Saturday, October 17, 2009

Pardon My Spelling

PDF 1.5 specification

As of yesterday, the proofs are done and in my hands. What are proofs? Also called page proofs, nowadays they're portable document format (pdf) files that depict how a book will appear once it's been printed. Prior to the advent of the personal computer, they were probably paper copies that arrived by post in a manila envelope. Mine were delivered by email -- it saves the mailperson the trouble of avoiding the dog at the door.

At first I was a little reticent about opening the file -- I felt like I imagine someone would after cosmetic surgery. The bandages are off and they're about to look in the mirror for the first time. At last, curiosity overcame my nerves, and I started to prowl hesitantly. First the title page with the publisher's emblem, then the copyright page and date (whew, this really isn't a dream), and finally the text. I'd been so accustomed to seeing it as a WORD document, I was startled by the fact that it really looks like a book.

Now the work begins. My job involves proof-reading every page to see if there are any errors in spelling, grammar, or formatting. Fortunately, there's also a professional proof-reader out there somewhere doing the same thing, so I've got a backup. But this is an important phase in the process because any errors we miss will be incorporated into the final version. It's even more so when you remember that neither of my coauthors are living -- any mistakes I make are out of their hands to correct.

Interestingly, this feels rather like an archeological dig. It's been a long time since my college course in archeology, so I won't bore you with what I don't recall. But I know it comes down to examining a site layer by layer -- even if you dig a trench in order to view history in cross-section, you only dig it in one place. The rest of the site is examined like an onion, pealed away one sliver at a time.

Some parts are easy -- the preface and introduction read like letters from old friends. The first chapter, though, is a lesson in humility and I can only hope readers become so engrossed they don't see what I see. It's too late for last minute editing, though, because we're on a deadline and the printer is drumming his fingers. Nope, I've got to be a good boy and take my medicine. In a sense, it's just like therapy and also a lot like life. Ultimately, we learn to accept who we are and have faith that others will too, spelling errors and all.

(Image by rillian via Flickr)
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