Proofreading doesn’t end with sending the book to the printer. Proofreading the proofs is extremely important to make sure no last minute errors creep in before the final print run.
Once the proofs for your book, both text and cover, arrive, you will have already had your book read and re-read and proofread and hopefully edited and proofread by an editor. That doesn’t mean you don’t have to proofread again. Even if your book was completely flawless after you or your editor sent it to the book layout and cover design people, or even from there to the printer, many mistakes can still happen. At two points before the final books are printed, you will have the opportunity to see your proofs—first, after the layout person has completed his or her work, and again once the printer has prepared a sample copy. Take advantage of both of these proofs to catch any last minute errors, or new errors, that may have crept in.
Proofing the PDFs of the Text and Cover
Before your book is sent to the printer, your book designer will send you PDFs of the cover and text to approve. Look over these very carefully, and if you have an editor, have him or her do the same. I suggest you sit down and carefully read through the entire text to ensure there are no errors.
In the text, look for typographical errors for any additions not in your original manuscript, including title pages, copyright pages, the Table of Contents, headers, and footers. Usually, publishers will print the titles of the chapters in the headers. The layout person had to type these titles so make sure there are no misspellings. Look at all the chapter titles on the pages and make sure they consistently match the Table of Contents in wording and in fonts and being uppercase or lowercase letters.
If you’re reading the entire text, you will also catch any layout issues, but be on the look out for quotations or anything you wanted to have with a special layout, such as being indented or centered, as well as any tables. Make sure tables and photographs correspond with the text where they are discussed, and as much as possible, make sure tables are printed on one page and not across pages, or that situations don’t exist where a reader will need to flip pages back and forth to look at a table or chart. Look also for odd blank parts of pages before and after photographs inserted in the text. Don’t forget to read the photo captions for errors and to make sure the captions are consistent in wording and appearance throughout the book.
A good layout person will have manipulated your text so it will flow around your photographs or illustrations, but in doing so, it’s possible a line or even a paragraph of text can be lost (hidden behind an illustration), so read carefully to make sure nothing is missing. Also watch for a repeating paragraph in places. Trust me, I’ve read enough proofs to see all these errors occur.
Watch for photographs and illustrations that are also too close to the book’s gutter (the inside crease that holds the book together). You don’t want readers to strain their eyes or seriously have to bend back the book to see something in the gutter. You may end up having to move a photograph, which can mean text being moved and needing to be reviewed again for accuracy.
Read over the PDF of the cover multiple times. Besides looking for typos, now is the time to make sure all the necessary information is there—the correct ISBN number on the bar code, the correct price on the book, and the BISAC or genre category on the back cover such as Non-Fiction/History or Mystery/Suspense. Make sure the images are clear. Make sure you like all the colors with the understanding that the blue or other colors you want may be close but not exactly the same as the color you are seeing now because of the difficulty of matching colors.
If you find errors, send a list to the cover designer and layout person with all the errors you want corrected. You should not be charged for mistakes the cover designer or layout person made, but if you find excessive errors that are your fault because you did not proofread closely enough last time, they will probably charge you to correct them, but while that may be a hard lesson to learn, have the corrections made anyway. Mistakes will only hurt your book sales later if word of mouth starts spreading about the mistakes in the book. Insist upon seeing a corrected proof, and then proof it again, and if you find errors again, continue the process until your book is as perfect as possible.
Once you have approved the proofs from the layout person and/or designer, they will be sent to the printer who will then send you hard copy printed proofs.
Approving the Printed Samples
Yes, errors can still happen at this point. The printer will send you a sample of the book, often called a galley, which is usually the bound book as it will appear minus the cover. The cover will be separate and represent how it will appear before being wrapped around the book. Take care of these copies because you will most likely have to return them to the printer.
Look at the cover closely. Even if it was perfect when it was sent to the printer, strange things can happen to the files. A common mistake I’ve seen is that words that are italicized, bolded, or underlined on the PDF template you approved may not have translated to the printing so they may not be correct on the cover. Be sure also that you approve of the image quality and the color. If they are relatively close to what you had hoped, they should be fine, but if the photograph is darker than you expected, or the reds appear orange, you may want to request another copy be made.
Generally, you will have a form to sign to approve the proof, or to approve it with corrections you can then specify on it. But do not hesitate to pick up the phone to talk to the printer or to the layout person coordinating with the printer for you—you want to make sure the corrections you need made are understood and done properly. If necessary, request yet another proof sample. After all, it’s your book and you want it to be perfect.
As for the paper copy of the bound book without the cover, at this point it should be perfect so you should not have to read it through again. However, I recommend you go through and look at each page. Count all the pages to make sure they are there and the page numbers are all chronological—sometimes a signature (an 8 page section) gets left out. Make sure none of the pages are upside down or printed crooked. Such errors are more likely to happen on a small print run of 100 than a larger run of 1,000 because humans generally assemble smaller print runs while a machine will be used to stack and assemble larger runs. Don’t be alarmed if you find an upside down page—it’s human error and probably won’t happen in your actual books, but inform the printer of the error anyway. At this stage, it’s unlikely there will be errors, but it still happens.
When the Printed Books Arrive
Once you have approved everything and a week or so later your printed books arrive, before you take them to the stores, open up a few boxes and randomly look at the books. Flip through them again to make sure all the pages are there, no pages are upside down, there are no repeating wrinkled pages, and that the books are not largely damaged with dented covers etc. Your contract with the printer probably specified a certain degree of error permissible, up to maybe as much as 10 percent. That said, if you find errors, most printers will work with you to replace the copies. If you find that out of a run of 100 books, one book has a dented cover, just accept it—you can sell it as a damaged copy at a discount, but if you find seventeen books with eight upside down pages in the middle, the printer will probably print you another seventeen books and ship them to you free of cost. As for the seventeen flawed copies, you can also sell those at a discount at a book signing—you’d be surprised how many people will buy a damaged book and consider it a deal, provided none of the text is missing.
Hopefully, you won’t experience any of the errors I’ve described in the proofing process, but chances are, at least one will happen. Just do your due diligence, realize it’s all part of the process, maintain a professional tone with the people you hire to produce the book for you, and then remember to celebrate when those books arrive. A good proofreading—or better yet, multiple good proofreadings—will ensure you have a quality product that your readers will enjoy.
Irene Watson is the Managing Editor of Reader Views, where avid readers can find reviews of recently published books as well as read interviews with authors. Her team also provides author publicity and a variety of other services specific to writing and publishing books.