April 26th, 2011

Has the Definition of Proofreading Changed?

A little background first. I've been posting about ebooks, specifically referring to Eisler and Konrath's two part dialog about established authors (mostly of genre fiction) switching from contracts with what they term "legacy publishers" to self-publishing ebooks. In the comments threads on Konrath's blog and elsewhere in Konrath's online work, there are estimates about how much it costs to "produce" an ebook (that is, not the writing part, but the proofreading, cover art, copy editing, etc.). These estimates are running on the order of $800. On the FB mirror of my posts, H. took issue with this estimate:

"The comments keep talking about the upfront costs being maybe $800, presumably including copyediting AND proofreading AND cover design AND formatting. Sod that for a game of soldiers. Proofreading alone could easily be that much, if you pay any sort of decent wage. (Say 80K words, 320 ms. pages, 10 pages an hour, 32 hours, 25 bucks an hour.)"

There are a variety of reasons to believe that the numbers H. are putting out are _extremely_ accurate representations of what freelancers who do work for "legacy publishers" are charging "legacy publishers" for "proofreading". H. works in the field. H. knows people who work in the field. H. hangs out on listservs populated by people who work in the field. It's pretty easy to find web pages for people offering work of this nature for sale and they quote numbers that work out exactly the same.

I pointed to this:

http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2011/04/guest-post-by-diana-cox.html

In which Diana Cox offers to proofread for a price that looks like a third of the going rate and (in case you're thinking maybe this is a teaser rate) then offers half off to get business going. H. questions whether Ms. Cox could possibly come out of this even with minimum wage, and I'm prepared to agree that it looks kinda dodgy under the half off deal, but I assume that's not what we're discussing. National minimum wage right now is $7.25 and I believe Ms. Cox won't have any trouble getting that, even assuming a proofreading rate such as described by H. OTOH, this is probably a contract rate, thus, no employer paying half of social security, etc. and under that theory, probably not making minimum wage.

So what's going on here? A "proofreader" offering to work for 1/3rd the going rate might be a hobbyist -- they aren't trying to make a living off this. They might be able to do the job while engaged in other work (say, security guard, receptionist, taxi driver, child care provider, etc.) or in the interstices of daily life. Getting _any_ work might be more important to them than getting well-compensated work. A professional "proofreader" prepared to not work rather than accept a lower pay scale is going to have trouble if the world starts to contain a lot of people of this nature.

A "proofreader" offering to work for 1/3rd the going rate might live in a place where there _is_ no work (but the cost of living is low). They might be in prison. They might be largely unemployable in a typical context. Again, any work better than none. The big risk here to professional proofreaders would be if a whole bunch of English speaking people in another country (India, say) did a comparable job proofreading; outsourcing really damages US pay scales.

"Legacy publishers" have cut a _lot_ of proofreading corners. I'm still annoyed at the elicit/illicit error I spotted in a Leslie Lafoy novel about a week ago, and it wasn't the lone error in that book, either. The bar might be lowered enough that the quality offered by professional "proofreaders" isn't perceived as required. This worse-is-better phenomenon is likely to be quite strong with ebooks, if many authors are still doing everything themselves with predictable results.

It's important, too, to remember that _authors_ may not be making $25/hour. It's awful hard to convince an author to pay a proofreader more than they are making themselves.

However, I don't think this is actually what's going on at all. I think the pay scale that proofreaders expect reflects the workflow that they must cope with in the "legacy publishing" environment. They _already_ discount (altho not heavily) if the work is all-digital, as opposed to on paper. For authors who have already successfully DIY'ed to kindle and other epublishing platforms and are probably _composing_ in something very close to the formats they expect, there's no need for a proofreader who can detect a lot of what proofreaders are paid to detect (botched conversions, dropped text, etc.). Konrath et al are likely producing something that mostly needs a pre-reader: someone who can catch the their/they're/there problems, elicit vs. illicit and other word-os, and have the good sense to not mess with authorial style or dialect or idiosyncratic dialog and so forth. I don't _know_ that among Konrath's complaints about legacy publishers are complaints about proofreaders who want to "correct" dialect in dialog, but I sure would not be surprised to find out that a guy who talks about "lateral changes" made by proofreaders is more worried about overly aggressive proofreading than he is about someone who misses something once in a while.

If the e-author wants a pre-reader, rather than a traditional proofreader, we could imagine that service being provided a whole lot _faster_ and _cheaper_ than traditional proofreading, and it would not involve knowledge such as the meaning and use of the term "stet" or all those weird little marks, for that matter. And that is what I suspect is going on with Ms. Cox's service.

ETA: Comments on this entry have been locked. I apologize, however, there have been no legitimate additions in quite a while and I've been having to delete screened/suspicious comments daily or more often for over a week on this post and I'm sick of it.

Interactive Books

Interactive books -- mostly in theory, but with some practice -- have a long and often sordid history, full of huge promise and promises and light on execution. Also, very heavy on orphaned technologies.

Regular readers may recall that I was enthused about the Random House _Pat the Bunny_ iPad book/app, and I may have also favorably described the Disney Puzzle books. In general, however, discussion of a book with extras tends to get me even less excited than the prospect of buying a CD which comes with extras like videos.

In the latter part of this post on Konrath's blog (mostly a guest post by Mayer), Konrath says (as part of some heated description about "legacy publishers" who have rights to his backlist and their pricing and royalty structure on those rights):

"I'm going to exploit my interactive multimedia rights, release my backlist as enhanced ebooks, and UNDERCUT YOU ON THE PRICE."

Wow. That _is_ exciting.

Book Design

Konrath says he uses CreateSpace to produce paper versions of the books he is selfpublishing. He points to this woman's website as who he has do the design (since more than cover art is required).

http://yourepublished.blogspot.com/

"What Costs are Involved?
• Every project is different, but most interior design/layout projects run $200
• Spine and back cover design start at $200
• Interior design+spine design+back cover design receives $50 off, with further discounts for multiple projects"

The assumption appears to be that you would already have cover art, but that would need to be expanded into a full cover/spine design, thus, there would still be cost to put together the cover art.

ETA:

Back in March, John Locke did a guest post/interview on Konrath's blog.

http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2011/03/guest-post-by-john-locke.html

"Who does your cover art? How much does it cost to self-publish?

John: Claudia Jackson, of Telemachus Press, does all my cover design. She charges $995 to publish an eBook, including cover creation, and distribution to multiple ebook formats. Any art work she purchases for the projects are extra, but reasonable. It's nice to be able to write the book, send it to her, and not have to fool with the process. And Telemachus puts the Ebook accounts in the author's name, so I get all the profits. To me, it's a no-brainer."

ETAYA: I didn't dig into the comments, altho the first one seemed to be poking at how much money Locke was spending on cover design. I will merely note here that Locke's cover art is _really good_ and I haven't had that reaction to most of the other covers I've been seeing for ebooks in Konrath's multiple guest posts by people making the transition to ebook/selfpub. Sometimes, maybe you do get what you pay for?

google docs for collaboration

http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2011/02/killers-sequel-to-serial-at-cutting.html

This is definitely off-topic for what I'm attempting to extract from Konrath's blog, but it was interesting enough to want to point out. Konrath collaborates with other people in developing ebooks and he also does "interviews" or collaborative posts to the blog, using google docs. The first part of this post is discussing what that looks like, feels like, and how effective it is.