The Evolution in Publishing Challenges Writers and Editors Alike

I’ll be showing my age here, but does anyone remember the old days of lead type and the California Job Case? Well, I do, and I’ve worked through the many evolutions (and revolutions) that have eliminated “repro” copy, press type, and typesetting companies with old Linotype machines. Those were the days—the days when you could take the time to mull over the correct word, afford several layers of copyediting, and properly address the organization of a manuscript, promotional piece, or paper.

We gained a tremendous amount of production efficiency, slashing the time it takes to go from manuscript to press. I recall working five months in advance to ensure that I had adequate time for the entire process: 2 weeks to edit a new paper, 3 weeks to get queries answered by the author and obtain their final approval, and 1 to 2 weeks for the typesetters to send back galleys (through regular mail or UPS, of course!). Once we had a suitable back and forth with the typesetters to ensure that proofreaders found nothing further to correct, the graphic artist used a drafting table to spray the back of the galley and position it exactly, ensuring base alignment and cross alignment, and placed in the artwork. This could take anywhere from 2 days to 5, depending on how many articles were appearing in that month’s issue and what other work the graphic artists were handling. Editors would then review the page proofs, ensure the folios were in the right position, nothing was crooked, and no tape was obscuring type, before approval was given and it was sent to the printer in huge, well-packed, delivery boxes. We received bluelines about 2 weeks later, which the editors hovered over for the entire day.

Today, an article is often edited in 1 to 2 days, sent to the author with a 3–5-day turnaround for approval, laid out on a page-layout program like InDesign or Quark in 1 hour, and proofread the next day. If a PDF is to be posted on a website, the whole process may take less than 2 weeks, and this may include writing the piece!

We’ve lost some important things along the way, from both a communications and technical standpoint. Ability to publish in hours not days or weeks has created a careless imperative to do so. The better writers and communicators step back from their work, if only for a few hours or overnight, reread their copy, and then decide on next steps (which should still be to have someone else to review the content).

Today’s common communication and publishing technologies have revealed a difficulty for most experienced editors—it is not as easy to edit a document in PDF form as it is on paper. In using typical PDF commenting tools, I estimate that it takes me twice as long to ensure that the graphic artist responsible for making typographical corrections can understand what I’m trying to correct. And who hasn’t been confused when viewing a Word document through “Track Changes” that has multiple revisions?

Few people recognize the standard proofing and editing marks we editors used to make routinely in the margins of galleys and in the printed manuscript. That’s progress in publishing, I guess.

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