NOTE: I don't post to this blog super-duper often anymore, because I'm busy writing, well, books. (Read more about that here.) For more up-to-date, day-to-day ramblings, visit my Facebook page.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

What Does a Proofreader Do?

So you've heard of acquisition editors, line editors, and copy editors. Where does the proofreader come in?

My proofreading stage for The Key & the Flame is over and done, but I thought I'd write this because I hadn't explained this part of the journey.

In this post, I described the copy editor's job. (Go take a peek if you never read it and/or forgot and/or didn't really care. I'll never know.) After the copy editor and the author and the editor have wrangled over the serial commas and quirky spellings that some (ahem) authors get up to, the manuscript disappears into a big vat of goo and pages emerge.

Okay, not exactly, but I'm murky about this bit. Back in the Cretaceous Period, when I worked in publishing, a copyedited manuscript actually went out of house to a typesetter. But these days, it wanders down the hall to the design department, where it's fed through a desktop publishing program like Quark for Macintosh. Otherwise known as vat of goo. (Chime in here, design people, if I've got this wrong.)

Still, it comes to the same thing: Pages emerge. They're often called galleys. Once (Cretaceous Period), galleys were overlong sheets without proper breaks and page numbers, but that isn't the case now, so they really are more like first-pass pages or page proofs. They look like photocopies of book pages, set in a nice typeface (font), with headers and/or footers. But for all their spiffy appearance, they're still first-pass pages and will be tinkered with. The proofreader, often a freelancer who works at home in a Vermont farmhouse far from the rigors and floods of New York City life, reads through the pages, comparing every word to the copyedited manuscript. The more heavily edited the manuscript was, the more likely it is that errors were introduced when the pages were created. So the proofreader's job is painstaking. And on top of that, she'll likely have questions of her own, just like the copy editor did. Hers is yet another pair of eyes to catch anything that no one else did, and she's likely to scribble a note in the margin like:
I'm pretty sure the protag's husband's name is Horatio, not Claude. Whaaaa??
Except more polite than that.

The author then has her own proofreading to do and may find--ahem again--that an entire paragraph needs to be transposed with another, because that's what she meant to do in the first place and how is it that no one in New York is a mind reader, anyway? She may also notice that a boy "trails his fingers in the bathwater" before the tub has a drop in it. Whoops.

But all such sins are (I guess) forgiven, the corrections are sent back to the design department, and final pages issue forth, bright and shiny and mostly okay. Luckily, someone reads them yet again to make sure, and the editor may email the author at the eleventh hour with yet another query before the pages are set in stone--or glue.

And now ... the long, long wait for books!

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