You may remember that I’m going to have an article published in the May edition of Classical Quarterly on Fortunata in the Cena Trimalchionis. When I was on holiday last week, the page proofs finally arrived! I’m quite glad I popped into the office last Friday to have a survey of my inbox, as it meant I could spend the weekend looking over the proofs and return them in a timely fashion.
They also came with an order form for hard-copy offprints, an oddity now that all authors are provided with a PDF version of their article – far easier to circulate and share with people who would like to see it. The expense involved in providing offprints is reflected in the costs for 25, 50 or even 200 hard copies of articles – and I’m afraid that I baulked at the prices, more because I can think of very few people who would want a hard copy, let alone to whom I would like to give one. PDFs all round, I suspect.
The first thing that particularly struck me was the speed of turnaround requested; I was asked to return proofs within three days of receipt. They arrived in my inbox on Thursday, so I presume that getting them out by Monday was near enough as makes no odds, but it is possibly the quickest part of the publishing process that I have yet experienced. I had been warned that I would be expected to return proofs swiftly, but this is a little swifter than I had bargained for.
Mind you, nothing takes away from the wonderful feeling of actually seeing the words I have spent so long working with in proper, journal-ready, formatted print. I also found it a strange experience to read something I know used to look rather different, and find myself thinking ‘oh, yes, this was the original opening section’, or ‘crikey, I could have written that better’ – but these proofs are for typographical errors only, not content changes. Besides, if I always made more edits when I thought I could phrase something better, I’d never submit anything. Sometimes you just have to let go.
But I suppose this is part of the point of this process, from a psychological rather than a practical point of view. Realistically speaking, most of the typos should have been caught by the time the article makes its way to a journal for its first consideration, so the checking of proofs ideally is a formality. But it’s also an opportunity for closure – for saying goodbye to all that hard work, acknowledging that it is about to be committed to print and that you can’t change it any more. This is no bad thing, as it frees up the mind to think about other projects, but it places the closing seal on the work done. Strange how difficult it is to let work leave your hands and seek its fortune in the wider academic world, but it has to happen for it to take part in the wider conversation. Perhaps that’s the reason behind giving such a tight turn-around time for returning proofs – to stop us feverishly reading through the manuscript just once more, just in case we’ve missed something.