proofing the typeset copy

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Small Publishers Association of North America

Issue 3/2006

Proofing the Typeset Copy

This past week I had the pleasure of sending my typeset copy of The Devil’s Bastard to the digital printer who will produce my Advance Review Copies, or ARCs. I am months behind my original time-line for publication, and though I can blame part of the setback on Katrina, she certainly isn’t the primary culprit. Charlsie Russell is.

I sent my revised and tweaked manuscript to my friend and copyeditor last April. She got it back to me during the summer, and I entered her copyediting changes as well as looked at and subsequently revised passages she questioned. Then I read the thing again. With that reading, I simply had to make some minor additional changes: I deleted beats, speaker attributes, adverbs. Then I printed it out again. I read it again. I imported it into Quark. Quark, for those of you who don’t know, is a software program used for typography and graphic design. It is the industry standard for offset printing. I am not a typographer; therefore, along with continuing to “tweak” my book, I was, at that time, taking a Quark course online.

At lesson three of twelve, Katrina roared through and the lights went out.

Eventually the power returned—and a month later I got cable (and my on-line computer capability back). That delay wasn’t too catastrophic because, in the meantime, Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College had set up and started operating. As a paying student, I was able to use the college’s on-line facilities. I was behind, but I did finish my course.

Now that my baby was in Quark, and I had learned (sort of) how to use the program, I was ready to typeset The Devil’s Bastard.

When discussing page design, there are a number of things to consider. Widows and orphans for example. Orphans the typesetter can live with. Widows (the last line of a paragraph at the top of a page) are another matter. Tracking and kerning (spacing between words and letters) are another consideration. The pages have to be justified, and to do that, the program sometimes makes the lettering/words a little too loose. When that spacing is so loose that it’s noticeable on the printed page, the typesetter has to step in and do something to make it look good—or, at least, not noticeable. Sometimes the fix is as simple as tightening lines or words enough to bring a word up from the line below it. Sometimes it means restructuring a sentence—add an adverb or better yet, delete an adverb. Other times the restructuring is more complex. The same goes for getting rid of those ugly widows.

Another thing to think about: What appears on the screen isn’t always what will appear on paper. No, I don’t mean different words print out, but what looks to be a spacing problem on screen, might not exist at all on the printed page, and vice versa. What this means is that once I had it typeset, I had to print it out, then read the typeset book again.

So, there I was—looking at the book once more. You can guess what follows. More tweaking. More things I want to change. More adverbs and adjectives I really could (and should) do without. The forest was thinning out, and I could see those trees. I’d included too many “sneers,” too many characters looking out windows, too many palpating hearts, and too many “sick stomachs”—enough, in fact, to make me want to “puke.” You get my gist.

By then, admittedly, my changes were becoming less and less. Not sure if the book was getting better or if I was going cross-eyed. Shoot, I had some passages memorized. One would think that proverbial forest would have been “petrified” by then. It wasn’t.

So, I had it typeset. Now I needed to “proof” the typeset copy. In the meantime, I am still deep in my history books on the French, British, and Spanish Dominions in the 18th C. Lower Mississippi Valley…. You probably guessed it. I needed to fix a historical inaccuracy here, add some historical flavor there….

You know, I never really did just sit down and “proof” the darn thing. I never stopped revising. Smaller and smaller those revisions might have gotten, but they never stopped. I finally told myself, “no more,” and sent it off. My biggest fear right now is that among those myriad changes I’ve made some stupid grammatical—or worse—a usage error that will embarrass my copyeditor, whose name I put on the copyright page.

Well, the ARC is theoretically an “uncorrected proof.” Once I get it back from the digital printer, I intend to take the opportunity and get the thing proofed.

By someone other than me!

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