I am in the middle of revisions, working with my editor on a large project involving merging old work with new. The difference in the quality of the older work vs. the way I write now is clear—and embarrassing.
When I am finished with the revisions, I will format my manuscript as both ebooks and paper books. At that point, I will be looking for proofreaders.
At some point, we must draw the line and say, “this book is done. I want no more changes, no more fiddling with it.” So, when the manuscript is as polished as I can possibly get it, I will have one final step, one that will either ruin a formatted manuscript or make it great: proofreading.
I have said this before, and while some people will dispute this, proofreading is not editing.
Proofreading is done after the final revisions have been made. Hopefully, it is done by someone who has not seen the manuscript before. That way, they will see it through new eyes, and the small things in an otherwise clean manuscript will stand out.
By the time the manuscript has come to this stage, we know it far too well. We have seen every sentence, every paragraph, every scene so many times we are sick of going through them. Our eye sees what it expects to see. We find many things, but we don’t catch it all.
This is where the final person in the process comes in–the proofreader.
If you didn’t see it when I mentioned it above, I will repeat it: proofreading is not editing. We discussed self-editing in my previous post, the three-step process for successful self-editing. However, editing as done by a professional editor is a different process, one I will go into at length next week. All editing and revisions are completed, and the final manuscript has been approved by the time we get to the proofreading stage.
Even though an editor has combed your manuscript and you have made thousands of corrections, both large and small, there may be places where the reader’s eye will stop. These errors are usually introduced in the process of making final revisions, so the author and editor have no idea they are there.
If it has been edited, why are there still errors?
When making revisions, we do a lot of cutting and pasting as we move passages to better places or even remove entire sections. In some places, words might inadvertently have been left out, or punctuation may be missing at the end of a sentence.
Any number of small, hard-to-detect things can occur as we make revisions, and these small errors are what we are looking for.
At the outset, the proofreader must understand that no matter how tempting it may be, they have not been invited to edit the manuscript for content. That has already been done and done again, and the author is satisfied with their novel’s arc.
Find another proofreader if the one you have can’t refrain from asking for large revisions regarding your style and content.
What the Proofreader Should Look For:
Spelling—misspelled words and homophones (words that sound the same but are spelled differently). These are words that spell-checker may or may not catch, so a human eye is critical for this.
- Wrong: Bobby wont out the door, slamming the screen.
- Right: Bobby went out the door, slamming the screen.
- Wrong: There cat ran, and he had to chase it
- Right: Their cat ran, and he had to chase it.
Repeated words and cut-and-paste errors. These happen when making revisions, even by the most meticulous of authors. The editor won’t see any mistakes you introduce after they have completed their work on the manuscript.
These are insidious and difficult to spot, and spell-checker won’t always find them. Sometimes these errors seem like unusually garbled sentences.
- Wrong: First of all, all, it is accepted practice to italicize thoughts.
- Wrong: First of all, it is accepted practice thoughts.
- Wrong: First of all, it is accepted to ot thoughts.
- Right: First of all, it is accepted practice to italicize thoughts.
Missing closed quotes at either end of the dialogue:
- Wrong: “Doctor Mendel, you’re new to the area. What do you know about the dead man? asked Officer Shultz.
- Right: “Doctor Mendel, you’re new to the area. What do you know about the dead man?” asked Officer Shultz.
Numbers that are digits:
- Wrong: There will be 3000 guests at the reception. (It’s easy to inadvertently miss key digits.)
- Right in certain circumstances: There will be 300 guests at the reception. (For notes and emails, we can use digits.)
- Right: There will be three hundred guests at the reception. (In literature, we write it out.)
Dropped and missing words:
- Wrong: Within minutes, the place was crawling with cops, and Officer Shultz was sitting at my kitchen table me gently while I made hot water for tea.
- Right: Within minutes, the place was crawling with cops, and Officer Shultz was sitting at my kitchen table grilling me gently while I made hot water for tea.
Each time you (or a well-meaning editor) tweak the phrasing or create a new passage in your already edited manuscript, you run the risk of creating another undetected error.
Do not ask an editor to proofread your manuscript, as they will be unable to resist tweaking the phrasing, asking for more changes. Editing is their nature and their job. This can go on forever, and you might iron the life out of your manuscript. You could lose the feeling of spontaneity, making your narrative feel contrived.
Conversely, you risk putting up a manuscript that looks unedited because of the flaws introduced in the proofing process.
I have said this before, but it bears repeating. Don’t allow someone else, even an editor, to make the changes for you. Editors are human and can inadvertently make mistakes. When they are too familiar with a manuscript, they might see what should be there rather than what is.
Any person who makes changes to the final product can inadvertently ruin it.
At some point, your manuscript is done. You have been through the editing process, and the content and structure are what you envisioned.
- Have the manuscript proofread before you format it for print or publication.
- Then, have the final product proofread before you press the publish button.
Unfortunately, my last book went live when I thought I was ordering a pre-publication proof.
I said a lot of naughty words because the paperback version and the Kindle version are two different things. There was no option to order a pre-publication copy, which would have helped me a great deal. You’re less likely to see the formatting flaws until you hold that paper book in your hand.
I don’t know if this policy of not offering pre-pub paperback proof copies has changed or not. If you are publishing to KDP for a paper or hardback, carefully go over the PDF proof that KDP offers you. Do this despite the fact it’s terribly difficult to see and understand the possible formatting errors on a PDF, unless you really know what you are doing.
That experience is why I will be hiring a professional to format my paper books in the future. I see that as money well spent.