Writers Boon Blog


  • When You “Proof the Proof,” Check Layout First

    Lynette M. Smith


    Proofread your proof

    Lynette M. Smith established All My Best in 2004 and provides book authors with professional document scrubbing, copyediting, and proofreading services. She indie-published the Amazon bestseller, 80 Common Layout Errors to Flag When Proofreading Book Interiors, and the award-winning comprehensive reference book, How to Write Heartfelt Letters to Treasure: For Special Occasions and Occasions Made Special, available at major online retailers and from her publishing website,

    Your layout professional sends you a proof copy of your book in print or PDF file and asks, “Do you like it? Shall we publish?”

    Gulp. What now?

    In a word, proofread. First look at the two-page spreads to find and flag layout errors. Then read the proof to flag any lingering content errors. Do these tasks yourself if you feel qualified and have time. Or hire a professional proofreader, but also read the proof yourself; two sets of eyes are better than one.

    When checking the layout, you may need to make several passes – once to check only the repeating headers and footers, another time to check only the heading/subheading consistency, etc.

    What to watch for. Layout errors fall into these categories:

    • Page margins
    • Headings and subheadings
    • Body text
    • Block quotations
    • Numbered and bulleted lists
    • Widows and orphans
    • End-of-line hyphenations
    • Tables
    • Figures, including photos
    • Blank pages
    • Repeating headers and footers, including pagination
    • Contents listing (table of contents)

    Let’s discuss the three types of layout errors in the most common error category, widows and orphans.

    1. Widow lines, in which only a lone subheading or the first line of a paragraph appears at the bottom of a page. At least two lines of a paragraph must be present at the bottom of a page, and at least two lines of body text must appear on the same page as a subheading. Remedies: Force that line to the next page and optionally adjust the line spacing on that first page to fill out the page visually; squeeze an extra line onto that first page by adjusting the line spacing on that page; or rewrite another paragraph on that page so as to occupy one less line, so the first two lines of the bottom paragraph will fit.

    2. Orphan lines, in which only the last line of a paragraph appears at the top of a page. At least two lines of a paragraph must be present at the top of a page. Remedies: Squeeze an extra line onto the previous page by slightly reducing its line spacing; or search for paragraphs on the previous page that can be rewritten to occupy one line less or one line more so the last two lines of the bottom paragraph will be together on one page or the other.

    3. Orphan words, in which only one word appears on the final line of a paragraph. At least two words must appear on the last line of a paragraph or numbered/bulleted item. Remedies: Adjust character spacing to squeeze the last word onto the previous line; use a nonbreaking space between the lone word on the last line and the last word in the previous line so the two words will appear beside one another; or adjust earlier lines of the paragraph with expanded or condensed character spacing, end-of-line hyphenations, or minor rewrites, to favorably affect the last line.

    3 layout errors #authors do not want to make: widow lines, orphan lines, orphan words.

    Now what? Have your designer correct the errors you flag and send you a new proof. Check it: Were all errors corrected? Were any new errors introduced? Flag what still needs correction. Repeat this process until you’re ready to say,

    “Yes, let’s publish!”

    If you’re struggling to format your book, you might consider hiring a formatting and conversion expert and pay between 15% to 66% less. Or, if you prefer the DIY approach, then our list of tools and apps may help you get started.