Avoiding the Deadly Scourge of Author’s Alterations

POSTED ON Sep 21, 2010

Joel Friedlander

Written by Joel Friedlander

Home > Blog > Editorial, Self-Publishing > Avoiding the Deadly Scourge of Author’s Alterations

Author’s alterations: Just the words carry a certain dread and weight. Galleys or proofs marked up with AA in the margins meant $$ chargeable changes. When it comes time to produce your book, you will become familiar with the idea of Author’s Alterations.

For most people, writing a book is a challenging task. The mental discipline to keep it straight, the ability to span hundreds of pages of material to ensure consistency, are special skills. Authors get well-earned respect for turning out competent, useful or entertaining books.

What might take an author years to produce, we read in a few days. We naturally compress the story into a short time, especially if it grabs our interest. We want to keep reading, or get to the next lesson.

So the time it takes for a reader to get from the first chapter to the last is very short compared to how long it took to write them. Or to edit and rewrite them. This magnifies any inconsistencies in the book. They are just a lot more obvious.

The Book Designer

As a book designer I’m at the end of the writing, editing and rewriting process. The book may have gone through many revisions. It might have been worked on by several friends or editors.

But all of a sudden, the manuscript you’ve worked on all these months or years is going to be turned into a book. A real, live book, with typesetting and chapter openers, with a proper copyright page.

And it’s my job, in the typesetting of your book, to warn authors about Author’s Alterations.

What Exactly Is An Author’s Alteration and What Isn’t?

To get this exactly, look at how a book project unfolds:

  1. After being contracted, I get a sample of the manuscript from the author that shows most or all of the formatting that will be needed in the book.
  2. I use this sample to develop several page designs that are appropriate and meet the author/publisher’s criteria.
  3. We collaborate as necessary to get to a final design, and the client signs off on it.
  4. I request from the author the final manuscript, the one she is ready to go to press with. I remind her that this is what we’ll use to typeset her book, and that she might want to check it over one more time.
  5. When the author gives me the final manuscript we marry it with the page design and produce a complete page proof.

The book is now fully paginated. If there were no corrections we can use the proof for proofreading and indexing, and we would be ready to go to press.

But no.

It just never happens. Particularly with self-publishers, most of whom are creating their first book, something else can happen. You see your manuscript now in book pages. The subheads are set in different type. The lines are hyphenated and justified. It looks different.

Because you’re seeing your work in a whole new way, inevitably you see things you never saw before. You see changes you could make, or a better way to say something. You notice the date you meant to check, but forgot about 2 months ago.

You are now in the AA Zone. You are about to change the final manuscript the typesetter has already laid out into book pages. And when you start to make changes,

One change can change the ending of a line…

which can change the length of the paragraph…

which can change the ending of the page…

which can change the number of pages in the book and the pagination of the rest of the section where the change occurred…

which can change the indexing, the table of contents, the lists of figures or tables.

You now have to pay the typesetter to go back and make the changes in the book, because it’s a file on the book designer’s computer in a page layout program. And if there are anchored graphics in your book, tables, charts, graphics or text boxes, they may all have to be adjusted, too.

Author’s Alterations are not to be confused with Printer’s Errors (PEs) which are corrections to mistakes by the typesetter or layout artist. There is no charge for correcting PEs.

Nobody Likes AAs

Flowing a text file, even a long one, into a page layout is a pretty smooth and efficient process. Going back over a 300 page book finding mispellings on the 7th line of the 2nd paragraph from the bottom on page 117 is an excrutiating and time-consuming process. One or two corrections can easily take as much time as it took to lay out the whole chapter.

Every book is going to need changes—it’s like a law of nature—so I try to account for them into my agreements. “Two hours of author’s alterations are included in this estimate…” is common. Four hours on larger projects. Why?

I’m like you. If I budget for a certain job, I want to know it’s going to cost that much at the end. But time and again it happens, and the AAs start to pile up. All of a sudden you’re two weeks behind schedule and going back into layout. Everyone has to adjust.

Last year I had a client who, against my advice, continued to change, correct, alter, adjust, tweak and experiment with his page proofs. By the time we reached proof #12, the cost of his project had exactly doubled.

Even though there was twice the income from the project, I wasn’t happy about it. No one wants to do the same thing over and over again, it’s a waste of time and energy.

Some authors say it’s just the price they pay for being “spontaneous” or that they are “visual” and have to see the book on the page before they finish editing.

But I say: Avoid the scourge of Author’s Alterations: make sure what you think is “final” really is final. Your book will sail through production and you’ll be a happy publisher.

Image licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License, original work copyright by nics_events, https://www.flickr.com/photos/nics_events/

Joel Friedlander

Written by
Joel Friedlander

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