So How to Fix your Academic Writing Trouble has just arrived in the publisher’s warehouse, which means it’s nearly ready to send out into the world! (Want to pre-order it? It’s available in paperback on Book Depository already.)
I am so looking forward to seeing the book as a real thing, in my hand, with pages. But today feels like a good moment to look back at the process of writing it. I’ve talked about the book before, when we first announced it, about talking across disciplines, and about it’s progress. I’ve also had a go at some of the chapters that ended up in the book over on the Thesis Whisperer blog, about ‘de-fluffing’ your writing, about your doctoral journey, alongside blogs from Inger about ‘Academic Dinner Parties‘ and Shaun about the problem of being vague.
Today, I want to give you a step-by-step guide to the final page proofs.
After we finished the full draft, we read it over. We read each other’s work. Then we put it all together. Then Inger did a full read through to get the language consistent, and then I did a full read through to get the formatting and punctuation sorted. At each of these reads, we noticed hundreds of big and small issues that we fixed.
After we sent it off, we got the editor’s comments, which meant going back into the manuscript and fixing things. Then we got the copyeditor’s comments, which involved going in and making more changes.
The typesetters put it into book form, and we had to read over our first set of page proofs. Mostly, the feedback on this draft was about inconsistent formatting, making the tables legible, putting the figures in a sensible place in the text, and getting the index done now we had page numbers.
Finally we got a set of final page proofs. The final page proofs are your very last chance to check the document before it becomes a printed thing. You are not supposed to make more changes at this stage. This is not the edit for adjusting wording or adding new sentences–we’d all had lots of chances for that already. I kept wanting to tweak things, to make it even better, as we always do. However, I have to restrain myself! In fact, the proofs will come with lots of warnings that there should be almost no changes, and large numbers of changes will result in you losing your royalties. This is because lots of changes can involve a complete re-typesetting of the book, which is very expensive and will make us miss our publication deadline. Then our editors and readers would be (rightfully) disappointed.
The final page proofs is mostly for checking that the edits requested in the first page proofs have been carried out. There is also a last minute chance to catch any silly mistakes–and making sure that no new issues were produced by the changes we asked for last time! I’m not expecting typos, because our publishers, Open UP, are great on spelling.
Because the final page proofs should be pretty straightforward, you often don’t get a lot of time to turn them around. So only we had a couple of weeks. Sometimes you’ll have even less.
If you’ve never published a book before, I thought it might be useful to look over someone’s shoulder and see what they did! This gives you an idea of how it works, and how you might plan to do it yourself!
Okay, on with the proofing!
First of all, get your equipment out.
I am using my laptop to look up what we previously submitted in PDF and Word. This is our third go round—so I have the original submitted manuscript and a copy of the annotated first proofs we submitted back in Sept, and see they have been updated. I’ll check our previous emails too to see what we asked for and what our editors and copy editor said (and what the other author’s commented).
I’m making a new email list of comments to send to the editors–which includes things they have done well, and things that are still issues. I’m also making an email list for my co-authors.
I’m using my iPad and stylus to annotate the current proofs, with the PDF Expert app, which I find much better than other options. (I tried out a range of apps for the first proofs, and then asked Inger for her recommendation. She was right, it is the best!)
I decided to work in bed, because I wanted to reduce every other strain on my mind, body, heart and resilience. Proofing is horrible and hard, and some pillows and a quilt make everything less hard.
Not shown, a cup of coffee. Coffee is also important.
Next, I’m getting down to reading.
Amazingly, some poor copy editor has taken the scribbles on the left and made clean text on the right!
First I scroll through the thumbnails, because I can easily see where I annotated last time.
At this stage, it’s as much about formatting as it is about commas and colons. For example here’s an Exercise that should have been in a box (annotated on the left)… now set in a beautiful box (on the left)!
I also went through to check that the titles and captions for figures all go on the same page. In the book we point out that titles for tables go above the table and titles for figures go below the table–but we hadn’t done that in the first proofs, so I checked we’d got it consistent this time!
The figure above is ‘Inger’s Verb Cheat Sheet example’–and so if I needed to check anything about that, it helps to be really specific in the notes, like ‘check fig 2.2 on p. 27’. This means I won’t have to go back and do it a second time, and ensures a much faster turn around from my co-author!
In this case, Inger had already checked her sections–because we had such a fast turn around we had to do our proofing in parallel–but better safe than sorry. Never assume someone else has seen the tiny error. At this stage the sneaky mistake has managed to slip past over a dozen read-throughs by lots of people who are good at editing. In fact, just as I was about to send this proof off, I found a final ‘See Chapter X’ hanging around. We don’t have 10 chapters, so it was an errant cross-reference from back before we had agreed a final numbering of the chapters!!! As I said, never assume someone else has seen the tiny error.
Finally, I do a really fast skim over the whole thing. While I’m a fan of going very slow to catch errors in earlier drafts, I find once I’m dealing with a book-level work, it’s better to skim my eyes over the page. I am not reading for sense this time, I’m waiting for my eyes to snag on something that looks out of place–a mis-placed capital letter or an errant semi-colon. If I skim read, I find I’m less likely to get sucked into the flow of the writing, so I don’t get distracted. This doesn’t work for everyone, but you’re just looking over my shoulder here–so I’m showing you how I do it.
Having read the proofs and sent them off, I made sure to finish off with something restorative. Proofs make you nitpicky and cross. They are all about finding small and pedantic things that are wrong with your manuscript. If you aren’t noticing that ‘THIS IS A LINE BREAK NOT A PARAGRAPH BREAK!!!!’, then you aren’t doing it right.
Plus, being very focused on very small things for a whole morning often means I finish proof-reading to find I am a bit squinty and cross-eyed, and my shoulders are all hunched and my hand is starting to cramp.
So for my body, my mind and my spirit, I make sure to leave the house and get some exercise. I want to clear my head, straighten out my spine and get back into being a positive and happy person who looks for the good in things. So I went off to yoga for some self care, reflection and stretching at the end to help me return to humanity and the bigger picture!
Once I was back from exercise, I was also in the mood to celebrate this major achievement, so my partner and I went out for dinner. Don’t forget to plan in your rewards as well as planning in your work!
Thank you for coming along for the ride of finishing off our book. We are super excited about the book (in both paperback and ebook form) getting out into the world, and I’ll be posting more about it as that comes closer to being possible! I also hope you found it helpful to see what I do, and that it helps you as you finish off the final proofs of your first book-length manuscript!