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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