Thursday, October 9, 2008

You can't go home again...

Okay, so occasionally I like to get paid for my writing. Money is nice, and even better is the sense that someone thinks what I produce is worth something. (Can you tell I've had a few rejections in the past month? Serendipity is so hard to achieve.) Anyway, I'd finished a couple of short biographies for my most regular employer and thought I'd get back to my novel, but I got an e-mail from a former co-worker. They'd turned up short-staffed for a project, and were looking for reliable freelancers to fill in, and would I be interested? It would be writing entries for a project I used to manage. Easy peasy! I used to turn those out in my sleep, practically, so I said lay some of those entries on me.

Well. Things have changed a bit since I first starting working in publishing, some 20 years ago. (20 years! Ack! I can't be that old!) My first year, we compiled entries by cutting and pasting the old ones on a blue sheet of paper and marking them up with updates. Occasionally we used the computer, but there were only three computers for more than 20 people, so we were big on typewriters and proofreaders' marks.

After a couple of years, we all got computers. As we got scanners, we phased out the blue sheets and compiled entries completely on the computer. Great! It's much easier to write an essay on a computer than on a typewriter, even with corrective tape. At first, we'd print out the entries and send them to the typesetter; then we discovered we could save money by sending them electronic files. We used a few codes to indicate italics and subheads, and it was easy to insert them using a find-and-replace program.

Now, by the time I left the company 10 years ago, they had discovered the joys of "leveraging data"—ie, reusing and repackaging it in various products. That meant getting stuff into a database. That meant standardizing formats between products, and giving every single bit of information a coded tag, so we knew what was a birthdate, what was an address, what was a career title, what was a book titles, and so on and so on and so on. When I left, I had actually moved out of the editorial side of the company into technical training, helping editors make the adjustment into using new programs and database structures.

Fun. So what does this have to do with me now? Well, 10 years ago we had freelancers compile the data, but the company did most of the coding. Today, the freelancers (ie, Me), do the coding, too. So in making a list of books, what used to be as simple as:

With One Lousy Free Packet of Seed, Hamish Hamilton, 1994.
Tennyson's Gift, Hamish Hamilton, 1996.

Going Loco, Review, 1999.

now looks like this:

[bibcitation][bibcit.composed][title][emphasis n="1"]With One Lousy Free Packet of Seed,[/emphasis][/title] Hamish Hamilton (London, England), [pubdate][year year="1994"][/pubdate].[/bibcit.composed][/bibcitation]
[bibcitation][bibcit.composed][title][emphasis n="1"]Tennyson's Gift,[/emphasis][/title] Hamish Hamilton (London, England), [pubdate][year year="1996"][/pubdate].[/bibcit.composed][/bibcitation]
[bibcitation][bibcit.composed][title][emphasis n="1"]Going Loco,[/emphasis][/title] Review (London, England), [pubdate][year year="1999"][/pubdate].[/bibcit.composed][/bibcitation]

So much for doing these in my sleep, unless it's a state of unconsciousness brought about by continually banging my head on my desk. It might be a while before I get back to my novel.


  1. OMG. That sounds mind-deadening.

  2. Sharon BlankenshipOctober 9, 2008 at 7:09 PM

    ACK!!!! You were right.