A few weeks ago I got an inquiry from someone who wanted his self-published book proofed. I don’t do much of that anymore, so I introduced him to a friend of mine who does. Shortly thereafter my friend forwarded me some e-mailed questions from her new client, with a bemused and oh-so-succinct What? as her only comment:
1) Can you proof a PDF or do you need the actual book?
2) I was also wondering if you guarantee your work as far as the proofing itself goes, meaning if there were mistakes found after you proofed it or how that would work.
I was, of course, a little surprised. But by now you should know Your Editor does have answers. :)
First, it is standard industry practice to proof from pages. Like, 8.5-by-11 sheets of paper. It is not standard to proof a bound book; there’s just not enough room in the margins. (I’m assuming he meant a single galley proof that he’d gotten from a print-on-demand service, otherwise it would be a bit like closing the barn door after the horse has bolted.) It is also not standard to proof a .pdf on screen: Acrobat’s editing tools really aren’t satisfactory and the process would take twice as long. (Sometimes one gets asked to do it, though. And one says, politely, no.)
It is standard for the client to supply a hard copy for proofing. It can be delivered or mailed or, if time is short, a .pdf can be e-mailed to the local Kinko’s to be printed off. The cost of printing is charged back to the client.
Sure, this client was a newbie. He didn’t know the procedure or the terms. ’S cool.
But … I’m still puzzled about that guarantee business. How many times have you noticed a typo in a book from a traditional publisher? I’m willing to bet you have often enough to know that it happens, even with the many checks publishers have in place.
So what does the client want in way of a guarantee, exactly? And what can a proofer offer? Does the client think that if a punctuation error is discovered by a reader six months from now, the proofer should be liable for his printing costs?
For one thing, a copyeditor should have taken care of most grammar, spelling, punctuation, and any other writing errors. The proofer’s function is twofold: to catch anything the copyeditor might have missed and to check for errors created during the typesetting process: line breaks, page numbering, running heads, and so on. As we’ve discussed before, on a first-pass proof, most publishers hire more than one proofer for a book. That’s because proofers are human. And humans are imperfect creatures.
“If it were me,” I e-mailed my friend after having a good giggle, “I’d say something like this”:
This is the guarantee I can offer: I guarantee I will give one hundred percent of my attention to your book. I guarantee I will do my very best. (I always strive to do my very best.) I guarantee I’ve never had any complaints about my work in the publishing industry. However, you are asking just one person to proof. I feel confident I will catch most of the errors and maybe all of them, but I am still human.
Bottom line? There are no guarantees, in life or in editing.
*Alexander Pope, in An Essay on Criticism, Part II (1711).
Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”