Working as both a publisher and an author has given me certain insights into the tricky final stage of the publication process: page proofs. Ideally, as a publisher, page proofs are a chance to catch little niggling problems that crept into the typeset publication during layout. In reality, as both a publisher and an author, page proofs are where any issue that slipped through the editing process leap from the page in high relief. The line between “minor edits” and “totally rewriting the entire damn article” at the page proof stage is much finer than the one might expect.
Bret Weber and I spent this weekend going through the page proofs of The Bakken: An Archaeology of an Industrial Landscape which is due to be published in October. There are not a few things that I noticed from the typeset text:
1. Grammar. One of the biggest challenges with this book was trying to write in a somewhat more accessible style. While the excellent copy editing offered by the NDSU Press caught most of the grammatical errors, there are always a few that slip through (and readers of this blog know that my grasp of grammar at a practical level is tenuous at best). My favorite errors at the page proof stage were the use of “seep” and “disembark” as transitive verbs as in “a pipeline seeped oil” and “the train disembarked the passengers.” Fortunately, these were easy problems to fix.
2. Style. The biggest issue that became visible at the page proof stage was the infelicities in my style. I do three things so consistently that I need to make a little note and keep it next to my laptop. First, I use the same word over and over and over in a way that would make a boxing commentator blush. This “appeared” in page proofs and was a relatively easy fix. Second, I need to vary sentence structure more consistently. I have a tendency to being sentences with introductory participial phrases, noun clauses, or phrases using the word “while”: while this, then that. This is more challenging thing to wring out of a text at a late stage of the editing process. Finally, as one of the earlier readers of this text pointed out, I use too many adverbs (and when I’m in the zone, I use the same adverb multiple times in a paragraph and, in at least one instance, used an adverb in both a participial phrase and with the main verb in the sentence. Adverbs are easy to cut.
3. Place, Space, and Time. When we were writing the guide, we tried to do three things. First, introduce readers to the Bakken landscape. Then try to trace the history of various places in the Bakken, from the vanished town of Temple, ND that served as an important entrepôt for oil during the first boom in the 1950s to the largest volume Cinnabon store in the U.S. at the start of this decade. Finally, we try to engage the temporal aspects of contemporary Bakken boom. The idea of contemporaneity, in fact, doesn’t really apply to the Bakken at present because the landscapes is in constant flux especially (and perhaps because of) both the rapid expansion and equally rapid the downturn in oil prices and the slowing of drilling and fracking activity in the region.
The question that kept running through my head while reading our book is whether we captured this dynamism in a recognizable way? Did our use of verb tenses consistently distinguish between things that are visible and those that are no longer visible?
As I worked through the final copy of this work, it struck my just how complicated this project could be and how relatively naive we were in our effort to use the tourist guide as a genre to capture modernity in the Bakken. At the same time, re-reading the work energized me to continue to develop this approach to understanding the Bakken landscape and recognizing the problems present in the page proofs – grammatical, stylistic, and otherwise – will hopefully contribute to what I’m doing as a writer and a historian.