How to Proofread your own Work
You know what happens if you don’t proofread your novel?
Your writing will have spelling, punctuation and formatting errors, and will look scrappy. And then you’ll get one-star Amazon reviews that say, “Typical self-published book – riddled with spelling and grammar mistakes.”
Too many reviews like that will destroy your sales prospects.
Instead, you need to give yourself a chance to sell more copies – by proofreading.
What is proofreading?
It’s all about attention to detail, closing that last gap between you and victory, about getting to 100%.
Proofreading is the last step before you publish your novel– a detailed check that the book says exactly what you want it to say and there are no mistakes in spelling, grammar, punctuation and layout. After proofreading, your book will have very few mistakes in it and so people can concentrate on the story itself.
Proofreading versus Copy Editing
Copy editing is done before typesetting (the process that turns your manuscript into an actual book). Proofreading is done afterwards. A copy editor tries to help the author improve the style and accuracy of the novel, while proofreaders are only concerned with errors.
See my copy editing guide for more about copyediting.
But I did a spell check!
You might think your word processor’s spelling and grammar checker has picked up all the errors, but it was nowhere near. I thought I’d checked A Kill in the Morning pretty thoroughly before submitting it to Transworld, but their proofreader still found over three hundred errors in it – almost one a page.
Some problems are that a spell checker can’t pick up:
- Hectographs: words that sound the same but mean different things and are spelt differently, such as ‘whether’, and ‘weather’
- Spelling mistakes that happen to be valid words, like accidentally typing ‘the’ instead of ‘they’.
Spell-checkers are also aimed towards formal academic and business writing, not creative writing. Making suggestions like replacing “Let’s go!” with “Let us go!” don’t help a creative writer who’s trying to capture natural sounding speech.
And don’t even get me started on auto-correct!
More sophisticated automatic style checkers, such as Pro Writing Aid, will pick up some errors that spell-checkers miss, but not all. They can make your proofreading a bit easier, but even they can’t spot formatting errors or style issues.
In the end, there’s no substitute for reading line-by-line, checking every word.
So, you might be thinking, ‘It’s OK for him, he has a professional proofreader anyway.’ That’s true of my commercially published books, but I self-publish too, so sometimes I have to do my own proofreading.
For example, I recently edited and proofread an anthology of science-fiction short stories called Revolutions . Here’s the proof copies:
This was my proofreading strategy:
- Decide what the ‘house style’ is (see below).
- Reset the spelling and grammar checker and rerun them.
- Run Pro Writing Aid and go through all the reports fixing the errors.
- Print proof copies out on paper.
- Proofread a proof copy, word by word, sentence by sentence.
‘House style’ covers issues where there’s no clear-cut right and wrong, but the book should at least be consistent. Here’s some common examples:
- Spelling (British or American).
- Number format (whether to spell out numbers, dates and times).
- Use of italics (for names of media and ships, emphasis, foreign phrases, thoughts, flashbacks).
- Scene break markers (white space or ornamental)
- Dialogue marks (Single quotes or double for dialogue and reported speech).
- Dialogue formatting.
- Use of hyphens, N-dashes, M-dashes and ellipses.
- Indicating possession, (do singular words that end in ‘s’ anyway get an extra ‘s’?).
- Usage of commas versus dashes and semi-colons.
- Proofread on paper, not on the screen.
- I find using a pencil to point at each word one at a time helps stop the natural tendency to skim.
- Check the formatting and the layout, not just the spelling, punctuation and grammar.
- Check your fonts are consistent.
- Check the page numbers and page headers are right all the way through.
- If there are any maps, artwork to diagrams, check them too – particularly for spelling.
A couple of common bits of advice that didn’t work for me:
- Reading the story out loud can help spot errors. This is true, but I think you should read out loud at the copyediting stage, not during proofreading, because it throws up issues of style and pacing that should be dealt with earlier.
- Proofread the book backwards to stop the eye glossing over words. To be honest that’s just too much for me. I find the point-at-each-word technique works just as well.
This is how Revolutions came out:
You can read the first story in Revolutions, Sarah Jasmon’s The Uncertainty Principle for free here.
If you’d like to discuss how to proofread your own work, please email me. Otherwise please feel free to share the article using the buttons below.