If you’re an indie author, a moment of truth occurs when the proof of your first book arrives in the mail. Until then you’ve been dealing with word processing files, PDFs, and on-screen displays of layout and typography. Now you finally get to hold a physical copy of your book.

There’s no denying that this is an exciting and moving experience. You’re on the edge of publication: you’re both excited and a little frightened. But wait—don’t rush to approve that proof just yet!

Putting a book together is a complicated process that’s executed by a team of people over a significant period of time. The point of the proof is to prove that everything—editing, copyediting, layout, design—has been done correctly. Errors invisible on-screen or in printouts (misalignments, wrong fonts, weird spacing, and typographical errors) will suddenly leap off the page.

What’s the difference between the way a self-published author deals with book proofs and the way a professional handles proofs? Nothing. As an indie author, you should check proofs like your job depends on it. Books last a very long time, and so do the errors that sneak into them.

Step 1: Read the Book

If possible, you should read the entire book. While reading, check for typographical errors and inconsistencies. Is the text complete? Did a paragraph get left out somewhere along the way? Is part of a sentence cut off at the bottom of a page? Check to make sure everything that’s supposed to be there is there. And, while reading, be aware of:

◗ Fonts: Are they used consistently throughout the book?

◗ Inch marks vs. quotation marks: Are proper curled quotation marks, not straight inch marks, being used?

◗ Hyphens, em dashes, and en dashes: Are these being used correctly? For instance, numbers or dates in a range are separated by an en dash, not a hyphen.

◗ Line spacing: Is it consistent throughout the book?

◗ Word spacing: Are there lines that are much looser or tighter?

You should also have someone who has never seen the book read it—a lot of errors can be uncovered by fresh eyes.

Step 2: Look at the Book

After reading the book, you should ignore the text and concentrate on issues relating to layout and design:

◗ Orphans and widows: These are a single line at the bottom of a page or a small part of a line at the top of a page—eliminate them if possible.

◗ Running heads: These need to be consistent in content and formatting.

◗ Chapter openers: Does each chapter start in the same place on the page and contain the same elements in the same order?

◗ Folios/page numbers: Blank pages should have nothing on them, and all odd-numbered pages should be on the right.

◗ Page references: If something is referred to “on page 112,” is the reference still correct?

◗ Paragraph indents: Make sure they are consistent.

◗ Subheads: Spacing and alignment can be controlled by styles in software, but they must be checked for uniformity.

Step 3: Proof the Covers

The final step involves assessing the front and back covers, which are of vital importance in terms of book sales:

◗ Are the design and colors as expected?

◗ Is the title clearly visible?

◗ Is the type on the spine clear and straight?

◗ Are the category and price correct?

And you should not forget to proofread the copy on the back cover. And make sure the barcode matches the ISBN on the copyright page.

You shouldn’t be surprised by the need to upload revised versions of your book’s interior and cover. That’s pretty normal.

Go through the trouble of checking proofs, correcting files, and uploading revisions. When it comes time to publish, you’ll be confident that you’re putting the best possible product into the market.