Proofing doesn’t go on forever (or does it?)

When I started writing this post on February 25, I had recently finished reading the text pages for The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook for the third time. Co-author Carol Ekarius and I have been trading the full-read responsibility baton like relay team members as we have gone through these final pre-press checks. It's kept us both fresher for the task than we otherwise would be.

The second review cycle occurred over the December holidays and I had to travel with the large pile of 11×17-inch pages, so I built them a box, using the cardboard from the UPS mailer in which they were delivered. When it came time to send the pages back to the publisher, I couldn't find a large enough return-shipping box in my stack of shipping supplies. This was surprising, because I have an inconveniently large collection of shipping supplies. (I also had neither one of the supplied containers from the publisher's preferred overnight service, nor time to go get one.) So I taped closed my custom-made box and generated the label for its overnight delivery.

It figures, then, that the third set of pages would arrive when I had to travel again. So I built another box. Fortunately, it takes less time to build a box than it does to go to the office supplies store and discover that they don't have anything that will do the job, so I just skipped that errand and enjoyed the pleasant work of recycling what I had on hand.

Thus I carried the pages with me safely and was able to spend my "free" time at a wonderful conference in a beautiful location finishing up the proofing of the text. This time the pages had few enough changes that I could send feedback in an e-mail, so I didn't have to return the set of pages and I still have the copy here (along with my new box). It's kind of nice to have a physical representation of the work we've done, although if the past gives clues to the future then bound books are likely to be even better than the cumbersome proof pages.


I got to enjoy the conference (that's what I was there for), but I didn't get to take any walks in the beautiful forest until I'd met my deadline. I normally walk at least twice a day. At the end of a production cycle, though, every minute counts. (Yes, I still did my yoga. That's necessary for basic functioning, mental and physical.)

"Are we there yet?"



Next we needed to review the acknowledgments. Carol did the heavy lifting on this one using the files we had both maintained throughout the years of writing, and then I reviewed and tweaked before we turned it in.

"Are we there yet?"



While this was going on, we were responding to a flurry of e-mails, which felt at times like a four- or more-sided ping-pong game, about photos, permissions, rights, and credits. For some photos we'd planned to use, the photographer was not responding to permissions inquiries. For others, the cost of the rights turned out to be too high. The photo budget for this book is generous but not unbounded.

On one representative morning, here's a sampling of the types of e-mails that rushed back and forth between the authors, the photo editor, and the managing editor (without our responses, which your imagination can fill in):

  • The stock agency for our {breed} sheep photo is not getting back to us for contracting. How about this one?
  • Great, thanks for getting back to me so quickly. I think we have all of the high res now, so there shouldn't be any more nasty surprises.
  • Do you have 2 {non-sheep animal} favorites from {stock photo source} that could replace the 2 photos currently in the pages?
  • Thanks for tracking those down, Deb and Carol! Here are the two that I think will work best in the layout: {A and B}
  • {another animal} Hopefully the last request….! Please let us know your favorites.

And on the same day from another editor. . . .

  • Hello – this is just a heads-up that hopefully sometime tomorrow we’ll send you a pdf of the maps, as they look now. They are coming along but there are a couple of things on which we need your input.

And then:

  • Subject: I thought we were done. . . .
    We are having trouble getting in touch with the guy who provided {breed} sheep photos. Will this one work?

"Are we there yet?"



Ah. The maps. They've been back and forth several times.

Here was an earlier version:

We've moved forward by steps. Here's part of a map at another stage. Some of the stars and the type still need to move to slightly different locations:


"Are we there yet?"

Nope. But we're getting closer.


Next, in an extraordinary move, the publisher sent me what's called loose color to review.

Whereas the pages we were reviewing earlier were printed in color, they were not generated on equipment that can accurately represent the colors that will come off the press. We went over those pages looking at all the component pieces while ignoring the color reproduction, which was generally too dark, too yellow, or both.

Loose color is provided by the printer who will produce the finished books, and, while it may not be printed on exactly the same equipment and paper that will do the print run, it is carefully calibrated to represent what will show up when the cartons of bound books are unpacked. Loose color consists only of the pages that include critical color (for this book, that is most of the pages). At this point, the person reviewing the proofs—generally NOT the author, who is presumed not to have any knowledge of color printing—ignores all matters of text and pays attention only to the quality of the images. Are the colors clear? accurate? as intended?

For a number of the photos, the in-house staff was not sure whether or not the images of fibers had, perhaps, turned too yellow, or green, or otherwise shifted from what they need to show. They also knew I've spent decades evaluating color proofs. (I've actually done this job through several generations of technology.)

So they sent me, overnight, the box of loose color. This particular batch wasn't especially loose: the photos had been printed on 30×40-inch sheets, with tissue paper interleaved to protect the printed surfaces from damage.


These are not small sheets. That dog weighs about 40 pounds. (She's wishing I'd pick up the blue toy by her nose and play with her.) I had to work on the floor, because I don't have a table big enough.

Because this sort of review is always at the last minute, the goal was for me to peruse, comment, and return the box the same day I got it. So I did, lifting the huge sheets one at a time from the "start" stack to the "end" stack, working to keep the corners of both the printed sheets and the tissue-paper protectors aligned, so I could roll the bunch neatly again when I was done and get it back into the return-shipping box.

It's good to have a box of fine-point Sharpies handy for marking necessary changes in the margins of the proofs, in places that don't obscure the photos but are easy to find for the person at the other end who needs to make sense of what's being communicated.

The yellowish cast on some of the images was not a problem: grease locks are yellowish, and in one case the yellow-orange color indicates weather-related damage to the wool, a situation that is discussed in the text.

A few of the fiber photos, though, had an inappropriate greenish cast to them, which can be adjusted in Photoshop by the prepress expert. Sometimes I could describe the necessary shift in printing terms. For one off-color photo, though, I resorted to pulling a tiny lock of the real fiber out of the reference boxes and taping it to the proof.


I wonder if this is a "first" for prepress? Probably yarns to match have been supplied before, but I'm guessing not fiber. The writing on that page is from the folks at the publisher, asking me whether the color here was okay. Obviously, it wasn't.

"Are we there yet?"

Nope. But we're getting really, really close.


Finally, on Thursday a week ago, this message:

  • Subject: FB has left the building! 
    The pages are in the UPS truck, on their way to the printer!
    Three cheers all around!

"Are we there yet?"



We haven't reached perfection, but we've gotten as close as is humanly possible. There will be things we'll see in the final product that we'd have changed if we'd had infinite time. If we took infinite time, though, there would never be a book.

Once the book entered its final phases, and especially after the message saying it had gone to press, I found myself very, very tired, which is the reason this post has not previously made it onto my blog. Carol and I worked up the proposal for the book in early to mid 2007. Sustained for nearly four years by the research, acquisition, washing, spinning, and writing, I feel, now that it's gone to the printer, both relieved and like I've run into a brick wall at a hundred miles per hour.

This is normal for a major project. Still, acknowledging that it's normal doesn't soften the effects. My job now is to jump-start the rest of my life while treating myself gently, so recovery happens as quickly as possible. That's the lesson to share with anyone else who gets involved with something as big as The Project: one of the necessary phases is R&R.


And now to answer the question in the title of this post. On any single project, proofing only seems to go on forever. Once the book goes to press, you've done what you could do. Time to sign off and move forward.

In life, however, I don't think the need for proofreading ever does end.


29 thoughts on “Proofing doesn’t go on forever (or does it?)”

  1. I'm actually home (as far as I know) for almost two months, with planning for events to do (as well as book editing, design, and the like), but no major presentations between now and then. I am holding the same thought of stability in being home for you and Richard.

  2. LOL — yes, far too well.

    I spent this morning browsing 350+ pictures to select four to accompany the article I finished editing last week, and then writing captions for them.

    My managing editor was thrilled with the results (both article and photos), although I did confess that while the author had send me a subset of a dozen or so, I didn’t use any of them.

    Such a wonderful distraction from deciding whether or not I want the full tox report from the autopsy.

  3. Being home seems like it could be really good for you given the events already on your schedule for after the book comes out. We’ve got as much being home time as we ever do, which means a trip to Denver at least once a month to check on Richard’s brain (starting next week with the next CT), but that’s not bad…

  4. So, when can we buy it? As another breed sample collector, I’ve been anxiously following this project from the beginning, absolutely in awe of the amount of organization involved! (My collection is a bunch of baggies…)

  5. My collection is in baggies, too, but they're very well organized baggies. . . . 

    You can pre-order the book at Powell's ( or at Amazon (, and it's listed in Booksense/IndieBound (, if you want to get a local bookstore to order it. Officially available late May or early June.

    I'll mention this in a blog post soon, but there will be a launch and signing (with both Carol Ekarius and me) at the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival, May 7-8–reception Saturday night at a hotel (not sure which one, although the organizers know) and signing on Sunday at the fairgrounds. That will probably be the first time *I* get see a copy, along with the other folks there, since there will be an advance shipment coming from the printer for the occasion.

  6. Susan, I will be hoping for just once a month to Denver for you and Richard. That's quite a reduced frequency for you, and will give you opportunities to visit your dad . . . and also be mostly at home.

  7. You mean I've earned the fatigue {wry grin}?

    I'm sure looking forward to seeing this part of The Project in a form I can hold in my hands, not just pulled together in electronic files or balanced on a desk (or the floor).

  8. Rest! I’m so excited for you. It’s time that you were able to celebrate a job well done. 🙂 I won’t be at MD Sheep & Wool this year, but I’ll be dancing with you in my heart. Good to hear from you and glad to know where you are in this long journey…

    (Week 27 over here. Twin gestation is tons of work. I have so much more empathy for ewes now…)

  9. Joanne, you're having your own festival at home this year. I will imagine you–and the wee ones!–dancing along with us at Maryland. Thanks again for your help. . . .

  10. Congrats on getting that baby out of here! Can’t wait to see the book in person and to celebrate its printing! Hope you can do something fun and relaxing now that you’ve finished the proofing.

  11. Thanks, Kit! I'm reading a mystery, knitting for deadline, writing for (smaller) deadlines, and . . . maybe a nap? I did just take a bike ride! Life is better when I get to take a bike ride.

  12. Three Cheers! I’m SO excited to get my copies of this book, and hope to catch you at a signing somewhere here in the northeast. There will be SOAR, right in NH next fall, but perhaps you’ll be somewhere else close around that time. This book needed to be written and I’m delighted they got the right people for it.

    What do you wish you could have included?

    With thanks and best wishes.

    Meg C

  13. Meg, I'll be teaching at SOAR this fall. That's as close as I'll get to it {grin}.

    What do I wish we could have included? Well, there's more to be said about everything we *did* include. I'm very pleased with what we have accomplished. I think we've set a new baseline for the next phase of learning about animal fibers to launch from.

    An example, though, would be to compare the coverage of Soay sheep in the book (when it's out there, and what we wrote for the book is pretty extensive) with the article I wrote for Spin-Off on the breed (should be in the Summer issue, released about the same time as the book). There's not that much overlap! And there is *still* more to say about Soay, even if I limit what's said to the things that will be of interest to textile folk (as opposed to biologists, historians, and others).

    What I'm chomping at the bit for is DNA research that will tell us more about the origins of a number of breeds that are still mysterious.

  14. I am so glad this part of the process is done, both for your sake, and because that means I am one step closer to having my own copy :-}
    What are your favorite ways to decompress after such herculean effort?

  15. Diana, the best decompression techniques I know are yoga, meditation, walks or biking, and reading something totally distracting, like Linda Fairstein's mysteries. Oh, and, of course, knitting, spinning, and/or weaving. These all sustain me *through* major efforts, and they're also critical to recovery. What I need to do now, though, is pack and ship a pallet of books. Somehow that's harder to muster the energy for!

  16. Hey Deb! I watched your DVD yesterday and thought it was wonderful. Promptly pre-ordered your book and can’t wait to get it! We raised Icelandics until a pack of dogs got in and killed most of my babies and we had to shoot 2 200 pound rams-I cried for days!! I am really into endangered sheep and love what you are doing. Thanks for all your hard work.

  17. Thanks for your excitement about the book, Amanda and Amy! Also for the good words about the DVD, Amy. I have no perspective on it! I’m delighted that you like it.

    I’m so sorry to hear about your Icelandics. What a tragedy. I watched a pack once chasing a deer, and that was more than enough for me.

    I love dogs, as should be obvious from what I say here from time to time, but they should *not* be allowed to run loose.

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