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Boxing the Octopus: all content copyright 2008 Colleen Thompson and Joni Rodgers all rights reserved.
Life as an old-time galley slave seriously sucked. By comparison, the author's galleys, also known as page proofs or galley proofs are nothing more than a light bump on the road of the writing life. But that doesn't mean they aren't important.
For the uninitiated, galleys are the writer's last chance to catch boo boos. These pages show up on one's doorstep between three and six months of the book's publication date. (Depending on your publisher, your time frame may be different.) The author usually has about ten days (with luck) to proofread them and get the corrected pages (or the whole kit 'n caboodle, depending on your publisher) back to the production editor.
It's expensive to make changes at this point, so the author can't mess around with flow or word her passages more elegantly (though I guarantee you, you'll find stuff you'd dearly love to revise). That ship has sailed already, during the editing stage. Only corrections, such as spelling, punctuation, grammatical, or continuity errors should be noted at this time. If you absolutely can't restrain yourself from making other changes, your publisher will usually charge you for the cost. (Check your contract.) Plus, the production editor will be seriously annoyed.
Because it's a very short deadline, everything else stops until this task is finished. And for some ungodly reason, galleys seem to show up at severely inconvenient times. Going on vacation? The DHL truck will pull up just as you're leaving - or right after. Have major holiday plans or a wedding to attend (even your own)? You're seriously tempting fate here. Need to get a new proposal to your agent or make another deadline? The galleys fall into your path as if by magic.
Other than their almost-always untimely arrival, however, I enjoy my final visit with each novel. (I never, ever read them once they're in print since by this time, I've already read the darned thing about a dozen times.) I see the book as the reader sees it, with its rough edges smoothed out, thanks to my previous work with various critique partners, my agent, and my always-insightful editor. Since I generally haven't looked at it for several months (at least) by this point and I'm by now hard at work on something new, I've gained enough distance to read and enjoy it as if for the first time. And as I catch those last few (I hope) typos, I weave an author's prayer into the pages: that the published book will find its way into the hands of those who'll love it, that readers will feel it a worthy purchase and mention it to friends, that book buyers and reviewers and judges and all those who impact my future as a writer will see the love and pain and hours that went into its creation and be blinded to my all-too-human failings.
Amen to all that, and I'll see you all the next time. My galleys are daring me to dawdle, so I'd better get to work.