In Your Corner: The Proof is in the Pudding

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.

book proofing

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. ♣︎


ABOUT ELIZABETH JAVOR: With over 18 years of experience in sales and management, Elizabeth Javor works as the Manager of Author Services for Outskirts Press. The Author Services Department is composed of knowledgeable publishing consultants, pre-production specialists, customer service reps and book marketing specialists; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Elizabeth Javor can put you on the right path.

In Your Corner : Decoding the Divide Between Copyediting and Proofreading

Have you ever wondered what, exactly, is the difference between “copyediting” and “proofreading” your manuscript––and whether you ought to invest money into paying someone else to help you with one or the other?  I’ve worked with many, many self-publishing authors who have asked this exact question, and over the years I have compiled what I hope to be an answer that is both comprehensive and workable for you.  So what exactly do these two terms mean?  Let’s start with proofreading.

PROOFREADING is a catch-all term for the kind of feedback you might receive when submitting an annual financial report to your teammates or supervisor for final checks before it lands on the desk of your company’s board of directors.  That is, a proofreader generally conducts a line-by-line review of your piece with an eye for spelling, punctuation, spacing, and syntactical issues in addition to double-checking your numbers and figures are accurate and correctly used.  Proofreading is an intensive and often gut-wrenching process, but it only touches on what many authors call “superficial details”––details that may cause a reader to become stuck or bothered while thumbing through your book, but aren’t likely to require substantial revision of really “core” material.  It’s all about correcting little glitches.

COPYEDITING, on the other hand, is an altogether wilder animal.  A copy editor will look at your grammar, spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and syntax––but won’t stop for breath before diving into your manuscript format, bibliographies, references, and citations (particularly if you’re writing nonfiction).  And that’s just the beginning!  A copy editor’s job encompasses many of these finer details, it is true, but it also entails sifting through endless details that you as an author are likely unaware of or don’t have the time and/or expertise to address without sacrificing valuable writing time.  Latin abbreviations?  Check.  Foreign words?  Double check.  Proper use of quotations?  Absolutely.  Because a copy editor is working alongside the author throughout the manuscript revision process––not just showing up to make final checks before printing, like a proofreader––he or she is in a good position to comment on much more comprehensive changes, like addressing continuity errors, inconsistencies in characterization, and matters of organization.  A copy editor keeps the big picture in mind when recommending changes.

And therein lies a key difference between copyediting and proofreading: proofreaders swoop in at the last minute and fix things before they go to press without altering the greater framework of a pieces, whereas copy editors work with you throughout the revision process both to fix minor details and to suggest further revisions that you as an author may or may not be interested in making.  A pronoun/antecedent error is always going to be an error, but some things come down to a matter of taste, and you have to determine whether or not to make certain changes based on what your original (and ongoing) vision for the piece happens to be.

copywriting vs. proofreading

With these differences in mind, how do you as a self-publishing author decide what services your book actually requires, and how do you go about choosing someone to meet those requirements?  In large part, the decision may come down to time.  And by that, I mean that it may come down to what stage of the writing process you are at.  Have you already finished your manuscript and brought it to a stage that you consider fully complete and polished?  If you have, and you are looking to publish immediately without entertaining the possibility of substantial revision or editing, then you probably need to look into hiring a proofreader to scan through your work for typographical errors and so forth.  But if you have a little time, and you’re looking to publish the best possible book that creates the most memorable and pleasant experience for your readers, I cannot recommend a professional copyedit enough.  There is literally nothing, in my opinion, that will set you and your book up for ultimate success than the insight of an expert whose trained eye and experientially-honed intuition may prove to be both your staunchest ally and your secret weapon in differentiating your book from all the others out there.  And that’s really what success in self-publishing (or any kind of publishing) boils down to, isn’t it?  You want your book to stand out from the pack, and there’s no better way to do that than bringing a copy editor in on the process.

I must admit that I am not entirely unbiased when it comes to this conversation––I do work for a hybrid self-publishing company that offers professional copyediting services, after all––but I do believe that the facts and the canon of success stories in self-publishing bear me out as truthful, transparent, and utterly in your corner on this particular subject!  Because when push comes to shove, it’s not about what I want for your book that matters, much less about the bottom line and making a profit.  It’s about realizing your dream and your vision for your book, and communicating that vision to your readers in the most beautiful, professional, and captivating finished product possible.  This is your book––and most importantly of all:

You’re not alone. ♣︎

ElizabethABOUT ELIZABETH JAVOR: With over 18 years of experience in sales and management, Elizabeth Javor works as the Manager of Author Services for Outskirts Press. The Author Services Department is composed of knowledgeable publishing consultants, pre-production specialists, customer service reps and book marketing specialists; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Elizabeth Javor can put you on the right path.

Self Publishing Week in Review: 3/5/13

As a self-publishing author, you may find it helpful to stay up-to-date on the trends and news related to the self publishing industry. This will help you make informed decisions before, during and after the self publishing process, which will lead to a greater self publishing experience. To help you stay current on self publishing topics, simply visit our blog every Tuesday to find out the hottest news in self publishing this week.

Self-Publishing Intelligence Report for February 2013

GalleyCat is now releasing a monthly Self-Publishing Intelligence Report that links to all of their resources for indie authors. It links to their bestseller lists as well as top news stories. As a self published author, it is a good idea to stay current on self publishing trends and to be familiar with bestsellers.

10 Proofreading Tips For Self-Publishers

Proofreading is essential for all self publishing authors! This article some great tips to help you get the most out of your proofreading efforts.

The Real Cost of Self-Publishing

This great article talks about the popular authors (J.K. Rowling and Stephen King) who have turned to self publishing, recent self publishing statistics, and costs associated with self publishing. This an interesting article for people considering self publishing.

If you have other big news to share, please comment below.

ABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog at

I’ve Hired an Editor – Will My Book Be Perfect?

Today’s post was written by professional copyeditor, Joan Rogers.

When authors are deciding whether to purchase copyediting services, the question is sometimes asked: “Will my book be perfect when you’re done?”

The answer is no, it won’t be perfect. But it will be greatly improved. Authors who see my copyediting samples are often amazed that a small, randomly selected portion of text – a thousand words or fewer – will have dozens of style errors. This doesn’t mean that the author isn’t a good writer; storytelling, pacing, dialogue, and character development are skills and talents separate from knowing the exact usage of a semicolon. But it is the case that technical and style errors can be distracting to a reader. In the case of nonfiction, errors can undermine the writer’s authority, particularly if the text is educational or informational.

Is it possible to achieve a perfect book? Probably not. It’s useful for writers to know that a once-through edit will not catch all errors. This is true regardless of the editing service used; when a book is published with a traditional publisher, it usually goes to a copyeditor, and then to a proofreader. Even with this, extant errors are common in published books; I saw several in Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, one of the major releases in literary fiction last year.

I work on a large number of manuscripts that have already been edited once by professional editors prior to being submitted to me, and I still find errors. This is not because the original editor didn’t do a good job; it’s reflective of the fact that editing and proofreading are two parts of a process.

Joan Rogers has provided services as an Author Representative and Editor for Outskirts Press since 2008. She studied at Oberlin College Conservatory. She also edits for several academic and scientific researchers at UC Berkeley, as well as for a nationally known journalist. She brings all that experience and knowledge, along with an unparalleled customer-service focus, to help self-publishing authors reach high-quality book publication more efficiently, professionally, and affordably.