The perils of proofing

My hard-copy proof of The Cutting Room arrived a couple of weeks ago. It’s really something to hold the damn thing in your hands. It feels like a book. Open it up and it looks the way a book’s interior should look. Someday it will smell like a book—once the volatile organic compounds wear off.

While we ironed out a few niggly issues with the cover, I scoured the interior to make final tweaks and sniff out what I hoped were the last of the typos. In my day job at Stiff Sentences, we maintain that in a document of any great length (in this case a tad more than 70,000 words), some mistakes are bound to sneak through. But that doesn’t absolve the writer from trying to find them.

Proofreading is a ridiculously specialized skill. A good proofreader is something of a freak of nature, I think—and I say that in complete reverence. They don’t read so much as observe. They have to avoid getting wrapped up in the story, otherwise they’d miss whoppers like: “…legalconstraintsimposedbyyesterday’scourtinjunctionagainstherfilm…”

I was halfway through that sentence before I realized there were no spaces between the words. The problem is that I know the text so well, I don’t need the spaces. You do. I mean I wouldn’t make you wade through that, even to save paper.

My personal favourite typo was “half-eaten foot”, which I corrected to “half-eaten food”, although I was very tempted to leave it.

Part of me thinks human error, in small doses, gives a book character, which it may otherwise be lacking. It’s manufactured by a machine, after all, so somebody has to take credit for inserting the wobbles.

I had a couple of very kind offers to proof the book by highly capable individuals. I declined for a few reasons. One, if there’s a mistake, I’d prefer the blame fall not to the proofreader, but the writer. Me. Two, I’m a bit of a perfectionist and I want to get better at this task of proofreading. Again, this is about taking responsibility for what you write. Is the story really any good if it’s riddled with sloppy technical errors? Three, on a project like this, I’ve grown weary of asking people to do things for nothing. I’m content now to live with the mistakes in this book.

By the way, I found half a dozen typos in the first printing. I fixed those with a quick update to the file on Amazon CreateSpace. I hope the number of outstanding errors is minimally embarrassing. Please feel free to contact me if you find one or more. I’ll make all necessary repairs in the next edition, with thanks.

Nice piece here by the American Copy Editors Society.