Sunday, October 30, 2005

The importance of active proofreading

Following my efforts to get a book published in under a day last Sunday, the next stage of my Adventures in PODland arrived through the post on Friday. In order to finalise the lulu worldwide distribution agreement part of the package I'd chosen (which comes with an ISBN code for the book and the potential for people outside of North America to buy the book online without having to pay $20 plus shipping costs) I needed to proofread the book and confirm that I was happy with it - once that button is pressed, changing the book contents, cover or price would cost a lot of money!

So, was I happy with the book?

For the most part, yes. I like the cover art (of course) which came out much more sharply than the preview available on indicated it would. The purist in me says the background colour should have been utterly uniform in tone, but this is an extremely minor defect. More importantly the cover material is good quality card with a wipeable outer surface - tested by spilling a bit of coffee over the book last night and successfully wiping the stain off this morning.

Inside, the paper is also of a good quality, off-white in colour (I would have preferred white but the paper colour wasn't something I could choose). Very serviceable for it's purpose, which is (of course) to display my poetry. I would have been happier if I could have selected paper from a certifiably recycled source - and if anyone tells you that recycled paper cannot be as good a quality as classic paper, they're lying to you.

The printed material is (almost) exactly as I had set out in the PageMaker document, and the choice of tahoma 9pt as the bodytext font works better than I expected it to do - very easy on the eyes. The margins are vertical and straight. I didn't include any artwork inside the book, so I can't comment on that aspect of lulu publishing.

The book has been neatly trimmed, and the binding - I chose perfect binding for an 88 page document - seems to be holding up well after 48 hours of intensive page-turning as I proofread and edited the text.

I did say almost exactly as I had set out, and this is my only major criticism of this first version of book. Somehow, along the line, a blank page (page 4) went missing from the pdf. I'm pretty certain that this is my fault, caused by my rush to find a solution to the "encrypted pdf" problem which meant I had to take a detour via a .ps file between the Adobe PageMaker document and the Adobe pdf document. The loss of that blank page is, naturally, catastrophic to the rest of the book: all the pages that should have been on the right hand side ended up on the left hand side, etc, with the displaced guttering pushing the text in towards the spine. Page numbers also ended up next to the spine, and section title pages ended up on the left.

A (reputable) traditional publisher would not have allowed such a disaster to happen, but this is PODland and - as repeatedly make clear - in PODland you get out exactly what you put in. They didn't check to see if the book conformed to standards because they assumed that the weird page layout was what I, the customer, wanted. But these are the risks I accepted when I decided to self-publish: I have only myself to blame for not properly proofing the final pdf document before uploading it to the website and pressing the publish button.

However, the cock-up incentivised me to properly proof-read the entire book. Seeing some of my older poems on the page gave me an itch to tweak them, which I did. I also decided to include 8 poems from the early parts of my work-in-progress (Snowdrop) at the back of the book. Another thing I did was to make sure every "blank" page had a line or two of text on it, just to make sure the "blank" pages couldn't go missing at the other end. And I added some dedications. Then I repeated the convert-upload process - proofreading at every step of the job - and once again published the book.

The new proof copy should arrive on Thursday or Friday, and I hope to be in a position to press the "accept" button before next weekend arrives. After that it will be another 6-8 weeks to get the book information disseminated through the distribution networks - just in time for the January sales!

And if people want to go ahead and order a copy, then don't hold yourselves back (unless you're not in North America - $20+ shipping costs really are over the top). The book can be ordered now from Enjoy!

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