Author’s alterations are those changes that the author makes once the product is in the printer’s proofs stage of production. At least, that’s the classical definition. The other version we know is the one in which the author can’t stop rewriting.
The writer just can’t keep their hands off a file while it is on the editor’s desk. They keep “tweaking” or adding, or moving sections around wholesale. So that the file the editor has produced looks nothing like the one the writer has “updated” in the meantime.
The question becomes how to make any use of both people’s efforts without making an even bigger mess of the file. On rare occasions, Word’s “compare documents” feature can help amalgamate changes, but more often they are far too complex for this tool to work.
Compiling the two efforts eats up a lot of time, is likely to introduce more errors, and costs more.
Solution A: Plead for Reason
The schmozzle created by having two versions that don’t match poses a nightmare for quality control. This is not the best practice for publishing. Vital edits and vital content will be lost. Some of the writer’s changes will impact editing decisions already made.
Those and more pleas for reason are the instinct of the accommodating, optimistic editor or project manager. Keep pleading, explaining, reasoning… And when that doesn’t work, try the next solution.
Solution B: Version Control
Not the kind of version control that we all do by adding initials or a date or a status to a file name:
You need automated, locking version control. Users sign out a file and then it is locked for everyone else. No one else can touch the file while it is in editing (or any other process for which it has been signed out). Others have to wait their turn. Files even contain encoding that prevents anything but the updated signed-out version from being uploaded.
There are many commercial systems that will do this, and some larger publishers have their own. Some systems integrate themselves as plug-ins for specific software such as MS Word or InDesign. We’ll talk about these in the Copyediting Newsletter.
Solution C (for Classic): Charge for Changes
My ancestors tell tales of marking up proofs with two pencil colors: one for the proofreader to indicate errors committed during composition, and another color to show the changes the author would like to make.
“This line should be level H1” got written in blue, and “Change main character to male throughout” got marked in red. Authors were charged for every change they made. It was a sort of deterrent for the natural and endless tweaking and second-guessing that humans want to do.
For manuscripts in an earlier stage of editing—before printer’s proofs—costs naturally increase because of such “tweaking.” Such changes are beyond the scope of the contract; the time it takes to sort out the differences would reasonably be charged at an hourly rate. At the very least, the new content needs to be edited, and that falls outside the original quote.