Friday, September 5, 2014

Pixels Versus Print

Or the Dangers of Editing on Screen

As you know from reading these posts, I’ve spent the last five to six weeks overhauling Desert Flower and Kingdom of the Shades for publication in the KDP Select program run by Amazon.com. But because publishing with KDP Select governs only e-book sales—and because I love print books (for why, see “The Beauty of Books”)—I designed and typeset paperback versions of the books as well. It’s been an education, and I decided the main lesson might make a good subject for this week’s post.

Normally, I prepare print editions first and deal with the e-books as close to the end of the process as possible. There’s a practical reason for working this way: good typesetting technique requires facing pages to match in length, and with the short paragraphs typical of dialogue-laden novels, getting that to happen often requires last-minute paragraph breaks or editing. E-books are more flexible in that regard.

But this time, because my focus was on the e-books, I prepared the two editions side-by-side—and a rare pain it was, too, trying to ensure that not only did every change to the typesetting get echoed in the e-book file but that I introduced no typos in either while correcting each one separately. Throughout my two weeks of vacation, I went through the 155,000-word Tarkei Chronicles time after time: reading the PDF, proofing the e-book, entering new corrections, repeating the whole process until my brain was whirling like Sasha’s thirty-two fouettés. Even after the vacation ended, I read files in the evenings and entered corrections at the end of my workday.

Altogether, I went through the two books six times each—and then went back to include the suggestions of my loyal beta readers and proofed them again. Surely, they were ready. I uploaded the .mobi files to Kindle Direct Publishing and the PDFs to CreateSpace, ordered proof copies of the print books, and sat back to wait. No errors, right?

Hah. The print proofs arrived, and as soon as I opened the first one, I saw a pair of doubled words that had escaped me in the seven previous rounds. And then another pair, and another. The second book referred to itself instead of its partner in the “More by This Author” section, the result of injudicious copying and insufficient editing. And so it went. In the end, I sat down with a notepad and pen and read both books cover to cover, noting every single infelicity of phrasing, set of doubled words, unneeded adjective or adverb, and the like—all of which had eluded my careful attention on screen.

The good news is that I found only one actual typographical error in 155,000 words. I had written “proceed” when I clearly meant “precede.” Other “must fix” items included a place where a character reported information she could have gathered only through a kind of spiritual osmosis, since she was unconscious at the time, and a couple of descriptions that didn’t quite line up. Everything else was stylistic, but man, was there a lot of it.

I fixed everything I’d listed, doing my best to ensure that I didn’t miss anything and that the two files lined up, checked them both again in case I had introduced more errors, then sent in new PDFs and new Kindle versions. In the process, I came up with a better cover for Kingdom of the Shades—always a good thing. And as far as I know (but I have ordered a second set of proofs and plan to reread the e-books to be certain), the new, improved, spiffed-up versions are the final, final text.

Meanwhile, I learned something. Order a print proof. Make sure it’s good to go before you worry about anything else. Because I guarantee there will be things you see in print that you will never see on the screen.

And what will we do when print books really do go the way of the dinosaur? I suppose we’ll just live with the errors, not even recognizing they’re there. A daunting thought, that, for a lover of books.


Art from Clipart.com, #20745397.

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