Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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December 2, 2022

5 Tips to Manage the Book Galley Journey

by James R. Preston

Once you finish your story, the penultimate step, proofing the nasty thing one more time may feel a bit like a chore. You can practically recite all of your sparkling dialog and dazzling descriptions, so how can you read it again and this time look for comma splices?

First, stop a moment and pat yourself on the back. 

You have finished a book! And you are willing to show it to someone! Let’s evaluate what you have accomplished. 

Many years ago, I read an essay by James Michener in which he said “there are half a million people in the U. S. who say they want to write a novel.1 Most of them will never start, and most of that group will never finish the book. Out of the fraction who do, most of them will never show it to anyone.”

You are part of a select group. 

Some Galley Perspective

Now comes the hard part -- Galleys. There’s so much time between completing a manuscript and publication that, if you are like me, you are on to other projects. Even though it’s not always fun, it’s time to go back over that novel. It has to be done, and you have to do it. 

Below is a timeline of my last Galley Journey, so you can see an example.

September 9

I get galleys of my new Surf City Mystery from the publisher. I’m stoked, to put it mildly. I start proofing. But, but…something is nagging at me, a little voice saying, “Didn’t I change that?”

I keep going. 

After five days of work, near the 80% mark, that little voice was now shouting. I couldn’t stand it, so I stopped work, got out my electronic copies and started comparing.

My galley was based on an out-of-date document.

I console myself. “Hey, it’s only five days of work. It could have been six.”

I talk to the publisher and we identify what happened.

September 20

I start over with the correct document. (I got it on September 15, but had to take a few days off.) 

September 30

I finish the proofing and send it off. There’s time, barely, to get a few early copies for my book signing. 

November 1

The paperbacks arrive. All is well. 

November 2

The hardbacks arrive. I proof the dust jacket. The leading — the space between lines — is off. The dust jacket cannot be used. 

November 4

The publisher creates new, corrected, dust jackets. Whew!

November 10

My publisher is now gun-shy and wants me to double-check to make sure all the corrections have been incorporated. Once more into the breach, dear friends.

Galley Journey Tips

Tip #1

Figure out how long proofing the galleys will take — then double that estimate. If you finish early, think how happy you’ll be!

How do you figure out how long it will take?

Let’s break that question down. This is really two questions, requiring two estimates.

  • How many hours will you spend on it?
  • And how many days will it take you to invest those hours?

Let’s break down the timeline for a 300-page manuscript. At 10 pages/minute that’s 30 hours. If you work on it six hours per day, that’s 5 days. But can you do 6 hours a day, 5 days in a row? Should you?

I can’t answer the first question, but my thought on the second is no – don’t do the proofing in marathon sessions. This is intense, fussy work and you want to be at your best.

Tip #2

Decide whether to print the document or edit it electronically. I’ve done both. This time I printed a copy. That allowed me to compare pages side-by-side, and that was useful.

It’s easy to photocopy the pages with changes and send them to the publisher. Electronically you can send the changes off with one mouse click.

Tip #3

I recommend you start with an electronic document naming convention and stick with it. You have to keep track of all the iterations of your book and mistakes can be costly.

Make notes for yourself on what the labels mean. In this era of electronic documents and “Save As” you will probably have multiple versions and that’s okay, as long as you keep them straight. Do not think you’ll remember which is which!

For example, what if you label a document RTBS10.20.22Final.doc. Clear, right? Now you hand it off for the first edit. It comes back marked up so it’s no longer final. How do you distinguish between the two?

One solution is to use numbers along with the dates so that the new one might be RTBS10.20.2022Final2. That works, and I strongly recommend writing down that the one with “2” is the first edit.

Your note might look something like “RTBS10.20.2022Final2 is the edited copy returned on this date and the changes have not been incorporated.”

I know, it’s a pain in the, uh, writing hand, and you may never have any doubt about which document is which, but if you do need to go back and figure it out, you’ll really need clear naming. 

Tip #4

Don’t just read it. Examine it. Focus your attention on each word, then sentence, then paragraph. Look for missing periods (you will find some), missing commas (you have established a convention about using commas with words in a series, right?), and spelling.

Even in this day of spell checkers, you can find “form” where you want “from.”

Tip #5

This is the flip side to number three. Remember that you are not polishing. You will see dialog that could be improved. Don’t do it!

Remember these are galleys, and that means paragraphs and pages count, and adding two words to a sentence can create a new line that moves the last line on that page to the next page — and so on. This way lies widows and orphans. 

Final Thoughts

Why was I willing to devote an essay to this topic? Why do I think it’s so important?

I’ve just been through the process and I’ve learned some things that I believe are worth sharing. But also, errors are “bumps” for your readers. They distract, and pull your reader out of the story. And they are elusive, hard to catch.

True story: years ago, I was reading a hardback first edition of a new techno-thriller by a writer I followed. I’m reading about a guy named “Rand.” In the next chapter, there’s someone called “Rend.” I thought, “Wow have I not been paying attention?” In the next chapter he’s Rend again.

You want more? In the first paperback edition of Larry Niven’s brilliant science fiction novel, Ringworld, a character is extending his birthday by traveling around the world ahead of the date change. Only one problem: he’s going the wrong way! Niven describes this in an essay so I’m not ratting him out. 

In the end, why was I willing to put in the late nights to get it right?

Only other writers like you will understand this, but it was my characters, the ones who spoke to me in the early days and told me their stories. I do this final journey through the galley process for them. They deserve to have a book that is as good as I can make it. 

Now it’s your turn. Have you proofed galleys? What was your experience like? When I read the Michener essay there was no Writers in the Storm. I was on my own, trying to figure it all out. Those days are gone! Help us out with what you have learned.

* * * * * *

About James

James R. Preston is the author of the multiple-award-winning Surf City Mysteries. He is currently at work on the sixth, called Remains To Be Seen. His most recent works are Crashpad and Buzzkill, two historical novellas set in the 1960’s at Cal State Long Beach. Kirkus Reviews called Buzzkill “A historical thriller enriched by characters who sparkle and refuse to be forgotten.” His books are collected as part of the California Detective Fiction collection at the University of California Berkeley. 

Find out more about James at his website.

Top Image by Ylanite Koppens from Pixabay


1Helen Hull, ed. The Writers Book. (1950, 1956) Barnes & Noble, 10th printing.         

One of the best sources for advice I have ever found. I bought it when I was in college, and was struck by the Michener essay, “The Chances Against the Beginning Writer.” Since I was a kid and just starting out, I thought, “Well, that won’t be me. To this day it’s a great resource.

21 comments on “5 Tips to Manage the Book Galley Journey”

    1. Oh, Jenny, I'm certain galleys are out there in your future, lurking. I hope that when you are faced with them these suggestions help.
      Thanks for commenting!

  1. Interesting journey, James.

    Pondering your second tip, sometimes I think it would be handy to have two screens side-by-side.

    I've gotten better at naming the documents so I don't use the wrong one. All that extra work is heartbreaking.

    1. Thanks, Ellen. Yes, side-by-side comparisons are vital, as is tagging a page with a stickie (and how did we live before they were invented?) so you have a place to answer questions like "Did I call her eyes blue-gray or gray-blue?" are easy to answer.

      Naming conventions are a pain, and important. Have you done a WITS essay on your techniques? If not, have you thought about it? I'd love to hear what you have to say.

        1. Excellent, Ellen. My wake-up call to the need for extreme care with such details was when my protagonist's car suddenly changed from a convertible to a hardtop. I caught it in time but it was scary. When you write in my genre -- thrillers -- the readers are detail-oriented and love noting mistakes.

  2. Good article, good tips.

    I self published, but had no less the issues. Despite what I believe to be 12 separate edits overall, 3-4 during this “galley” phase, even now in my print version I have found three extremely minor) errors left. There were about 12 in the first print, 4 in the second print, and now these 3-4 in the final print version, which I’ve decided to live with until I have scads of free time. I’ve seen traditionally published bestsellers with more. My cover art worked first time out, thanks to a talented and professional artist.

    I’ve since adopted new procedures for editing, but I still cringe at formatting and editing for multiple formats.

    1. Jerold, I feel your pain! Yes, I go back to published work and find things that could be fixed. There's another WITS essay in this, but when do you say, "I don't like it but it's done"? And move on. That is such a tough call. I've been "lucky" with my last two books because I had appearances scheduled and somehow it seemed wrong to say, "Hi, Folks, I almost have a book to show (sell) you." So I was forced to end the editing.
      Thanks for sharing!

  3. Great tips, James! I recently went through galley iterations with my publisher for my soon-to-be-released debut novel The Witch Whisperer. We went through over half a dozen galleys just to get the format straightened out. I had an ancient Word program and I'm not sure what my editor had. I went through and fixed all the little typos, punctuation (I'm a comma klutz), etc. and sent it back.

    My publisher insisted on using their filenames exactly, which were easy to keep straight. What happened was, randomly throughout the ms, words were stuck together, like shewalked. I kept correcting and sending back, but the next file repeated the issue, and maybe in a different place. Argh!! Their tech people finally figured out. Let's hope when the book releases, all will be well!

    1. Barb, first, congratulations on The Witch Whisperer! Awesome!

      If the publisher has a naming protocol, great. Stick with it. Then if there's any confusion at least you can blame them. (Just kidding.)

      About those words pushed together -- I have seen that in my galleys and I think in at least some cases it's the justification not playing well with the screen or printer. I have ignored the last few and they have gone away.

      Thank you for commenting and good luck with The Witch Whisperer!

    2. My first experience using the Kindle formatted Word template for my “print” version was an absolute nightmare. It did so many weird, unpredictable things, it took many phone calls and a lot of trial and effort to get around its quirks.

  4. I'm expecting my galleys within the month, James, so this is perfect timing! I wondered what to do about edits I might want beyond the typos, like an adjective I decide I don't like. You've answered my question--I live with it. And learn. Thank you.

    1. Congratulations, Karen! That's a real accomplishment. Now the work starts . . . LOL Nah, you'll enjoy one more pass through your book. (And BTW, what's the title? Never too early to mention it.) One detail that did not make it into my finished essay is that you can do minor edits and not damage the ms if you are very, very careful about adding or subtracting a line or paragraph. So, yes, you can substitute one six-letter word for another but my advice is be careful.
      Good luck and congratulations again!

      1. Thanks for your encouragement, James, and for the prompt! My memoir, to be released by Apprentice House Press in May, is "Growth: A Mother, Her Son, and the Brain Tumor They Survived," about my naive expectations of motherhood and inability to assert myself, even when my young son’s survival depends on it. As you might guess, I'm having many last-minute second guesses about certain passages and how I tell my story. I love the idea that, if I'm careful, I still have some wiggle room. Continued best on your prolific output!

        1. Karen, thank you for telling us about Growth: A Mother, Her Son, and the Brain Tumor They Survived. It sounds like it will be inspirational. Good luck!

  5. I've done galleys, and I feel your pain! As a publisher, my editors and I have a *strict* chain of ownership policy that we enforce. It is like releasing someone at the helm of a battleship. "I have the final document." We laugh about it, but we're VERY particular about it. Every once in a while, we have an author who thinks it is always theirs... back to your brilliant tip #5. One of the most frightening things to hear from an author during the galley stage is, "I know you said I couldn't change things, but I think..." GAH. Hours of typesetting work have to be redone and checked because you're right: widows and orphans happen!!!

    Love this post!

    Another tip one of my clients pointed out that I'll share: if we date things in yyyy-mm-dd format, they sort better and we're less likely to get an old version. Wish I'd learned that many years ago!

    1. OMG! what a terrific comment, Deleyna! It's the first from a publisher, and it provides excellent tips. I have been guilty of saying, "I know it's galleys, but can I just add a sentence here . . . " To his credit, I am still alive, my publisher did not kill me.
      About the dates in yyyy/mm/dd format -- I'm adopting that! Excellent. It reminds me of a time in the late 90's when the firm I worked for rented me out to Rand Paul Consulting for a job at Southern California Edison in Rosemead. It was the peak of the "It's the end of the century! The computers will all go crazy!" One of the techies I was working with said his mother was a COBOL programmer who had come out of retirement to go through lines of code looking for dates.
      Thanks, Deleyna.

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