The Proofreading Process—An Important Step in Book Production

I’m constantly telling my clients that once I have finished editing their book they should next hire a proofreader. They don’t always understand why they must take this step or go to this expense. So, I was extremely happy when my friend and colleague self-publishing expert Sue Collier, coauthor of The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing, 5th Edition, offered me this guest post. She answer all the questions anyone might have about the difference between editing and proofreading and why it’s essential to either hire a proofreader or do a great job of proofreading if you want a successful book. She also offers some tools for doing it yourself.

The Proofreading Process—An Important Extra Step in the Book Production Process
By Sue Collier

The terms “proofreading” and “copy editing” are often mistaken for each other by those outside—and even inside—of the publishing industry. But they are two very specific steps, each taking place at different stages of the book production process.

So what exactly is “proofreading”? Well, whereas a copy edit takes place at the manuscript stage, and includes changing grammatical and spelling mistakes, querying inconsistencies and awkward phrasing, verifying facts, and marking the manuscript for the page designer, proofreading takes place at the “proof” stage of the process. It encompasses comparing every word of the manuscript with every word of the proof, verifying correct word breaks, indicating stylistic problems such as widows and orphans, making sure that all editorial changes were input, and checking heading and subheading levels as well as other design elements.

The proofread also serves as one final review of the manuscript. No one is perfect—including the copy editor—so the proofreader’s job is to pick up mistakes that may have been missed.

The proofreading process begins when you get back the proof pages of the finished book. After printing the pages, the author should read them with the eye of an eagle. Clearly mark in red ink any corrections, using accepted proofreader’s marks and a red pen. (Or you can proofread directly onscreen in the PDF file if your version of Adobe Acrobat enables you to do so.) Watch especially for transposed letters and omitted or duplicated words. Should you find lots of errors or a serious blunder, always request a corrected set of proofs to be sure the problems are rectified.

Or you may want to have a professional proofreader do the job for you. This will help weed out any spelling or grammatical errors resulting from your own blind spots, plus errors the typesetter may have introduced. Proofreading will cost you a bit of money, but your book will be the better for it.

However you do your proofreading, close scrutiny at this point will prepare a quality product. Even if your manuscript was professionally edited, we still recommend you carefully check it. By the time an editor has made one, two, or more passes through your manuscript, it becomes so familiar, minor errors and typos can easily be overlooked. Best to have fresh eyes take another look.

Now review your pages with the following in mind: Is the book thoughtfully presented? Are the subject areas and sub-areas clear? How about arty touches that make reading a pleasure? Do graphics provide a visual rest as well as add helpful and stimulating information?

Watch for widows and orphans. No, I don’t mean women who have lost their husbands or parentless children. A widow is the last line of a paragraph that appears alone at the top of a new page while the rest of the paragraph is on the bottom of the previous page. An orphan is the first line of a paragraph that appears alone at the bottom of a page while the rest of the paragraph is on the next page. You display a cleaner design if you let the page fall short or run long rather than allowing widows or orphans.

Here are some other things to watch for:

  • Check the bottom of each page against the beginning of the next page to be sure words or entire lines didn’t accidentally get left out.
  • Be sure all artwork, photographs, charts, or graphs are in appropriate places and have the necessary cutlines.
  • Check the headers and footers on each page.
  • In a nonfiction book, remember to leave blank pages if necessary so that chapters will start on recto pages (if you have enough pages for this lavish format).
  • Check the page numbers on each page. (You count, but don’t necessarily have to number, chapter title pages and full pages of illustrations.)
  • Check that the page numbers in the table of contents are accurate.

Although proofreading is an extra step that will add a bit of time to your production schedule it is far better to take some extra time now than suffer the heartbreak of catching major errors when the completed book is in your hands. Errors in your finished book will flash like neon signs—and that is not how you want your book to be noticed.

About the Author

Self-publishing expert Sue Collier is coauthor of The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing, 5th Edition (Writer’s Digest Books, 2010) and the forthcoming Jump Start Your Books Sales, 2nd Edition (Communication Creativity, 2011). She has been working with authors and small presses for nearly two decades, providing writing, editing, production, and promotions work for hundreds of book projects. Visit her website and blog at Self-Publishing Resources.

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