Friday, September 11, 2009

The Freelance Copyediting Process

Hi there! Pit bull owner here. Unfortunately, I'm not a drug dealer, gang member, or antisocial thug... unfortunately for you, anyway, because otherwise this description of my job might be a little more interesting!

No, the cold, hard truth is that I heart love grammar.

My experience is with textbooks, specifically middle school and high school literature textbooks. But I've also been on a copyediting team for a technology RFP (a work proposal for the state), and I've done a bit of history, social studies, and psychology textbook copyediting as well.

Sometimes I work on hard copy (paper) and sometimes I work on PDFs or Word documents. It just depends on the job.

This stack of paper below is a grade 9 test handbook; it is what teachers use to give tests at the end of each unit in the textbook. It also has an answer key and a skills chart (that the teacher can review to see what state skills the students are learning).

I usually work on my dining table, or on the living room couch. Byrd built me a huge desk where I can spread the papers out, but then he took over half of it!

Here are the supplies I use to copyedit: a mechanical pencil (or a colored pen), an eraser, a ton of small sticky notes, some "sticky finger" wax, and page flags. The page flags are cut from the small sticky notes.

Here's the copyediting in high gear. I've split up the pages so I can check cross references--that is, references to other pages in the book. I also have to check the answer key and the skills chart for each question.

I'm checking for grammatical errors, typos, incorrect answers, style inconsistencies, and pretty much anything that doesn't work or make sense. I mark and correct most of the little issues directly on the page. I put queries--questions for the editors, usually about issues I can't resolve because they are too big for a quick fix--on sticky notes on the page.

Any page with any sort of mark or query must have a page flag, so the editor knows the page has been "touched."

This particular document was supposed to be "mostly clean"--that is, it wasn't supposed to have a whole lot of problems. But you can see from the page flags that "clean" is a subjective term!
Here are some other important supplies: a big bag of pecans and a tray of cinnamon rolls. Other staples include Coke, Oreos, chips or popcorn, apples, cheese and crackers, and anything else I can stuff in my mouth with one hand while writing and turning pages with the other.
Of course, it's important to have a laptop or computer on hand. Not only do I use an online dictionary/thesaurus, the online Chicago Manual of Style, and research sources for fact checking, I also listen to J-pop (Japanese pop music) on Web radio while I work.

Why J-pop, you ask? Aside from the fact that I like it ("NERD!"), it's also very difficult for me to sing along. When you're trying to read and edit a document in English, the last thing you want to do is listen to music in English. Pretty soon, you're so busy rocking out to the lyrics that you've lost concentration (and probably missed a bunch of grammatical errors). With J-pop, I get a nice tune that keeps me awake without confounding my language skills.

And yes, I've tried classical music, which has no lyrics at all. It puts me to sleep!

So, there you have it. After I'm done with the entire document, I turn it all in and wait for the next job.

If you're thinking this is sort of an unusual occupation for a pit bull owner, let me break it to you gently. You should know that most of us actually do have normal, boring jobs as teachers, writers, technology experts, doctors, and so on.

Sorry to disappoint.


Dennis the Vizsla said...

Yeah, but, you're a gangsta copy editor, right? Right?

You are obviously very thorough. I should hire you to copy edit my books for typos. :-)

PBOforlife said...

I'm so glad you posted that. I've always wondered what it consisted of. Very interesting.

daisydog said...

That looks very intense. It also makes me nervous, I am a horrible speller and my writing has much to be desired. I hope you are not copy editing my blogs! LOL!! It is nice that you can work from home though. I wish I could.

Woodrow, Luna, MJ Campanella said...

I have some friends who do this type of work - i am a computer programmer ans do the same type of work with computer code

and am owned by 3 English Bull Terriers

Deb - Woodrow - Sweetie - MJ

Kari in Redwood City said...

wait I thought pit bull owner = thug/gangsta/drug dealer! I only got one because I needed to toughen up my image seeing how I am an IT geek!
In all honesty I could never do what you do. English and I are not freinds :(

Life With Dogs said...

I'm not even remotely disappointed! I lack the attention to detail required to do this, so I'm very impressed.

forsythia said...

This is hilarious. PS. Is there any way to stop a pit bull from wanting to be a lap pit bull and cover your face with kisses while you're trying to watch TV?

pitbull friend said...

Hey, good to meet you! I'm a mid-forties chunky legal editor in the Midwest. And many of my best friends are pitbulls! I love walking my pibble boy through the tougher neighborhood adjoining mine, which has been rumored to have some dogfighting from time to time. I figure that, just by my being seen with him, I make the breed so uncool that some folks will have to stop: "Did you see that fat old lady? Don't want to look like her, yo!"