The Page Proof Nightmare

By John Gilstrap

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In the traditional publishing world, milestones define the production cycle of a book.  You turn in the manuscript, then you get the global edit from the editor.  Next come the larger structural changes and you turn those in.  Copy edits are next, those niggling little change-which-to-that kinds of changes.  (Or why did-that-guy’s-name-change-between-Chapter-Four-and-Chapter-Fifteen kinds of changes.)

The final step is the one I hate–the page proofs.  That milestone is my last shot at making sure that the book is exactly what I want it to be.  Did the copy edits I rejected make it through anyway?  Have any other errors made it through?  Does the plot really make sense?

For me, this is a staggeringly stressful process.  First of all, I suck as a copy editor.  I’m not a details-oriented reader.  Once I get lost in the “fictive dream” (thanks for the phrase, Brother Bell), I don’t see the little stuff.  So, for the page proofs, I have to force myself to . . . Read.  Every.  Word.  It takes forever.

I hate page proofs.

My beloved Delta mechanical pencil sits atop the dog eared pages where I made changes.

But it helps a little to have traditions in place to get me through.  It starts with the Delta mechanical pencil.  I’m a fountain pen purist when it comes to hand writing my manuscripts, but for me, editing must be done with a pencil.  This Delta pencil has been my go-to editing instrument for at least the last 15 books.  I like the weight of it, the balance.  And it will always write, irrespective of the angle, whether I’m sitting upright or reclining in a chair.

I grab a hunk of pages and start reading.  Where I note a change, I dog ear that page, but all the pages have to stay in order for a while because it’s not unusual to have to refer back.

After Lord knows how many sessions of detailed reading of a story I am sooo sick of reading, I finally reach the last page.  I turn it over and put it atop the 500-page mound of paper.  In the case of the latest of the Grave novels, Total Mayhem (July 1, 2019), whose page proofs I finished just this morning, I had marked changes on 90 of the book’s 480 pages.

The good pages get tossed to the floor for recycling.

Those pages go to my office, where I sit at my desk and take a last look at every page.  (I can’t count on myself to have dog eared every page where I’ve made a change.)  The clean pages get tossed on the floor, and I stack the edited pages into a new pile.  That pile then gets separated into mini-stacks of ten pages each.  This morning, I scanned the stacks into my computer as PDFs, and then I emailed the PDFs to the production editor at Kensington.

So now it’s official.  Total Mayhem is in the can.  I couldn’t change a word of it even if I wanted to.  The good news is that I really like the story.  Now I just have to deliver two new manuscripts in the next 12 months.  (Yes, I’m out of my mind.)

So, TKZ family, are there parts of the writing/editing/production process that you hate?  Parts that you love?

Final note: Today is my birthday!  As you read this, I be getting prepped for/undergoing/recovering from an epidural injection in my cervical spine to relieve the pain of a pinched nerve.  I expect to be fine, but my responses here might be slow.  Do I know how to celebrate or what!

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About John Gilstrap

John Gilstrap is the New York Times bestselling author of Total Mayhem, Scorpion Strike, Final Target, Friendly Fire, Nick of Time, Against All Enemies, End Game, Soft Targets, High Treason, Damage Control, Threat Warning, Hostage Zero, No Mercy, Nathan’s Run, At All Costs, Even Steven, Scott Free and Six Minutes to Freedom. Four of his books have been purchased or optioned for the Big Screen. In addition, John has written four screenplays for Hollywood, adapting the works of Nelson DeMille, Norman McLean and Thomas Harris. A frequent speaker at literary events, John also teaches seminars on suspense writing techniques at a wide variety of venues, from local libraries to The Smithsonian Institution. Outside of his writing life, John is a renowned safety expert with extensive knowledge of explosives, weapons systems, hazardous materials, and fire behavior. John lives in Fairfax, VA.

8 thoughts on “The Page Proof Nightmare

  1. First, happy birthday to a fellow novelist whom I admire for his stories and his knowledge. I hope at least some of the day is less painful and more celebratory for you.

    Second — well, no, there is no second. (grin) Y’know, it’s *your* birthday. You might consider moving it out a few days.

  2. Happy Birthday! Hope your procedure goes well.
    For me, because everything is submitted electronically, I don’t get printed proofs. I’ve found that using Word’s “Read Aloud” feature helps me catch all the glitches that might otherwise sneak by because my brain knows what’s supposed to be on the page. And the Office 365 version of Word highlights every word as it’s read, giving me something to focus on.
    Do I enjoy it? No, it’s my least favorite part, but it has to be done.

  3. I am not an author, so can’t really help you on the page edits. Although I did have a project where the original author use “and so much more” for almost every point he made. It became my job to find those “much more”s and actually add them to the report.

    The real reason for writing is I am a machine pencil, and fountain pen freak. My go to pencil is a Rotring 0.7mm 600 loaded with B lead. B is the equivalent of a no. 1 pencil. The pen body is solid brass. You know when you pick it up.

    Happy Birthday! Great time to get a new pen!

  4. Happy Birthday, John! Sorry I’m late. I was in a similar editing hell yesterday. I just sent the final changes back a few minutes ago. Woohoo!

    Strange coincidence … My next Mayhem book (which is due in June) had a title of Total Mayhem. Then two weeks ago, I noticed the title in your bio and immediately emailed my publisher with a new proposed title. Thank God I noticed, or that would have been embarrassing. 🙂

    Hope you’re feeling better. Pinched nerves are no fun.

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