The Proofreading Process

You guys! I’m excited to tell you that my book, Pathway to Publication, could be available as soon as next month! (Stay tuned! Cover reveal soon!)

This past weekend, I’ve been working through the PDF of the typeset pages of my book to do a final proofread. The publisher kindly is allowing me to do so (since I’ve proofread hundreds of typeset books across my career and … well … definitely wanted to do it for my own). I have a system for proofreading and was eager to see how it played out.

I thought it might be helpful to you, my readers, to understand what the process looks like in checking the final look of book pages and doing a final proofread.

I love love love doing this part of any project. It’s like a treasure hunt making sure the pages are clean and looking for those errant and persistent typos.

So here we go:

On my first pass through the manuscript, I go page by page and do a visual check in several passes. I learned through difficult experience that my brain can’t handle trying to watch for all of the visual elements while also reading every word.

So I will go through the entire manuscript probably two or three times, focusing on different visual elements.

Visual scan of pages

I look down the right side of each page to make sure all paragraphs are justified right (meaning that the edge of the copy is straight). Most books have a straight right margin. If not, and they’re what is called “ragged right,” then I want to make sure that is consistent.

At the same time, I scan to see if the pages across each spread look even on the top and bottom.

Are the paragraph indents even? (Sometimes a random extra tab gets carried over from the Word document and shows up as a double tab on typeset pages.)

Running heads (or footers)

I go horizontally across each spread looking at the running heads (or footers). I’m checking to see if the wording is correct. Often a book will have the book title on the verso (left) page of a spread and the chapter title on the recto (right) side of the spread. I have often seen that the chapter title on the running head doesn’t match the actual chapter it’s in. (I even once copyedited a book where one of the words of the book’s title was missing from the running head on each verso page.)

I also look for “widows” and “orphans.” These are a single word or short line at the top or bottom of a page, or a subhead that’s hanging alone at the bottom of a page. These look awkward and unprofessional.

Chapter starts

I then go back to the beginning and check all of the chapter starts — the first pages of each chapter. Usually designers create an interior design that makes these pages different. The chapter number or title may start halfway down the page and there may be a drop cap on the first paragraph (a larger first letter).

There may also be a design element. (Look at the cool compass on the chapter starts of my book!) I check the first pages of each chapter for consistency. Sometimes the spacing is inconsistent or the drop cap is missing. (In the case below, I would like those two highlighted words, “or an,” moved to the next line so the lines are more even.)

Formatting of elements

I pull up my manuscript — the one I so carefully style tagged. You may not have style tagged, but you do know what level headings go where, what other elements require special formatting, etc.

I scan comparing my manuscript to the typeset pages to make sure the typesetter has differentiated and correctly rendered my levels of subheads. I make sure any box text (elements such as long quotations that should be indented) are done correctly. I check the bulleted text (sometimes bullets are on copy where they shouldn’t be and vice versa). You may have other elements, such as charts, diagrams, pictures. Make sure everything is where you want it and accompanying captions are correct.

Table of contents

I usually print out the pages of the Table of Contents (TOC) for cross checking as it makes less back and forth in the PDF. I always make sure the chapter title in the TOC matches the chapter title at the chapter start (I think every time I’ve proofread a book, I’ve found an error here). In Pathway to Publication, the editor asked me to make a detailed outline that put all my subheads in the TOC.

In my example below, I am marking places where my Level 2 heads need to be indented slightly under the Level 1 heads in the TOC.

Page numbers will be added on our next and final pass.

Now proofread!

Now you proofread every word. Every. Single. Word. Start with the title page (in the photo above I had to add the subtitle because — ahem — I hadn’t settled on one yet, so you can see my little highlight and comment), read every word on the copyright page, read every word slowly, look at every piece of punctuation, read every footnote, read every caption. At this point I make the page larger on my screen so I don’t strain my eyes.

Besides the spelling and punctuation, notice lines that look scrunched together or where the letters look too loose. This means the “kerning” is off and you can ask the typesetter to fix it if it looks awkward.

Sometimes lines may look to close to the lines above them. This is an issue with the “leading,” and again, you can ask your typesetter to check and adjust it.

Then you need to read every bit of the back matter. That bibliography? Check the formatting and that each element is included. Appendices, glossaries, indexes, oh my! This is where those of us who also love copyediting really strut our stuff!

And here’s the kicker. I will do all this and there will still be typos. Ughhh. Perhaps I’ll do a contest and we can all treasure hunt together.

Do you have any tips and tricks for doing proofreading?

2 thoughts on “The Proofreading Process

  1. Definitely been there, Linda! Proofreading involves a lot more than people think it does, as you’ve explained. I wish I had time to do three passess on some of the manuscripts I’ve edited. Most of the time, I barely have enough time to read the book through once. ğŸ˜ž
    Congrats on being close to the finish line on your book!

    1. Oh isn’t that the truth! Usually the schedule is so tight by the time the proofreader gets it that there is barely time to do what we need to do. I know we’ve had some good saves in our day, though!

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