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8:25pm on Saturday, 12th December, 2015:

Book Crunch


Yesterday was the deadline for me to look over the copy editors' changes for my up-coming books. Given that together they have well over 1,000 pages, this took considerable effort on my part. I managed to finish by about 6pm, which was cutting it fine but the books are being published in the USA so it was still before the deadline.

For the past two weeks I've had to throw everything into reading the texts. Any changes I disagreed with, I had to argue to be undone in comments. This meant that not only was the physical act of reading so many pages eating my time, but the corrections to "corrections" was really eating my time. I'm glad it's over, but the pressure isn't off because I now have two sets of assignments to mark by the end of next week, some final-year project interim reports, the corrections in a PhD thesis, plus I have six exam papers to write (for modules I haven't even started to teach yet). Oh, and I haven't bought any Christmas cards or presents yet, nor put up any decorations, either. If I were the kind of person to get stressed, the past 4 or 5 weeks would have stressed me. As I'm not, though, I'm merely fed up.

The book is not going to look anything like I envisioned it, mainly for production reasons. I was planning to have two columns per page, with no article going over a page boundary. The books as printed will have one page for each of the columns I had, which in theory should mean that no article should exceed two pages (the two you see when you open the book). As the production has been so rushed, though, I doubt I'm going to see this. It's particularly annoying because I'd cropped some of the articles to make them fit, the format, but if a two-paragraph article could start on one page and finish on another then I wasted my time.

The amount of time I spent on checking copy editors' corrections was much longer than it needed to be because so many copy editors were involved. They had different idiosyncrasies. One changed every occurrence of "OK" to "okay". None of the others did. One changed my use of the singular "they" to alternating male and female pronouns. None of the others did. One made every bullet list begin with "as follows". None of the others did. One broke sentences arbitrarily at conjunctions and started a new sentence with the conjunction. None of the others did. One removed every "in order to" to "to", without even replacing it with "so as to". None of the others did. One changed "different to" to "different than"; the others either didn't notice or changed it to "different from". One changed every "versus" to "versus"; another changed it to "vs.", or, occasionally, "vs.". One changed every "USA" to "US"; another changed every "US" to "United States" (while leaving "UK" and "EU" unaltered). There were several views on how to spell "licence" and "armour". All of them had different ways of dealing with the use of ellipses at the end of a list (this, that, the other, ...), but most often it involed simply removing the three dots and putting an "and" before the last element (which made it look as if the list was exhaustive rather than that it went on for much, much longer — which is what I usually meant by ...).

There were some alarming changes. For example, it's my practice to capitalise the names of academic disciplines to make clear that I mean the discipline rather than the object of study (the difference between "I recommend you take Medicine" and "I recommend you take medicine"). Most copy editors were fine with it. One, however, said he'd read my comments on it in another of the chapters, but stated that he disagreed; he thereupon changed every upper-case version to the lower-case-version in the chapter he was editing. This meant I had to change them all back, and to explain why I was changing them back.

Paragraphs were joined. Paragraphs were split. Recurring special formats were applied four different ways.

Some changes were obeying syntactic rules in the style guide. OK, if the publisher wants to use the Oxford comma, I'm fine with that; I understand how style guides work. On some occasions, though, the syntax changes altered the semantics, with commas habitually put in or removed from before particular words regardless of whether this changed the sentence's meaning or made it hard to read. I had one sentence to deal with that contained the word "that" four times as a result of such automatic changes. For every one I undid, I had to explain why I undid it.

By the end, I was spotting things that I was expecting to have been picked up by the copy editor that hadn't been: missing the dot after "Dr" that seems to be the American spelling convention; not putting a comma outside double quotes inside them; retaining the second "l" in the word "marvelling"; missing an "-ise" to "-ize" conversion; weird font size changes. By pointing out these oversights, I began to feel as if I were some kind of turncoat — changing my own style to fit someone else's format when I'd much rather have preferred they left what I'd done alone; at least then it would have been consistent.

I've no idea how this is going to turn out. With such a crazy-tight deadline, I can't imagine that everything is going to look professional — there are bound to be things done one way in one part and a different way in a different part. I don't know what the front covers of the books are going to look like; I don't know what the back covers are going to look like. I don't know if the diagrams I drew myself are going to be redone professionally or left as they were originally (with the words baked in in a different font and with British English spellings).

Most of all, I don't know how much the books are going to cost in the shops. I'm dreading the possibility of its being priced so high that no-one will buy it.


As I said: fed up.

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