Making Digital Proofreading Easier for Illustrated Books, Textbooks

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Illustrated books and textbooks, far more than novels, require more effort produce and updated digital tools are necessary to make that process easier.

Editorial by John Pettigrew

John Pettigrew

John Pettigrew

The future of illustrated content is bright, and print is certain to remain an important part of the mix. For example, a printed textbook is simply a great way of delivering learning content to students, and a hard-copy art book still has far better image quality than any digital device. Digital absolutely has a place and devices are becoming more capable every year, but there are many areas where it won’t displace print for a long time – if ever.

Times are a’changing

Illustrated books, far more than novels, require a lot of time and effort to produce. This is because the content is complex and often design-led, with many different elements on the page – artworks, photos, realia, boxes, questions etc. – which means that they take time to get right.

Even more importantly, though, illustrated books have a different function to narrative text, and solve different problems for our customers. For example, students care deeply about their education, and teachers are usually passionate about their work. This means that the quality of our product really matters, too, because it’s the foundation for our customers’ dreams.

Digital products, with their (often proudly proclaimed) ephemerality and mutability, can have a hard time in a market like this because permanence is here a virtue. More than that, print has the advantage of many decades of development to fit customer needs, which the digital upstarts find it hard to replicate quickly.

But saying that print is here to stay doesn’t at all mean that we should stand still. Rather, we need to keep getting better, faster and closer to our customers. For editors, this means that the skills we’ve honed over the years remain as relevant as ever, although we need to keep improving the way to express them.

Changing with the times

Like many readers, I suspect, I was trained to edit on hard copy. However, I soon saw the physical manuscript disappear, along with the galley proof. And there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth about “the death of editing.” But, in the end, editors survived and the central need to ensure the quality of a book remained the same.

Over recent years, particularly running an editorial team, proofreading became a key issue for me. The pressure on margins pushes many publishers to think about working on screen. Perhaps because of the success of on-screen editing, there’s an assumption that proofing on screen must be more efficient than working on paper – if only those fussy editors would stop complaining and just get on with it!

Ultimately, though, the analogy to on-screen editing isn’t yet a good one, because the existing tools for working with PDF files simply weren’t designed for proofreading and lack many important features (like precise markup, version control or support for publishing workflows).

Time to change

As a devout geek, it annoys be greatly when software makes life harder. And so, after much thought, I set out to create a platform to make on-screen proofing a realistic and attractive option. At last year’s Frankfurt Book Fair, we launched Futureproofs: a platform that helps with the jobs editors and proofreaders actually do, particularly aimed at creators of illustrated books.

So, our markup tool is both intuitive and precise, using the structure of the BSI standard to help suggest the right tool at the right time. We provide effective collaboration to simplify traditional workflows, in which queries were dealt with after the rest of the markup. And we give project managers real-time information to help the see possible problems and avoid them.

Since we launched Futureproofs, it’s been fantastic to work with publishers like Cambridge University Press, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Modernist Cuisine, on real books. Felicity Radford at CUP found it “really intuitive and simple to use,” while freelance author Russell Carey said, “I have been very impressed by the ease with which the software can be used.” We also work hard on helping our customers, leading proofreader Faye Cheeseman to say that we provided, “the best ‘user support’ I’ve ever had!”

The bottom line is that I believe that it is both possible and necessary to update our processes – without losing the things that made it work in the first place. There’s no excuse for an “improvement” that makes things worse! Futureproofs is my offering to the publishing community, but there are lot of great startups out there. If you have a problem in your business, see if someone is trying to fix it. Because a problem shared is a problem halved!

John Pettigrew is a recovering editor, hat-wearer and Founder and CEO of a startup that aims to make editors’ lives better. Futureproofs is their platform for dealing with proofs on-screen, bringing the power of modern digital platforms to print production.

About the Author

Guest Contributor

Guest contributors to Publishing Perspectives have diverse backgrounds in publishing, media and technology. They live across the globe and bring unique, first-hand experience to their writing.