The very first, hold-it-in-your-hands copy of your book.
You should already have a good idea of what you can expect after reviewing your digital book files, but there really is no substitute for the real thing.
It’s time for you to flick through the pages, appreciate your paper and color choices, look at the quality of the printing and binding, and, yes, inevitably spot those last few edits.
You’re not quite over the final hurdle yet, but you’re nearly, nearly there. Work through our guide to checking your printed proof so you don’t miss anything important.
Step 1: Think like a customer
When you open up your parcel to handle your printed proof for the first time, it’s an excellent opportunity to put yourself in the shoes of a customer doing the same. Imagine a reader has ordered a copy of your book, and it’s finally here. Can you use your initial reaction to tell you something about what theirs will be?
What grabbed your attention first?
Does the book look big or small, thick or thin, feel heavy or light? Does the front cover set the right tone? Flip the cover over. Does the back cover convey the right message? Put the book on your shelf and examine the spine. Does it fit next to other books? Blend in or stand out?
Now flick through the pages. Does the text look properly aligned? Are the margins wide enough? Do the colors and images look good?
Note down anything that jumps out at you, or that feels clunky or out of place. If you get the chance to, ask friends or family to do the same.
Step 2: Examine product quality
Your book is a manufactured product, just like a notebook, an instruction manual, or a diary. Now’s the time for you to be completely objective and honest with yourself if you can. Does this book look like a well-made product?
Look at the cover. Is it properly bound? Are you happy with the feel of the matte or gloss finish? Does the spine text look like it has been properly placed and aligned? Is there any shipping damage, bends or scratches?
Now look at the interior. Has your printer printed the pages well? Have they bound them straight? What do you think of the paper thickness? What about the color? How do the pages feel as you turn them? Do any of the images show through to the other side of the paper? Has the printer properly glued or stitched the pages?
Take notes on anything you notice and then think carefully. It’s important for you to try and differentiate between what’s a manufacturing fault and what’s a production choice. The first are down to your printer to resolve, but the second may need you to do some rethinking.
Certain things don’t end up working in a printed book simply because you unknowingly made the wrong print choices. For example, maybe you selected an uncoated paper because it felt nice, but in print, you notice your vibrant color images look a bit flat. Maybe your paperback is bulkier than you imagined and difficult for you to hold. Could that be down to your paper choice too? Perhaps your book has lots of pictures, but because you selected thin paper, these show through to the other side.
Making completely perfect decisions is always tricky. If, in hindsight, you think some of the choices you made haven’t worked well, speak to your designer or printer and ask for advice.
Step 3: Be aware of print limitations
While it’s good for you to analyze the production of your book – and you should – try not to become obsessive about it. You’ve probably bought plenty of books in the past, and we doubt you noticed every single imperfection. So keep reminding yourself: no reader is ever going to examine your book with the same intensity that you are now.
Now’s also the time for you to take your chosen printing method into consideration.
The nature of print-on-demand (POD) means that a copy of your book will only get printed when someone places an order for it. And because POD printers print every book individually, they will all be a little different. The factory conditions, inks, temperatures, and papers will vary slightly from day to day and in different printing locations.
There are lots of reasons why POD might be the best way for you to print your book, but it is important for you to appreciate that there are accepted levels of variation for POD books. For example, the text might shift on a page by up to 1/16″ and your printer would still be within acceptable limits. Make sure these variations are going to be satisfactory to you now, so you’re not disappointed or surprised later.
In comparison, books that your printer produces as a batch using traditional litho printing will result in very little variation. Litho printers print and bind every book as part of the same run, at the same time, with the same machine setup, under the same conditions. However, even then it’s not possible to set up the litho machines to produce a single proof copy. Your litho printer will still create the proof digitally. So, while it is enormously helpful for you to review your paper proof, remember that your printer will have printed it using a different method from your main batch of books.
Step 4: Take photos of issues
“On page 6 the red looks darker than I expected.”
“The heading on page 11 is very close to the top.”
As much as your designer may be keen to help you understand, fix or change how certain aspects of your design appear in print, it is often very difficult for them to guess exactly what you can see.
The best way to show them is to use a camera (the one on your phone is fine) and take a few clear photographs. Your designer can then advise you whether the issue is down to print quality or whether they could change an aspect of the design to help make things look better on paper. For example, if a few images appear darker than expected in print, the designer can maybe adjust your originals.
Step 5: Read like your readers
Read your book as if you were reading it for the first time: as much of it as you possibly can. Don’t be tempted to skim-read.
It’s disconcerting, but once your content is all laid out on your paper pages, little errors and typos seem to jump off the pages. You’ll be amazed at the things you pick up in print that you didn’t spot even when reviewing your digital files on a screen. Trust us; it happens every time.
Grab a pencil and mark off any issues on the pages as you go. Even if you notice lots of errors, don’t despair too much. It’s better for you to find them now than leave the job to your readers. Even large publishers who employ proofreaders to check books multiple times don’t catch absolutely everything. Consider every error you spot now a victory, not a failure.
Once you’ve finished marking typos with a pencil, go back to your digital proof. Open your PDF book file and add the changes in as comments. You can then pass the file back to your designer so they can make the necessary changes.
Step 6: Order another proof
If you find you want to make a lot of changes to your book, then you’ll need to order another proof copy and go through this cycle again. This is especially important if you use a litho service that plans to print a big run of books. You may even need two or three printed proof stages to get it absolutely right.
We know it’s a pain, but you won’t regret it, we promise. You need to be completely confident that your digital proof file and your printing choices are going to come together seamlessly every time a copy of your book leaves the printer. Now’s the time for you to make sure of that.
Getting your printed proof is an exciting and vital stage in your book’s life and definitely worthy of some celebration. Just make sure you see it as an opportunity for more progress, not a finishing line. We say it often, but a little extra time and patience are always a good investment.