Printer’s proofs! Ethnic Knitting Exploration

This post is a bit late because of technical challenges in getting the last post onto the blog.

While I was working to get the raspberry mitten material through "save," BIG events were happening in the background. I returned from the library (with my post written but not successfully released) to find this:


That's not just any FedEx envelope. It contains the proofs for the next book to be published by Nomad Press: Ethnic Knitting Exploration: Lithuania, Iceland, and Ireland by Donna Druchunas.

Printers' proofs are an interesting phenomenon of the publishing world. This is not, by the way, the time when "proofreading" takes place. That needed to have happened before the book was ever sent to the printer. This is an opportunity to see whether there have been any errors in the way the printer has interpreted the materials we sent: to "'proof," and approve of, what will happen on press. It's an opportunity to fix grievous errors before the book is multiplied by several thousand copies. And that's all. (That's plenty!)

Printers don't usually send notification that the package has been shipped, yet the proofs have to be turned around within 24 hours. Most places I've worked (including for myself) require that proofs be reviewed and all communications about them be completed by the end of the day they arrive, so it's not like we have 24 hours to eyeball, fix, and reply. If any corrections are required, the materials to implement the changes need to be prepared, transmitted to, and received by the printer within that 24-hour window.

Assuming that the proofs arrive by regular overnight delivery (appearing by 10 a.m.), they need to be back in the shipping channel before the day closes—traditionally this has meant through a 5 p.m. standard pickup or drop-off deadline, or, if the extra hour or so has been needed, courtesy of a hurried special drive to the carrier's hub, which has a later cut-off, like 6 or 6:30 p.m.

I've been doing all of this since before fax machines, much less computers, were part of everyday publishing lives. Some things have changed for the better with these shifts in technology. We no longer have to return all proofs (which were formerly used as references by the press operators), so now we can often fax in approval (which has to have real signatures because a lot is at stake) and we can electronically transfer PDFs of pages with corrections, if any are required. A race to the drop-off site is no longer scheduled into my day as a certainty the instant I see the proofing package. My reflexes kick into action, but I rarely end up having to make the drive any more.

In these times of economizing, these proofs arrived by overnight saver (not by 10 a.m.). They arrived on Friday afternoon, due back Monday by 10
a.m. to preserve our place in the printing queue.

Speaking of schedule, I don't know yet when this book will be off press. Part of that's because the printer doesn't know if I'm going to, for some bizarre reason, hold the proofs for a week. So this is what it says about ship dates at our online account:


Let's look at that more closely:


Requested ship date: 12/31/19.

I don't think so.

Obviously it's a filler date: there has to be a date there, so they plug in something absurd.

Scheduled ship: To be determined. Yes. Exactly.

Because the materials all arrived at the printer on 1/19/09, my working concept of a ship date is 2/16/09. (The book is being printed in North America, so rule-of-thumb turnaround is four weeks.)  Nothing is certain until the cartons of finished books are on the truck. Might be sooner, might be later. This book is already late, because of the computer gauntlet of 2008, so SOONEST is what I'm looking for.

Fortunately, I had been checking our online account at the printer (another technological innovation) so I did know that the proofs would be arriving soon. "Soon" is not specific, but I knew not to schedule any meetings out of town for the next few days.

I'm here, therefore, shortly after the package thwapped down on the front step. I immediately opened it and got to work. Lunch? What's lunch?


There were two plastic-wrapped packages like this, one for the text and one for the cover.


Printers' proofs have changed a lot over the years. We used to be able to check color accuracy and printing quality. I have to hold myself back on that now, because while today's proofing systems are faster and less expensive than the former versions, they are nowhere near as precise in their representation of what the finished product will look like. You can still order old-style proofs, but they add a lot of time and expense to a project.

So the cover proof isn't accurate in terms of color, and the interior proofs aren't accurate for either color (this will be a two-color book) or clarity. Of the two black-and-white piles of pages above, the lefthand one came off my laser printer and the righthand one came off their proofing system. Mine is crisper and clearer than theirs. I have to breathe and trust.

What can I check from proofs?

On the cover, this is my last chance to be sure that the author's name is spelled properly and the bar code is correct and the machines are likely to trim the cover in the correct places (trims are marked on all proofs).

On the interior, I can check trims, again, and I also need to leaf through carefully and be sure that the images are correct and look okay (they won't go as far as looking terrific in this manifestation), and that nothing has gone wacko with the type (like substitution of a weird font), and that all the pages are present and in the correct order.

I have to avoid applying any value judgments to the quality of the will-be-color portions, which look pretty lousy when reproduced this way. I won't see the color for real until I see the color for real—in finished books. I've only seen it so far on my computer screen, which isn't the same at all. The way I have used my two inks (black and PMS 299) could end up looking interesting and good in the final. Or the colors could go blah, or look like a weird idea that almost worked. I trust (hope) they won't be awful. The proof copy gives me no clues whatsoever. I have to wait.

I do see a couple of things that make me cringe, but because they are artifacts of the computer problems of the past year I need to ignore them. Only type geeks will notice. Type geeks WILL notice. And the typographically unfortunate items are on pages 3 and 5, of course, not way back on, say 82 and 163.


I've marked them in yellow.

See on the lefthand page (the title page) how the initial letters in the words look much heavier than the other letters in those same words? The weights of all the letters, large and small, should be the same. It's true that this difference in weights commonly occurs when you are "faking" small caps in an informal typographic environment, like Microsoft Word. But I was not "faking" small caps, and I was working with both fonts and programs that have the capacity to produce real small caps. More on that in a moment.

On the righthand page (the table of contents), the chapter subtitle is not aligned correctly below the chapter title.

I approved the proofs without correcting these items, even though for me that's like trying to ignore the sound of fingernails on a blackboard.


The computer problems that over the past year almost drove Nomad Press out of business were most obvious in the way they affected typography. (They also caused random crashes, scrambled data in other programs, and additional aggravating time-wasting horrors. Various computer-smart people who spent a lot of time working with me to mitigate the effects of these problems diagnosed the situation as "DLL hell," and that name sounds like what I've been making my way through.)

Net result: I am NOT going to open the file for this book (on the PC) and run the risk of having MORE things go wrong unless the correction I'm going after will affect the reader's ability to benefit from the book.

These two items are simply embarrassing to me, and will reduce the book's chances of winning any publishing prizes.

They will have zero effect on the book's usefulness to knitters.

Here goes:


Two approval pages in the fax machine: one for the cover, one for the text. By 4 p.m. on Friday afternoon, with the slight hope that this will jumpstart the project's progress toward an actual ship date.

(The paper in the fax's supply tray has been printed on one side already: it's being recycled from the working drafts of the book. There's an approximation of my blue ink there . . . again, not accurate, because it came off an inkjet printer, nothing like the printing source for the final copies. In addition to using all sides of our office paper, we've selected Green Press Initiative-qualifying paper for the printing of the book as a finished object. We do everything we can around here to keep our footprint light.)

Now that I've signed off on the proofs (gulp), this book's production is completely out of my hands. I'm trying not to hold my breath, since there's nothing more I can do to affect the outcome.

Time for lunch.


Monday: The online account's shipping dates have not changed yet, although receipt of the approvals has been recorded.

Late Friday, 2/6: We finally have a ship date (I've been checking twice a day). The books should leave the printing plant on 2/18/09. Assuming they depart on time, they'll reach the distribution points between three and five days later, and should be out in the world about a week after that.


10 thoughts on “Printer’s proofs! Ethnic Knitting Exploration”

  1. Congratulations, you got to this place. Remember the days you were not sure?

    I understand having a hard time letting go of small details that matter most to you and not as much to customers. It’s good you are really clear about the possible effect of more changes. This one is a miracle to go to press at all, I’d say…

    I can not wait to see the book!!! Should be exciting.


  2. I can not wait to see this one, either. What a trial you had getting it to this point. Kudos to you for being able to let go of the things that will make you crazy but will not affect the customer’s experience.

    Love your red/red-orange door.

  3. Thanks for showing the details of the process. I have a question though. I’m a freelance indexer, and when I receive proofs (either “first pass” or “second pass”), I have anywhere from 2 weeks to 2 months to produce the index. The author and/or proofreader is also looking at the proofs, as well as the in-house editor, but they don’t have a 24-hour turnaround. Has your index already been written? Or when will it be added to the book?

  4. (Note to type-geek self: do not look at pages 3 and 5.)
    ; – )

    It looks fine, Deb, even the cover. Given all you’ve gone through with this, to have two minor glitches is nothing to go postal over, even though both you and I might do so as a matter of course.

    (FWIW, the standing joke in our home is that I’m obsessive, and in my spare time, compulsive….)

  5. Thank you, Linda, for assuring me you won’t look at pages 3 and 5 {grin}. Maybe through a piece of antique glass or something it would be okay.

    Mary, the index was done last July, when we thought we would be able to go to press in August. Indexing is done after proofing, because page breaks might (rarely) shift due to proofing changes. The layout was completed and solid: not a word was going to change which page it fell on (regardless of the computer’s shenanigans, we would put anything that moved *back* where it *was*).

    Proofreading and indexing are done from a different type of proof–it’s a bit confusing that there are so many stages of the process that use the same name.

  6. Yay, Deb! I know those typographic details are like fingers on a chalkboard, but they truly aren’t going to affect most readers (e.g., book buyers). And after all you’ve gone through with the software/hardware, getting this book to press is huge. So big congrats. And sleep well tonight!

  7. Time to let go and breathe, at last… May your next project fly through with nary a glitch!

    I’ve been fascinated watching this book grow up. Thanks for sharing your headaches/heartaches throughout the process. It’s been a rare glimpse at what goes on behind the scenes!

  8. What joy! Realize that only one person will see those oopses–you. Everyone else will be entirely tooooo busy reading the patterns, the storyline of the patterns, the instructions, wearing out their calculators as they put in their measurements, and grab that wool and knit, knit, knit, knit! Meanwhile telling all their friends about the new, wonderful knitting book!


  9. Does Donna Druchunas actually visit the countries she writes about and meet with anyone in those countries to do original research, or does she just reference existing works by other authors?

  10. Donna has been learning Lithuanian for two years (she’s currently translating sections of some Lithuanian books) and has traveled in that country (and is going back). She also took an extended trip to Alaska for Arctic Lace. She has been to other countries, and has even more on her travel plans. She’s teaching and studying several places outside North America this coming summer.

    She has not been to all of the countries whose knitting she writes about–not feasible, and in many cases the traditions being written about are no longer active in those countries. She’s very adept at using deep library resources in addition to what she is able to learn in person and through various types of communication with active knitters.

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