Page Proofs — Bleh!

July 10, 2008

A couple of months ago I posted about copyediting.  I’d just received the copyedited manuscript of The Horsemen’s Gambit, book II of Blood of the Southlands and I was going through it, dealing with the copyeditor’s queries and making some last minute changes.

Well, today I began my last task in the production process.  I am proofreading the typeset version of the book, also known as the first-pass page proofs.  What this means, basically, is that I’m looking at the book as it will appear in print, searching for typos, errors in formatting, and any lingering mistakes that I might have made.  It’s a rather tedious job, not least because I’ve already read this book through about five times, and frankly, I’m a little sick of it.  Don’t get me wrong:  I like the book.  I think it’s one of my best.  But it could be a masterpiece on the order of A Tale of Two Cities, and I still wouldn’t want to read it five times through in less than a year.

As I find mistakes, I correct them in pencil and then lay those pages aside.  When I’m done, I’ll send those corrected pages — not the whole book — back to my editor.  He’ll pass them on to Tor, where the changes will be incorporated into the final version of the book.  The goal, of course, is a book without any typos or mistakes of any kind.  In practice, this is virtually impossible to achieve.  Why?  Let me explain it this way:  The book is 140,000 words long, give or take a few thousand.  Each word averages about five letters. (Really:  next time you do a word check in Word check out the other document stats.  You’ll probably find that your average word length is about the same.)  That comes out to approximately 700,000 characters.  There are paragraph breaks, too, and also punctuation, spacing issues, etc.  But let’s keep the number round for the sake of simplicity.  700,000.  Okay, now let’s say that my editor, and the copy editor, and the proofreader, and I manage between us to make it 99.999% perfect.  That would be pretty darn good, actually.  And it would still leave us with seven typos.

So, in a way, I’m doomed to fail before I even begin.  But I’m slogging through.  I’ve caught a few things and will, no doubt, catch a few more, so I already feel that the work has been worthwhile.  But I’d rather be working on book III.

By the way, a big birthday shout-out to one of my musical heroes, Bela Fleck, who turns 50 today.  You still rock, Bela!

Today’s music:  Bela, Tales from the Acoustic Planet


5 Responses to “Page Proofs — Bleh!”

  1. Frank said

    I know what you mean about not wanting to re-read any book too much, no matter how good it is. I have read all of your books exactly once. More is kinda’ overkill.

    I have a real knack for spotting typos, missing words, transpositions, etc. I have spotted them in loads of novels, and have noticed that they tend to come: a) in “batches”, with several occurring over the span of two pages, and b) toward the end of the book.

    There is really no big secret to why this is, of course. The authors and editors are human, and subject to “zoning out” for a few pages at a time, doing them on “autopilot”. This is even MORE likely with material that is very familiar (like a book you have read thrice this year already) And, of course, fatigue makes it worse toward the end of the book. As you finally see the light at the end of the long prosaic tunnel the tendency is to rush toward it, and get the thing over with. Thus, more typos remain toward the end of the book.

    Just something to think about, maybe, as you go about the grueling task.

    One thing maybe you could answer for me… Is there a place where reporting typos is helpful for preventing them from being carried into second printings or other editions? I suppose paperbacks are completely re-typeset anyway, so that might not help, but how can you and your publisher benefit from my (and thousands of other readers’) sharp eyes?

  2. davidbcoe said

    Thanks for the comment, Frank. I think you’re right about the reason for late-book typos.

    You can certainly help with typos if you catch them in a hardcover, because you’re right, the book is type-set again for the paperback edition, but the typesetting is based upon the hardcover version. So if you alert us to typos we can catch them in the paper version. Thanks, Eagle-Eye!

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  4. LaRita said

    My son is a huge fan of your books, and has probably read all of them that are out at least 5 times each.

    Perhaps you should hire HIM as an editor, as he seems to have no limit on his desire to read your books!

    Hope the new one comes out before too long… he’s anxiously awaiting it! 🙂

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