Sunday, May 15, 2011

Fantasy Island, Part Deux

You probably remember my last post about people having the strange notion that writers/editors can and should work for free. I'd like to add another post about the strange fantasy world people seem to live in regarding my line of work.

Case in point: a week or so ago a friend of a friend whom I hadn't previously met came to my home to pick up some silk I had purchased for her friend when I was in China recently. (The person I actually bought it for couldn't pick it up herself, so she sent this friend of hers to do it since her friend was in the neighborhood.) She was a nice older lady who knew a lot about fabric and sewing, and had at one time worked in the fabric retail industry, so we struck up an interesting conversation about sewing, which was kind of fun. She also helped me with the formidable task of dividing up 40 yards of silk into 4 equal 10-yard pieces.

While we were visiting, she asked me about what it was like to write for a living. (our mutual friend had filled her in on my profession). I gave her a 2-minute rundown of what I do and how I do it. She then asked, "Do you need to hire a proofreader? Because I do that."

I just shrugged and said, "Well, I do that too." I don't generally proofread professionally anymore because the pay is too low to make it worthwhile when I can make more money writing, but I have done it for pay. But I do proof my own work religiously, and then once I've handed over a clean copy of it to my clients and/or publishers, they all have their own in-house editors/proofers who do the same before publishing it. When I explained this to her, she frowned. "Wow, that's not how it was back when I worked in publishing at all."

I pressed her for details, and it turned out she had spent some time working in the magazine industry about 35 years ago, back in the days when everything was done by hand on paper (and "cut and paste" literally meant get scissors and glue). She had worked as a manual proofreader and typesetter in those days. I politely explained that neither of those things are done manually anymore.

"So it's all done on computers now?" she asked. I nodded. "I remember when computers first came out in the 80s," she said. "I didn't want anything to do with them then, and I don't want anything to do with them now. But my husband died recently and I need a job, do you know where I can get work as a proofreader? I do everything the old-fashioned way, with a pen and paper. I take my time, too."

"Uh huh," I said. "Well, if you actually need to make a living, I would highly recommend you take some computer classes and then look in the online job classifieds for something."

She just stared at me. "Oh, I don't want to do that," she said. "I thought that if maybe I can't find a job as a proofreader, I'll go into business reading people's auras." (Seriously, no joke. She said this. With a straight face.)

I wished her luck and sent her on her merry way.


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