans and widows (those stranded single lines at the bottom or top of a page). Solutions that involve instructing a typesetter to shuffle a line backward to a previous page, or forward to the next page, in order to avoid the widow/orphan might cause one, or all, of the following problems:

  • The repositioning of a line onto a different page automatically forces a reflow of text. Things look fine for the next six pages, but on the seventh page after the amendment was made, a new orphaned or widowed line has now appeared. The previous arrangement of the text prevented this.
  • Let’s imagine that the seventh page is still widow/orphan-free. But the reflow of text means that this seventh page now contains a line that appeared on the previous page. This line includes a keyword term that is cross-referenced 130 pages later. The cross-reference is now incorrect.
  •  The index is being created simultaneously by a professional indexer. It’s not uncommon for proofreaders to never see the index, nor to spot check it. The line that’s been repositioned on a different page contains an author citation that is included in the index. The indexer doesn’t know what the proofreader’s done, and the proofreader doesn’t know which terms are being included in the index. Neither of them knows that the index entry now has the wrong page number attached to it.

In all three cases, the proofreader has prevented one problem but caused others. Consequently, good practice involves more than blindly placing mark-up instruction on any given page. Thought needs to be given to how the problem can be tackled and the impact managed so that there is no domino effect. Spotting an orphaned or widowed line is not enough. We might also have to consider the following:

  • Providing additional instructions to the typesetter regarding to how to manage the problem by compensating elsewhere on the page (e.g., increasing or reducing line spaces and page depths, new line creation, etc.) so that the impact of moving one line is restricted to the page where the change has been made and its facing recto/verso.
  • Telling the project manager about the suggested line move so that the manager can inform the indexer.
  • Looking out for obvious key words or citations in lines that have been moved to check whether they are cross-referenced in the text (having a PDF, even when working on hard copy, is a must in these circumstances).

Summing Up

If you’re considering training as a proofreader and want to be fit for the purpose of marking up page proofs, check that your course includes a component about domino/knock-on effects. Even when we are supplied with detailed briefs about an ideal layout, the publisher client expects us to be mindful of the consequences of our amendments. The proofreader’s job is to find solutions to problems in ways that don’t cause unintended damage.

Louise Harnby is a professional proofreader and the curator of The Proofreader’s Parlour. Visit her business website at Louise Harnby | Proofreader, follow her on Twitter at @LouiseHarnby, or find her on LinkedIn. She is the author of Business Planning for Editorial Freelancers and Marketing Your Editing & Proofreading Business.

August 11, 2014

The Proofreader’s Corner: Proofreading for Publishers Outside Your Country of Origin—Is There a Market?

Proofreading for Publishers Outside Your
Country of Origin — Is There a Market?

by Louise Harnby

Folk in the editorial community often talk about the increasing internationalism of work opportunities; now that we can edit and proofread onscreen (e.g., in Word or on PDF), and deliver our work electronically (e.g., via email or using ftp sites), where we live in relation to our client no longer matters. Our market is global. Or is it?

Certainly, when it comes to working for students, businesses, and self-publishing authors, geographical location is no longer as limiting a factor as it had been. And if one is a structural editor or copy-editor, the same could be said of working within the mainstream publishing industry. However, if we are talking about proofreading for publishers, we need to be extra cautious before we claim that our market is global.

Why Might Location be an Issue?

Location can be a restricting factor for the proofreader focusing on publisher clients because of the way in which the production process works (page proofs vs. word-processed files), the medium in which those page proofs are presented (paper vs. digital), and the delivery method (post vs. online).

Page Proofs vs. Word-processed Files

Proofreading for publishers and proofreading for other types of client involve, more often than not, different things (see “Not All Proofreading Is the Same: Part I — Working with Page Proofs” and “Not All Proofreading Is the Same: Part II — Working Directly in Word”). Most of the time, proofreaders who work for publishers are dealing with page proofs, not Word files. There is overlap in terms of problems to identify—locating the spelling mistakes, punctuation errors, and grammatical blunders, for example. But with page proofs we are also looking more broadly at how the book works in terms of layout, and we have to be aware of the domino effect that our changes can have on the book’s content (for more information about this, take a look at “The Proofreader’s Corner: Page Proofs and the Domino Effect”).

Paper Page Proofs vs. Digital Page Proofs

Some publishers still require their proofreaders to mark up on paper, even when they provide a PDF for reference. Others have moved to a digital workflow, so the proofs, usually in the form of a PDF, are identical to their paper sister but are annotated onscreen using comment-and-markup tools and/or digital stamps based on proof-correction symbols (see, e.g., “Roundup: PDF Proofreading Stamps” for a link to my proofreading stamps, which are based on the British Standards 5261-2 (2005) proof correction symbols, and some other useful PDF markup resources).

Postal Delivery vs. Online Delivery

This is the crux of the matter. Given that most publishers require proofreaders to work on page proofs, and that some page proofs will still be paper based, delivery to the proofreader (and return of the proofs to the publisher) will sometimes entail snail-mail delivery costs. Because publishers’ margins are tight, and because they want to keep production costs as low as possible, it’s unlikely that, for example, a London-based publisher will be prepared to bear the cost of delivering paper page proofs to a freelancer in Reykjavik. That means that a proofreader who focuses on working for publishers does not have a global market.

The Proofreader’s Real Market

As a proofreader I think of my overall market as being global. I live in the UK. I’ve worked for clients here at home, and in America, Canada, China, The Netherlands, Spain, Denmark, and Sweden. However, my publisher clients are all in the UK. If I wanted to expand my publisher client base to include presses outside the UK, I could do so, but I’d first need to do some careful market research that would identify those who require/accept onscreen proofreading and digital delivery.

That’s where the caution comes in. I can’t just assume that I’m a good match for every publisher in the world whose lists match those of my UK publisher clients. Some publishers still want their proofreading markup done on paper, even though they supply PDFs for reference. And, as all of us know, a key part of developing a sustainable editorial business is the readiness to be able to work in the way our clients want us to work. So if a publisher wants paper markup, and I want to work for that publisher, I have to include paper markup in my service package.

When I was planning my proofreading business, especially my marketing strategy, I needed to consider not only where my clients lived, but also how they worked and what they wanted. I wanted to specialize in proofreading for publishers, but the whole world was not my oyster, not by a long way, because not all publishers want digital markup and electronic delivery, even if all of their copy-editing work is done onscreen.

A United Kingdom Case Study

So, just how prevalent is paper proof markup in the publishing industry? I don’t have a definitive answer to that. The best I can offer is a snapshot of my own experience. Before I present my overview I should tell you that I specialize in working for publishers whose lists are in the social sciences, fiction, and commercial nonfiction. I have no experience of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and medicine) proofreading, and limited experience of the training/education and children’s book market.

I also want to reiterate that I am talking about proofreading, not editing, for publishers, which entails working with typeset page proofs.

Looking at 17 UK-based publishers for whom I regularly work, the requirements are as follows:

  • Paper proof mark up and postal delivery: 8
  • PDF proof markup and digital delivery: 7
  • Word markup and digital delivery: 1
  • Paper or PDF: 1 (it depends on the book)

So, for my client list, paper is not dead. And if my Reykjavik-based doppelganger considered those 17 publishers to be her target clients, the proof-delivery restrictions would render her market 50% smaller than mine, given that I’m based in the UK and she’s based in Iceland.

Plan Ahead — Identify Your Market

Do the planning and market research first. Different clients in different markets will be differently accessible because they have different requirements. Don’t assume that if you live outside China, but are regularly proofreading for students, self-publishing authors, or businesses in China, you can persuade a Chinese publisher to hire your proofreading services. It’s not a given. Even if you are native Chinese, your Mandarin or Cantonese is flawless, and your proofreading skill set is second to none, success will still depend on the publisher’s delivery requirements.

If you want to proofread for publishers, find out what they want and how they work before you invest money in training, expensive style guides, and other resources. For example, if you live Reykjavik and decide that the key to the sustainability of your proofreading business requires tapping the UK publishing industry, but most of your potential clients insist on sending paper proofs, you need to know this before you invest hundreds of pounds in a training course that’s geared towards UK publishing conventions and markup language. If your research tells you that you’re more likely to be successful by tapping US publishers, you’d be better off finding appropriate training and resources that focus on the US publishing market’s requirements.

I’m not advising proofreaders-to-be to ignore international opportunities — far from it. What I am advising is that by planning ahead and doing the market analysis first, you will be able to target your investment and your time more efficiently, and that’s good for your proofreading business. There are opportunities to work for international publishers if you take the time to find them. SAGE Publications’ California office is a good example of a publisher who requires its proofreaders to work onscreen; in contrast, its sister company in London has yet to move fully to onscreen proofreading — it depends on the book title and the preferences of the in-house project manager. If you live in Australia but want to proofread for SAGE, it should be obvious which company to market yourself to first.

Publisher Requirements are Dynamic

Nothing in the publishing industry is static. And while the move to digital workflows for copyediting is well established, proofreaders still have to be prepared to work in several media. In years to come, paper page proofs may be a thing of the past and that will lower geographical boundaries. In 2014, however, the business-savvy proofreader would do well to be aware of both the opportunities and the restrictions that still exist in our so-called global marketplace.

Louise Harnby is a professional proofreader and the curator of The Proofreader’s Parlour. Visit her business website at Louise Harnby | Proofreader, follow her on Twitter at @LouiseHarnby, or find her on LinkedIn. She is the author of Business Planning for Editorial Freelancers and Marketing Your Editing & Proofreading Business.

June 16, 2014

The Proofreader’s Corner: Show Me the Style Sheet!

Show Me the Style Sheet!

by Louise Harnby

Recent posts here on An American Editor (The Proofreader’s Corner: Page Proofs and the Domino Effect) and on my own blog, The Proofreader’s Parlour (Thoughts on Proofreading and the Art of Leaving Well Enough Alone), have addressed some of the trickier aspects of good proofreading practice — issues such as when to leave well enough alone and the damage that can occur when a proofreader doesn’t take account of the consequences of their well-intended markup.

Readers’ responses to both of the above-mentioned articles clearly showed the value proofreaders and copy-editors place on a style sheet that incorporates a clear brief regarding the depth of proofreading intervention required for a given project.

I do so love a style sheet — partly because it helps me make sensible decisions about what to change and what not to change, thereby ensuring my markup is on point; partly because it saves the copy-editor and the in-house project manager the time of having to answer my queries; and partly because it makes good business sense for me. Not having to ask means I don’t spend my own time scratching my head, asking questions and waiting for responses. And that’s good for my business because some of my publisher clients operate on a fixed-fee basis so my hourly rate ends up higher.

I won’t apologize for my selfishness — I’m running a business and I want to do a superb job for my clients in the fewest possible hours. Being able to work productively and efficiently is therefore a core component of my business model.

But My Publisher has a House Style…

Indeed, your publisher client may well have a house style. But we all know that house styles are fluid entities. Preferences change over time depending on who’s employed in-house. Furthermore, even the most fixed house styles sometimes have to bend in order to facilitate good author–publisher relations. That’s why the individual job-based style sheet is crucial — it moves the proofreader away from the mindset of “this particular publisher likes things done like this” to one of “this particular job needs tackling in this way.” In other words, the house style is client-centered whereas the style sheet is project-centered.

When There Isn’t a Style Sheet…

When the proofreader doesn’t know how deep she’s supposed to go, there are risks. Let’s imagine that a set of proofs lands on her desk. There’s no detailed style sheet but her publisher client had previously issued her with a house-style document. House style insists on using “that” (rather than “which”) for restrictive relative clauses. The proofs have lots of instances of the “rule” being broken.

Scenario 1: The proofreader follows house style, since she’s received no instruction not to. She doesn’t know it, but the copy-editor took a gentle touch with this project because of the author’s sensitivities. All the proofreader’s “which/that” markup has to be stetted. She’s overmarked.

Scenario 2: The proofreader takes a “leave well enough alone” approach because, in British English, this “which/that” usage is acceptable (though not always preferred). She doesn’t know it, but even though the copy-editor applied a gentle touch, the publisher project manager is a stickler who wants to override the author’s sensitivities and is happy in the knowledge that the proofreader has the house-style instructions. When the PM sees the marked-up proofs, he’s disappointed with the job because the proofreader has undermarked.

In both scenarios the proofreader is sunk, though there’s a 50–50 chance that it could have gone the other way. In reality, though, there’s a third option for the proofreader: stay alert and query.

Querying is Essential, But…

Querying is good proofreading practice, but it has its drawbacks. It slows the job down. It can be inconvenient for the copy-editor because it relates to an “old” job — as one of my copy-editor colleagues once reminded me, the page proofs I’m working on were probably copy-edited by her two months previously. Queries are an interruption to her current work schedule and to her business practice.

The proofreader may also be anxious about appearing to question the copy-editor’s decisions. Or she may not want to appear to the PM as a proofreader who needs hand-holding. A strong style sheet helps to minimize these problems.

The Really Useful Style Sheet

A standard style sheet will usually include information about the publisher’s/author’s preferences with regard to the likes of compound modifying hyphens, capitalization, spelling style, suffixes, number elision, formatting of contractions, citation style, reference style, use of serial commas, date formats, special characters used, and so on.

The really useful style sheet goes that little bit further — it gives the proofreader the heads-up about the copy-editor’s experience of the project.

Perhaps the author was particularly sensitive and wanted only a light edit; or maybe there’s a style choice that’s been made that is unusual and clashes with the publisher’s standard house style. Now let’s imagine that the author’s seemingly bizarre inconsistency with regard to capitalization of key terms needs to be retained anyway (those of you who’ve worked on philosophy books will know exactly what I mean!). Or even though the publisher is usually really pedantic about using “that” for restrictive relative clauses, the editor has allowed the use of “which” throughout the text because it was felt that extensive changes would damage the author’s voice or interrupt the flow of the argument, and that not amending the text didn’t detract from its clarity. Maybe the author was difficult, maybe the pre-edited files were a mess, maybe a tight schedule led to decisions to overlook certain pedantries. Perhaps the proofreader needs to be alerted to specific problems that absolutely do need attention, and given time and budget would have been attended to by the copy-editor in other circumstances.

The point is that the more the proofreader knows, the better the job she can do — fewer queries, an appropriate level of markup, and less head-scratching are all great outcomes. The last thing we want to do is to frustrate our busy copy-editing and project management colleagues by doing too much or too little because we didn’t know what was going on.

The Land of Forgotten Style Sheets

Interestingly, my discussions with copy-editor colleagues about this issue indicate that many editors do indeed create wonderful style sheets, with lots of juicy information that will be invaluable to the proofreader. So comprehensive are their creations that some editors consider them to be a work of editorial artistry in their own right. It takes time to create a really useful style sheet. What a pity, then, that these don’t always end up in the hands of those who’d really benefit of them. Frankly, I’d be furious if I’d gone to all that trouble, only to find that my hard work had winged its way to the Land of Forgotten Style Sheets!

Where is the Land of Forgotten Style Sheets? I’m not sure. Giving directions is tricky, but previous addresses include a pile of paper on a publisher’s desk, a cluttered email inbox belonging to a busy in-house project manager, and next to a sandwich wrapper in the trash can.

What’s to be done? One simple thing might help. If you’re an editor who makes it your business to provide comprehensive style sheets for those further down the publishing chain, please could you take just a few seconds to make it clear that the proofreader needs to be sent a copy? Sometimes that little nudge is all that’s needed.

We proofreaders need to take responsibility too. We can nudge the project manager about a missing style sheet as soon as the proofs arrive.

There’s good news…

I don’t mean for my description of the Land of Forgotten Style Sheets to be critical of publisher colleagues. My personal experience is actually rather good — I have the pleasure of working for a number of publishers who’ve set up excellent production systems to ensure that the journey from manuscript to published page is a smooth one, and that the appropriate lines of communication between the professionals involved (e.g., author, PM, copy-editor, proofreader, indexer) are in place.

The point is rather that I can understand why the style sheet gets lost in the process. I’ve worked in-house — the editorial production staff have, arguably, some of the busiest and most stressful jobs in the building. Pressures include horrendous schedules, challenging budgets, and the juggling of multiple projects, to name but a few. Instead, this is a call for us to help them out by reminding them of what we need.

Summing up

The style sheet (especially the really useful one) is a little piece of magic in a proofreader’s toolbox. It helps us do a good job that complements the hard work of the author, copy-editor and project manager, and minimizes our need for hand-holding by the in-house project manager. Copy-editors and proofreaders who take a few minutes to check that the style sheets are available, and include all the necessary information, will be investing just a little bit of extra time that will reap huge rewards.

Louise Harnby is a professional proofreader and the curator of The Proofreader’s Parlour. Visit her business website at Louise Harnby | Proofreader, follow her on Twitter at @LouiseHarnby, or find her on LinkedIn. She is the author of Business Planning for Editorial Freelancers and Marketing Your Editing & Proofreading Business.

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