Get it? We’re going talk about book proofs this week as a part of our ongoing series about choices–the choices you make as a self-publishing author in the midst (and mist!) of an often long and complicated process. Previous entries in this series have included “Choosing a Self-Publishing Company,” “Choosing a Trim Size for Your Book,” figuring out how to “Know Thyself (& Thy Genre),” “Settling on a Price,” “Choosing a Cover,” and last week’s exploration of what we called “The Guts of the Thing” and which essentially boiled down to interior design–illustrations and formatting. The assumption with last week’s post was that if you struggle to summon up the skills, time, or energy to worry about the graphic design components of your book, you can theoretically find assistance from exterior (and even paid professional) sources.
But what about proofing your book?
Proofing Your Book
That thing we all hate and try not to think about.
Here’s the deal with proofing:
It’s not really something you want to outsource, even to a professional. Copyediting, yes, but proofing … less so. This is because the proof is the final step before actual publication, and it’s important that you be the last person to lay eyes on it before it goes to the presses. It was your vision, after all, that led to its creation–and you want to make sure that it is your vision, in the end, which guides it to completion.
This is the moment of truth. So how do events unfold?
The printed proof arrives on your doorstep, or in your mailbox, or perhaps you’re overexcited and actually show up at the printer’s to get it. The point is, it’s in your hot little hands and ready to go. Almost.
Up to this moment, the book you’ve been dreaming about and actively shaping has only ever been real to you in the way that pixels and Microsoft Word documents are real. Maybe you’ve printed off a copy, to get a better look at layouts and formatting and illustrations and typography–but that’s not really the same thing as a finished book, is it?
And trust me, after that initial shiver of anticipation passes, it’s time to pull out the red pen, because there’s always something that’s slipped through the cracks and that needs addressing before you click the final keys or give your Publishing Consultant the final go-ahead. Your proof is, as its name implies, the evidence that you’ve done everything correctly. Or it ought to be. As I said, your first proof is usually an exercise in addressing little errors that were invisible on your computer screen or in printouts but that, in printed form, pop off of the page. It could be an incorrect font, a weird space, typographical errors, a misaligned paragraph–anything. As perfect as your last manuscript was in digital form, sometimes it doesn’t translate perfectly to the printed page.
What should I watch out for?
First of all, take a deep breath. Now, let it out. Proofing can be painful in some ways, mostly because you’re having to spend more time obsessing over the minutiae of your book, but it’s worth it. A few tips and tricks and mistakes to watch out for, and your book will look and feel as good as if it had gone through the entire rigmarole that traditionally published books have to.
Step One: Read your book like a book.
Just go for it. Read the whole thing through, start to finish, checking for common typographical errors and inconsistencies as you would in reading a normal draft. Check that the text is complete, and that no paragraphs are missing or sentences cut off by a page break. Only you, the book’s author, are going to catch omissions like that. And while you’re reading, keep an eye out for odd or inconsistent use of fonts, punctuation (particularly hyphens and the “curled” version of quotation marks), as well as line and word spacing. You can pass the book on to someone else to double-check your impression on these last points, too–that never hurts.
Step Two: Squint and stare.
Once, in college, I was taking an illustration course and my professor gave me one of the most important pieces of advice I’ve ever heard: “Step back from what you’re working on, squint so that everything is just a touch blurry, and see what’s missing.” By stepping back and letting things get a touch blurry, you as an author and artist are ignoring the content of the text and seeing it for what it is in addition to being a story: a collection of visual components. You’ll be better able to spot orphans and widows (single lines at the bottom or top of a page), inconsistencies in running heads and chapter or part titles, and the dimensions and placement of graphic elements like illustrations, page numbers, chapter openers, and so on. Double check that odd-numbered pages are on the right hand side of the centerfold. Double check your references and footnotes if you have them–that they’re there, and that they’re on the right page–as well as the consistency of your paragraph indents and other alignments.
Step Three: Turn it over. And over.
Try it. The front and back covers of your books should look exactly as you requested or input them to be, and they should meet your exact specifications of color, contrast, clarity, and placement. The barcode, ISBN, blurbs, description, biographic information, and other nuts and bolts should all be in place, attractive, and correct in spelling and form like the rest of your book.
Proofing your book isn’t simply a matter of going through the motions. It’s vitally important that you care about this stage of the process the same way you care about every other stage–if you go through the trouble of correcting a proof and upload your revisions, you’ll have no doubts when it comes time to send your book out into the world to its new readers. You’ll face whatever comes next with confidence, pride, and a sense of intrepid adventure. And next week, we’re going to look at what some of those steps might be!
You are not alone. ♣︎