Proofs for Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow? arrived yesterday, and I can't tell you how much I enjoy this part of the process. I think an apt analogy would be putting on a play: you write the script, build the sets, cast the characters, sew the costumes, block the movements, and now . . . it's the dress rehearsal. It's not opening night--that'll be when the actual book comes out--but it is your first chance to see all the pieces come together and really get a sense of whether the whole production is going to work.
I'll explain about proofs. After Designer Neil finished laying out the pages, he sent those files to the printer. They did their wizardry to create the films (or plates or hot lead or stone tablets or whatever, I don't really know these days) that get attached to big rotating drums in a press to imprint cyan, magenta, yellow, and black inks onto sheets of paper to make a book. Proofs are their trial run of that process. For the first time, we get to see what the pages of the book will actually look like, printed on the actual paper we're going to use. The printer sent those proofs back to the publisher, who sent a duplicate set to me, for our inspection and approval. When we say "OK," they start printing.
As I review the proofs, I'm looking for several things:
1. Errors in content. I read the whole thing through very carefully. This is our very last chance to fix mistakes. Since repairs now cost time and money, you think hard about whether a mistake really needs to be fixed or is so minor you can let it go.
2. Print quality. I'm looking to be sure the colors came out like I expected--as I mentioned in my post on blacks, there can be a big difference between the appearance of something on a computer monitor and in print. I want to see fine lines reproduced accurately and without pixelization. I want to make sure the registration--that is, how the four colors of ink line up--is accurate. I'm also noting any little blips, flecks, blops, or spots I find. Some of those are inevitable imperfections of the printing process, but others are physical bits of crud on the films (like dust on a photo negative) that the printer can fix.
3. Paper quality. Different papers absorb inks differently. For example, imagine dripping a drop of ink onto a paper towel: it spreads all over the place. You would not want to print a book on paper-towel paper. In printing, a more absorbent paper can make grays darker and colors muddier than they'd appear on a less absorbent paper. Now, it's too late for us to change our paper order (I guess), but we could still revise the art to better work with the paper if necessary.
4. As I also mentioned before, we're trying a few "special effects" in WHTTWOT, including the use of more than one kind of paper. I'll give it one pass just to make sure that all turned out as expected.
Inspecting proofs takes some patience and care. As you can see above, I use a magnifying glass as well as a loupe, the little plastic lens on the right. One trick I learned is to do a pass with the pages turned upside down, so you don't get distracted by their content but can just look at them as physical objects. I'm marking anything I find with little orange tabs--just a few so far--and will compile a list for Editor Charlie and Designer Neil. They'll fix what needs fixin', and the presses will start rolling.
So how do I think my little dress rehearsal looks?
I cannot imagine being happier with what I've seen.