The process of proofing a book for publication has become much easier for print books and much harder for ebooks.

Proofing print books

When a print book is ready for press, it’s sent to a printer who sets the book and returns proofs for checking. Press proofs need to be checked for pages being in the correct order, all pages are present, and artwork quality. It’s also a last chance to see and correct any typos or other mistakes that have slipped through the editorial process.

Many, many years ago, physical artwork was sent to the printer and galley proofs returned for sign-off before printing. The process involved marking up any changes needed and sending the galleys back to the printer to make the changes. Sometimes a second set of galleys is sent for proofing.

Since the late twentieth century we’ve been sending digital files to the printer, but we still sometimes receive printed proofs for sign-off. Some printers still provide a bound version of the book, while others now only send a PDF back for proofing. PDF proofs mean you can’t check for things like ink depth, but with digital file delivery the chances are the pages won’t be out of order. If the publisher spots any change needed, the publisher makes the change and sends a replacement page to the printer.

There is another set of checks to be made when the printed book is shipped, such as quality of binding and ink.

Nevertheless, in all cases you are checking that what is printed is exactly what you delivered, with no changes, and you are in fact only checking one format: print.

Proofing ebooks in e-reading devices

How do you proof an ebook? Leaving aside the multiplicity of formats, how do you proof an ePub and its cousin the Kindle format?

Each e-reading device renders your ebook file differently depending on how it supports fonts, images, backgrounds, text justification and alignment. Once you have prepared and validated your ePub file, you need to preview it in as many different devices as you can.  It’s not always possible to load your ebook file onto every device out there, assuming you can even afford to own each and every version. But you can use some free viewing software.

To proof ePubs, I use Calibre, Sigil, Adobe Digital Editions and iBooks (to see how it looks on the iPad). If I’m happy with how the book looks in all these, I’m reasonably confident it will work with other ePub viewers.

To proof Kindle ebooks, I use the Kindle Preview app, which allows you to test different Kindle formats (Kindle DX, Kindle app for iPad) etc. Hopefully they’ll update this viewer soon for Kindle Fire.

What to look for when proofing an ebook

Unlike print where you are checking that nothing has changed, because ebooks display differently  in different devices your proofing process involves a different set of checks. Once you get over the idea that your ebook needs to look the same in all e-reading devices, you can check for specific things such as:

  • character sets – if your source file used an unusual font then some characters and symbols may not render properly;
  • line breaks in mid-sentence – artificial line breaks that may have been used for print need to be removed in reflowable books;
  • structure and page breaks – your chapters should start on a new page, and sections breaks will need a visual cue other than white space;
  • images – check for resizing and transparency;
  • layout – layout might render differently, but it should still work for each device.

This list is not exhaustive, and will be in part dependent on your book’s content and format(s). Regardless, all of this should be checked, and mistakes corrected, before the ebook file goes to the distributor or vendor.

© 2011 Linda Kythe Nix. All rights reserved.