Part of the Indie Authors Series
As creative folk, we writers prefer to write or edit more than proofread. Proofreading is hard work and no fun, but it's critical for self-published authors. A manuscript filled with errors looks unprofessional, and it doesn't take long to make a bad first impression with a sloppy novel.
When my first writing book went through the proofreading stage, I hired a fantastic gal who came highly recommended, fully expecting little to no changes because (and here I shake my head in foolish shame) the manuscript felt "clean." It had been read by multiple people multiple times and I thought most of the errors had been caught.
I was wrong.
So very wrong.
I'm no stranger to typos (I speak it fluently), so I'd read through the manuscript with what I'd thought was a fine-toothed comb. I'd checked and double-checked everything, and it still wasn't enough, because there were things I just didn't know. "Writing" uses a different skill set than "proofreading."
I'd proofed for content and even tried to catch the mistaken "the" vs. "then" and missing words and whatnot, but a good proofreader catches so much more than we writers ever can. They also catch things such as:
- Commas, hyphenation, and other punctuation
- Consistency of word usage
- Consistency of tense usage
- Misplaced or missing modifiers
- Proper capitalization
- Ambiguous pronoun usage
- And plain, old-fashioned typos
They're also not as expensive as you might think. Proofreaders charge by the words, page, or hour, so you'll be able to find someone who fits your budget. (I paid $2.00 per page, and it was worth every penny.)
If you prefer to do it yourself, here are some suggestions to make the most of your proofreading session:
Proof the manuscript backward: One reason proofreading is so difficult is because we tend to get caught up in what we're reading and don't actually look at the text. Try starting on the last page and read paragraph by paragraph up from the bottom. You'll see the text more than the story and have a better chance at catching mistakes.
Have style and grammar books handy: If you're unsure of proper grammar or punctuation, look it up. This also helps to keep things consistent, as there are personal preferences here. Some folks like serial commas, while others detest them. (And if you don't know what a serial comma is, that's a good hint that you need help to get this right.)
Create a master consistency sheet: If you have terms you use often, write down how you want them to appear. Do you prefer % or percent? Seven thirty or 7:30? Is it a houseguard or a house guard? Do a search for these kinds of words to ensure they're consistent throughout the novel.
Embrace find and replace: If you know what errors you're prone to making, search for them one at a time. Do you frequently use "just" or "only" in the wrong position? Or regularly use the adverb form of a word that should be an adjective? We all have pet errors, so check them individually if you know what often shows up in your work.
Take it slow (or is that slowly?): The brain can only catch so much at one sitting. Try proofing a chunk of your manuscript each session and giving yourself breaks in between.
It's easy to think we can proofread our own work, but it's hard to be effective when we know what a page is supposed to say. A good proofreader is a solid investment for a self-published novel.
If you self published, did you hire a proofreader? Why or why not?
*The urge to typo the headline on purpose was almost overwhelming.
In-depth studies in my Skill Builders series include Understanding Conflict (And What It Really Means), and Understanding Show Don't Tell (And Really Getting It). My Foundations of Fiction series includes Plotting Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for plotting a novel, and the companion Plotting Your Novel Workbook, and my Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft series, with step-by-step guides to revising a novel.
Janice Hardy is the award-winning author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, including The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The Shifter, was chosen for the 2014 list of "Ten Books All Young Georgians Should Read" from the Georgia Center for the Book. It was also shortlisted for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize (2011), and The Truman Award (2011). She also writes the Grace Harper urban fantasy series for adults under the name, J.T. Hardy.
She's the founder of Fiction University and has written multiple books on writing, including Understanding Show, Don't Tell (And Really Getting It), Plotting Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, and the Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft series.