How much can you change at proofing?

4 March 2010

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the mental shift required of authors in the transition from editing their manuscript to typesetting their book, of the need to let go, give their book its freedom. However, sometimes this shift only truly comes at the proofing stage when the author suffers a rude awakening about what changes are actually allowed. Suddenly, there is heard the discordant sound of money being demanded with menaces.

How can this be?

Typesetters must be paid

Today, more likely than not, the typesetter of your book isn’t someone beavering away in a dungeon beneath your editor’s executive suite. Rather, he is a freelancer whose office looks out on cows and crops somewhere out in the countryside or an employee of one of the big Indian outsourcing firms in an industrial park on the outskirts of Chennai. Either way, the typesetter is paid for his work – and often on a per-page basis, not by the hour.

(See here for more about typesetters – and designers – and how they tick.)

In these circumstances, it is hardly surprising that typesetters try to avoid being saddled with extra, unpaid work by threatening publishers with penalty charges. In turn, to protect itself, the press will seek to pass responsibility for any such costs over to the author.

Contractual consequences

Has your contract a clause something like this?

If so, you are in good company. This sort of wording is pretty standard among publishers. Indeed, sometimes it can all get quite mathematical. The terms of a contract may well include a maximum amount of proof corrections that authors can make at the publisher’s expense. Anything over and above that level will be charged back to them. What of course the press is doing here is to protect itself against any extra charges levied by the typesetter for ‘unnecessary’ changes.

While most publishers would accept some changes, please bear in mind that alterations to proofs are time-consuming, costly and can introduce further errors. Many typesetters thus charge publishers for every single correction apart from those that relate to fixing typesetting errors, not least those arising from the file conversion, as we have seen. (Not even typos are exempt; after all, these should have been picked up during copy-editing.) Charges can escalate rapidly, and eventually (as seen above) your own pocket could be at risk.

Proofing on a short leash

Perhaps because she doesn’t feel comfortable with this situation, your production editor is likely to work hard to avoid any possibility of such charges raising their ugly heads. Pre-emptively, she will do this by clamping down hard on what changes you are allowed to make to the proofs.

Arguably, this is quite reasonable. The time for resolving ifs and maybes was in the writing phase. Clarifications, restructuring and polishing your text belonged to editing, likewise any last-minute content changes. Thereafter, it is only reasonable to expect that the text delivered for typesetting is final. Consequently, your job now is only to correct any typesetting errors but otherwise to make no changes.

That’s all very well and good but, out in the real (scholarly) world, something pertinent to your text may well have happened that absolutely must be mentioned in your book, or there could be typos and factual errors that (true) should have been but were not picked up in the editing process. As I said above, most publishers would accept many such changes but expect that the patience of your production editor will rapidly wear thin. Some leeway will be given with the first, unpaginated proofs but almost nothing with the final, paginated proofs.

As for feedback on (and suggested changes to) the page design, something that I raised as a possibility here during the first proofing and that I’ll elaborate on in my next post about the final proofs, expect that here especially you will encounter quite stiff resistance.

That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t still take a step back and look at your book with a critical eye. You can be sure that others after publication will be doing the same. You may not win the argument in every respect but you could still achieve a better look for your finished book.

(Post #8 of the Proofing section of a lengthy series on the book production process, the first post of which is here.)

Who proofs

27 February 2010

I believe that my last post established the need to proof your book. The question is, who should be put to do this tedious work? You. Sorry, but that’s how it is. Your involvement is unavoidable.

The buck stops here

Whether or not your publisher proofs your book (and my guess is that most do, sometimes by employing an outside professional proof-reader), the ultimate responsibility for checking the proofs lies with you. Subsequent book reviewers may sniff at the failure of the publisher to properly edit your book, but you will be blamed for making the original error.

Likewise, the typesetter keeps an eye open for the conversion errors discussed in my last post but ultimately it will be your responsibility at the proofing stage to pick up any such problems.

Why? To be sure, there is the wider issue of whose work is this (an issue I should have addressed under editing and will get back to). But ultimately it is your book that is being published. You own it, you too are responsible for its success. And, as such, in the words of Harry Truman, ‘The buck stops here’.

Avoiding humiliation

A sense of personal ownership and responsibility may not be the only motivation, of course. A powerful – and personal – reason for authors wanting their books properly proofed before printing is to avoid later embarrassment (not to say humiliation).

All of us will have suffered the temporary humiliation of discovering we have spent the whole evening at some public event with our trouser buttons undone, a breadcrumb dangling under our nose, whatever. But longer lasting, even more public humiliations are waiting in ambush, promising ever after to haunt you. The most damaging of these for an academic author can be the book review.

Seriously, would you want a review of your book to conclude on this note?

Correspondingly, editing seems to have played almost no role in the production of this book. Countless grammatical mistakes and other errors mar the text. Important and commonly used words are misspelled, such as ‘dominos’ [sic] (p. 117).  There are also numerous small errors of fact and usage – sometimes the author mistakenly refers to Walter W. Rostow (pp. 5, 8, 129), and at other times, correctly, to Walt W. Rostow (p. 121); in one paragraph (p. 12) the author refers correctly to “the Tengku,” meaning Abdul Rahman, but a few lines later, confusingly, to “the Tungku” (a “tungku” is a trivet or brazier). These errors aside, the author has identified a topic of genuine importance, and his new book will no doubt stimulate much additional scholarship.

Mind you, the above review may not be fair; this may be yet another carping book review for which there is a long tradition in the academies. I have no idea in this case. Fair or not, such a public drubbing is not exactly a great career booster (or a good way to start the week).

(I should add that one review of our own book wasn’t much better. Again, the chief complaint was that the proofing wasn’t up to scratch.)

Not your business

One set of proofs you need not concern yourself – the printer’s proofs. These are output during the printing stage and are not something that authors tend to be involved in. (That said, there are some types of book – art books, for instance – where it might be appropriate for authors to be consulted.) More about these proofs later.

But otherwise

However, what I am discussing now is your involvement in the typesetting or author’s proofs, the so-called first and final proofs. These are another matter.

Here, at this stage, not to proof your book would be a criminally stupid waste of all the hours you have put into its creation. More to the point – as you will find out the longer you are involved in publishing your research – publishers know their stuff but it is always you, the author, who knows your stuff. Look after it.

(Post #3 of the Proofing section of a lengthy series on the book production process, the first post of which is here.)

File conversion errors

1 February 2010

A key point with typesetting is that (as mentioned earlier) all of the text and image files are imported into a ‘container’ and then manipulated there. Little may be done to an imported illustration apart from resizing or cropping (all the other enhancement work has already been done in an image editing program like Photoshop; indeed, this will usually be where any further editing is done, the typesetting file simply updated with the revised image file).

In contrast, the imported text is converted at import and in most cases any dynamic link to the original text file is lost.

Errors often occur with these file conversions. Use of special text (as discussed in my previous post) is often a cause of later grief but it isn’t the sole cause, however (indeed, we are sometimes totally mystified why this or that text corruption occurs). Here are a few examples:

  • Your fancy Arabic script, keyed in Word from right to left, may turn into left–right nonsense (though to anyone other than an Arabic specialist it still looks fine – it looks Arabic).
  • Macrons (like those above the ‘o’ here in Tōkyō) are relatively simple to key in Windows but can turn to junk on the Mac.
  • Italicized text becomes roman.
  • Superscript characters (e.g. note markers in the text) become normally aligned.
  • There may be a software bug in the typesetting program that arbitrarily changes certain character combinations to something else (a recent bug in InDesign – since corrected – changed certain characters to a full stop; this was tricky to pick up).

Obviously, conversion errors can also happen with image files but this is far less common.

The typesetter keeps an eye open for such conversion errors but ultimately it will be your responsibility at the proofing stage to pick up any such problems. I’ll return to this in a later post.

(Post #13 of the Design & Typesetting section of a lengthy series on the book production process, the first post of which is here.)

Font issues

31 January 2010

If your text is of the plain vanilla variety (using Times, Arial and other similar fonts), then there should be no font-related problems in the typesetting of your book. However (and here note that this is a Western publisher speaking), if you use any non-standard text like that listed below, then you will need to start talking seriously with your editor – indeed, you should have done this months ago.

  • Text with diacritics or special accents (Vietnamese, for instance, uses multiple accents over a single Latin character).
  • Other special fonts or character sets (ornaments, for example)
  • Non-Latin script (e.g. Cyrillic, Arabic and Chinese).
  • Mathematical and scientific symbols (many based on Greek letters).
  • Formulas (often a complex arrangement of super- and sub-scripted Greek letters and other symbols and markers that must be precisely placed but still run into the main text).

There are dangers in the use of such special text, three that I can think of right off-hand:

  1. The big danger is that everything turns to custard in the conversion process (an issue I shall return to in a few days time). This can be a result of incompatibility between fonts and/or between computer operating systems, something I have discussed in an earlier post.
  2. Moreover, just because you got this Chinese font free with Word, it doesn’t mean that it can be used by your publisher without paying a heft price; this issue, too, I have explored elsewhere.
  3. And finally there is the issue of readability (something I have also written about earlier and enraged a few people as a result); I would argue that every insertion of special text creates a ‘speed bump’ in the smooth reading of your text.

Please think very hard before using such special text and, if you must use it, then consult with your production editor at an early stage.

(Post #12 of the Design & Typesetting section of a lengthy series on the book production process, the first post of which is here.)