December 17, 2012

Proofreading: The necessary evil

Before you read this, go enter my drawing for a free ARC of Forsada!

Proofreading is on my mind. I received my print proof of FORSADA last week. My good friend Impatience immediately whispered in my ear, "You've revised it a billion times on your computer. It's solid. Approve it. You don't have to read it again."

But I sat down Saturday morning with my red pen and what I thought were enough sticky note flags, and I started in. I got as far as the Acknowledgments page before I found my first error.

As I stared at that one correction and the 226 pages that awaited my red pen, I thought about this Insatiable Booksluts post I'd just read, ranting about poorly edited self-published books. Consensus seems to be that even professionally edited books from major publishers end up with typos. Readers can forgive one here or there, as long as the book isn't a total mess.

My book, I knew, was not a total mess. If I didn't have such a fun and lucrative day job, I could totally be a professional editor. I once had a first draft edited by a pro, and when she was done she told me she'd love to edit all my work--easiest money she'd ever made.

So I sat there and looked at those two transposed words daring me to take the easy way out and trust that I'd done enough. "Go on," they said. "Just publish the book and be dome with it."

"Be done with it," I mused. "Sounds nice." My eagerness to be done tempted me to declare victory. Instead, I turned the page. And like a cartoon boxing glove on a cartoon extendo-arm, Times New Roman jumped out of the third line where Garamond italic should have been, and it smacked me in the eye and gave me a big shiner.

What the hell?

Somehow, in formatting or upload or printing, all my italics had magically turned into Times New Roman.

The temptation of the easy way out had completely disappeared. If I had to upload a new document and go through the proof process again, it was going to be right. Which is why, this morning about 40% of the way through the book, I ran out of my little sticky note flags. Nothing really big. A double space here, a miscapitalized word there, a "the" instead of "they." Some opportunistic word choice changes.

I'm pretty well known at work for my attention to detail where grammar, usage, and clean text are concerned. It's a rare day when I send an email with a typo in it, and I send hundreds of emails a day. So it's shocking how many simple, tiny errors can slip into a 90,000 word manuscript even after you've read it a half dozen times. Even after ten beta readers have read it. And probably even after one final pass over the printed book.


brianjamesfreeman said...

The most frustrating thing for me is knowing that just about every book can end up with some kind of dumb error even after editing, copyediting, and many rounds of proofreading. I know it's just the nature of the business, but it bugs me when errors slip through.

Peter Dudley said...

Years and years ago, I was in a presentation by Jeff Hawkins, founder of Palm Computing (this was before the first Palm Pilot came out). He apparently was really into learning about how the brain works and had done a lot of reading and research. He said it's amazing how many gaps the brain automatically fills in when reading, listening, watching... He would randomly drop words from his sentences and then a moment later ask if anyone noticed. No one ever did.