Proofreading hard copy publications

Sally-Anne Watson Kane . Wednesday, May 31, 2017 . Comments
Proofreading hard copy publications

A manuscript that is going to be published in hardcopy needs to be (1) written and edited to the stage where it is ready for proofreading, (2) proofread prior to being submitted to the printer, then (3) once the 'hard copy proof' has been produced by the printer it needs to be proofread against the previous draft.

Proofreading hard copy publications

This article describes the process of proofreading a hard copy publication that you are intending to self-publish. You may organise the whole publication yourself or hire a publications coordinator to help you. A publications coordinator organises the editors, proofreaders, printer and others involved in publishing the book; works out a budget and timeline for the publication. They are responsible for ensuring the book is properly edited, proofread and sent to the printer by the due dates, and the hard copy proof is proofread and any final corrections made; and for approving the print-run.

Note: if your book is in the hands of a publishing company this article is probably not relevant to you, because the publisher looks after the whole publication process. If you're self-publishing your book electronically (as an e-publication) this article may be helpful but as I am no expert in e-publications, you should seek more information elsewhere.

Converting the file

Most people write and edit documents in a common format such as MS Word or another common format. Then, when the manuscript is ready, the printer converts the document into a file format compatible with their program. But sometimes, the original documents are not compatible with the programs used by printers and the conversion process produces errors.

Early in the editing stage, the editor or publications coordinator should discuss with the printer the file formats that are compatible with the printer's program. Then, if it's practical to do so, the editor should ensure the manuscript is in a format that is then able to be converted by the printer without errors being created in the document.

First proofreading stage

The first proofreading process should ensure there are no errors in the document so it is ready to be submitted to the printer. This proofreading may be done electronically, within a PDF document and/or in hardcopy. This proofreading stage is described in more detail in my previous Blog article: What is proofreading?

Once the document has been proofread, it is submitted to the printer who may then convert it into another format.

Final proofreading stage

The printer always prints out a copy of the manuscript for the publications coordinator or proofreader to view, or proofread, prior to commencing the print-run. This copy is called the 'hard copy proof' or the 'print proof' and is presented exactly as the book is going to be published.

No matter how well the manuscript has been proofread prior to being submitted to the printer, the hard copy proof must be proofread carefully - word by word, line by line, page by page - against the draft of the document that was sent to the printer to make sure that (1) both versions are identical, and (2) there are no errors (that may have been missed in the previous draft) in the final document.

If there are errors

When proofreading the hard copy proof, the proofreader should mark any corrections on the hard copy document, advise the publications coordinator and: 

  • If there are only a few errors, provide a list of the errors to the printer who then corrects those errors
  • If there are a lot of errors, negotiate with the printer whether the proofreader or printer makes those final corrections to the electronic version of the document (noting that it's usually more practical for the printer to make those corrections).

The contract between the client and printer should state who is to bear the cost of correcting any errors found in the hard copy proof. If there is no contract or this is not stated, the publications coordinator, proofread and printer need to discuss whose fault it is that the errors have occurred and who is responsible for the time-cost of correcting the errors. Generally speaking, if the errors have been created at the printer's end, the printer bears the cost; if the errors are a result of the manuscript not having been properly proofread prior to being sent to the printer, the client bears the cost.

If there are no errors

As long as the manuscript has been properly proofread prior to being sent to the printer, and the printer's formatting has not resulted in any errors, the hard copy proof will be identical to the previous draft and have no errors.

Once the proofreader has confirmed there are no errors in the hard copy proof, they and/or the publications coordinator sign their approval and the printer commences the print-run.

For more information

  • about the editing stages, see my previous Blog article: The three stages of editing. 
  • about the first proofreading stage, see my previous Blog article: What is proofreading?

This article is based on my experience in editing and proofreading my own and others' publications; and self-publishing mainly non-fiction hard copy publications.

Keep posted for future articles about editors and editing, proofreaders and proofreading, and self-publishing.


Copyright Sally-Anne Watson Kane, On Time Typing. Please seek my permission prior to reproducing this article in any way but feel free to link directly to this page if you wish to use this content - thanks!


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