Why proof your book?

OK, so the typesetter has delivered the first proofs of your book and the production editor has forwarded a copy on to you.

What to do with these proofs?
How about use them to proof your book.
Fine, you may think, a good idea to check that no photo is upside down, that sort of stuff.
Ah, but no photos are to be inserted until after this proof.
So you wonder perhaps, what more is there to be done?
Sorry, let me repeat myself. I suggest that you should use these proofs for what they are intended, to proof (as in P-R-O-O-F) your book, to check the entire volume, word by word.
Really, is that necessary?

The checking has already been done

It is not as if yours is a raw text received back from the typesetter. During the writing and editing phases, it has been subjected to quite a lot of scrutiny.

To be sure, at the beginning you might have been naive, thinking that – in these days of spell-checkers – it was no longer necessary to hire someone to check your spelling. Then you discovered that spell-checkers are not exactly intelligent; nothing was flagged when you wrote ‘though’ instead of ‘thought’.

But by now your text has been edited by real people, too – perhaps more than once (at times it seems to have been crawling with editors) – and frankly you are sick of the whole process. Even the typesetter has got into the act, pointing out that the dramatic reconstruction of events used to spice the beginning of your book is wrong; the historical character who is central to your study was actually left-handed (a minor blemish in your text that no-one else picked up but somewhat embarrassing).

So, why waste more time proofing the typeset text? Why indeed.

New errors

The problem is that there is a world of difference between a word processor like Microsoft Word (which it’s likely you have used) and a typesetting program like Adobe InDesign used to set your book. Much of this difference is positive; your text will look better as a result of the typesetting. The downside, however, is that the two types of software are different and that your text must be converted from one format to another. In this process there can occur conversion errors, as I have mentioned earlier.

At NIAS Press last year we were hit by a particularly tricky conversion error. This caused by a software glitch in InDesign that thankfully was soon fixed by Adobe. When imported into InDesign, certain character combinations in the text (say, ‘ts’ – I cannot remember the actual ones) were converted to a full stop. When setting a particular page, our typesetter noticed a sentence ending with two full stops. She deleted the second then noticed that the end word was misspelt.

This too she corrected but thankfully had the presence of mind to search for further instances of a double full stop. There were more, quite a few more. And when she discovered that each of these involved a misspelt word and, worse, she found a full stop in the middle of a misspelt word, she knew that we had a serious problem. The result was an extra careful proofing required of both press and author.

Ultimately, however, it is irrelevant if the errors in your text are old or new. The point is that they may be there and (if so) they need to be found; someone must proof-read your book. The big question is, who?

(Post #2 of the Proofing section of a lengthy series on the book production process, the first post of which is here.)

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