Monday, August 05, 2013

The problems of proof-reading

I've just emerged from a long stint of proof-reading – checking the paperback page proofs for Evil for Evil and the initial proofs and then the page proofs for the new book, Bad Blood, coming out in hardback later this year.

It's been a thoroughly stressful business and what follows is a dire warning to other innocents. Last year, for the hardback of Evil for Evil, I had my first copy edited proofs sent electronically. I spent hours going through, checking and revising and answering all the queries, just as I was told, saved it religiously, then sent it off and Poof! Magically, all my marks disappeared. I redid it all – more hours and hours - then sent it off as hard copy since I was too scared to try the technology again. Being a technological moron I assumed this was all my fault and apologised profusely to my editor.

Come this year, I was determined not to make the same mistake again. I was sent the proofs just before I was going away on holiday, in what was already one of my most frantic weeks in the year (two days away from home doing events, three days of house guests with a long-standing invitation). I was told the copy editor couldn't get it to me earlier and that the heavens would fall if I didn't get it finished before I left. So that meant 5am starts and late nights, and not unnaturally I asked for very clear instructions about what I was to do this time.

I followed all the directions meticulously and checked that the corrections were appearing, then worked for six hours before saving my work, and what do you know? Poof! It all disappeared again. 

This time I was less sure it was my fault and when I moaned to my tech-savvy daughter, she said, 'Oh yes, that can happen if the systems are incompatible. If it's a good system it will warn you it's not saving, if it isn't, you learn the hard way.' And when I went back to my editor, she said cheerfully, 'Oh yes, I've looked it up and apparently sometimes it's a problem. That's what happened with your last book.'

Is there such a thing as justifiable homicide?

But what I really started out to say before I got sidetracked into moaning was, isn't it odd how hard it is to spot typos and continuity mistakes? I read my script endlessly while I'm writing it. I read it through several times after it's finished. My editor reads it. The copy editor reads it. I read it again. The proof editor reads it. And when I do my final read through on the page proofs, there are still mistakes I can pick up. And you can be sure that some picky reader will find a couple I haven't noticed and be rude about it on Amazon.

I suppose the reason it's so difficult is that all of us in the writing business are fast readers.  I saw once a demonstration of how an efficient reader scans a page and basically it's impressionistic. We pick up the shapes of the words, not each individual letter and indeed,it's surprisingly easy to read a passage where only the consonants are printed.

When I watch my four-year-old granddaughter reading, she traces the words with her finger and if she doesn't immediately recognise one, she sounds it out letter by letter. 

I can see it's not actually the answer to employ people who read slowly and with difficulty as proof-readers, but I bet they'd make a better job of it.  Do any of you have any practical tips for improving efficiency? I'd be really grateful.

7 comments:

Charlotte Hinger said...

Aline--I would be at my wit's end. Proofreading is very, very difficult for me and I do it poorly.

Frankie Y. Bailey said...

And it is so frustrating isn't it. . .to have multiple people read at various stages of the production process and still miss something.

I slow to a crawl when I proofread. The only thing that seems to work at all.

Aline Templeton said...

I'm thinking of calling in four-year-old granddaughter...

Susie Dunlop said...

I think the main issue stemmed from saving the attachment as part of the original email, rather than as a separate document, so the changes you were making weren't being saved properly. I hope Sara's instructions helped sort it out for you in the end? It's always tricky trying to get everything done with holidays etc but we did need to get the text back from you in order to keep to the scheduled publication dates. I wasn't aware you were quite so unhappy about all this - you are more than welcome to vent at me anytime about such things.

phD Assistance said...

Awesome information and like your way of sharing the information.
Editing and Proof Reading

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