No more tweaking

3rd January 2010 | Books, Daily Life, Musings | 3 comments

I spent most of yesterday correcting the page-proofs of my new book and twitching with frustration. My electronic copy of the page-proofs is ‘read only’. I cannot type on it or make any alterations. Any mistakes have to be listed separately and sent to the publisher. It’s a process akin to listening to the ‘first edit’ of a CD once the producer has had his wicked way with all the different takes we recorded in the studio. As I listen to the assembled version, I often have new ideas about how to turn this or that phrase, but there’s nothing I can do about it. The recording session is finished and in the past.

Similarly, as I read my page-proofs yesterday I kept thinking of words I’d like to tweak, adjectives I could improve, things I’d like to say differently or not say at all. But those options were not available: my role at this stage was simply to notice typographical mistakes. When I work on a word document I’m an inveterate tweaker, constantly meddling with the choice of words, so it was a character-building exercise to have to go through a couple of hundred pages in fine detail without once being able to indulge my passion for tweaking.

Perhaps it was good for me. I had to take a deep breath and accept that it was no longer a work in progress: this was what I wrote. It may still be simmering in my mind, but the actual words may no longer dance about on the page. If I want to write something more, or other, I’ll have to do it somewhere else.


  1. peter

    What is most frustrating about not being able to tweak the text at this stage of the publication process is that technically there is no reason you could not do so! No major western publisher or printer sets type physically any longer – it is all done electronically. So, your making edits at this late stage creates exactly zero additional work for the printers. There may some more work for the editor’s assistant doing the layout (eg, checking that chapters still all start on a right-hand page after your edits), but surely that is very minor.

    This restriction is not for any technical or engineering reason, but simply to make life more predictable for the publisher – so that they can say this book has now reached that stage of the process.

    • Susan Tomes

      Interesting! It reminds me of our record producer saying, ‘I’m not going to tell you what’s technically possible in post-production nowadays, so that you won’t be tempted to ask for anything artificial.’

  2. Michael

    What Peter doesn’t understand is that all these little things cost something – editorial assistants demand wages these days! As Susan implies, there is a point when the work is finished – whether it is a book, a performance of a piece of music or a painting. Although I do seem to recall that there was a painter – de Kooning perhaps – who did make adjustments to his work while it was hanging on the gallery walls…


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