Sunday, 22 January 2012

  Check, check, and check again.

So here we are already into the middle of January 2012. Another year with new ideas awakening and beginning to blossom like the first spring flowers in my garden.

In my case there was no time to think of new ideas because I had one final check to make on my current novel - the printer’s proofs. They arrived as soon as the postal service got back to normal after the New Year holiday. At this stage there should be no major changes made by the author, only corrections to any errors the typesetter may have made, such as accidentally transposing the letters in a word, or missing out a word or punctuation. Some authors start at the end of the book and work backwards to ensure they are really checking each word and not just reading. I check mine line by line using a ruler. The author can be asked to pay if he/she wishes to make changes at this late stage, especially if taking out, or adding phrases affect the page layout.

The last time for changes is during the copy editing stage. Most writers will admit that we see what we think we have written, and often miss mistakes such as changing the name of a character, or their hair or eye colour, mid-way through the book, or simply using a favourite word too often. Usually a good copy-editor will pick up these mistakes, but not always. It is crucial that the author should examine carefully any changes or corrections made by the copy-editor. This is the last chance for the author to check and make any changes, but by this stage major alterations should not be required.

I am sure most of you will have heard of the Australian publisher who had to destroy a large number of copies of a cookery book. Presumably both copy-editor and author overlooked the following error. “Add salt and a pinch of ground black people to the mix.”

It might have been laughable but it was a financial loss.

The topic of copy-editing is being raised again and again now that more people are using the internet for self-publishing for digital readers. Also many, like myself, are making changes to early books, hoping our writing has improved with the years. These too need the scrutiny of a copy-editor if irritating mistakes are to be avoided and punctuation used correctly. This week I read that an agency, known to many of you, charges five pounds per thousand words. Some charge two hundred pounds for a full length novel, presumably up to a maximum length.

This blog post was not intended to cover digital publications but since I have mentioned them I should add that a good book jacket is another essential and a cost unless you can do it yourself. Almost anyone can set up as a digital publisher so it is safer to check whether they provide marketing and copy editing, and the other tasks undertaken by reputable book publishers, before committing your precious work to their care.

This cheeky chappie was a gift from my youngest grandchildren to cheer me up and spur me on.

Viburnum blooming bravely through the winter - a sign of perseverance which all writers need.


  1. Lovely, Gwen - I have a viburnum like that too!

  2. Thanks for reading this, Jan. Flowers in winter do cheer us up, don't they - or anytime of year come to that.

    For anyone interested I can now say, with permission, that it is Hilary Johnstone's agency I mentioned above.

  3. Great photos, Gwen. Thanks for the very important reminder about carefully proof-reading our work!

  4. Love it. So much useful advice given with such a light touch, many thanks. I can see I'll be referring back to this more than once in the future!

  5. I still break out in a cold sweat when I remember not noticing that the type-setter had missed out a complete paragraph in one of my books. Did the readers notice? Too damn right they did. It's the most post I've ever got about a book, and it wasn't the sort of post I wanted. Good warning, Gwen, and a timely reminder that copy editors are not infallible so always check, and double check, your work no matter how pressed for time you are

  6. Thank you Maggie. I can understand you probably felt mortified by the missing paragraph but at least you know you have readers who follow and take an interest in your books. I hope that was a consolation.

  7. My first copy edits due any day....wish me luck! But it is good reading about someone else who has gone through the process and survived!

  8. My first copy edits due any day....wish me luck! But it is good reading about someone else who has gone through the process and survived!

    1. I am sure your copy-edits have turned out very well Linda. I am sorry it has taken me so long to get back here.