Tuesday, 28 October 2008

The proof is in the post

My upcoming book, Ecologic, has reached the next stage of its development - proofs. I gather that back in the stone age, when books were set by hand, these were often in galley form, long sheets of paper with multiple pages on, but now they're just like any other output from a standard laser printer, with the properly laid-out contents of a book page centred on the A4 or letter sized sheet.

It might seem a tedious task, going through a book page-by-page, looking for errors, but I enjoy it, normally get through much quicker than the two weeks that publishers typically allow for it. I have to confess to having a special red pen I only use for this - in a childish way it makes it more fun.

By now it has been long enough since I last read the book that I can come to it almost fresh, and there's a sense of surprise along the lines of 'hey, this really isn't bad.' Embarrassingly, I enjoy reading my own stuff at this point, because it's pretty well always better than I imagine it's going to be.

The biggest problem is making myself slow down. I tend to read very quickly, which is fine to get the idea of the book, but not to check every word. I have to pretend I'm reading it aloud to find as many of those slips as I can. But despite my efforts and two other proof readers, something will slip through. It always does.

(Left, proof of Ecologic, first page of chapter 1)


  1. If I have the time (and that is a very big if, especially for something as long as a book!), I read forwards for sense, and then backwards for typos. This prevents me from skipping over words if the sentence is too interesting!

  2. What, literally backwards? I never thought of that. If I do find myself reading too quickly for sense I will slow myself down and re-read (if necessary using a finger on the page to control speed).

    The backwards technique sounds ingenious (if, as you say, perhaps too slow for a whole book). The only problem I think your technique would miss is I've a habit of using homophones when I write too quickly. So, for example, although I absolute know the difference between 'their' and 'there' I will sometimes type the wrong one.

    I wouldn't necessarily spot this in a fast read-for-sense, nor in a backwards spell check - I need a slow, word by word, forward read. I think...

  3. Literally backwards! It dissociates the spelling of the words from their meaning within the sentence, or some such. Slow though, and as you said it wouldn't pick up homonyms.