How to Check Your Book Proof in 3 Simple Steps

by | Aug 16, 2011

When you are publishing a book, there inevitably comes a moment of truth. This is a moment that you’ve been anticipating, waiting for, excited about. This is a moment of truth for you as both an author and a publisher.

The printed proof of your book arrives on your doorstep.

Until now, the book you’ve been creating has existed only in your word processing files, in the printouts you’ve been editing, in the layouts and typography on the screen.

Now you see the book for the first time, you get to hold it in your hands. There’s no denying that this moment has the power to move people, and rightly so. You’re on the edge of publication. If you’re like me, you’re both excited and a little frightened. But wait! Don’t push that “approve” button just yet!

Why You Want to Review a Physical Proof

Putting a book together is a complicated process involving a manuscript, editing, page design, cover creation, and a lot of other things you’ve dealt with to get to this point.

The point of the proof is to prove that you’ve done it correctly. Many errors that were invisible on screen or in printouts suddenly leap off the page. Misalignments, wrong fonts, weird spacing, and typographical errors can all creep into our files without us noticing.

I’ve produced hundreds of books over the years, and these bugs still happen to me. So, as a professional book designer, what’s the difference between me and a newbie self-published author?

I check those proofs like my job depends on it. Because it does. You can proof your book like a pro, too. Just follow along.

How to Check Your Book Proof

First, prepare yourself. This is the last stage in producing your book, so spend the time to do it right. Books last a very long time, and so do the errors that sneak into them. This is your opportunity to make this book as error-free as possible.

I’m going to suggest a 3-step process:

Proofing Step 1. Read the Book

If at all possible, read the entire book. While you are reading, you’ll be checking for typographical errors and inconsistencies. Is the text complete? Did a paragraph get left out somewhere along the way? Is part of a sentence cut off at the bottom of a page?

All of these things can happen at one end of a book file when you’re looking at the other end. Check to make sure everything that’s supposed to be there is actually there. While you’re reading, be aware of the following:

  1. Fonts – Are they used consistently throughout the book?
  2. Inch vs. quote marks – Good typography uses proper curled quotation marks, not the straight inch marks. Check the ones in your book.
  3. Hyphens, ems and ens – Each type of dash has a different use. For instance, numbers or dates in a range are separated by an en dash, not a hyphen.
  4. Line spacing – Is it consistent in every paragraph throughout the book?
  5. Word spacing – Do you have some lines that are much looser or much tighter than the others? Watch out for forced line breaks that might be left in the file.

If you can, have someone who hasn’t seen the book before also read through it. You’ll be surprised by the errors that can be uncovered by an observer who’s not directly invested in the work.

Proofing Step 2. Look at the Book

What do I mean by “look”? I mean ignore the text and instead concentrate on everything else. Here are the things you’ll typically be looking for, and some tips on how to find them.

  1. Orphans/widows -Those pesky single lines at the bottom of a page or parts of lines at the top of a page. If you can get rid of them, do so.
  2. Running heads need to be consistent and have the proper information, like part titles or chapter titles. It’s easy to make a mistake with these, so check them thoroughly.
  3. Chapter openers should also be consistent. Does each chapter start in the same place on the page and contain the same elements in the same order?
  4. Folios or page numbers need a look. Blank pages should have nothing on them, and also check that your pagination is accurate with all odd-numbered pages on the right. It pays to check!
  5. Page references are another trap. If you referred to something “in Chapter 2” or “on page 112” is it still there?
  6. Paragraph indents ought to be consistent throughout, no matter what style you’re using.
  7. Subhead spacing and alignment can be controlled by styles in your software, but you should check them anyway to make sure they are uniform.

Here’s a trick for you: Hold the edge of the book in one hand and allow the pages to flip quickly through your fingers. You’ll spot misalignments because they “pop” out compared to the other pages. Try it.

Proofing Step 3. Proof the Cover

The front and back covers of your book are the most important two pages in terms of book sales. Here are elements of your cover to check on the proof:

  1. Is the overall design and the colors what you expected?
  2. Is your title clearly visible?
  3. Is the type on your spine clear and straight?
  4. Make sure no important elements are too close to the trimmed edges of the book. I recommend you have .5″ minimum around the edges.
  5. If you have a barcode, or if you’ve printed the ISBN on the back cover, make sure they match the ISBN on your copyright page.
  6. If you included a category and price, are they correct?
  7. Don’t forget to proofread the copy on the back cover.

Proof, Revise, Upload, Publish!

Don’t be surprised if you need to upload revised versions of both your interior and cover. That’s actually pretty normal.

Go through the trouble of checking your proof, correcting your files and uploading the revisions. When it comes time to publish your book to the world, when it goes up for sale online, you’ll be confident you’ve put the best product you can on the market.

Congratulations, you’re now a published author!

Ed: This article was originally featured on CreateSpace.com under the title A Guide to Reviewing Your Book Proof.

Photo by mt 23

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16 Comments

  1. Jenny

    Hello, any suggestions on how to ensure CreateSpace or Ingram Spark (Both POD) services can be consistent in the product they print, after all the proofing I have done, the book’s error are POD errors not manuscript or cover design issues. One copy has skew back cover nearly losing the barcode off the bottom, one is cut too close to the edge, others with blurred coloured text headings etc. I appreciate their get-out-clause of “variances” but their errors they make my typos and mistakes look insignificant. I have had 4 hard proofs from Ingram Spark of this edition so far and all have had varying problems, other editions from CreateSpace have also suffered. Any suggestions on how you can you trust a customer gets a good looking book from POD? Can you explain why is there such a difference between what you called “commercial books” and POD? Thanks

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Jenny, good question.

      First, the accuracy of the process. Most POD suppliers commit to print your cover within .25″ accuracy. However, this can mean a shift up, down, sideways, or “skewed” at an angle. As long as they are within that tolerance, they have met their production goal, even though the result might look pretty bad, for instance if you had a straight rule near the edge of the book and it ended up skewed. Of course, they aim to produce the best books they can, but the equipment cannot reliably be more accurate than that. Offset printing has much tighter tolerances.

      However, if you receive books that are outside the tolerance specified by the vendor, by all means return them or ask for a refund.

      Also, keep in mind POD is less consistent than offset printing, so one book printed poorly does not mean the next copy will be printed the same way.

      POD has gotten a lot better than its early days, but there are still tradeoffs for the convenience and risk reduction you achieve with this technology.

      Even today, if you have a book that has to be produced to high and consistent standards, I would recommend a short-run offset book printer.

      Reply
  2. Maarten

    I just received my proof copies from createspace and immediately noticed the text on even pages started about a line lower then on the odd pages. I of course thought this had to do with my formatting but when I looked at the second proof I found it was perfectly aligned. Clearly this is a printing issue that is out of my control.

    Personally I don’t like any misalignment but where should the fault tolerance lie (if anywhere)?

    Thank you

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Maarten, sorry to hear about the poor printing. The POD process seems to include a lot of variation within it, more than we are used to in commercial offset. I don’t know whether CreateSpace posts tolerances they work within, but if the pages are obviously out of alignment, I would consider that an error on their part and ask them to produce another proof that looks correct, since your PDF was properly imposed. One spec I received from a POD supplier said they accepted up to .25″ of movement including lateral or vertical shift, as well as skew. But let them know you are unhappy and make sure the production books are correct.

      Reply
      • Maarten

        Thank you, 0.25″ is significant movement and certainly more than the single line I saw off. I’m Glad I ordered two copies or else I would be cursing at Word right now trying to figure out where I was going wrong.

        Reply
  3. Henry Hyde

    Excellent post as usual, Joel, succinct and useful.

    As a fellow design pro, when I’m writing and editing my own work, I have two or three ‘go to’ eagle-eyed friends who I trust to pick up on the things I’ve missed.

    A little tip of my own: when people type letters or reports in MS Word, they often put two spaces after a full stop. This looks bad in a book, so a simple fix is to use ‘Find & Change’ to substitute single spaces for the doubles throughout the document.

    My other pet peeve concerns the humble tab and its constant abuse… But that’s a whole other topic!

    Reply
  4. Ken E Baker

    Thanks Joel! I love your check about each chapter starting in the same place on the page. That is the difference between a newbie and a master-crafter. Thanks for the awesome advice :)

    Reply
  5. Alyn C.

    For me, Step 3 was most helpful. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
  6. Richard Hurley

    It’s a bit luxurious in terms of time, but reading the book aloud (slowly) to another reader who follows the text is helpful. Alternate paragraphs to keep alert.

    That said, other, non-authorial eyes are essential. A writer proofreads with a serious disadvantage: he/she knows what “ought” to be on the page, and the mind is very powerfully predisposed to see what “ought” to be there (rather than the glaring typos that really are).

    POD review and early promotional copies are a great second chance. And third chance. And fourth… and so on…

    Reply
  7. Anthony StClair

    Wow. What a great reminder that proofing your proof is so, so much more that just hunting for typos. It’s one thing to have the red pen ready for corrections, but thank you for reminding us about all the physical and formatting issues to look for too. So many little things to check — the ISBN match/check was an especially good one!

    Reply
  8. William J. Kelleher, Ph.D.

    Hi Joel!

    I’ve been kind of lazy about carefully proof reading my pdf copy, but your advice here is a needed kick in pants. Thanks!

    Reply
  9. Barbara Techel

    I appreciate your advice on this, Joel. Having a checklist such as this is a wonderful way to make sure everything is looked over correctly. Have a proof to look all this over, I agree, is vital. Thanks again!

    Reply
  10. Vera Pastore

    Joel–This is a great article for all book authors, especially first-timers. As a freelance book editor, I search for all of these errors (and more) whether I’m editing an original manuscript or doing a final proof.

    I especially loved your comment about reviewing a physical proof rather than relying on the screen version. I was just explaining this to a potential client yesterday. I don’t think he believed me. Thanks for the confirmation!

    Reply
  11. Joel Friedlander

    @Marla, thanks. I hope it’s useful.

    @Jim, most authors don’t realize quite how difficult it is to get rid of the errors in a manuscript. Spell checkers don’t work, editors help, friends can proofread, but in the end it either takes a whole lot of sets of eyes to find everything, or you have to pay a real live proofreader to do the job. I always tell authors to not obsess over the corrections because, once the book is released to the public, they’ll be getting a lot more corrections from readers who take the time to send them in. Good luck with your book!

    Reply
  12. Jim Crigler

    It is impossible to over-emphasize your point: “have someone who hasn’t seen the book before also read through it.” A friend who checked Unthinkable (see my link) found at least one error on more than 3/4 of the pages.

    All my design errors are still there, but in my own defense, I made those before I began following The Book Designer. I plan to repair most of those when I push a new edition to CreateSpace.

    Reply
  13. Marla Markman

    Excellent article, Joel! This really covers it and is a terrific checklist.

    Reply

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