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Page Proofs -- Bleh!

A couple of months ago I posted about copyediting.  I'd just received the copyedited manuscript of The Horsemen's Gambit, book II of Blood of the Southlands and I was going through it, dealing with the copyeditor's queries and making some last minute changes.

Well, today I began my last task in the production process.  I am proofreading the typeset version of the book, also known as the first-pass page proofs.  What this means, basically, is that I'm looking at the book as it will appear in print, searching for typos, errors in formatting, and any lingering mistakes that I might have made.  It's a rather tedious job, not least because I've already read this book through about five times, and frankly, I'm a little sick of it.  Don't get me wrong:  I like the book.  I think it's one of my best.  But it could be a masterpiece on the order of A Tale of Two Cities, and I still wouldn't want to read it five times through in less than a year.

As I find mistakes, I correct them in pencil and then lay those pages aside.  When I'm done, I'll send those corrected pages -- not the whole book -- back to my editor.  He'll pass them on to Tor, where the changes will be incorporated into the final version of the book.  The goal, of course, is a book without any typos or mistakes of any kind.  In practice, this is virtually impossible to achieve.  Why?  Let me explain it this way:  The book is 140,000 words long, give or take a few thousand.  Each word averages about five letters. (Really:  next time you do a word check in Word check out the other document stats.  You'll probably find that your average word length is about the same.)  That comes out to approximately 700,000 characters.  There are paragraph breaks, too, and also punctuation, spacing issues, etc.  But let's keep the number round for the sake of simplicity.  700,000.  Okay, now let's say that my editor, and the copy editor, and the proofreader, and I manage between us to make it 99.999% perfect.  That would be pretty darn good, actually.  And it would still leave us with seven typos.

So, in a way, I'm doomed to fail before I even begin.  But I'm slogging through.  I've caught a few things and will, no doubt, catch a few more, so I already feel that the work has been worthwhile.  But I'd rather be working on book III.

By the way, a big birthday shout-out to one of my musical heroes, Bela Fleck, who turns 50 today.  You still rock, Bela!

Today's music:  Bela, Tales from the Acoustic Planet


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 11th, 2008 01:12 pm (UTC)
I've always wondered about the page proof process (say that three times fast). I can certainly understand the need for several eyes to go through and make corrections, but it seems to me the publisher would want the author spending his or her time writing new stuff, not lingering over stuff already written, especially when, as you point out, the Law of Diminishing Returns prevents you from attaining perfection. And in those cases where you do find every typo, is it really worth the cost?

Of course, to those of us who are relative new-comers and just starting out in this game, the thought of rummaging through page proofs sounds exciting, exotic, as if we are thinking, gee, I can't wait until the day that I can be frustrated by my set of page proofs.

Which begs the question: how did you feel about going through the galleys of your very first book?
Jul. 11th, 2008 03:30 pm (UTC)
There might have been some excitement the very first time through this part of the process. Seeing my words in typeset form and all. But that went away pretty quickly.

As for why they have authors do it: Two reasons I can think of. First, we know the work better than anyone and will be more likely to notice little things (mispellings of unusual names for instance, which is of particular concern in our genre) that other readers might miss. And second, the choice is to hire someone to do it. We do it for free.
Jul. 11th, 2008 04:10 pm (UTC)
"We are a nation of whiners." --Phil Gramm
Oh, stop your whining, David...!

But, then again, you have a point. No matter how many times and how many eyes review a book ms there's always something that escapes everyone's notice. It's sort of like minute changes in evolutionary DNA, except faster, I guess, and without the coolness factor. :)
Jul. 11th, 2008 04:15 pm (UTC)
Re: "We are a nation of whiners." --Phil Gramm
You're right. I'm a whiner. But all of us are it seems. Here we thought that the economy was tanking, but it's only us. If we were rich and well-connected like Phil Gramm, we wouldn't mind the bank failures, mortgage crisis, rising fuel costs, and stagnating economy. Clearly it's our own fault....
Jul. 11th, 2008 04:30 pm (UTC)
So if you catch 99.99% of all the errors, that still leaves 7 erros for your readers to find. :) They will. And they will let you know about them I am sure. There are readers who take great pride in scouring first editions for those things.
Jul. 11th, 2008 05:03 pm (UTC)
>>There are readers who take great pride in scouring first editions for those things.<<

Believe me: I know....!

Thanks for the comment, Mark.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )


Australia, Ghost Gum
David B. Coe

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