First proofs

1 March 2010

Normally, initial typesetting of your book will not take too long, especially if no attempt is made to finalize the pagination of the book (for instance, no illustrations yet placed in the document).

As we have seen earlier, the result of the initial typesetting is a set of first proofs delivered to the production editor. These proofs will be quickly checked then your production editor will send you a copy for proof-reading. At the same time, chances are that someone at the press or an outside professional proof-reader will check this first proof as well.

About the first proof

The proof received will almost certainly be typeset text output on ordinary pages (described and illustrated here) rather than the galleys of yesteryear. In all probability, these page proofs will not have been finally paginated (essentially because the illustrations are missing and some changes to the text are expected). In addition, as pointed out in Leena’s mail above, much else about the proof indicates that it is a preliminary version of your book. For example:

  • The running heads are incorrect or non-existent.
  • The text will likely be loose in places (any hyphenation or massaging of the character spacing yet to be done).
  • Text may not completely fill the page so that page bottoms in a two-page spread are not lined up.
  • Tables may straddle two pages.
  • Figures and illustrations may be missing (though, as illustrated in my previous post, space may have been reserved for these).
  • Any ‘hard’ cross-references (like ‘see overleaf’, ‘see page 43’, etc.) should be flagged as provisional.

On the other hand, you should expect something more than a picture of the typesetting in its raw, newly converted state. In particular:

  • The book/page design should be apparent in the page layout (e.g. trimmed page size and fonts are correct).
  • Paragraph (and character) styles should have been implemented in the text.

Your primary task

What your production editor will be expecting you to do in quite a short time is carefully to go through the proofs, marking up any changes required. (My next post describes marking up in greater detail while the subsequent post lists the common proofing marks used in printing and publishing.)

Mainly, you should look for problems in the text, examples being:

  • Typos.
  • Corruptions in the text (perhaps caused by the text conversion problems described a month ago and again more recently).
  • Missing text.
  • Incorrectly formatted text (e.g. missing italics).
  • Paragraph appearance is inappropriate (possibly due to incorrect assignment of paragraph style).

Of course, you may wish to request other changes that have nothing to do with errors in the text. This is a problematic issue that I shall discuss in a separate post later this week.

Proofing with the other side of the brain

In addition – although the lack of illustrations, final formatting, etc. may force you to stretch your imagination somewhat – now is probably the last moment when you can comment on the page design and request changes. (Unfortunately, for most authors it is also the first time that they have seen how the publisher intends to layout their book – so this is a last-gasp thing I am foisting upon you. Indeed, it is probably too late for you to make a similar ‘right-brain’ assessment with the final proofs that I suggest in an upcoming post.)

While it is unlikely that you can get your publisher to completely change the page design presented to you, there is a chance that you can convince your production editor to make some changes. For instance, if you can demonstrate that the fonts used evoke a mood/approach at odds with (your treatment of) the subject, then it need not be too late for such a systematic change to be implemented.

Be smart, however, in what you request. You’ll have a greater chance of agreement to global changes that can be implemented relatively easily rather than to custom changes that must be made on a case-by-case basis.

And finally

There are different ways of noting your proofing changes/corrections; these I describe in my next post. If you choose to mark up the proofs received from your publisher, then make sure that you save a copy of what you send back. This will be your reference at the final-proof stage, ensuring it is quick to check that the changes you requested have been implemented.

(Post #5 of the Proofing section of a lengthy series on the book production process, the first post of which is here.)

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What is typesetting?

22 January 2010

With the design phase now completed, your manuscript and the design brief will be sent to a typesetter, who will take your text and illustrative material, setting it out on the page ready for printing.

An art and process

There is a lot more to typesetting (and its sister, typography) than you would think. Both have their origins in the Gutenberg revolution and each, in their different ways, were concerned with the presentation of textual material in type format ready for printing. In earlier times there was a big difference between them. Typography was the art of designing, setting and arranging type whereas typesetting was the process (or craft) of actually setting the type.

Note the class difference: typography wore a beret and twirled a designer’s pen, typesetting wore an apron, punched type and had ink on its fingers. As we shall see, however, the differences between the two have blurred in recent years.

Together, typography and typesetting combine an art and process that only really succeeds when invisible. In many respects, the layout of your book is comparable to the background music added to a film. Its primary duty is to make your text clear and accessible, but ideally it should also enhance the meaning with mood and style. Though stylish, the layout must also be durable (indeed timeless), transcending fashion. Much creative energy goes into this art, which is the subject of passionate debate among its practitioners.

At the forefront of the publishing revolution

The differences between typesetting and typography have narrowed (even blurred) due to the digital revolution and advent of desktop publishing (DTP), which has virtually obliterated other forms of typesetting in recent years.

At the sharp end of publishing – in the production of books, journals, etc. – the old, quite laborious and expensive process of producing print-ready material by hand-setting individual lines and pages of type (a job for well-paid tradesmen) has given way to on-screen, WYSIWYG page composition using personal computers and (usually) lower-paid semi-clerical staff.

In parallel with (and a precondition for) this transformation was the development of things we all take for granted today (everyone, not just publishing professionals) – the personal computer, DTP software, new digital fonts (see below), laser printers using the Postscript programming language, and PDF (which renders Postscript into a viewable, WYSIWYG format). An even more recent addition has been the arrival of text mark-up languages like XML; originating from the old pre-DTP typesetting systems, these are still esoteric, even for many publishing people.

For a while, typesetting came in-house for most publishers and many of the old, specialist typesetting firms went bust. In recent years, however, further cost-cutting by publishers has seen this typesetting work move out to local freelancers and further afield to places like India. (I have described this development elsewhere in greater detail, if you are interested.)

At the same time that the process of page layout has been transformed, a parallel transformation has been seen in typography. Here, there have been huge advances in typographical design, not least the development first of scalable, digital fonts followed by an explosion of new designs and more recently the digital capture and standardization of all the world’s varied alphabets and scripts in the form of Open Type fonts.

These advances have been an essential feature of the digital revolution in publishing. Without them, there would be no #e-publishing, no e-readers like the Kindle, probably no iPhone or other smart phone, and indeed even the PC, Web, etc. would be far more limited things than they are.

Key concerns and tools

According to Wikipedia, ‘Traditional typography follows four principles: repetition, contrast, proximity, and alignment.’ The same could be said for typesetting; they are classic requirements of a good design and layout. In essence, then, when laying out your book, your typesetter will be concerned to:

  • Fit your text and illustrations into the agreed page extent.
  • Place text and illustrations in an effective and appropriate combination.
  • Apply a layout that is uniform and predictable.
  • Implement a design that is elegant but also clear and readable.
  • Deliver the print-ready PDF files on or before the agreed date.


Given the sophistication of today’s DTP software (programs like Adobe InDesign, for instance), the typesetter of your book will have a vast array of tools at his/her disposal to ensure these goals are met. There are too many to list here but among them will be:

  • a selection of appropriate fonts in different sizes and styles;
  • paragraph and character styles, assigning uniform values to text (font, size, colour, alignment, etc.) that can be globally changed in an instant;
  • hyphenation, character spacing (kerning) and line spacing (leading), allowing fine adjustments to how much space an amount of text actually fills; and
  • much more (e.g. alignment and rotation, linking to external files, layering, use of colour, etc.)

Such is the world of the typesetter. But, as shall be seen in my next post, this esoteric world about to impinge on your own.

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