I unconsciously proofread and edit books, essays, newspapers, magazines, brochures, signs, menus, and business cards as I read them. I slip notes through drive-in windows to businesses who have signs taped to the window that say no checks, sorry for the inconvience. They don’t fix the signs, but you should.
Before personal computers, there were typesetters. I happily ran my one-person shop for twelve years. My clients were printers and advertising agencies and the variety of text I typeset was astounding. There were no spellcheckers or Internet yet—there were dictionaries and reference books and experience.
When typesetting went the way of rotary phones and videotape, I landed a job at a small specialized editorial service in Old Saybrook, CT, whose main client was Oxford University Press (OUP). We were eventually assimilated into the company as the U.S. Dictionaries Department. Our focus was Americanizing many of OUP’s extensive collection of dictionaries. We updated, edited, reformatted, and sometimes abridged dictionaries and thesauruses. OUP had never illustrated dictionaries, and part of my job was to choose and oversee the production of over a thousand illustrations. I handled the plant illustrations myself.
Along with the many mechanical tasks involved in creating dictionaries, I learned how to condense complicated concepts into a few lines. Lexicographers are masters at this, and I learned from the best. This is the essence of dictionary work and never had something appealed to me so much.
Downsizing closed our Connecticut office in 2002 and all but one of us were let go. I tried to stay in publishing. Frustrated while working for a local newspaper and unable to accept the quality of writing I was asked to process, I turned to physical work to support myself, starting a housecleaning business so I could work for myself.
I continue to freelance for OUP, performing a variety of research and editorial tasks. I assisted in research and proofreading on the third edition of New Oxford American Dictionary published in 2010, and the second edition of Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus, published in 2012. Unfortunately, the era of printed dictionaries is over.
In 2012 I began a new long-term assignment for OUP as a member of their North American Reading Program, which exists mainly for the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). The OED is a historical dictionary that documents the evolution of English through the use of quotations. At last printing the OED spanned 20 volumes and included over two million quotations. A group of readers scrutinize enormous amounts of text from fiction and nonfiction books, magazines, and journals looking for new words or phrases, or new usages of existing words. We then carefully document the citations (which may only be taken from physically printed, published material) by keying into a database, which will then be available as evidence if the word ever becomes a dictionary entry.
We are not the only way the OED collects evidence, but we each aim for 200-400 new words or phrases per month. Although I read a wide variety of subjects (anything from tropical fish to drug addiction to martial arts to anything that looks promising), because of my location I have been asked to cover American Southwest culture as best I can. Every subject, technology, and subculture has its own vocabulary, with new words being created every day. Through common usage, some new words become part of our language. Some fade away. I hope to be involved with this program for many years to come. (The OED is continually updated online but no further editions will be printed.)
In August of 2011 fiction writer Kay Camden contracted me to edit her synopsis and query letter for her first novel. Her testimony to my work can be found here: How to Write the Perfect Synopsis. I went on to edit her manuscript, two more of her novels, and many others from from a wide variety of authors and subjects.
I am available for all types of editorial tasks, large or small. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.