Since my last post, I’ve had the privilege of editing galleys for one of the books I’ve worked on. While the process of editing galleys isn’t an exciting one, it means that the book is on its way to the printing press, and that’s always exciting!
With that in mind, I thought I’d offer a few tips on editing proofs. It’s more than just, literally, proof-reading. Proofs offer a chance to catch errors that may have slipped through the editing process, but that’s not their primary function; the purpose of checking proofs is more to ensure that the layout is error-free. Because the layout and format have changed, not the text, a different focus is required. Below, you’ll find pointers on some things for editors and authors to watch out for when reading those final proofs.
A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that seeing your work in a new font or style is a good way to look at it with fresh eyes. Your galleys—the mock-up of a book before it goes to press—are a chance for editor and author to do just that. Checking galleys isn’t as exciting as seeing something you’ve worked on hit the shelf. It’s easy to let your eyes glide over the text without seeing it. But galleys come with their own inherent set of potential mistakes, so it’s important to give them a careful look.
Publishing has entered the digital age. With the books I’ve worked on, the layout has been set up with the use of desktop publishing software and sent off to the printer as a file. This file needs to be proofread for errors even if you’re completely certain that the source text is clean: any change is an opportunity to introduce errors or inconsistencies.
Because the text of the manuscript is copied and pasted into the layout, it’s susceptible to the common mishaps that can occur when copying and pasting. Because the format has been changed, it’s also open to inconsistencies in formatting and style elements.
So, what sorts of things should you be on the alert for?
- First (and these sound silly, I know), make sure that the proper draft has been copied into the galley. Make sure that any mock-up “placeholder” text on the cover has been replaced with real text. Make sure the book title and the author’s name are spelled correctly in the book and on the cover. (Anyone with an uncommon name knows just how important this is!) If the price is on the cover, make sure it’s the correct price. It seems obvious, but the proofs are the last chance to catch these things, and it’s the editor’s job to take nothing for granted.
- The most common copy-and-paste errors involve duplicating information and leaving information out. Pay special attention to punctuation, especially at the beginning and end of each line, section, and chapter. Make sure that the end of each chapter is really the end, and that nothing is cut off mid-sentence. There may also be punctuation characters or symbols that didn’t make the change correctly; a symbol that looked like an em-dash on the screen might actually have been a line character in some obscure dingbat font. If so, it may transfer over to the final font as something else, whether a hyphen, a nonsense character, or even a blank space.
- The most common formatting errors occur where formats change. The beginning and end of a chapter, the graphics or symbols that separate chapter sections, and any place where the text font is changed from regular to italic and back.
- Keep an eye on chapter numbers and headings. If the chapters are numbered, make sure that all numbers are in the proper sequence and all follow the same style. If chapters always begin on a new page, make sure that all those page breaks are in place.
- Keep an eye out for font changes. Does it shift slightly, go up or down a size, is a line or a paragraph accidently set in italics or bold? Watch justification, too. Whatever style is chosen, it should be consistent throughout.
- Watch for widows and orphans: straggling text that ends up isolated from the rest of the paragraph or section. The last line of a chapter should not be by itself on a new page. A stray —” should not be by itself on a new line.
That’s a lot to look for. What’s the best way to go about doing it?
If I receive galleys in .pdf format, I zoom out to the two-page view and basically just scan the lines for anything that stands out. I find that if I rely on pattern recognition to edit for format, my eye catches on things that aren’t as they should be.
I don’t ignore the chance that I might find errors in the text—I’ll check the text itself in my second pass—but when I check formatting, I’m looking at the shape of the words and marks on the page. I look for punctuation, font, and the shapes of the paragraphs. I check each section break and paragraph break carefully, and also make sure that the right text is in italics or blockquotes. If I find a certain type of error more than once I’ll move in and search for it more carefully.
In general, though, the more distant view allows me to focus on the formatting. Think of it as looking at the forest first, then closing in on the trees. The landscape of your book will benefit from the attention!