• Raphaël Freeman

Oops I made a mistake

Updated: Nov 12, 2020


It’s worth taking a step back to see how the process worked not that long ago. You would have typed up your manuscript on a typewriter. The typesetter would then have rekeyed your entire manuscript using specialised hardware or computer system, changing your typewriter quotes to typographer quotes (or curly quotes), fixing your double hyphens to the correct dashes and so forth.

The typesetter would then have printed out the galleys. These were strips of bromide (they were very expensive) and the author would then check the galleys. They would check for two kinds of errors: Author changes and typesetter mistakes (mistyped words). A list would be made because the author would only pay for author changes.

Then, and this is the kicker, the line that the errors were made on would be fixed and then bromides with all the errors would be output. Since the bromides were so expensive the replacement lines would be glued (think stick glue) into the correct place.

The process was slow and very expensive and as a result, authors were very careful to submit a clean manuscript.

Once the galleys were approved, they were handed over to another person – the layout artist, who would stick the galleys on the page, determining the correct margins and would meticulously stick the running heads and folios (page numbers) on the page. The galleys had to be cut (actually they were scored and torn so that when they would be later photographed, you wouldn’t see a line) and stuck with guar gum (which allowed resticking more easily then stick glue although the latter was used professionally too). Avoidance of widows was the province of the layout artist not the typesetter.

Then the laid-out pages would be photographed onto film, plates would be made and the book printed.


With the advent of desktop publishing, the typesetting process has evolved. The typesetter no longer rekeys in the manuscript and sees on screen the result of the typesetting rather than waiting for the bromide to be developed.

So how does the process work today? I am going to outline the process that we use at Renana Typesetting, but most of what I am writing should be similar for other typesetters. Think of this as a checklist if you are working with us.

Firstly, the manuscript must not only be complete, but also as perfect as can be, and ideally as one file. If there is still work to be done on the intro, finish it and only then send the whole file to us. You will also need to decide on the trim size (ie the size that this is going to be printed). If we are taking care of the printing, then this should have already been decided. Also if we are going to be making an e-book too, then this ideally should be decided in advance.

It should also be understood that changing the stylesheet, partially or in full, must be done in the Word file and not after typesetting. So decide on how you spell Ḥanuka before you see the PDF.

Once you have sent along your Microsoft Word manuscript, it will be typeset, most likely in Adobe InDesign. Once this is done, a pdf will be sent back to you. Remember, the manuscript is ideally perfect and therefore the only thing you are checking are mistakes made by the typesetter. Realistically, once you see your manuscript carefully layed out, you will suddenly see mistakes that you didn’t notice before. That’s okay.

Corrections have to be made in the pdf using Adobe Reader. There are many reasons for this. However, many people prefer to read the manuscript on paper, make the corrections on paper, and then transfer the corrections to screen. Either way, the corrections must be entered according to this page.

The rule is up to an average of 3 corrections per page. That means if you have a 200-page document, then there shouldn’t be more than 3 corrections a page. If after 20 pages, you see that you have exceeded 60 corrections, drop us a line! If corrections are marked up in pdf correctly and there are indeed on average less than 3 corrections a page then we don’t charge for the first 3 drafts.

So what should you be looking for in the first draft? Well everything except… Ah, so we need to jump a stage in order to know that. So let’s ignore the exceptions for the moment. Once your corrections are in (and remember to avoid the sticky note), you will send this back to us and we will input your corrections and send you a new draft. We advise you to append your initials at the end of the pdf (don’t change the name) or if you prefer send the .fdf.

This goes back and forth until you declare that the file is perfect (well except for…). The next stage is to “balance” the file.


Now this is kind of a made up term but I have yet to find a better term for it. Balancing is the process of making sure that the recto (right-hand page) and verso (left-hand page) end at the same point. Sometimes we have to shorten or lengthen the spread to make this happen, and often we need to track (squish up and spread out) a paragraph to make it happen. During this process of balancing, we will also make sure that on the last page of a chapter we have at least 3 lines (this is on our exception list), and take a look at footnotes seeing if it’s possible to avoid breaking a footnote over two pages. On a page that does have footnotes, we look to see if we can make that spacing even. If there is a new sub-heading on the top of a recto, then we often let the verso fall short.

This stage often means that we are re-massaging paragraphs and therefore there was no point in checking for bad-breaks before balancing.

Checking the balanced file

The file is now balanced and this is the stage that you can do all the things that you have waited to do. Here is the list:

  1. Table of contents. Check that the contents actually refer to the correct page

  2. Cross-references. Put in the cross-references. We suggest using xyz as a place holder.

  3. Running heads. Make sure that each page has the correct running head and folios.

  4. Footnotes. Checking to make sure that the spacing above footnotes is as even as possible.

  5. Chapter ends. The end of a chapter should not really end with less than 3 lines. Make sure we didn’t miss any.

  6. Bad breaks. This refers to a word that has automatically hyphenated incorrectly at the end of a line – usually when it’s a foreign language or a transliteration. Simply selecting a French word and applying the french language will apply French hyphenation.

  7. Index. Making the index. Once the book is balanced and finalised, then the book can be sent for indexing. If the book has been indexed in Word then the index will come across and you will see it in the first draft. However, although the page references will be correct, sometimes it will be necessary to fix things that may get lost such as formatting, etc.

Ready to print

After this stage you will be sent the press-ready draft. This is the file that you can send to print. If we are handling the printing then you need to check this file since these are effectively your blueprints. We no longer make prints from the film for checking (yes they were blue) for many reasons, one of which is that we don’t do the film stage any more and go directly to plate. Therefore it is the pdf that you must check.

The printer will issue a digital blueprint – it’s a pdf – to check for page mixups, font corruption and any other artifacts that can come into play. We typically will check this pdf and approve directly without involving the client, but we can arrange for this to be printed out and sent to the client for one last check if this is requested.

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