How to Review Your Proof Copy
Note: This article comes with a supplementary (and fun) Bingo game for Patreon supporters. Click here or at the link below to take a look!
Publishing is easy, but if you don’t know what you’re looking for, a bad book design can sink your chances. You can tweak your file night and day, but until you hold a physical copy in your hands, you never know what errors might creep out.
Enter the proof copy!
Before you list your book for sale, whether ebook or paperback, it’s customary to order a proof copy to flip through and review. Digital proof copies are available and might be all you need if you’re only publishing an ebook.
Otherwise, just pay the shipping and get a freshly printed book sent to your doorstep. This stage can be a lot of fun and a good chance to see how your book looks to readers, so don’t skip it.
Reviewing a proof copy is pretty self-explanatory. Basically, you can just give it a look-over and read it through, making sure everything looks attractive and is consistent throughout the book. However, there are a few subtle layout tricks and review hacks that can help your book look fully professional.
There are three main areas of your book you’ll want to review when your proof copy arrives in the mail: content, format, and layout. Here are some of the details about each below:
I’m not talking about the content of your book. By this point, you should be done editing and prepared to make only the most minor changes to the text itself.
What we’re going to look at here is your front and back matter. That’s all the extras you toss in besides the main story: your title page, copyright page, about the author, and also-by page.
This varies from book to book and author to author, and for you your front and back matter might be simple. One key element to include is a step for readers to take when they finish your book.
You might have noticed that traditional publishers will often advertise their other books in the back pages of your favorite novels. They might be by the same author, or they might share similar content. This is something you need to do as well, as a self-published author. Even if you don’t have any other full-length books on the market, it’s a good idea to write a short story or novella as a reader magnet and offer it to readers for free if they sign onto your email list. This step is so big that some authors include “Also by” pages at the front as well as the back of their books.
Now we’re getting more seriously into the point of proof copies. Once you’re sure that your copyright information is up to date and readers have a place to go when they’re done, it’s time to look at the book itself.
There are a number of things that work easily when you’re typing a book and aren’t noticeable on the screen, but that can trip a reader up while reading or just look ugly. One example is curly quotes and apostrophes, which might turn into feet and inches markers instead if you’re not paying attention.
Curly quotes: “”
Straight quotes: ""
They look better too.
M-dashes, N-dashes, and hyphens are a similar matter. If you’re used to typing m-dashes as - -, make sure they’re snapped into proper dashes by the end: —.
Then we get to widows and orphans. Those are those lonely single lines at the top or bottom of a page that are cut off from the rest of the paragraph. There’s nothing wrong with widows and orphans, but they look unbalanced and might make your book look unprofessional.
These minor errors can sometimes take a while to correct, but the result is worth it. At this stage, you’re starting to experience the magic of watching your manuscript turn into a book, and it can be as flawless as you want as long as you’re willing to work at it.
Staying in the technical realm, there are a number of things to look out for regarding your book’s layout. Some of these are easier to spot: tiny print or your title spilling off the bottom of your front cover. Some might take a little more time.
Your font should be basic, common and easy to read. You can look up a list of popular book fonts, but ideally you’re looking for a serif font that won’t be too distracting. If it feels too small or strains your eyes more than most paperbacks, adjust it accordingly.
Blank pages could be a result of your editing or the service you used to print. If you see any blank pages where there shouldn’t be any, check your files carefully to make sure that there was nothing wrong on your end.
Book Proof Bingo!
There are all sorts of minor odds and ends to look for when you’re reviewing your proof. I haven’t even touched on margins, headers and footers, or paragraph indentation.
When I was writing this article, I grabbed one of my own recent proof copies and made a list of everything I had to check. It turns out that list made for a fun Bingo game, which I subsequently designed and posted to my Patreon page for anyone who wants to check it out.
If you want a more complete list (and a fun game to boot!) click the button below to go to get your copy now.