What every editor needs to know about self-publishing and custom publishing
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occasional essays on working with words and pictures
—writing, editing, typographic design, web design, and publishing—
from the perspective of a guy who has been putting squiggly marks on paper for over five decades and on the computer monitor for over two decades
Most but not all of my work consists of dealing with self-publishing clients from draft ms. through to printed books. So the decision as to who is responsible for preparing the ms. for composition is moot in my case. I’m responsible for it, whether I do it as part of editing or part of composition; and that’s fine with me.Okay, perhaps I was being a bit grumpy, but the question is a serious one. Where should this task fall these days?
But looking at the publication process as a whole, you raise an interesting point. In the past, when a typed ms. went from author to publisher to compositor, the compositor’s job was to rekey what was presented, according to the markup showing on the ms. In the bad old days, the redaction was explicit, with the diaskeuast responsible for specifying font, point size, and style for everything. Somewhere along the way, that was simplified so that a specification sheet held the details, which could be input once to a typesetting system (or, before that, the compositor’s brain), and the diaskeuast had only to provide abbreviations (codes) for the different styles and then mark overrides for specific words or phrases treated differently, mark dashes, and so forth, on the copyedited typescript. In any case, typesetting in recent centuries was reduced to see-an-A-type-an-A. It was a hard and fast rule in the industry that your job was to set exactly what was given to you to set. Compositors who used their brains were generally fired, because their initiative (in correcting a misspelling, for example, or setting what was intended rather than what was marked) represented lost AA income. The job of redacting the ms. fell to someone on the publisher’s side of the transaction.
In other words, up to the point just before the electronic transmission of text from publisher to compositor became common (in the late 1970s or early 1980s), the publisher was responsible for all markup, and that meant that an editor of some sort did the marking up. Surely it was not the acquisitions editor, whose job was to woo authors, or the development editor, who focused on content, tone, and organization. No, it was the copyeditor, unless there was a separate markup pass by a dedicated diaskeuast.
So, traditionally, coding for composition was very much within the realm of copyediting.
Your comments seem to suggest that you now believe it to be someone else’s responsibility (or that it somehow happens by magic). And you’re apparently not alone, because I receive what are supposedly professionally edited mss. that I’m expect to dump directly into a page layout program and turn out a finished book. Well, I don’t mind stripping out the extra spaces and running spell check, but there’s more to manuscript preparation than that. So I now have to include in my price quotes the condition I expect to receive the manuscript in and what I’ll charge for putting it in that condition if it doesn’t arrive that way. I’m comfortable doing that because I’m also an editor. But if I were sending a job out for composition, I would not trust the average compositor to guess correctly at the author’s and editor’s intent; what a mess I’d get back if I did that!
I have assumed up till now that the reason I have to offer this markup service is simple ignorance on the part of inexperienced publishers and editors. But your comments lead me to ask whether it’s something more akin to contempt—that somehow it’s beneath your dignity to provide explicit instructions as to what’s going on in the text. How, to take a simple example, is the compositor to know what’s a level 1 heading and what’s a level 2 heading if you don’t provide some sort of markup?
Or are you just saying that in addition to paying you for your developmental editing and copyediting, the publisher should also pay a second editor to do the markup? Where do you see this step being done, in other words, and why don’t you consider it to be part of the editing task?