Every glamorous profession requires its share of trench workers. For every Kate Moss wannabe strutting down the catwalk during Fashion Week, there are dozens of people toiling away behind the curtain to make sure she doesn’t fall on her pretty face. For every Lady Gaga kicking butt and wearing meat on tour, there are legions of roadies, carpenters, lighting designers, costumers, drivers, and caterers making sure everything goes right and everything ends up in the right venue.
In publishing-although some segments are more glamorous than others-one of the most unsung heroes is the proofreader. Writers write their dreams, literary agents and editors help turn them into novels, but if the proofreader slacks at his or her job, a book becomes difficult and sometimes impossible to read.
But maybe you think proofreading is an easy gig. You’ll get to read all day, right? While proofreaders do get to read their projects (one hopes, anyway), it’s not really reading. It’s scanning; it’s analyzing. It’s akin to taking a Renoir and teasing it apart into brushstrokes, color, and light. Still, for every masterpiece, you’ll get an apprentice’s first project. For every New York Times bestseller, you’ll get a dozen textbooks, legal briefs, or reference manuals. You might get projects so dull, you’ll be fighting sleep in your chair. Which, if you work from home, may not be so terrible, but in an office, is not your supervisor’s preferred way for you to spend your time.
Proofreading is hard, physical work. Imagine spending your entire day, day after day, combing through manuscripts line by line, word by word, hunting for misspellings and missing words, when our human eye is trained to take in chunks of words and therefore skip over missing words and misspellings! Even if your posture and ergonomic set up are perfect, our spines were not designed to be sat upon for hours, our bodies were not meant to be still for such long stretches, and our eyes – especially the eyes of someone over forty – do not like maintaining a constant focus. Many proofreaders develop chronic neck, shoulder, and upper back problems. Now that many proofreaders have abandoned hard copies and red pens for the seeming ease of the computer, the strain just moves to other parts of their bodies. Eyes, in particular, don’t like hours of staring at monitors that reflect light, which was a problem e-reader manufacturers had to contend with in their earliest stages. Scientific eye studies show that we blink less when we look at a monitor, so those who proofread at the computer can end up with dry, stinging eyes.
So next time you dive into a book that reads like smooth, single-malt Scotch, thank the author, the editor, the agent, and the publisher, but don’t forget to thank the proofreader. Preferably with a shoulder massage and a bottle of eye drops.
Who are the unsung heroes in your profession?
(PS: One of my goals for 2011 is to blog more. Rather than just fretting about it or making endless attempts at first paragraphs that go nowhere, I’m starting right now. I will be posting on this blog as daily as possible for all of this coming year.
I know it won’t be easy, and some posts might plain suck, but it might be fun, inspiring, awesome and wonderful. Therefore I’m promising to make use of The DailyPost, and the community of other bloggers with similiar goals, to help me along the way, including (gasp) asking for help when I need it and encouraging others when I can.
If you already read my blog, I hope you’ll encourage me with comments and likes, and good will along the way.)