Sunday, 17 January 2010

Spare a thought for your typesetter

An appeal to academics.

I know you are now sitting in university offices across the world, feverishly writing up your research papers for publication in your books and peer-reviewed scholarly journals. You are hoping against hope that your brainweightywords are issued back to you promptly, printed. Then you can deliver them up to the great scales of destiny, where your RAE will be measured, and hopefully not found wanting.

Please, if you want that process to happen smoothly, then be nice to your typesetter.

You do not know them. To you they are nothing. You may have only heard tell of their existence, like a dimly recalled child's fable about how the world began, or how mice got their tails. But they are there. Still. Labouring for you.

Please remember that these are overlooked and sad people, all morose, slovenly, hairy and smelly after staying with your paper for three gruelling days. Yet they are human, too.

Yes, they are at the bottom of the food chain. Yes, they are the late-night last-ditch lost-hope invisibles before your paper hits the print. Yes, they are the unseen labour whom your editor blames for everything that went wrong, when really it was all their fault, but they were too busy to check/couldn't be bothered/farmed out the work to a puppydog PhD student hoping to enter for themselves that joyful world of academic rivalry, back-stabbing, threat and jealousy.

But remember, without these brave and selfless typesetters-come-copyeditors near the ends of the lines, your articles and books would look a mangled mess of garbage filled with weird spaces, indecipherable characters, strange spellings and unsuitable Word fonts.

So be kind to these selfless midnight workers, and prepare your papers for publication, carefully.

Here are my words of advice.

1) Make sure you start by sending the right paper.
You would think it impossible, wouldn't you, that an academic could pass over the wrong paper to the editor. That the editor doesn't actually notice. That I spend two days setting this paper and raising queries. Then, on receiving it, you yell to the publisher, I blame the typesetter who set the wrong paper. Oh boy, is that not a good strategy.

2) Supply all material together.
Not in 218 files, then 46 emails, with revisions. Is it likely that your braindump is magically collated for you? Or that the eight figures you sent in email attachment number 34, which were already revisions to the three figures sent in email 12, is laid speedily upon the page, in the correct order, following the missing table you say you will supply later? Likely?

3) Follow the style guidelines you are given.
If the reference style for your journal is given to you, then follow it. Simple. Just be obedient on that one. The style is already there. It is set. Do not become a freedom fighter for a comma after (ed.), You won't get it. We already debated it. You lost.

4) Follow the publications procedure.
When you are handed back the first proofs, do not scribble all over them and fax them back. Your fax will be junked. Your edits unseen. You can only blame yourself for the six months delay and the bitter argument that follows.

5) Do not treat us as your personal research department and back-office staff.
I am here to typeset your work, clean up your spellings, neaten the page, check your references, query weird stuff, and make sure that when it goes out to the world, it looks like the person who wrote it had a clue. It's got your name on it, matey, but if you make me find out stuff for you, I'll put myself in as your co-author.

6) Do not draw us into your blame game.
Sometimes academics do this because they cannot admit they were wrong. They simply cannot say, Oops! Sorry! Sent you the wrong diagram on Figure 3.6! No. They have to blame the PhD student. Blame the dog. Blame the cat. Blame the rat. After a few months of being rocket propelled by righteousness, they complain to the publisher because the book was due out last March. The publisher blames us. Now, when we get a blamer, I know I am dealing with a real insecure case. Give us the figure. Or I tell your mamma.

7) Accept that you are in queue.
We will rush some things through, sure. When the publisher negotiates. If you try and negotiate with the typesetters directly, you will fail. Look, some of your colleagues already tried it. Like the one who declared their mother was about to DIE ON HER DEATHBED AND DIE DIE DIE and her LAST DYING WISH was to HOLD IN HER DYING HANDS your VERY FIRST BOOK! The one about spelling variations in a Godalming doctor's surgery, 1996-1997.

8) Write out your corrections to the first proofs clearly.
Just give me the damn edit. And check your edit. Because sometimes I am sorely tempted to lift out the garbage you write and drop it straight in. Help me avoid my temptation. Do not write garbage. And do not assume your typesetter lives in your head. Do not refer to past emails which are referenced inside other emails and can only be accessed after a two-hour search.

9) Do not patronise.
Do not be condescending. Do not become holier-than-thou. Do not treat a typesetter like she is a beggar you would not kick for fear of soiling your shoe. Remember, that under her fingertips is great and secret power. If you wound her pride, attack her honour, malign her name, then she, and only she, has the power to make

10) Say thank you.
Simple, huh? What would you do if you were me, and faced with a long stream of author's corrections, and nowhere on those 15 pages, does it once use the words, 'Thank you'. You might feel obliged to do the ironing, no?

Now, for my part, I feel obliged to show the world what a typesetter-come-copyeditor has to face, along with kids to educate on one hand and a stressed out husband on the other. Here is a small selection of what passes for an academic author's corrections.

I leave you to make sense of them.

I have supplied all corrections by fax. I always work this way. I prefer it.

(Message received by email. Fax of 25 pages of unintelligible scribble follows.)

This replaces the previous message January 4th. Insert all these new corrections about references, below. Do not do as the Guest Editors explain in your message from December 18 and 24.

(eh? I could start unpicking this one, somewhere. But the ironing is urgent right now.)

I think the reference date should be 2007. If it is not 2007, it is 2008.

(Shall we say 2009 and have done with it?)

Page 34, line 3. Please change 'understanding social political regime' to 'understanding social political regime'.


The Editor don't send you another Review. Will you tell me?

(Oh, help me Lord)

These blanks need filling in.

(Um... How would you like me to fill them in? Shall I draw pictures of you without a towel?)

The table is set all wrong. Refer to original. I do not expect to have to correct this myself.

(Original is mangled heap of tabbed crap; author on dangerous ground)

Change (eds) to (eds.) If you are following any style at all, you will know this.

(Doomed freedom fighter alert)

John. This is an edit for John. He should know what it is. John? Is this yours?

(John? John? Can you hear me? Sound of tumbleweed blowing across desert, while typesetter goes off looking for coffee and distraction. Shame your publication never made it for your RAE.)


Sam said...

Lol! I think it's funny, but I'm guessing - you don't? ;-)

Please tell me you send this by email to each academic. A bit of a wake-up call, perhaps.

Coding Mamma (Tasha) said...

I know exactly where you're coming from. Our authors may be teachers rather than academics, but they're still equally as unfathomable. Sadly, the in-house editors are often equally incompetent.

Firebird said...

Has Godalming become a byword for boring? First the Radio Times gag about too many versions of CSI, now Grit.

kellyi said...

Another wonderful day at work then :)

We had a rather lovely day because today our felt brooches arrived!

Dd is wearing hers to our home ed meet up tomorrow - so your felt work will become legend :)

Thank you so much and let me know when the pencil rolls arrive.

sharon said...

Please, if you haven't already, do as Sam suggests and send a copy to your illiterate, disorganised and inappropriately arrogant authors!

Then have a nice rest and eat plenty of chocolate cake with a medicinal brandy or two.

emma said...

Brilliant, Grit.

Am feeling confident about personal proportion of corrections to gratitude, but more anxious about demands relating to Tables (it's the way the sodding references get jumbled when they are taken out of Word)

Maire said...

Lol, heaven help you.

Grit said...

sam, i have seriously considered sending dead fish through the post to the worst of them, so this is mild.

i am sure that most of the stuff written, tasha, never is read by anyone except the author, the author's mum, and a phd student who spills coffee over it. given some of the stuff i set, there is comfort in that.

firebird, i am shamed. it is probably quite a nice place.

hurrah kelly!

sharon, cake is a good idea.

emma, i can sniff the beginnings of an excuse there!

thank you maire! x

MadameSmokinGun said...

Once did a Proofreading Proof Reading Proof-reading Proo Freading Course - and failed.

When asked at the start why I was there I chirpily declared it would be a good job to have in the future when I can work from home and fit it around children. Several women tittered.

The shame.....

Ceri said...

I used to live near Godalming. It's ok, nothing special. Has an expensive boys school. Was ROFLing all through that!