Your first box of books arrives. You open the first copy and realise that something’s not right. Maybe it’s a typo in your introduction, the wrong diagram in Chapter 1, or you wrote a reminder to yourself about adding another case study… which somehow made it to print.
Whatever the issue, you now have a big problem – every other book in your first print run is exactly the same as this one. This means that every other book will have the exact same error.
You now have a decision – send these books to potential clients, partners and media contacts and hope that they don’t notice, or throw your first 200 copies in the recycle bin and start again, spending another $1,000 or so to do so.
Fortunately there’s one simple printing step you can take to avoid this error.
The power of the press proof
A press proof is a sample copy of your book that your printer will provide for your review before you go ahead with your full print run. The press proof usually won’t be of the same quality as your final books – it won’t have the final finish on the cover and it won’t be very sturdy (one of mine loses pages every time I open it) – it’s only meant to be used as a demo.
The benefit of taking this step before you go ahead with you full print run is that the press proof allows you to see what your book will look like when it goes to print. This gives you the opportunity to make changes and fix any mistakes in advance, rather than sending out (or throwing out) books that leave you feeling slightly embarrassed.
The downside is that the process of getting and approving press proofs can make the printing process take longer, which isn’t always desirable when you have a tight deadline.
So is it worth it? Let’s take look at my experience to find out.
Is getting a press proof worth it?
I can’t go to print with this.
I held my press proof open on page 65. It was the day before my print deadline. It was two days before my flight to a business event in New York where I’d planned to share my new book with the attendees. And I realised that there was no way I could do that with the book I was holding.
My publishing time frames were always tight. I had a late-July print deadline, which allowed two weeks for the printing, a week for the proofread, four weeks for design and a week and a half for the copyedit. However, although it was tight, it was doable – as long as nothing went wrong and I gave my feedback on time, we could do it.
Until we couldn’t.
I took a day longer than expected to review my copyedit, which meant the book was late getting to my designer. My designer took a day longer than expected, which meant it went back to my proofreader late. And when I hopped on to the Qantas website to select seats for my flight, I realised I had booked my flight to New York a day early. Suddenly, my two weeks for printing had shrunk to eight days.
But I hoped for the best. I sent the PDFs to my printer on a Tuesday and had my first proof copy on Wednesday afternoon.
I was relieved to see it looked as expected. Yes, there was no matt finish and the colours were slightly off. Yes, the pages would start falling out if anyone wanted to read it. And yes, I could already see that I wanted to tweak the internal design, but that could wait until my next print run. There was only one clear mistake (my design featured lines and the dimensions of the cover to play on the blueprint concept, and it was only when we saw the press proof that we realised we’d left the dummy measurements in rather than replacing them with the actual measurements), and other than some minor changes, I was happy to go ahead.
I submitted the updated InDesign files to the printer and expected them to contact me in a week to say there were 200 copies ready to pick up. Instead, the next Monday they contacted me to say they had another press proof ready for me to review.
I groaned in frustration. Why couldn’t they have just gone ahead with the full print run? It was Monday afternoon. I was flying out on Thursday morning, which meant the latest I could collect my books was Wednesday evening. Timings were already tight, and they printed another proof? It’s not like I’d requested any major changes.
First thing on Tuesday I drove to the printer to review the next proof. The cover looked good – the colours were stronger than last time and the measurements were correct. I started flipping through the pages, ready to give my approval, when I hit page 65.
My diagram had resized and cropped itself.
I quickly went to the other diagrams and images in my book and found that every single one had resized itself – some were cropped, others were just too small for the space on the page.
These weren’t minor typos that would likely go unnoticed. These were serious issues, and I couldn’t have books that looked like this representing my business.
Quality versus deadlines
One of the first questions I ask potential clients is what their print deadline is. Often I find myself explaining how long the publishing process actually takes, whether they choose to work with me or not. I explain the importance of allowing themselves extra time to review and make changes, particularly during the editing process, as well as allowing wiggle room in case things go wrong.
I hadn’t given myself this wiggle room. The only way I would have made my print deadline was if everything went right and, unfortunately due to a glitch when my printer converted my InDesign files to PDFs, it didn’t.
I had to choose whether to let go of my deadline or print a book with obvious errors, and in the end I chose to let go of the deadline.
The happy ending is that, when I returned from the US, the final press proof was perfect and we went to print with 200 copies just in time for my next event.
The moral of the story
Always get press proof, for every version of your book. Even if the changes aren’t significant, every time you send your printer a new file, you need to get a new press proof to ensure that the book you send to print is a high-quality representation of you and your business.
Yes, it might take a few more days. Yes, you might miss your deadline. But it’s far better to have 200 perfect books that you can start leveraging for your business a few days late than to have 200 books on time that you decide not to use at all.