Good proofreading practice means acknowledging that changing one word, or moving one line, can have unintended and damaging consequences throughout the rest of the book if we aren’t careful.
If we want to proofread for publishers, packagers and project-management agencies, or if we're checking self-publishers' print-on-demand books, we need to be comfortable with working on page proofs.
What are page proofs?
The proofreader will usually be asked to work on page proofs. What are they?
'Page proofs are so-called because they are laid out as exactly as they will appear in the final printed book. If all has gone well, what the proofreader is looking at will be almost what the reader sees if they were to walk into a bookshop, pull this title off the shelf and browse through the pages.
The layout process has been taken care of by a professional typesetter who designs the text in a way that is pleasing to the eye and in accordance with a publisher’s brief.' (Not all proofreading is the same: Part I – Working with page proofs)
In this case, the proofreader does not amend the text directly. They annotate the page proofs.
You might be required to work on both hard-copy page and PDF page proofs – it will depend on the client’s preference. You'll be looking for any final spelling, punctuation, grammatical, and consistency errors that remain in the text. However, you'll also expected to check the appearance of the text.
Checks will include the following:
This isn't a comprehensive list but it gives you an idea of how this type of proofreading goes beyond just checking the text for typos. If your client hasn’t supplied you with a proofreading checklist, you can access this free one when you sign up for The Editorial Letter.
What's important here is that every amendment you suggest might have an impact somewhere else. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make the amendment; it means, rather, that you need to be mindful of the consequences of your actions – the knock-on effects.
What are knock-on effects?
Professional proofreaders often refer to the indirect consequences of their mark-up as knock-on effects. A useful way of thinking about this is in terms of dominoes because it provides us with the perfect description of what’s at stake.
Imagine you've lined up four dominos: A, B, C, and D. You push over A and it pushes over B. B then knocks over C, which in turn causes D to fall. Domino D’s topple was caused indirectly by Domino A, even though A didn’t touch D.
This process can occur on page proofs and can have serious consequences. The changes we make can, if we’re not careful, impact on the text flow, the pagination, the contents list, and the index.
Here’s an example to illustrate the point. Imagine the publisher’s brief tasks the proofreader with attending to orphans and widows (those stranded single lines at the bottom or top of a page).
Solutions that involve instructing a typesetter to shuffle a line backward to a previous page, or forward to the next page, in order to avoid the widow/orphan might cause one, or all, of the following problems:
In all three cases, the proofreader has prevented one problem but caused others. Consequently, good practice involves more than blindly placing mark-up instruction on any given page.
Thought needs to be given to how the problem can be tackled and the impact managed so that there is no knock-on effect. Spotting an orphaned or widowed line is not enough. We might also have to consider the following:
If you’re considering training as a proofreader and want to be fit for the purpose of marking up page proofs, check that your course includes a component about knock-on effects.
Even when we are supplied with detailed briefs about an ideal layout, the publisher client expects us to be mindful of the consequences of our amendments. The proofreader’s job is to find solutions to problems in ways that don’t cause unintended damage.
Louise Harnby is a line editor, copyeditor and proofreader who specializes in working with crime, mystery, suspense and thriller writers.
She is an Advanced Professional Member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP), a member of ACES, a Partner Member of The Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi), and co-hosts The Editing Podcast.
Visit her business website at Louise Harnby | Fiction Editor & Proofreader, say hello on Twitter at @LouiseHarnby, connect via Facebook and LinkedIn, and check out her books and courses.
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'Louise uses her expertise to hone a story until it's razor sharp, while still allowing the author’s voice to remain dominant.'
'I wholeheartedly recommend her services ... Just don’t hire her when I need her.'
J B Turner
'Sincere thanks for a beautiful and elegant piece of work. First class.'
'What makes her stand out and shine is her ability to immerse herself in your story.'
'A million thanks – your mark-up is perfect, as always.'