The proof is in the proofing

I got my first proof copy of A Housefly in Autumn.

It’s been a few years since I’ve experienced that moment of pulling the proof copy of a new book out of the box and holding it in my hands for the first time. That’s my book. That’s the thing I’ve been toiling over for years, trying to get right. This day has been a long time in coming.

I breathed a sigh of relief that the cover was not printed upside down and my name was spelled correctly. That’s two potential embarrassments I can check off the list. Then I just held it in my hands for moment, feeling the smooth, clean cut weight of it in my fingers.

I flipped through the pages one quick time, but I didn’t read anything. That would come soon enough. I just wanted to believe it was perfect for a little while.

Because everything in between the covers scares me.

Does a comma belong there?

It’s a struggle not to be overcome by the excitement of reading through the book for the 678th time.

It scares me because there’s a lot of work yet to be done in there. There’s some of the most painstaking reading I will ever do waiting in there. It gives me a little pain in the base of my neck just thinking about it.

It scares me because it’s my first look at a hard copy of the interior layout. Maybe the gutters are too small. Maybe the paragraph indentations are too big. Maybe those headers that confounded me for days reverted back to all the pages I thought I’d exempted from them.

It scares me because there are mistakes in there. The manuscript has been proofed and proofed and proofed, but there are still mistakes hiding in places no one has yet discovered. Now, there are even more places for errors to hide; there’s the front matter and the back cover. Those haven’t been proofed nearly as well as the actual manuscript.

I know I’ll find most of the errors, and maybe the few that get past me will be innocuous – the kinds of things that readers wouldn’t even notice. But what if there’s a big, embarrassing one, hiding right out in the open where I’ll never find it?

I don’t even have a big publishing corporation I can blame mistakes on. There will be no, “Oh, the idiots at Random House missed that.” No, it’s the idiot at my house who missed that.

All this fear is a good thing. It will force me to focus and be thorough. It will encourage me to seek help.

The night I received my first proof copy, I lay in bed and thought about how much people might like this book. Then the fear kicked in and I thought about how much they might hate it. Then I thought about how much they might be utterly indifferent to it, which was the worst thought of all because even hatred requires at least some level of emotion.

I know this fear. I met it in the first proof copies of my other books. I also know that it will abate with the second proof copy and the third, etc., until it is overcome by the sense of accomplishment in moving toward my goals.

It’s just another step along the way.

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