Page Proofs—the final opportunity to change stuff

Several of us at Maine Crime Writers have been dealing with page proofs this month. What are page proofs, you ask? They are the pages of the book after they’ve been typeset. All revisions and copy edits have been incorporated, the latter after the author has had a chance to see them and reject those that are objectionable (although the final decision on this is up to the editor). This is the version that becomes what used to be called “bound galleys” and goes out to reviewers as an Advance Reading Copy or ARC.

The page proofs I just sent back to Kensington are for what will be my fifty-seventh traditionally published book, X Marks the Scot, the eleventh Liss MacCrimmon Mystery. To check for typos and other errors, I did a very careful reading over the course of three days, catching a variety of small mistakes and several embarrassing continuity errors, and finding a number of places where I had to ask myself if I was sure I’d checked a detail when I was writing. If I wasn’t sure, this was my last chance to do so.

At this point, as the cover letter from the Production Editor clearly states, the author is “to make only those changes that are absolutely necessary” and warns that “text cannot be rewritten at this stage.” Ask for too much, and the publisher has the right to ignore you. This can be challenging, especially if you are picky about repetitious words. I don’t mean accidental repetitions, as on page 71 of this book, where the text read “nuked some water in in the microwave.” An example, one I did not ask to have corrected comes on page 105, where “another customer had come in.” in the second paragraph, and in the fifth paragraph, Liss “saw who had come in.” I did ask for a change on page 124, from “It’s certainly possible, but all we know for certain” to “It’s certainly possible, but all we know for sure”—picky? Yes, but if it bothers me, I’ll give you odds that it will bother some of my readers too.

ARC of an earlier book in the series

Continuity is a bigger issue. Most errors were small, but they could have been mistaken for clues. A character likes coffee black in one scene and loaded up with cream and sugar in another. I called a motel the Sleepy Time in one scene and the Day Lily Inn in another. I had a character with a rental car in one scene and driving back home to Connecticut, clearly in his own vehicle, in another. Small stuff, you say, but readers notice. The really embarrassing error, though, was having a character enter a scene and announce that she had good news and bad news . . . and then only deliver good news.

the back copy of another earlier book in the series

No doubt I still missed something. The author is the absolute worst person to proofread his or her own work. We know what we meant to write. Nine times out of ten, that’s what we see, even if it’s not what ended up on the page. Then, too, having read the darned thing so many times, it’s hard to work up a lot of interest in making one more pass. Why did it take me three days to read fewer than 300 pages? Because I knew what was going to happen next and my mind kept drifting off onto other things. I won’t come right out and admit that reading my own writing at this stage sometimes puts me to sleep, but a few times it was a close call and I had to take a break and come back to the page proofs at a later time.

The task complete, nineteen pages with corrections have now gone back to the Production Editor. What comes next? In a month or two I should receive a box of ARCs to use for things like Goodreads giveaways. In December, the hardcover, hopefully with all the corrections made, will be in stores. And a short time after that, inevitably, I will get an email from someone who has spotted an error that I missed.

Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett is the author of over fifty books written under several names. She won the Agatha Award for best mystery nonfiction of 2008 for How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries and was an Agatha Award finalist in 2015 in the best mystery short story category for “The Blessing Witch.” Currently she writes the contemporary Liss MacCrimmon Mysteries (Kilt at the Highland Games) as Kaitlyn and the historical Mistress Jaffrey Mysteries (Murder in a Cornish Alehouse) as Kathy. The latter series is a spin-off from her earlier “Face Down” series and is set in Elizabethan England. New in May 2017 is a collection of Kathy’s short stories, Different Times, Different Crimes. Her websites are www.KaitlynDunnett.com and www.KathyLynnEmerson.com

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9 Responses to Page Proofs—the final opportunity to change stuff

  1. Lea Wait says:

    Good post, Kathy! You’ve got it (unsurprisingly) just right. And… to prove it … yesterday I got a note from a reader of my book that came out 2 weeks ago … telling me I’d gotten a small legal point wrong. She was right, I knew immediately. Wonder how many other readers will catch it? Never underestimate readers!

  2. This is hard, hard work for both author and editor, but as you point out, essential. Out of curiosity, I picked up an ARC at my local bookshop and was astounded at the errors–nearly every page had at least one, and often more. It was enough to make me decide I’d never buy a book from that author again. I can only try really hard to prevent such a mess in my own books.

    • Hi, Nikki,
      I’m hoping that author caught all those errors and they were corrected in the published book. If they were all small ones–spelling, typos, and the like, most of them could have been. I know you know this, but for others reading the comments, the production editor’s warning is mostly to stop writers from trying to rewrite whole paragraphs (or even pages) at this stage of the process. That said, it’s a lot easier to make changes now that authors submit electronic copies instead of typewritten manuscripts. Back in the day, publishers would hire someone to retype the manuscript for publication and there was a lot more potential for errors to creep in. Correcting problems wasn’t quite as complicated as it would have been if they’d still been setting type by hand, but the process was a lot more inflexible that it is now. My first book was published in 1984, so I remember the old system very well. And typing novels on a manual typewriter with carbon paper. Picture me shuddering at the memory.

  3. MCWriTers says:

    No matter how careful I am, I still miss a few of those missing words. But in my own defense, as you say, Kathy…we know what we meant to say. And this is after a couple of editors have had at it…and they missed these things, too.

    I am convinced that there are some things, like word repetition, that we often can’t see until the thing is type set. Then they jump off the page like playful dolphins.

    Argh.

    Kate

  4. I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who sometimes struggles to focus on that final-final-final read through. You were smart to break 300 pages into 3 days. Focus comes easier in small bites.

    Fifty-seven books. Wow, Kathy. You are an inspiration.

    • Thanks, Brenda. It does help that they’ve been spread out over thirty-three years, and that writing has been my full time job for most of those years. I have to admit, though, that when I hear about cozy writers today who have four or five series going at the same time, some of them with a new title out every six months, I feel like a slacker.

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