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Proofing Books in the Digital Age

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To get a quick handle on how text display differs on different devices, compare and contrast these seven screen shots. Each “page” is affected by font size and by the pixel dimensions of a particular device.

Proofing Books in the Digital Age

by Linda Nix

The process of proofing a book for publication has become much easier for print books and much harder for e-books. When a print book is ready for press, it’s sent to a printer who processes the files and returns proofs for checking. Press proofs need to be checked to make sure pages are in the correct order, all pages are present, and artwork quality is as it should be. Proofing also provides a last chance to see and correct any typos or other mistakes that slipped through the editorial process.

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

Since the late twentieth century we’ve been sending digital files to printers, but we still sometimes receive printed proofs for sign-off. Some printers still provide a bound version of the book, while others now send only a PDF for proofing.

With PDF proofs you can’t check for things like ink depth, but since the files are digital, the chances are good that the pages won’t be out of order. A publisher who spots any change needed in a PDF makes the change and sends a replacement page to the printer.

Then another set of checks takes place—looking at things such as quality of binding and ink—when the printed book is shipped.

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

That’s far from what happens with e-books.

Proofing in E-reading Devices

How do you proof an e-book? Or, to limit the question to just two basics in the multiplicity of formats, how do you proof an EPUB book and its cousin in the Kindle format?

Each e-reading device renders an e-book file differently, depending on how the device supports fonts, images, backgrounds, and text justification and alignment.

Once you have prepared and validated an EPUB file, you need to preview it in as many different devices as you can. Of course, you may not be able to load your e-book file onto every single one of today’s many—and multiplying—e-book reading devices, even assuming you can afford to own each and every one. But you can preview on various devices by using some free viewing software.

To proof EPUB books, I use Calibre, Sigil, Adobe Digital Editions, and, to see how a book looks on the iPad, iBooks. If I’m happy with how the book looks in all these, I’m reasonably confident it will work with other EPUB devices.

To proof Kindle e-books, I use the Kindle Preview app, which allows you to test different Kindle formats, including Kindle DX and the Kindle app for iPad.

What to Look For

In print, you are checking to see that the book you receive from the printer looks exactly the same as the book you sent in terms of layout, fonts, margins, pages, and so on. Since e-books display differently in different devices, none of those things will look the same.

So first, you need to forget the idea that your e-book should look the same as your print book or indeed look the same in each device. And then you need to check for specific things including:

• Character sets: if your source file used an unusual font, some characters and symbols may

not render properly.

• Line breaks in midsentence: artificial line breaks used for print need to be removed

in reflowable books.

• Structure and page breaks: each chapter should start on a new page, and section breaks will need

a visual cue other than white space.

• Layout: although a layout may render differently on different devices, it needs to work for

each of them.

• Images: check for resizing and background transparency (for example, if you have a graphic

that isn’t a square, it should have a transparent background, not a white background, so that all you

see is the graphic, and not the white showing up as a square when the e-reader display isn’t white).


This list is not exhaustive, and what you need to check will depend in part on a particular book’s content and format(s). But whatever you check and however you check it, do all your checking and correct all mistakes before the e-book file goes to any distributor or vendor.

Linda Nix is a print and online publishing professional with particular expertise in digital publishing for both print and digital formats. Although she will broker e-book conversion services on request, she notes that she much prefers providing e-book production services and helping publishers integrate e-book production into their everyday publishing operations. To learn more: goldenorbcreative.wordpress.com and goldenorb@me.com.

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