Page Proofs

Posted: December 9th, 2013 under Crown of Renewal, the writing life.

First careful run through the page proofs  for Crown of Renewal is done, finding only three errors–the usual clean job that Del Rey’s production team delivers.  Now for the backwards pass, because I have (though not with Del Rey) found truly awful problems only on the second, backward, pass, when I’m forced to see the page differently and cannot be distracted by the story.

Ideally, one direction of page proofs is checked with the copy of the copy-edited manuscript right beside it, page to page (though the pages don’t line up–the page proofs give 498 pages of text, and the manuscript give 867, I think it is.)   That very failure to line up helps focus the eye on the individual words, punctuation, and spacing.    I like to alternate books–using the copy edits on the forward check one book and the reverse check the next.    Again, it’s a matter of fooling my brain into ignoring the story as story, and focusing on the nits, if any.  (And 50 pages of no nits makes the brain zone out.)

Of the three errors found on the forward run-through, one was a failure to start a new paragraph with a new speaker, one was a punctuation error, and one was italicizing a line that should not have been italicized.   Possibly where the CE changed my punctuation and I changed it back–or wasn’t clear that I was OK with that one.   With computerized typesetting, there’s no longer a problem with mis-set type…one letter on a line in the wrong font, or one set in a little crooked.   But books still can get scrambled in the printing.  The mmpb of Echoes has that few missing words near the end of one chapter.

The paragraph error was the easiest to notice; the italicized line I had to blink at and re-read several times to be certain that yes, it was wrong.    (Someone is reading an old text; the actual text is italicized–a convention I’ve used enough for correspondence and quotes from older texts that it shouldn’t be confusing–but the reader’s thoughts about the writer of the text are not, because that would confuse two reasons something might be set in a different font.  So as the reader is noticing how the writer of the text wrote, and thought, the reader’s thoughts are left plain–something else I’ve done, to bring a POV character’s thoughts into immediate present.)    The erroneous punctuation was a stumble–a stop to consider–then yes, this was a problem.

If someone at the far end misses one of my STET marks and leaves something the way the CE did it, I don’t ask for a late, page-proof change unless I think it’s a serious problem, and that’s rare.  In the first place, Production is usually very, very good about picking up my corrections to the CE.  In the second place, sometimes I STET for a strong preference, but know that I’m after a nuance of meaning that is not critical to the reader’s understanding of the whole story.

So now it’s time to get back to work on the proofs–I’ll be working another half- hour to hour tonight, and try for two hours before I leave for the therapy appointment.   The proofs are due back the 16th.    It would be nice to have my kitchen table available for cooking and eating again.


  • Comment by GinnyW — December 10, 2013 @ 9:29 am


    Fooling the brain into ignoring what is said in favor of what is printed. I never thought of doing it backwards. It would help. Thanks for the tip.

    I find that word processing creates a whole new set of errors, since moving text around can create repeated phrases or words, and sometimes changes the formatting in unpredictable ways. Good luck with the editing and Christmas preparations in the same space.

  • Comment by Gareth — December 10, 2013 @ 1:03 pm


    Gosh that’s a tough manual process. Would have hoped there was more technology to assist the word by word comparison but if you are picking up and checking what you meant to say as well I guess it has to be done.

    I don’t think my brain would let me do it. So hard to force the attention to detail and not see what you meant to say. The backwards trick is interesting.

  • Comment by elizabeth — December 11, 2013 @ 9:47 am


    Gareth: The problem with a simple tech version (and you see it all the time in published material) is that the words you’re comparing to may not be the right words. For instance–years ago, different place, an editor-requested revision showed up during copy edits. (This was an editor whose revision requests tended to be serial rather than all at once: “And now you’ve done that, do this other thing,” something that I find difficult to deal with because every change forces more–and maybe changes–again–what was just changed in the previous request.) At any rate, I did the change, sent back the copy edits…but the page proofs showed up with the copy edit changes and not the editorial change–which was an added section of several pages. A word-to-word comparison with the CE manuscript would have left out the revision pages. What makes a book as near error-free as it can get is precisely the number of human eyes x the number of hours of those human eyes looking at the various layers of the ms. and making value judgments technology cannot make.

    Backwards (and upside down, for proofing in the days of hand-set type) are tricks of the printer’s trade, which I learned from a friend whose mother ran a small printing shop. Upside down is also useful in art: if there’s “something a little off” about your drawing of a person or thing, turn it upside down. What is “off” will now show clearly…good grief that arm is bent the wrong way…that ship bulges where no ship actually bulges…the wind is blowing one way on character’s head and another way on her skirts….

  • Comment by elizabeth — December 11, 2013 @ 9:58 am


    GinnyW: Yes, indeed word processing creates new kinds of errors…and more than once I’ve ended up with several pages of repeated text by accident. Annoying and embarrassing. That can also happen later in the process, in much the same way that some text can go missing. That’s another reason for extra care and more eyes on the page at every stage of production. Unfortunately, aside from the author (who isn’t paid extra for this–it’s part of the main job description) extra eyes cost money, and (so I hear from them) aren’t paid enough for them to do multiple passes–and they don’t have the original for comparison. Changing the errors found also costs time (and time is money…) so books are increasingly seeing fewer eyes on the page for fewer minutes. Most publishers (I would say “all” but I don’t know all publishers) do not choose to turn out error-filled books, but money and time aren’t infinite. Sometimes you get lucky, and sometimes you discover that nobody spotted that typo, wrong or missing punctuation mark, etc.

  • Comment by elizabeth — December 11, 2013 @ 11:20 am


    Page proofs done, delivered, and accepted. (with so few, emailing the page number, line number, and correction to editor got the job done. THANK YOU to editor.)


  • Comment by GinnyW — December 12, 2013 @ 9:54 am


    Sometimes very obvious errors can slip through the proofing process – my paperback edition of Dragonsdawn by Anne McCaffery has two lines inverted. That is, the continuation of the story skips a line, then the line above needs to be read, then it continues below the first. This must have happened in the page setup, but no one caught it, despite the fact that it jumps at the reader.

  • Comment by elizabeth — December 12, 2013 @ 10:36 am


    GinnyW: Exactly…it would be ideal to have the time and money to give the page proofs to a) an ordinary reader who likes the work of that author, to pick up that kind of error (most likely to be found by someone reading for story, not errors) b) a professional proofreader, most likely to pick up every spacing error, punctuation error, etc, c) an editor, most likely to pick up continuity errors of the kind that a reader on a first read wouldn’t and maybe two of each.

    I was talking last night to an editor friend (also in choir) who told me about a client of hers and a very bad proofreading experience; she likes to use Track Changes (which I hate) and uses all the technology she can to ensure a clean ms., but she says “eyes on the page” really is absolutely necessary. As with spell-checking–the computer does not know what you meant to type, only what you really typed. So if you have their when you should have had there or they’re…the computer will not catch it. (And she, like many of us, also hates auto-correct, since it’s so often wrong in its choice…with it’s and its, for instance.

  • Comment by pjm — December 12, 2013 @ 8:34 pm


    I am sure most of you will have seen this poem or something similar.


  • Comment by Tony Starratt — November 15, 2014 @ 2:09 pm


    As a dinosaur, whose initial experience in the publishing industry was as a proofreader when the proofs started with lead “lines of type”, I can verify that it can take many different sets of eyes to catch all of the errors which creep in. As I worked for a legal publisher, whose focus was income tax legislation, you can imagine how very careful we were to catch and eliminate mistakes. One of the last steps, even when we were switching to electronic publishing, was to have two copy editors review proofs, one to read out loud, one to follow on another set of proofs, trading off from time to time. Boring, but sufficiently productive to make it worthwhile. Alas, the consequences of errors in fiction versus that in law means much less in the way of proofing.

  • Comment by elizabeth — November 15, 2014 @ 2:38 pm


    I suspect (do not know) that the much larger volume of trade books published than legal texts is another factor–and quite possibly the shift from independent publishers to publishing as a small sideline in large multinationals. The cost of more proofing impacts the bottom line more as the list grows. In some publishing houses now, authors do not get to see anything after a manuscript is accepted; in others they may see the copy-edits but not the page proofs, or vice versa.

  • Comment by Tony Starratt — November 16, 2014 @ 12:30 pm


    Ouch! How painful for an author, to not be involved in ushering her book through the process, knowing that errors will creep in and that the copy editors, with so much less invested emotionally, will not be quite as diligent as she would be. As a former proofreader (even if it was a brief stint 36 years ago – I went on to become a copy editor) I regularly spot, and wince at, errors that should have been caught. Curse you, spell check! Forgivable, perhaps, if the turnaround time is tight, but I expect better of printed books.

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