Monday, July 21, 2008

The Rise of the Machines

That editing job that looked as though it had vanished into the ether unexpectedly came back last week.

I was so annoyed that the silly girl at the publishing house had failed to courier it over to me on the day she'd said (OK, it was such a wretched day outside that I probably would have stayed in all day anyway, but..... it's the principle of the thing, damn it!) and had then become unconctactable for a week or more, that I very nearly told her where to shove it. But I need the money.

I didn't get a chance to look at it until the weekend. When I did so, I soon became even more annoyed (if such a thing were possible), because - a) it's not a textbook, as I had been told; and b) it's nearly twice as long as I had been told. Time to start complaining, and renegotiating the fee, I think.

On the plus side, it's actually a pretty easy job, since it's not a conventional edit at all: I don't have to re-write anything, just highlight (and occasionally, when I'm feeling generous, explain) all the mistakes.

On the minus side, it is mind-buggeringly tedious. It is about 200,000 words of computer-generated text - the same sentence patterns being repeated dozens of times with the same standard sequences of variations. Most of them are correct; most of the ones that are wrong, are egregiously so and leap off the page; it's only very occasionally that more detailed grammatical knowledge - or subjective aesthetic judgement - is called into play from me. Actually, the hardest part of it is staying alert to places where occasionally they've sneakily changed two things in a sentence type at the same time. And trying to maintain your will to live when they introduce a completely new sentence pattern every once in a while and, for just a few moments, you have to start paying full attention again. Once I got into the swing of it, I found I could scan 2 or 3 pages of this crap each minute - so I'm earning money at quite a tidy hourly rate. But there's still way too much of it for me to accept the whole job at the original fee.

The really spooky thing about this is that all of the sentences are about writing. In fact, most of them seem to be assessments of (or very vague comments or suggestions on) author submissions. ("Some minor problems in this piece are related to your punctuation. Please go over it again.")

Ye gods! This is nothing less than the automation of the publishing industry! Sinister. Very, very sinister.

I haven't got to the rejection slips yet - but I just know I'm going to run into a whole raft of them round about page 550.......

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