David B. Coe, whose blog is quickly becoming one of my favourite author blogs, is back at it with another interesting behind-the-scenes glimpse at the craft and work that goes into writing a novel.

This time Coe pontificates on the effort that goes into proofing the pages of his upcoming novel.

Well, today I began my last task in the production process. I am proofreading the typeset version of the book, also known as the first-pass page proofs. What this means, basically, is that I’m looking at the book as it will appear in print, searching for typos, errors in formatting, and any lingering mistakes that I might have made. It’s a rather tedious job, not least because I’ve already read this book through about five times, and frankly, I’m a little sick of it. Don’t get me wrong: I like the book. I think it’s one of my best. But it could be a masterpiece on the order of A Tale of Two Cities, and I still wouldn’t want to read it five times through in less than a year.

As I find mistakes, I correct them in pencil and then lay those pages aside. When I’m done, I’ll send those corrected pages — not the whole book — back to my editor. He’ll pass them on to Tor, where the changes will be incorporated into the final version of the book. The goal, of course, is a book without any typos or mistakes of any kind. In practice, this is virtually impossible to achieve. Why? Let me explain it this way: The book is 140,000 words long, give or take a few thousand. Each word averages about five letters. (Really: next time you do a word check in Word check out the other document stats. You’ll probably find that your average word length is about the same.) That comes out to approximately 700,000 characters. There are paragraph breaks, too, and also punctuation, spacing issues, etc. But let’s keep the number round for the sake of simplicity. 700,000. Okay, now let’s say that my editor, and the copy editor, and the proofreader, and I manage between us to make it 99.999% perfect. That would be pretty darn good, actually. And it would still leave us with seven typos.

I know that when I’m reading a novel, I’ll run across silly typos and think to myself ‘How many people proofed this book and they couldn’t catch that?!’ Coe put things into perspective a little and makes me glad that my own project is only going to run about 90k words. I can’t even imagine what proofing a Steven Erikson or Diana Gabaldon book must be like! You have to give it up to the folk making sure those doorstops are typo free, eh?

You can find the whole post HERE.

  • David B. Coe July 16, 2008 at 12:14 pm

    Thanks for the pingback, Aidan. Glad you enjoyed the post. Don’t know if you got my reply to your email, but I look forward to doing that interview when it’s convenient for you. I’ll be traveling beginning next week and will wind up at Worldcon (Denver, Colorado) in early August. Maybe after that?

  • aidan July 17, 2008 at 2:00 pm

    Thanks for dropping by David! If you keep up the good work on my blog, I expect I’ll be pinging you quite often.

    The first round of the interview should be in your inbox now!