When you are publishing a book, there inevitably comes the moment of truth. This is the moment that you’ve been anticipating, waiting for, excited about—when you finally receive your book proof. Go ahead, tear that package open.
Until now, the book you’ve been creating has existed only in your document files, in the printouts you’ve been editing, in the layouts and typography you see on a screen.
Now you see the actual book for the first time and 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 Need a Physical Book 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 purpose of the book proof is to prove that you’ve done it all 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 all the time. 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.
(Note: See more info in my earlier post on how to review a PDF book proof.)
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:
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:
Fonts – Are they used consistently throughout the book?
Inch vs. quote marks – Good typography uses curled quotation marks, not the straight inch marks. Check the ones in your book.
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.
Line spacing – Is it consistent in every paragraph throughout the book?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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!
Page references are another trap. If you referred to something “in Chapter 2” or “on page 112” is it still there?
Paragraph indents ought to be consistent throughout, no matter what style you’re using.
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.
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 your book proof:
Is the overall design and the colors what you expected?
Is your title clearly visible?
Is the type on your spine clear and straight?
Make sure no important elements are too close to the trimmed edges of the book. I recommend you have .5″ minimum around the edges.
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.
If you included a category and price, are they correct?
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 book 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!
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