Writing Wednesday: First Pass Pages

Writing Wednesday

Welcome back to Writing Wednesday, a biweekly feature where I try to troubleshoot an aspect of writing. This week I will be covering FIRST PASS PAGES.

With first pass pages, we are now firmly into the production side of publishing. Your manuscript is final and (hopefully) free of typos and internal inconsistencies. And now the process of turning your book from a story in your head to words on a page begins.

Of course, your story was already words on a page. You wrote it down. But first pass pages are different. First pass pages are when your words become words in a book. First pass pages are when a designer takes the text of your story and lays it out on the page.

Wait, designer?

Yes, designer.

I think most writers think of covers when they think of book design, but interiors of books are designed as well. If you were to shrink down your Word document to the right trim size, printed it out, and bound it, it wouldn’t look the same as a published book. There are several factors that go into consideration when designing text for print: margins, white space, typography, leading, kerning…sorry. I’m a typography nerd, so the interior design part of publishing excites me to no end.

Here’s the thing: text can be art. I may be a little bit biased because I’ve worked on the design of my own website and have read and studied up on this, plus I have training in visual arts and design. But I love the look of a beautifully designed book: I love seeing text laid out, I love seeing what font was chosen, what elements were used (if any), etc.1 Those are first pass pages on an aesthetic, but there’s also an emotional aspect to seeing your book designed (at least for me): this is the first time your words will start to look like an actual book.

On the practical side, first pass pages are your last chance to check your text. At this point, most authors are generally sick of their own words, but it does behoove you to read carefully. Somehow, seeing your words on paper and laid out this way causes you to notice things you may not have seen before: awkward turns of phrase, redundant words, etc. I usually recommend that people read their first pass pages aloud as well. Reading your work aloud forces you to hear where writing gets awkward. First pass pages are your absolute last chance to make utterly minuscule changes to your work.

Other things you would be doing with first pass pages would be checking for typos (which can be introduced in the process of flowing the text from Word to layout programs like InDesign), typographic mistakes (a period where there should be a comma, an accidental special character, etc.), and being on the lookout for widows, rivers, orphans, and rags that disrupt the eye line while reading. Corrections would then be made on the next pass, and the files sent off to the printer to be turned in your physical book.

ARCs and galleys are generally printed from first pass, which is why they say “Uncorrected Proof” on the cover. Typically, the author does not see second/final pass, unless there were so many errors/changes in first pass that another round is needed.

That’s all for this week! I will be taking a hiatus from Writing Wednesdays this summer as I will be on vacation/working on projects, but will hopefully start up the series again in the fall. If you have any questions about writing or publishing, feel free to contact me or drop me on ask on Tumblr!

  1. This topic is a little personal for me in that I had a more direct hand in the interior design of Wintersong. I contributed a piece of art for the frontispiece and hand-lettered the part titles! I will explain more and give a sneak peak into the pages and design in next month’s newsletter.

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