Author’s proofs suck. It’s not enough that you’ve already spent months researching and writing your piece, and that you’ve responded to all of the editor’s queries or that you’ve wasted an entire week trying to track down the reference for a book you read nearly three years ago. No. Now that the editor has slashed apart and reassembled your piece, systematically ruining all of its good sentences, she wants you to proof read it.
Hence author’s proofs.
Sensible editors will generally just send a word document when a few last minute queries marked in bold, to which sensible writers such as Yours Truly can just respond using Microsoft’s handy little “Track Changes” feature. Tech savvy editors, however, will send a PDF of the article along with an attachment entitled “All the Ways in Which You’ve Screwed Up.” They will then send you the link to a secret, author’s only website and while the uninitiated might burst into a spastic celebratory dance at the sight of the words “author’s only,” I would strongly advise against this. Firstly, your spastic flailing will causes you to knock over your coffee. Secondly, these “author’s only” websites, especially those owned and operated by academic journals, are hardly cause to break out the champagne.
They are cause to start drinking, and to keep drinking actually, because once you receive your PDF and your list of “All the Ways in Which You’ve Screwed Up” you need to attempt to steer between the two and enter all of the requested edits into little specially marked fields on the author’s only website.
If you manage to complete the process without committing suicide, you are rewarded with a contract, the gist of which is, “I, so-and-so, hereby renounce all claims to this work, even though it’s my baby and I’m the one who’s been carrying it around (and changing its diapers) for the past two years. I accept that I will not be compensated for my ‘significant contribution’ to the academic community, and that you’re going to charge for visitation rights if I ever want to see my baby again, but I’m cool with all of this because you’re an academic journal and I’m a lowly independent researcher and this is going to give my CV the competitive edge I need to go on for my PhD, write more articles, drink my way through more author’s proofs, and one day encourage my students to do the same.”
Let the games begin!
Of course author’s proofs are better than no author’s proofs, because author’s proofs lead to publication whereas no author’s proofs lead a host of unmentionable horrors, amongst which are poverty, an unending sense of failure, sterility, male pattern baldness, projectile vomiting and—worst of all—not having anything intelligent to say at your next cocktail party.
Not that I find myself going to many cocktails parties these days, but it’s a relief to know that if I do, I can casually mention that I have an article coming out in the Journal of Research in Dance Education. And if that doesn’t shoot me straight to the top of the New York Times Bestseller list, I don’t know what will.
I had a very wise professor in college who advised all of us would-be arts administrators to think very carefully about our chosen career paths. “It’s great to have a goal in mind,” she said, “but you need to make sure you’re going to enjoy the journey on your way to that goal.”
I wonder what she’d have to say about author’s proofs, because as much as I’d rather poke myself in the eye with a sharp stick than endure another round of “author queries,” they’re going to be reoccurring theme in my life, no matter which journey I eventually complete. I guess I could just give up, go bang my head against the wall and return to The Shop (where they’re already blasting Christmas carols over the radio)… or I could say, “Yay! Another list of Twenty-Three Things I Have to Correct Before this Article Will Be Published. What a lovely problem to have!”
[For those of you woke up this morning just dying to know all about the process of getting published in an academic journal, you’re welcome. For those of you who didn’t, please accept my most sincere apologies and rest assured in the knowledge that Date #17 has finally found the time to ask me out again. I’ll be filing a full report first thing Monday morning.]