Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Who is responsible for manuscript markup

On a mailing list yesterday, a couple of editors expressed their preference for doing “actual” editing rather than doing the more menial (I guess) task of marking up the manuscript for composition. (Markup is what tells the compositor how to treat different bits of text—this is a bulleted list; this is a level 1 subhead; this is an extract; and so forth.)

I responded with a question, and I’d be interested in hearing the views of others, so please comment.

Here’s what I wrote:
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.

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?
Okay, perhaps I was being a bit grumpy, but the question is a serious one. Where should this task fall these days?



ankyuk said...

I place tags, so that the compositor has just to pull the appropriate style from his palette [template?]. The rare occasions that I don't do so is when someone asks me not to do that at all and when they are being stingy: in that case mere language editing suffices, though of course I don't see how a publisher could just leave a manuscript to be language-edited and then send it on to the compositor? Is compositor, as you rightly pointed out, supposed to read the whole article and then figure out what head level is that? Or how to set a given list?

Doug Geiger said...

Off topic: I have been reading your blog for years--nearly always via RSS--and appreciate your insights into gardening, Adobe customer service and editing. :) Though I rarely comment; I enjoy your blog tremendously.


Dick Margulis said...

Thanks, Doug. Don't be a stranger.

MJ said...

For freelancers, I certainly think it's part of the copyediting. Chicago is pretty clear on this in 2.76–2.80: It's the manuscript editor's responsibility. Section 2.51 specifically mentions markup as part of mechanical editing.

However... when I was an editorial assistant, my bosses edited the content and I did the formatting and layout (our publications weren't typeset; they were mostly desktop-published). Perhaps the attitude of "that's beneath me" is coming from people who had editorial assistants when the economy was better, but now have to do that work themselves. Personally, I've always enjoyed markup more than substantive editing, which is why I'd rather do web work or DTP than copyediting. :-)

(BTW, my editing lists have been set to NOMAIL for quite a while, so if someone else has already made those points on a list, I don't know about it.)