I see the process of getting a manuscript ready for publication as a four-part process.
- Writing the first draft.
- Beta Reading and revising the manuscript to your satisfaction.
- Sending it to the editor and making suggested revisions.
- Having the edited manuscript proofread.
Proofreading is done after the final revisions have been made. Even though an editor has combed your manuscript and you have made thousands of corrections, both large and small, there will be places where the reader’s eye will stop.
It is best if this task is done by someone who has not seen the manuscript before. That way, they will see it through new eyes, and the small things hiding in your otherwise-perfect manuscript will stand out.
Some things your proofreader must understand:
- The proofreader should not try to hijack the process and derail an author’s launch date by nitpicking his/her genre, style, and phrasing.
- The proofreader must understand that the author has been through the process with a professional line editor. At this point, they are satisfied that the story arc is what they envisioned, and the characters are believable with unique personalities. The author worked with an editor to ensure the overall tone, voice, and mood of the piece is what the author envisioned.
You will note that I have used the word ‘envisioned’ twice in the above list. If a proofreader can’t restrain their unasked-for editorial comments, you should find a different reader.
The edited manuscript is the author’s creation, a product of his/her vision, and by the time we arrive at the proofing stage, it is intentional in the form it is in.
This is why a professional proofreader is a good investment. The proofreader must realize that the author and his/her editor have considered the age level of the intended audience. A proofreader does not go through a manuscript with a red pen and mark it up with editorial comments. They do not critique the author’s voice or content because that is not their job.
A proofreader does highlight places where typos and other proofing errors exist and ruin the narrative.
A proofreader understands that every typo and error is different. These little landmines are insidious and may not leap out at first glance, which is why they aren’t always caught during the editorial process. Any number of small, hard-to-detect things can occur during the process of making even minor revisions.
In case you didn’t see it when I mentioned it above, I will say it again: proofreading is not editing. Editing is a process that I have discussed at length elsewhere.
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. If they cannot refrain from asking for large revisions regarding your style and content, find another proofreader.
The proofreader should look for misspelled words, and homophones (words that sound the same but are spelled differently). Spell-checker may or may not catch these words, so a human eye is critical for this.
- Wrong: Cissy wint out the door, slamming the screen.
- Right: Cissy went out the door, slamming the screen.
- Wrong: There dog escaped, and he had to chase it
- Right: Their dog escaped, and he had to chase it.
The proofreader must also look for repeated words and cut-and-paste errors. These are the kind of error frequently introduced into a manuscript when a tired author is making revisions. When we are pushing ourselves, even the most meticulous of authors unknowingly introduce errors when cutting and moving entire sections, rearranging portions of the narrative for a more logical flow.
You must remember—the editor won’t see any errors you introduce when you implement their editorial suggestions. Once an editor has made their recommendations and returned your manuscript to you, they are done and won’t see the book again until it is published. You will have to make those revisions, and that is where many typos and errors occur.
Cut and paste errors are insidious and difficult to spot, and spell-checker won’t always find them. But a proofreader will notice them because the prose will contain unusually garbled sentences, and sometimes, two periods (full stops) at the end of a sentence.
- Wrong: It is is accepted practice to italicize thoughts.
- Wrong: Itis accepted practice to thoughts.
- Wrong: First of all, it is accepted to ot thoughts..
- Right: It is accepted practice to italicize thoughts.
Dialogue that is missing quotes can be a problem for many authors. When they are in a hurry, they sometimes don’t hit the quote key at the end of a sentence. Also, for US authors, they must be closed (double) quotes rather than single quotes.
- Wrong: “Doctor Mendel, you’re new to the area,’ said Officer Shultz. “What do you know about the dead man?
- Right: “Doctor Mendel, you’re new to the area,” said Officer Shultz. “What do you know about the dead man?”
Numbers that are digits are acceptable to use when writing notes and emails. They can also be used if you are writing a blogpost, but ask any bookkeeper – digits are as easy to accidentally mess up as words.
- Wrong: There will be 3000 guests at the reception.
- Wrong: There will be 003 guests at the reception.
- Right: There will be 300 guests at the reception.
- Right: There will be three hundred guests at the reception. (In literature, we write it out.)
Dropped and missing words will make the prose seem garbled and hard to follow.
- Wrong: Officer Shultz sat at my table, me gently.
- Right: Officer Shultz sat at my table, grilling me gently.
Something you must be aware of if you have paid for someone to proofread for you—each time you tweak the phrasing or create a new passage in your edited manuscript, you run the risk of creating another undetected error. Never make revisions when you are tired or not fully on your toes.
If you are happy with the way your manuscript was edited, I suggest you do not ask a different editor to proofread your manuscript, as they may be unable to resist suggesting larger changes. Each editor sees things differently and editing is their nature and their job.
The problem is that this can go on forever, and you run the risk of ironing the life out of your manuscript and losing the feeling of spontaneity, making it feel contrived. You also risk publishing a manuscript that looks unedited because of the flaws that were introduced in the proofing process.
Before you publish your book, do yourself a favor and have it proofread by an intelligent reader. Find someone who understands what you are asking them to do and who is willing to do only that. If you are a member of a writing group, you have a good resource of readers there.