Career, Financial, Personal

A Day In The Life of a Professional Proofreader

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A few years ago, I had one of my favorite jobs of all time. I was a proofreader at a publishing company, living the literary dream. I worked there three days a week in my mid-twenties, and it was an amazing learning experience. Plus, I was good at it.

It’s fun to get paid for doing something you’re good at.

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The company I worked for was unexpected. I always pictured a big, fancy, harried publishing house in a big, fancy, harried city. But you know how reality and expectations go. Instead, I worked for a mid-sized, business casual, chill publishing house in a mid-sized, business casual, chill city. They did not publish the great American novel, they published church bulletins. They were the largest distributor of Catholic church bulletins in the country, home to two full-sized printing presses, and one slightly smaller printing press (all of which I was wildly allergic to).

They usually only had one going at a time, but it was quite the noisy excitement when they were all on at once!

To this day, I have a soft spot for those bulletins and recognize them when I see them in the wild. It feels like spotting an old friend. I have since moved on to full-time work and different industries, but I will always look back fondly on that time.

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7 am: alarm goes off, feed the dogs, make myself coffee. At this point in time I had a Keurig, so my coffee was expensive and inadequate. Then I would dress in something that looked vaguely like an outfit a discount Zooey Deschanel would wear. Attempt to make it out the door by 7:30.

Slightly before 8 am: arrive, cursing Austin traffic. My caffeine levels dangerously low, I’d grab some terrible office coffee and chat with the aging hippies that made up the staff before clocking in. I expected this job to be full of the devout, but the vibe was more Berkeley in the ’60s. It suit me well.

8 am: clock in. This office was so low-tech that it still had a physical punch-clock like they had in the 90s. It was charming, but prone to malfunction, and I much prefer the digital versions I’ve used since.

Clocked in, I would settle into my cozy little desk in the proofreader’s corner and chat with my fellow part-timers. Our schedules were staggered, so we only saw each person once or twice a week and there was usually a lot to catch up on.

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8:15 am: the designers would be finished with the previous day’s corrections. I would review them to see if the suggested changes were implemented correctly, and to make sure I did not miss anything the first time around. Bulletins being fairly standard from week to week, we did not have many rounds of edits. Most of them were ready to print after one or two.

But sometimes a preacher would be a rambler and use the bulletin as his personal diary. Those were rather labor-intensive to correct.

If a bulletin was finished and no longer had mistakes, it went in “To Be Printed” box, where it would be sent to the printing press in the back room. The ones that still needed corrections went back to the designer on the other side of our open floorplan office.

9 am: old corrections complete, time for new arrivals.

Around 9:30 or 10 am: the presses would start!

11:38 am: my throat would get scratchy for some inexplicable reason. It never happened when I was away from the office, but I loved those presses too much to realize they were the cause of it.

Noon: bulletins done for the day, it was time to take lunch. Since the building was located in an office park, there was nowhere fun to eat. Instead, I would have lunch in the cafeteria or at my desk. If the weather was nice, I would go for a walk. This being Texas, it usually was not.

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1 pm: back from lunch, I would begin on ad packs. This was the most important and time-consuming part of my job. Customers wanted to get what they were paying for, so each one had to be perfect. Everything from frame, to location on the sheet, to color vs b/w impacted what went into pricing, and it was the proofreader’s job to make sure it matched what was agreed upon.

Incidentally, this hair-raising task gave me ample opportunities to judge small business marketing, which came in handy when I became a copywriter (I knew what not to do).

3:30 pm: break for coffee. There was never any left (and no Starbucks in the area) so I always had to make a fresh pot. It did not taste any better when I made it.

5 pm: assuming I was at a good stopping point, I was done for the day! This was not a job that took stress home. Thinking back on it now. I am feeling quite nostalgic. It was a time in my life where I was surrounded by good people, fulfilling work, and truly harrowing coffee. What a time to be alive!

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Celebrating Failure, Personal, Writing

I Got My First Rejection Letter! Five Things I Learned Failing to Publish a Romance Novel

Despite my attempts, I am not a serious person. I might know what a 401k is and have serious thoughts on the mpg of my hybrid car, but it’s all a facade. At my core, I am silly. I love rhinestones and tutus, I laugh at fart jokes, and I consume unhealthy quantities of bodice-ripping romance novels that I find in the Clearance section of Half-Priced Books.

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So it probably won’t shock you to hear that I’ve also tried my hand at writing one of those aforementioned romance novels. It was fun, and the story was silly.

Basically I wrote a short (55k words) tale of a millionaire who turns into a merman four nights a month and the scientist who loves him. Naturally it was set in a compound in rural Alaska. As they say, create the art you wish to see in the world.

When I had written a sizeable amount, I did what anyone with a healthy amount of self-esteem (inflated ego) might do. I submitted it for publishing at a few ebook imprints. And then the waiting began.

While I haven’t had traditional success yet (no one has offered to publish it), I did receive my first rejection letter! And that’s almost as good to me!

Actual footage of writing the manuscript, aka proof that it happened

Aside from the fact that it was a fun little project to write, I learned a lot about the business of writing, and I can’t wait to try again. Look out world, there is so much more paranormal romance where that came from.

Thus, I figured I’d share some of my thoughts here in hopes that writing them will make me remember them later.

The five things I should have done better (and might in the future):

  1. Learn ALL of the genre conventions and stick to them. I read a lot, so I naturally assumed I could write without thinking. I was wrong. Art has rules that aren’t always visible to the consumer, and when those rules get messed with, the reader gets mad. Romance, in particular, is a formulaic genre, and you have to get it right. I did not. One of the rules of the genre is that the characters need to meet in the first chapter. Mine met about a quarter of the way in. This is a no-no, so I had to fix it at the last minute. This is how I wound up hastily tacking on a prologue. Needless to say,the work suffered for it .
  2. Make sure your first chapter (or prologue) is perfect. This seems obvious, but is easy to mess up. How I messed it up is avoidable: I wrote it when I was pretty much over the story. But people fail at this for the opposite reason, too. Writing gets better with practice, and your characters feel more real after you’ve been writing them for awhile, so your later chapters are naturally going to be better than your first. Clearly the beginning needs to be written later in the process than its name suggests. This brings me to…
  3. Write your synopsis while you are still excited for the novel. In my defense, I did not know this would be required. This is a bad defense, because if I knew I was thinking of submitting it, I should have checked the requirements early and often, but even better-planned people than me can get this one wrong. You don’t realize how much you will be sick of your story by the end of it. You think you will love your characters forever and never think about pushing them off a glacier while on a routing hiking trip (no one would ever know). But you might be, so plan for this. Write your synopsis when you are about two-thirds of the way done with the story, right around when you’re writing your first chapter. Your synopsis is your selling tool, it is going to create the interest in your novel. Write it while you’re still excited about the project.
  4. Know when to cut your losses. You know how that first book in a series is almost always the weakest? That’s still the one that got published. I guarantee there are worse novels that author wrote that never saw beyond the publisher’s rejection email. That’s normal. Writing is fun! If your book is never getting better, move on. I promise your next attempt will be better.
  5. Celebrate failure! Writing a novel is an accomplishment, even if it isn’t up to Harlequin Romance’s line of paranormal ebooks standards. Celebrate it! Taking a risk is its own reward and you are amazing for trying!

And, because I have no shame, I present the rejection itself to you:

The rejection letter in all its glory 😍