The feeling when an editor looks at the final correction on a galley and passes it back to the typesetter without any more corrections is a very happy moment. It means a lot of things: the first is a feeling of relief–one less book to juggle on my schedule! But it’s also a joyful feeling of the culmination of a year or more’s work (and that’s just the time I spent on it, not counting the artists, art directors, designers, typesetters, and of course the author). Soon it’ll be out there for people to read!

What’s a galley, you ask? We in publishing use the word “galley” in a couple of different ways that are all related. Here’s what happens if you don’t know, starting a few steps back in the process to give some context:

I start with a manuscript from the author, a simple Word document that I print out and edit on the hard copy.  (This is a book that is contracted before it’s written. Wit
h a book an author submits to me and then gets approved and contracted, I’ll already have a hard copy to write on.)

I send edits on the hard copy, along with an editorial letter, to the author, keeping a copy for myself. The author revises and sends the revision back to me via email, and this process continues through whatever number of multiple drafts that might occur, until we’re mutually satisfied. This is the stage at which the big changes must happen–once we get to the next stage, making corrections gets harder.

Then the manuscript gets copyedited–a very specific process that looks for grammar and punctuation problems, any continuity problems that I might have missed (“he has brown eyes in the beginning, but has blue eyes on page 250–which is right?”), and a few other very detailed issues. After that, the proofreader gets a pass at finding typos, misspellings, and anything errant like that–a final cleanup.

That’s all happening on the manuscript, either on a hard copy or an electronic file. 

Then comes typesetting, though of course nowadays we use programs like InDesign and Quark rather than an ancient Linotype or Teletype. An editor sends the electronic file with all the “guts” of the book to be flowed into the book design. This is the step where chapter openers and artwork are placed, and the insides of the book are made all pretty. 

Then this is printed out and it comes back to the editor, and these big printouts that look like the actual pages of the book are the galleys. If you’ve ever heard an author say “I got galleys to look at!” that’s what those are, and now the job of editor and author is to catch anything else that might have been missed in that process, plus some things that are specific to this step.

One thing that you can’t ever know until you have a galley, for example, is how the text will flow in the particular design that’s been set up. There’s no way of knowing where a word will break on a line until you see the galley, so you might have to adjust things–rephrase, ask for the typesetter to break a line differently, etc. Ellipses and dashes might end up in places that look funny, standing alone at the beginning of a line rather than up next to the text it connects with. It’s my job to make sure these things are corrected.

At any publisher, the time that this stage takes is getting smaller and smaller, which means that any changes made at this stage take up precious time. The galley stage is not the time to rewrite a book! All those kinds of changes should have already been made in the manuscript. There will be the occasional emergency–I once heard Linda Sue Park talk about a dire mistake she realized she’d made right as the book was about to be sent to the printer–but most of the time, the corrections made at this stage are more copyediting and proofreading related, fixing small things that got overlooked in previous stages.

Once all those final little corrections are made, and the editor and all the other people involved with the making of the book agree that everything looks good, a book can be sent off to the printer (which involves a lot of pre-press processing that I don’t deal with–but there are people who put all the specs together and make sure the printer has what it needs to print the whole book. In some houses this might be a production editor, in others it might be someone specifically assigned to pre-press tasks like compiling electronic files into the right format for the printer, etc.). 

So when I say, “I finished a galley” (some houses might call it a “proof”), I mean that I finished the last step I need to do for the guts of a book to be ready for the printer. (The cover is another process entirely, which happens separately from the inside of a book.)

Bound galleys
Occasionally you might hear someone refer to “bound galleys,” though, and might wonder what that has to do with the loose paper I make final corrections on.
“Bound galleys” is usually just another way of referring to an ARC, or advance reading copy (though some houses might differentiate between the two because they have different processes). These are early copies that are used for marketing purposes. They’re printed and bound version of those early typeset pages I was referring to, perhaps hot off the early press or perhaps specially made for promotional purposes. ARCs gets sent to other authors for blurbs, to reviewers, and perhaps to librarians and teachers at trade shows or to other influential readers. It often looks just like the final book would but with marketing information on the cover, or perhaps it might have a plain paper cover but look the same inside as a final book. But bound galleys are different from the galleys an editor works with to make final corrections right before the book is sent to the printer.

*If you’re
wondering, the book in question is Red Dragon Codex by R.D. Henham (with assistance from Rebecca Shelley!), the first of a series of books featuring the dragons from A Practical Guide to Dragons. In the first book, Mudd lives a peaceful life in his small town, tinkering with the mill and any mechanical devices that he can find. But his peaceful life soon changes when, out of nowhere, a red dragon attacks, burning the town and kidnapping Shemnara, the village seer. Only one clue is left behind—a cryptic note telling Mudd, “Seek the silver dragon.” It’s a fantastic adventure in which dragons take center stage. Look for it this coming January–I hope you love it as much as I did.