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 before being sent to the printer, then (3) once the ‘hard copy proof’ has been produced by the printer, that ‘proof’ needs to be proofread a final time prior to printing.

Proofreading hard copy publications

This article describes the process of proofreading a hard copy publication as part of the self-publishing process. You may be coordinating the publication yourself or have hired a publications coordinator to help you. A publications coordinator is essentially a project manager: they organise the editors, proofreaders, graphic designer printer and others involved in publishing the book; work out a budget and timeline for the publication. They are responsible for ensuring the book is properly edited, designed and proofread and sent to the printer by the due dates, and the hard copy ‘proof’ is proofread and any final corrections made prior to printing.

Note: if your book is in the hands of a publishing company this article may not be relevant because the publisher looks after the whole publication process. If you’re self-publishing your book electronically (as an e-publication) please note that I am no expert in this so you should seek more information elsewhere.

About file formats

During the writing or editing stage, the publications coordinator should ask the printer to clarify the format in which they need the manuscript; e.g. the printer may need you to submit the typset manuscript in a common graphic design format such as InDesign.

Most manuscripts are written and edited, and sometimes also proofread, in MS Word (or another word processing format). Prior to being sent to the printer, they need to be typeset (designed) in a program such as InDesign. When your Word manuscript is sent to the graphic designer and converted into InDesign it is going to lose some of its formatting, so during the writing or editing stage, it’s important to consult with your graphic designer about how they need your Word document to be formatted.

First proofreading stage

After being copy edited, the manuscript may be either proofread in Word, prior to being sent to the graphic designer, and then proofread again (in InDesign) after the graphic design process; or only edited prior to graphic design stage, and proofread only once, in InDesign, after the graphic design stage.

The first proofreading stage should ensure that after being typeset, there are no errors in the document so it is ready to be submitted to the printer. The proofreader should compare this final version of the document with an earlier draft to ensure no text has been ‘dropped out’ during the typesetting process; e.g. all lists, captions etc. should be carefully checked against the earlier draft. This proofreading may be done electronically (e.g. in InDesign); or in PDF format and/or in hardcopy in which case the proofreader’s corrections would need to be transferred into the electronic document. The proofreading stage is described in more detail here: What is proofreading?

Once the typeset document has been proofread it is ready to be submitted to the printer.

Final proofreading stage

Most printers will print out a ‘proof’ of the manuscript for the publications coordinator/proofreader to view, or proofread, and give their go-ahead, prior to commencing the print-run. This ‘proof’ is a hard copy that represents exactly what the book is going to look like.

No matter how well the typeset manuscript has been proofread prior to being submitted to the printer, the ‘proof’ must be proofread carefully against the proofread draft that was sent to the printer, to make sure that both versions are identical in terms of design (e.g. no ‘orphan lines’), and to eradicate any errors (e.g. typos) that may have been missed during the first proofreading stage.

If there are errors

When proofreading the ‘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), and negotiate any associated costs.
If there are no errors

As long as the manuscript has been properly proofread prior to being sent to the printer, the hard copy proof should be identical to the previous draft and have no errors.

Once the proofreader has confirmed there are no errors in the ‘proof’, they/the publications coordinator approve it for printing and the printer commences the print-run.

For more information

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

This article is based on my experience over the past 20-odd years, editing and proofreading my own and others’ publications; and self-publishing.

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

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