As far as I'm concerned, there are five major "excitements" that happen in any given book project. The first is when the contracts are signed, and the project is a definite GO. The second is when the first draft is written. The third is when the final manuscript is sent off to the publisher. The fourth is receiving the galleys for final proof and approval. And the fifth is actually holding the printed book in my hands. Today, the galleys came.
To those unfamiliar with printing jargon, galley proofs, or galleys are a test copy of what will eventually become a printed piece. The "galley" was the long metal tray printers used for typesetting. So, originally, "galley proofs" were copies of the typeset print that was not yet divided into pages. I liked it when galleys were photocopies of the book as it stands -- all laid out in pages that I could hold my hot little hands and flip through. The galley I'm working on now is a .pdf file that I annotate and mark changes with notes.
(Dirty little secret: I prefer hardcopy proofs. Its easier to compare formatting on page 2 with formatting on p. 222 in hardcopy. Its also easier for me to compare things like leading and kerning space when I have the physical thing in my hands. But paperless progress pushes on regardless of my personal preferences.)
The purpose of galley proofs has always been for marking corrections. Of course, I went over the manuscript with a fine toothed comb before I sent it to the publisher. But the galleys are my FINAL CHANCE to make sure everything is perfect before the printer turns it into something permanent.
Seeing the galleys is exciting. It makes the book seem that much more real. But signing off on them is also fraught with a certain amount of trepidation. My biggest fear (and a valid one) is that I am so familliar with the text that I mentally add words to make it read right, since I know what it is "supposed" to say.
I have a three-part system for tackling galleys. I don't know if it would be right for everyone, but for those who are interested, here it is:
First, I read the entire book from start to finish -- preferably out loud -- and make any corrections that I find.
Next, I read the book backwards. I go page by page and work toward the beginning. I find that reading the pages out of sequence makes me pay more attention to the words, and keeps me from mentally filling in any blanks that might still be there.
Finally, I make sure that all page references are correct. At this stage, I also read all of the photo and illustrations captions out loud to make sure that they make sense.
Proofing is not for the faint of heart or the fried of mind. I can't do hard-line proofing for more than 2 1/2 hours without a break. My eyes start to glaze over, and all the words on the page start to look just fine.
I live in fear of the little mistake. (Not to mention the Big One. I once screwed up when proofing a calendar and allowed it to go to print with Good Friday a WHOLE WEEK before Easter. True story.)
Mistakes can sneak past even the most discerning of editors. For instance last night, after several hours of line-by-line editing, I knew I had to take a break when the word "form" masquerading as "from" nearly slipped by me.
Other things to watch out for:
Leading The leading is the spacing between paragraphs. During the process of designing and laying out the manuscript, it is very easy for the spacing to change from one width to another. Check for consistency.
Kerning This has to do with the amount of space around letters, or with the amount of space that separates letters within words. This is another variable that can change throughout the manuscript. Consistency, again, is key.
Spacing It's very easy to add a space or delete a space after the ends of sentences. Some publishers put two spaces between sentences. Others put only one. It doesn't matter which is chosen. It only matters that the choice remains constant throughout the book.
CAPS, Heads & Sub-heads Check for consistency of font, style, size, color, and capitalization throughout the book. Sometimes the designer will change his or her mind in the midst of a project, but will forget to make the appropriate changes in every chapter.
Table of Contents A quick read-through of the table of contents, comparing its text with the actual chapter titles and sub-titles is critical.
Sequencing If photos or illustrations are present, check two things. First, make sure that any in-text references specifically cite the correct figures. Secondly, make sure that photo citations are in numerical order -- without any duplications or omissions.
Captions Double check that the captions actually refer to the pictures they are citing. Also make sure that all photo and illustration captions are in the same format.
Headers & Footers If the book title is included on every page, or if the chapter titles are on corresponding pages, make sure that they are spelled correctly. Make sure the names are correct. Also, make sure that their placement on the page is consistent throughout the manuscript. For some reason, this is a big one. It's VERY easy for errors in headers & footers to slip by the designer. Forewarned is forearmed.
Margins This is an easy one to overlook, but take a moment to flip through the manuscript and make sure that the margins are consistent throughout. Especially check for margin consistency of bullets or numbered lists within the text.
Internal References Make sure that all page references and self-citations within the book are accurate.
Sound tedious? Yup. But it beats telling the publisher about an error that makes it to print.
Of course there are any number of picky things that remain to be checked, double checked, and considered. But you get the idea. And, hopefully, you don't find any glaring problems in the galleys, so that the book can head out to the printers!