In the long process of publishing, I have always loved the moment when the first “proofs” of a book arrive on my desk. Strictly speaking a proof means, “Something that proves a statement; evidence or argument establishing a fact or the truth of anything, or belief in the certainty of something; an instance of this.” (Oxford Unabridged Dictionary) In the world of publishing, however, the term means. “A trial or preliminary impression of a printed text, taken to be checked for errors and marked for correction before subsequent revision or final printing.”
First used in 1602, the correlation between the two words is clear enough: The proofs of a book prove that you have written a book.
It is perfectly true that in a world of computing, I could make my writing appear as published text. And I have no doubt, these proofs (these days) were probably set down by a computer.
That said, feeling that I have printed text in my hand is very satisfying. I have been working on this book, The End of the World and Beyond, which is the sequel to The Unexpected Life of Oliver Cromwell Pitts, for more than a year. It now sits upon my desk.
Never mind that I am halfway into writing a new book. That book being at the moment, difficult to write, it’s a pleasure to turn to something done. Done is easy.
My job is to read the proofs and discover what is wrong.
What if I come upon pages that don’t read well? Pages, paragraphs, and sentences that are illogical in plot, character, or pace?
I send a note to the publisher to change things.
So the book isn’t truly, really finished. (I was once reading the proof of a book only to discover half a chapter had been inadvertently dropped out.)
That said, to have the proofs of a book is to be given a new set of eyes. My book looks, feels, reads differently than it has before.
But mind, it is not, by any stretch, solely my book. Editors, copyeditors, readers (including my wife) have all weighed in. Sometimes heavily.
Also, a designer has designed the look of the book, which is of vital importance.
The names of these people are almost never among the proofs.
In any case, there are more months to go before readers read it. Recall, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. The proof of the book is in the reading.