Don’t Skip the Proof Copy

The book is finished, but that doesn’t mean we’re quite ready to publish. We are in the middle of the final, and one of the most important, steps: proofing the proof copy… and then the final proof copy. It’s so tempting to skip the final proof copy, but let’s talk about why it’s worth the wait.

Bumbling our way through editing

As we’ve included self-publishing in our homeschooling off and on over the years, we’ve had many opportunities to problem solve our way through each step of book publishing… from writing and editing to layout and design to proofing and printing. We find we have to give ourselves a surplus of grace as we bumble our way through all the mistakes and challenges since we don’t rely on hiring professional editors, designers, and marketing agents.

It seems that a children’s book should be easy enough to whip together and get out in a matter of months, but we found it’s more realistic to expect it to take at least a year from start to finish.

Writing the story is just the beginning. Once there is a complete story in hand, then the nitty-gritty fun begins! While the story is taking shape, visions of illustrations are likely dancing in the writer’s mind. Illustrations should work in such a way that they become a complement to the story, speaking to the story and adding details and clues that words do not. This part of the creative process has offered great learning moments in our home school self-publishing journey, but for the sake of time, let’s jump to the point where the story and illustrations are complete, and all has come together into one succinct digital file.

By this point, we have read the story dozens of times, we’ve mulled over just the right placement of words on the pages, considering how they help move the reader’s eyes from one page to the next. No doubt, as our eyes glance over the all-too-familiar pages again and again, it is easy to become negligent and miss the most obvious of mistakes. Now’s the time to shut that file down for a good month to give our eyes and mind a break. When we come back to it with fresh perspective, the things we have missed become more obvious. Maybe it’s a margin or gutter issue, maybe it’s an orphan or widow issue, and possibly it’s even an obvious typo. Any little correction is a win, because it means we are one step closer to getting our first proof copy ordered.

When is it time to order the proof copy?

Once we have edited the digital book layout with a fine tooth comb many times over, we move on to submitting the interior and book cover files to the printer. They will then approve the files to let us know they are compatible for printing. Remember, the printer is not responsible for catching any mistakes made within the files. Once they verify the sizing is compatible for printing, then the green light is given for printing a proof copy.

Proof copy is in hand. Now what?

There is a raw excitement on the day the proof copy arrives in the mail. Once the initial thrill of holding that physical copy in our hands wears off, there is a new challenge in front of us. It’s time to scour that physical proof copy for any mistakes. We need to get over the beauty of that book and get out the pen to mark up any errors or illustration details that need to get fixed.

When Hope published her first book Mr. Skandinoovy takes an Exciting Trip to Florida, we found all kinds of changes to mark up. When we went back through to fix the edits, we marked those changes with a gold star to keep track of what was fixed.

Admittedly, we didn’t spend as much time proofing on screen before we printed the first proof copy, because there is something easier about taking a pen to paper to physically mark up the book. Ordering a couple proof copies to hand off to trusted friends and family who have a knack for editing proved to be highly beneficial. In fact, for I Saw Bigfoot one proofreader found a typo in Bunny’s field guide and another found an embarrassingly obvious mistake right in the story!

We laughed at how obvious it was, yet somehow we had overlooked the missing article “a” all because of how familiar the story had become to us that our brains had just included it whenever we read the story. Catching these mistakes is golden!

Is a second proof copy necessary?

Once all the files have been tweaked with the edits caught in the first proof copy, it is tempting to submit those files for the bulk printing to get on with the book launch. However, we find it’s worth the time and small expense to order one more proof copy with the updated files, and this is where we are currently. If all looks good in that second proof copy, then we can give the green light for the bulk order. Waiting for the second proof copy is surely is a practice in patience, but it’s worth it if it means avoiding the disappointment of placing a bulk order of books with errors.

All this is to say to expect a minimum of three months from the first proof copy to the final book order. Allowing time to get fresh eyes on the proof copy only leads to a cleaner, more professional end result. And putting the book launch on hold is so worth the wait!

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