Navigation Menu+

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 book—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 occurs before typesetting (the process that turns your manuscript into an actual book). Proofreading happens afterwards. A copy editor tries to help the author improve the style and accuracy of the novel, while proofreaders only want to eliminate errors.

See my copy editing guide for more about copyediting.

But I Did a Spell Check! I Don’t Need to Proofread Too!

If you think your word processor’s spelling and grammar checker has picked up all the errors, you’ve got a shock coming, because it has got 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.

There are some problems that a spell checker can’t pick up:

  • Hectographs: words like ‘whether’ and ‘weather’ that sound the same but mean different things.
  • Spelling mistakes that are valid words, like accidentally typing ‘the’ instead of ‘they’.

Spell-checkers aim 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 ProWritingAid, will pick up some errors that spell-checkers miss, but not all. They can make your proofreading 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.

Proofreading Strategy

You might think, ‘It’s okay 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 are the proof copies:

Proofreading: Revolutions proof copies

This was my proofreading strategy:

  1. Decide what the ‘house style’ is (see below).
  2. Reset the spelling and grammar checker and rerun them.
  3. Run ProWritingAid and go through all the reports fixing the errors.
  4. Print proof copies out on paper.
  5. Proofread a proof copy, word by word, sentence by sentence.

Proofread for House Style

‘House style’ covers issues where there’s no clear-cut right and wrong, but the book should at least be consistent. Here are 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.
  • Showing possession (do singular words that end in ‘s’ anyway get an extra ‘s’?).
  • Usage of commas versus dashes and semi-colons.

Proofreading Tips

  • Proofread on paper, not on the screen.
  • I find using a pencil to point at one word at a time helps stop the natural tendency to skim.
  • Check the formatting and the layout, not just the spelling, punctuation and grammar.
  • Make sure your fonts are consistent.
  • Check the page numbers and page headers are right all the way through.
  • If there are any maps, artwork or 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 need dealing with earlier.
  • Proofread the book backwards to stop the eye glossing over words.
    • I find the point-at-each-word technique works just as well.

It works!

This is how Revolutions came out:

Self publish on Createspace

You can read the first story in Revolutions, Sarah Jasmon’s The Uncertainty Principle, for free here.

Okay, I’ve Proofread My Book. What’s Next?

Once you’ve proofread your book, you’re ready to:

Proofreading Help

If you’d like help proofreading your work, please email me. Otherwise please feel free to share the article using the buttons below.