Tag Archives: what a proofreader should look for

The Proofreader #amwriting

I see the process of getting a manuscript ready for publication as a four-part process.

  1. Writing the first draft.
  2. Beta Reading and revising the manuscript to your satisfaction.
  3. Sending it to the editor and making suggested revisions.
  4. 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 genrestyle, 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 editingEditing 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 rememberthe 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.

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#amwriting: the role of the #proofreader

I am nearly at the end of the editing process on my new novel, Billy Ninefingers, a tale set in Huw the Bard’s world. When I am finished with the revisions, I will format my manuscript to be uploaded as both eBook and paper books. At that point, I will be looking for proof readers.

This is where it gets sticky. At some point, I must draw the line and say this book is done. I want no more changes, no more fiddling with it. Thus, when the manuscript is as polished as I can possibly get it, I have one final step—the one that can either ruin a formatted manuscript or make it great: proofreading.

While some people will dispute this, proofreading is not editing.

Proofreading is done after the final revisions have been made, and 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 your otherwise perfect manuscript will stand out.

Anita Campbell, in her May 28, 2015 guest post for the SBA’s Blog-Industry Word says: “The first step of effective proofreading is understanding that not every typo or issue is alike.  Each needs to be attacked in a different way.” While she is speaking of editing blogposts, and short works, that profoundly true of longer manuscripts.

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. Words have been left out, punctuation is missing–any number of small, hard-to-detect things can occur even after the most thorough of edits.

After the final edit, we go over our work with a fine-toothed comb, trying to proof it ourselves. We read it aloud, and we read it from the bottom up, but our eye sees what it expects to see. We catch many things, but we don’t catch it all.

This is where the final person in the process comes in–the proofreader.

In case you didn’t see it when I mentioned it above, I will say it again: proofreading is not editingEditing is a process that I have discussed at length elsewhere, and is completed long before we get to the proofreading stage.

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. If they cannot refrain from asking for large revisions regarding your style and content, find another proofreader.

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 wint out the door, slamming the screen.
  • Right:  Bobby went out the door, slamming the screen.
  • Wrong: There cat escaped and he had to chase it
  • Right: Their cat escaped 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, and the editor won’t see any errors you introduce after they have completed their work on the ms. These are insidious and difficult to spot, and spell-checker won’t find always them. Sometimes they seem like unusually garbled sentences.

  • Wrong: First of all, First of all, it is accepted practice to italicize thoughts.
  • Wrong: First of all, it is accepted practice to 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:

  • 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.
  • Right: 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 and will ask for more changes, because it’s their nature and their job. This can go on forever, and you run the risk of

1. Ironing the life out of your manuscript and losing the feeling of spontaneity, making it feel contrived.

2. Putting up a manuscript that looks unedited because of the flaws that were introduced in the proofing process.

Don’t allow someone else, even an editor, to make the changes for you. Editors are human and can inadvertently make mistakes—after all, the eye sees what the author thinks should be there. Any person who makes changes to the final product has the chance to inadvertently ruin it.

At some point your manuscript is done. You have been through the editing process, and the content and structure is as good as you can get it, but you need one last eye looking for small flaws. Before you upload that masterpiece to Kindle or wherever, do yourself a favor and have it proofread by an intelligent reader, who understands what you are asking them to do and who is willing to do only that.

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#amwriting: proofreading vs. editing #NotTheSame

The last stage of getting a manuscript ready for publication is critical.  This is where the final person in the process comes in–the proofreader. Perhaps you have volunteered to proofread a friend’s book. The friend arrives with the proof copy (or maybe you have been sent a manuscript). They ask you to look for typos, cut-and-paste-errors, or autocorrect errors. These are things they and their editor may have missed.

Before we go any further, proofreading is not editing.

Editing is a process that I have discussed at length elsewhere and is completed long before we get to the proofreading stage. A good proofreader will understand that the author has already been through the editing gauntlet with that book and is satisfied with it in its current form. A proofreader will not try to hijack the process and derail an author’s launch date by nitpicking his/her genrestyle and phrasing. 

The proofreader must understand that the author has hired a professional line editor and is satisfied that the story arc is what they envisioned and the characters are believable with unique personalities. The editor has worked with the author 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 my previous paragraph. This is because the work 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.

At this point, the author and his/her editor have considered the age level of the intended audience, so if you feel their work is too dumbed down or poorly conceived and you can’t stomach it, simply hand the manuscript back  and tell them you are unable to do it after all. DON’T go through it with a red pen and mark it up with editorial comments, or critique their voice and content because it will be a waste of time for you and the author.

But what if it is your manuscript that needs proofing? What should you ask from a proofreader?

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. Words have been left out, punctuation is missing–any number of small, hard-to-detect things can occur despite the most thorough of edits.

If the person who has agreed to proof your work cannot refrain from asking for large revisions regarding your style and content, find another proofreader, and don’t ask the first reader for help again.

The problem that frequently rears its head among the Indie community occurs when an author who writes in one genre agrees to proofread the finished product of an author who writes in a different genre. People who write sci-fi or mystery often don’t understand or enjoy paranormal romances, epic fantasy, or YA fantasy.

These are genres with specific styles and reader expectations, and many authors don’t understand this. For this reason, some otherwise wonderful people become terrible, arrogant readers, when they have been asked to proofread in a genre they don’t care for, or for an author whose voice they don’t like. They can’t proofread because they are fundamentally driven to critique and edit.

It is your task to ensure that your intended proofreader is aware of what they are to look for.

In the publishing industry, proofreading is done after the final revisions have been made, and 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 your otherwise perfect manuscript will stand out.

What The Proofreader Should Look For:

Spelling—misspelled words, autocorrect errors, and homophones (words that sound the same but are spelled differently). These words are insidious because they are real words and don’t immediately stand out as being out of place.  A human eye is critical for this.

  • Wrong: There cat escaped, and he had to chase it
  • Right: Their cat escaped, and he had to chase it.
  • Wrong: The dog ran though the house.
  • Right: The dog ran through the house.
  • Wrong: He was a lighting mage.
  • Right: He was a lightning mage.

Repeated words and cut-and-paste errors. These are sneaky and dreadfully difficult to spot. Spell-checker won’t always find them. To you the author, they make sense because you see what you intended to see. For the reader, they appear as unusually garbled sentences.

  • Wrong: First of all, First of all, it is accepted practice to italicize thoughts.
  • Wrong: First of all, it is accepted practice to practice thoughts.
  • Wrong: First of all, it is accepted to ot  thoughts.
  • Right: First of all, it is accepted practice to italicize thoughts.

Missing punctuation and closed quotes:

  • 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:

Miskeyed numbers are difficult to spot when they are wrong unless they are spelled out.

  • Wrong number: There will be 3000 guests at the reception.
  • Better number (but still written wrong): There will be 300 guests at the reception.
  • Right: There will be three-hundred guests at the reception.

Dropped and missing words:

  • Wrong: Within minutes the place was crawling with cops, and Officer Shultz was sitting at my kitchen table me gently.
  • Right: Within minutes the place was crawling with cops, and Officer Shultz was sitting at my kitchen table grilling me gently.

Make your corrections with care. Each time you create a new passage in your already edited manuscript, you run the risk of creating another undetected error.

At some point, your manuscript is done. The line editor has beaten you senseless with the Chicago Manual of Style. The content and structure are as good as you can get them. At this stage, all you want is one last eye looking for small flaws that may have been missed.

Before you upload that masterpiece to Kindle or wherever, do yourself a favor and have it proofread by several intelligent readers who understand what you are asking them to do and who are willing to do only that.


Credits/Attributions:

The Passion of Creation, Leonid Pasternak [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Writing letter, By Kusakabe_Kimbei [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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