Back when I got my first literary translation contract, I faithfully followed clause number 2 in the PEN American Center’s model translation contract and asked that I be involved in reviewing the copyedited manuscript.

A few months after I delivered the translation, the editor emailed to say the galleys had been couriered to me and could I please mark them up and return them within two weeks. I felt like such a publishing professional — even if I wasn’t sure exactly what “galleys” actually were or how to mark them up. 🙂

Indeed, the terms “galleys” and “proofs” are often used synonymously but they are different. As I understand them:

* galleys are the typeset manuscript edited by the copyeditor, containing corrections and queries for the author, editor and/or translator to address

* proofs are the typeset manuscript that has been fully updated from the edits made and is to be reviewed one final time for typos (nothing more substantial) before printing

One of my current contracts specifies:

“You agree to deliver the complete manuscript for the Translation…by no later than [date].
You also agree to read, correct, and return the copyedited manuscript and the proofs of the Work…”

These days, galleys may be sent in electronic format but corrections still have to be made on a paper copy and couriered back to the editor. Sometimes there are very specific instructions on how to make the corrections — in colored pencil (not pen or lead pencil), using certain symbols. All things considered, it takes a lot of work, time and expense to correct galleys and then go over the proofs, so why should a translator be bothered?

To my mind, there are several reasons:

1. This is your work.

You are the author of the translation and it is your right, your obligation, your duty to be involved in the process from start to finish. The ultimate decisions are up to you and you should maintain creative control over the project at all times.

But remember, editors are our friends. They aren’t there to slash what we’ve done needlessly; they often have reasons for their choices so it’s not as if we’re going to reject every suggestion they make. No, not at all. We do, however, need to be part of the discussion.

With The Einstein Enigma, I was not involved in correcting the galleys and proofs given the accelerated publishing schedule. Then, once the translation was published, I didn’t really look at it beyond admiring the cover and holding the finished product in my hand. You see, if I read it again, the temptation would be too great to find a better way of saying this or that.

Lately, though, I offered a reading from this translation and I’m preparing my presentation on it for the ATA Conference in a couple of weeks. I read through one section a couple of times and didn’t notice anything strange. Then I looked at the same section in the original and in the Spanish translation, and there was substantially more text. A whole section had been sliced out of the English!

I might have had something to say about this at the time, had I been given the opportunity.

(As it turns out, from the perspective of someone with a little more distance from the work now, I acknowledge that the section was not at all integral to the story and its omission did not affect the reader’s perception of the character in any way.)

Still, it’s important to be involved in the process and it’s why we should always ask (demand) to be involved in the review of both galleys and proofs.

2. The editor can see what you cannot, and vice versa.

The editor reading your manuscript likely has no knowledge of the source language — and this is a good thing. He or she may find places where you haven’t been as clear as you thought you were in conveying a foreign concept, and query it. Now is your opportunity to make sure that all readers will understand what you meant to say.

This past weekend I reviewed galleys for The House of Impossible Loves. At one point, the copyeditor pointed out that a film mentioned as being “the latest” simply couldn’t have been. The film Marcelino: Pan y vino was a hit in the mid-1950s, yet when it was mentioned in this novel it was the early 1960s. I had verified the name of the film, but had missed this glitch in the timeline.

Similarly, this is an opportunity for you to catch what the editor might have misunderstood. If the editor makes a grammatical or other change it can sometimes completely alter what was intended by the original.

In reviewing these galleys, the editor had used the pronoun “she” to refer to the sea. That’s all well and good in English. However, I had tried very hard to avoid using all pronouns, but when necessary the sea had to be seen as male (for reasons you’ll understand when you read the book). This was one edit I had to reject.

3. To learn, learn, learn some more.

Every translation project offers the opportunity to learn about all sorts of things, from the history of the Civil War in Spain to the kind of roots and herbs used in potions, to the best use of the serial comma or when to write numbers out as words and when to leave them as digits.

Reviewing a professional copyeditor’s work is wonderfully illuminating. I think I’m detail-oriented? Whoa, this editor sees even more layers of grammar, style and storyline consistency!

In the galley reviews I just completed, the copyeditor made me examine the difference between All Saint’s Day (November 1) and All Soul’s Day (November 2). She pointed out how the timeline was a bit inconsistent as the novel progressed. And she reminded me how much more precise we can be with wording:

“The house appeared to be perched on a dry streambed.” <Is it actually perched?>

Good question!

So is it more work for the translator to review both the galleys and the proofs ? Yes. Is it worth it? Absolutely.

What’s your experience with galleys and proofs?


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