Page Proofs . . . or Your Last Chance

on October 26, 2006

Okay, admit it. You’ve read books replete with errors. With typos and missing words and things that just don’t make sense. Who’s the first person you blame? The Author. Right. Been there, done that.

It’s not always the author’s fault.

Page proofs are the final stage before publication. You get the book in typeset form. For my publisher, this means a mock-up of each page, complete with printer marks, chapter headings, what-have-you. The dedication, the acknowledgments, and my favorite page–the inside page that tells the reader that this is a work of fiction, and it’s bears my name next to the copyright.

That’s cool 🙂

Page proofs (also called “galleys” or “first pass pages” and a host of other names) are the author’s last chance for changes. And most contracts specify you can’t make oodles of changes, usually 10-20% (though what THAT means, I don’t know.) All the changes–some major, and sometimes with complete scenes inserted in the text–made at the copy edit stage are incorporated into the page proofs (and this is my best reason to always submit in courier–to make that transfer of information easier on the production manager!) Mistakes can happen. They might miss a word or two. They might misspell your character’s name. They might not make a small change that will have huge repercussions down the road in the story. In THE PREY, I changed the name of a secondary character, and FBI agent, to Quinn Peterson to bringing a the connecting element to THE HUNT. I did this in the copyedit stage. Either the CE or myself missed one “Eric” and I caught it in the page proofs.

ARCs and bound galleys are made from the page proofs. This is generally the version that gets sent for review. You’ve probably seen them: UNCORRECTED MANUSCRIPT PROOF or ADVANCED READING COPY.

At Random House, two professional proofreaders read the manuscript along with the author. The proofreaders are responsible for, well, proofing, but also making sure that the changes from the copyedits made it on the page proofs. Their copies of the proofs are put with mine and one person is responsible for transferring all the changes to the master production copy and that goes to press.

When I read the proofs of THE KILL, many of the changes from the copyedits hadn’t been incorporated. I called my editor. The production manager was already aware of the problem and fixing it.

Mistakes can be made at any stage–author, copyeditor, production manager. I am very forgiving of errors in other people’s books (unless they’re huge and repeating) because I know how this happens.

I turned in the page proofs for SPEAK NO EVIL the other day. I’ll admit, I love this stage. Seeing the book in its semi-final form. Being able to tweak a bit, change a few words, cut a repetitive thought (or ten). It makes the book so real.

So what kind of errors did I catch?

The most blatant was changing the hair color of one of the victims. That I caught it was a miracle in itself, but it jumped out at me. I also used the wrong word (this is under “stupid Allison mistakes”)–I said that no defense attorney would allow their client to SUCCUMB to a DNA test without court order. It’s SUBMIT. (And I didn’t even catch it, my husband did!)

I cut some phrases and sentences. Once I cut two paragraphs because it was almost identical to something earlier in the chapter. I changed a minor character name because it was too similar to another character and threw me when I first read it. I changed words when, as I was reading the text, I realized I’d used a blah word. I double-checked my timing and made sure it flowed.

I found once that a door was open then in the next paragraph it was opened again. Hmm. I fixed it.

So I guess the purpose of this post is to share a little bit about this stage of the process, and to share RELIEF that this book is over. Done. On it’s way to the printer. Yeah!

Also, if you see a few little mistakes in books you read, be forgiving. I’m not talking about the big ones, but sometimes even though several people proofread the book, mistakes happen.

Now, time to have fun. What’s the BIGGEST mistake you’ve seen in a book? You don’t have to give the author’s name. I have two to share:

1) A book that referenced the Gospel of Thomas. I thought it was a major plot point (there is no Gospel of Thomas in the bible, it’s a gnostic gospel). Because the missing person was a minister, I thought this was a HUGE plot point and would lead the protagonist to find her. Um, no. It was a mistake. But it was distracting because I THOUGHT it was important.

2) I have a hardcover that was printed upside down and backwards. It’s a keeper. You never know if it’ll be worth something someday!