After all the developmental editing, copy and line editing, formatting, and digital proofreading is completed, there is yet another step to take: reviewing printed proofs. And while this step is crucial, tedious, and sometimes a bit overwhelming, it’s also incredibly exciting. For many authors, reviewing a printed proof is the first time they’ll get to hold a near-final copy of their book in their hands, seeing the cover in physical form and have the chance to turn the pages they’ve spent months or years writing and editing. With that in mind, reviewing a printed proof is the beginning of the final stage of the production work, and it’s a task all involved should endeavor to complete carefully as they evaluate and consider every aspect of the book, from the cover to every page and line within.
When a potential reader sees a published book on the shelf in a store, featured online, or in a library, the first thing they’ll see is the cover. With that in mind, a printed proof is the opportunity to see how the cover art looks.
While the art itself should be decided on before a proof is printed, seeing the art in print is the time when you can decide if you prefer the matte or gloss finish depending on how the colors look in ink (as opposed to digitally), how the typeface and font size look, check the overall layout of the front and back covers as well as the spine, and proofread for any typos in the blurb or author bio.
There are different types of paper you can choose from, depending on where you’re having your printing done. Most printers offer at a minimum a white and a cream option, with different weights depending on whether or not you’re having color or black and white printing, as well as whether or not your content includes multiple images. The papers feel different on the fingertips and look very different, both when the book is closed and when reading. Typically, nonfiction (such as a manual, textbook, or self-help tome) uses white paper, while creative nonfiction (memoir) and fiction (novels) use cream, however that isn’t necessarily applicable in every scenario.
Additionally, some printers also offer the option of groundwood. Groundwood paper is what has most commonly been used for mass-market paperbacks, like what you find in a grocery store or pharmacy, although it has become more popular in recent years and is what many books are printed on. Generally, the trim size is smaller, and the paper is a bit thinner and has a very different texture to it. Large publishers favor this paper for novels because it’s cheaper to mass produce. However, on an indie level, the cost is the same as for the other paper choices and your decision really comes down to how the paper looks when reading as well as the feel of it as you turn the pages.
Interior formatting refers to how the book is presented on each page. This includes the margins, indentations, chapter headers, scene breaks, page numbers, and any other header and footer content. You want to carefully inspect the formatting to make sure it conveys the feel you want for your book.
It’s possible you’ll realize the page numbers are too large and are distracting when you’re reading, or maybe the book title that’s on the top of every odd page is missing in an entire chapter or included on the first page of the chapter (there should never be headers on the first page of a chapter!). Essentially, reviewing the interior formatting of a printed proof is simply looking for any “glitches” or other inconsistencies.
Similar to reviewing paper selection, when it comes to the trim size of the book, what matters most is how the book feels to hold. Is it comfortable in your hands, and easy to open fully to see all the text? Does the thickness of the book make sense for its length (word count)?
There are guidelines about common trim sizes for different genres, but this is ultimately decided by preference. If it’s a short book, maybe 30,000 words, you don’t want to have a larger trim size. The book will be very thin unless you have extremely large print, and it likely just won’t seem right (unless, of course, the book in question is a children’s book). You want to also make sure that the size of the book (as well as the formatting) is consistent with comparable books in your genre.
Although some proofreading should be done prior to formatting, and even after formatting is completed but prior to printing proofs, yet another round of proofreading should occur as you review a physical copy of your book.
When comparing a digital copy of a file to a printed version, let alone a formatted and printed version, there is a sensory difference in the way our minds are able to process the text on the pages in front of us. According to a study by researchers at the National Center for Biotechnology Information, the human ability to automatically correct errors in material they’re writing or reading can glitch.
Touch typists are working off a subconscious map of the keyboard. As they type, their brains are instinctually preparing for their next move. “But, there’s a lag between the signal to hit the key and the actual hitting of the key,” Stafford said. In that split second, your brain has time to run the signal it sent your finger through a simulation telling it what the correct response will feel like. When it senses an error, it sends a signal to the fingers, slowing them down so they have more time to adjust.What’s Up With That: Why It’s So Hard to Catch Your Own Typos By Nick Stockton
As any typist knows, hitting keys happens too fast to divert a finger when it’s in the process of making a mistake. But, Stafford says this evolved from the same mental mechanism that helped our ancestors’ brains make micro adjustments when they were throwing spears.[OC1]
However instinctual our typing abilities may have become, reading the same material multiple times, such as during the writing and editing process, impacts the brain’s ability to detect typos. In essence, when proofreading, you’re attempting to convince your brain that this is the first time you’ve seen that particular text, which is difficult. Thus, changing the way you present the information—from a digital file to a printed document to a formatted proof—can give you an advantage. While the text may not have changed very much, the way your brain receives it will each time it changes form. Writing, editing, and producing a book is a lengthy process, and it’s easy to become focused on the end goal: holding a finished book in your hands. Reviewing printed proofs provides an opportunity to do that in a way, but it’s important to note that reaching the proof stage doesn’t mean the work is finished. In actuality, it means the work is almost finished, but this stage should not be rushed through or hurried in any way—it’s your last chance to catch errors before the published edition is distributed to readers.
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