Proofing Like a Pro

Proofing is one of the last steps before any major writing milestone.

About to send a manuscript to your betas for feedback? Proof it first. Turning in a revision to your editor? Proof it again. Reading through your pass pages (aka “your last chance to make changes ever!!)? Proof it with extra care!

As writers, we read our own book hundreds (if not thousands) of times before it becomes a physical book. Because we are so close to the work, it is easy to skim right over missing words, auto-correct typos in our heads, and completely miss continuity errors. Over the years, I’ve relied on a few key proofing methods to help me catch these errors. The main trick they all have in common is getting away from the computer.

#1: PRINT IT

I can hear you already. Erin, think of the trees! So I’ll say this: print back-to-back and recycle everything. But trust me, having your words on paper, in front of you, is incredibly different than reading your book on your computer screen. This route helps you catch issues you hadn’t before, and you’ll have plenty of room to jot down notes and edits in the margins. I swear that documenting these edits by hand makes a difference. You’re able to focus your efforts on highlighting what’s broken and suggesting fixes for later, as opposed to feeling pressure to fix errors immediately (which is my main struggle when I proof at the computer.)

This method is good for: Early revision stages, eg: before sending to CPs or betas. I find it most useful for spotting big picture issues like plot holes, character arc inconstancies, pacing flaws, world-building/info-dumps, and so on.

#2: SEND IT TO YOUR KINDLE

Or iPad. Or e-reader of choice. The key here is to read your book in a format that feels slightly more book-like. Holding an e-reader tricks your brain into thinking you’re reading a published e-book. Being able to curl up on the couch while reading certainly doesn’t hurt either. Suddenly you’ll be spotting scene- and sentence-level errors you hadn’t in your previous read-throughs. As you come across these mistakes, highlight them and/or add notes so that you can address them when you’re back at the computer later

This method is good for: Later revision stages, eg: before sending a requested revision to your editor. As mentioned, I’ve found this great for scene- and sentence-level issues (word echoes, unconvincing dialog, unclear descriptions, and so on).

#3a: READ IT OUT LOUD

The down-side to this method is it takes a lot of time and often makes you lose your voice in the process. But I swear this is hands-down the best method for spotting typos. Your brain auto-corrects small issues when you read silently, but reading out loud forces you to focus on every last word. Typos, missing words, incorrect conjugations, wonky punctuation, and more will jump out at you. (I’m proofing my pass pages for Forged right now—a manuscript that has already been through professional copyediting—and have found at least four typos while reading aloud.) It’s tough work, but worth it. Keep a glass of water nearby and take breaks often.

This method is good for: Final proofing, eg: before turning in your last round of pass pages. Because it’s so rough on your vocal chords, I usually only do this method once per book, and put it off until my last possible chance to make edits.

#3b: HAVE THE COMPUTER READ IT TO YOU

Piggy-backing off the previous suggestion, there are programs out there that can read your manuscript to you. The goal is the same: hearing the words out loud will help you catch errors that previously slipped through so you can edit while you listen. I have yet to use this method, but might try it in the future. Writers have suggested different programs to me, such as Ivona Reader (for PC desktops) and Voice Dream Reader (for iPhone/iPad). If you know of and would like to recommend another, please leave it in the comments!

This method is good for: same as above.

And that’s it! These are my go-to proofing methods for various stagings of revision. While these work for me, they may not work for everyone. On that note, I’m sure there are other methods that also work wonders. Do you have a proofing trick or tip that I didn’t mention here? Please leave it in the comments!

  

19 Responses to Proofing Like a Pro

  1. Rowenna May 23 2014 at 8:58 am #

    My other trick–which is painstakingly slow, but effective if you have trouble catching typos, spelling errors, grammatical mistakes, and other tricksy issues–read the whole thing backwards. As in, each sentence, by itself, starting at the end. Or at the end of each chapter. Whatever. But the point is, take yourself out of the flow of your writing and look at each sentence by itself. Sometimes a whole manuscript this way is too much, but I highly recommend the trick for shorter pieces, like synopses or query letters!

    • Erin Bowman
      Erin Bowman May 23 2014 at 12:40 pm #

      Definitely a good trick for synopses and queries! Thanks for sharing.

  2. Julie
    Julie May 23 2014 at 9:34 am #

    GREAT suggestions Erin! I have always printed my work to proof it, because I agree it’s important to see it on paper. One thing I find helpful is to print one chapter at a time. That way if changes I make have a ripple effect over many other chapters, I can make the big changes electronically before printing further, which cuts down on wasted paper. Also, to hear my work read aloud, I send it to my Kindle and use the text to speech function. It’s a robotic female voice with poor inflection, but it does really leap out at you when she says the wrong word! Anyway, thanks for this great post!

    • Erin Bowman
      Erin Bowman May 23 2014 at 12:40 pm #

      Thanks, Julie. And I love your suggestion about printing only a few chapters at a time. Super smart.

  3. Kimber Leigh Wheaton May 23 2014 at 11:59 am #

    I can’t believe the number of small errors I find using my Kindle. I use the first three methods religiously, though sometimes I only read the dialogue aloud. But suggestion 3b I’ve never considered, didn’t even think my computer could do that. Thanks so much for the great idea! I can’t wait to try it.

    • Erin Bowman
      Erin Bowman May 23 2014 at 12:41 pm #

      Ditto! I’m always shocked at how many typos I find when reading on my iPad. I’ve yet to try 3b either, but maybe soon… 🙂

  4. Wendy Macdonald May 23 2014 at 12:28 pm #

    Erin, I love these suggestions. The read aloud was one I’ve been doing–but now I will try the others too.

    Blessings ~ Wendy ❀

  5. Sierra May 23 2014 at 1:17 pm #

    Oh man this is great. I’ve done some of these and am planning to do all of the others. I’m doing something right! YAY! haha However, instead of sending it to my ereader, which I never use and has long since been buried, I’m going to have, like, say, Lulu print it out and ship it to me. But that’s the same basic principle. I’m SO excited to hold my 4th draft in my hands like an *actual* book. 😀

  6. Paula Sangare May 23 2014 at 1:52 pm #

    Thank you so much for this post. I’m in revision madness right now, and I can’t tell you how help this post is to me.

    Thanks again

  7. Tess May 23 2014 at 2:17 pm #

    I like to change the font to something really different, and make it larger. Nothing hard to read, because that would defeat the point, but something that puts ends of sentences and chapters in different places than I’m used to so my brain can’t just skip over things. Something like Courier, or maybe Garamond. Although I love Verdana to an unhealthy level, so even just using Times New Roman can be different enough, heh.

    • Erin Bowman
      Erin Bowman May 23 2014 at 5:00 pm #

      This is such a great trick, and one I hadn’t thought of before! Thanks for sharing. 🙂

    • Tara @ The Librarian May 25 2014 at 1:22 pm #

      This is such a great tip (and Erin, yours are great, too!). I’m an academic and a terrible proofreader, so I’m always searching ways to make my articles and writing better. Luckily, we often have shorter pieces, so reading aloud is much easier. But I had never considered changing the font to trick my brain — that’s genius!

  8. Marilynn Byerly May 23 2014 at 4:42 pm #

    You don’t have to buy or find a freeware program to read your manuscript aloud. All computers, Mac and PC, come with reading software. If it’s not installed on your computer, you can find it on the disks that hold your OS.

    • Erin Bowman
      Erin Bowman May 23 2014 at 4:59 pm #

      I should have specified this in my post, so thanks for pointing it out! The programs I mentioned give you more options, I believe–like voice choices, so you’re not stuck with the default, techy computer voice.

  9. Patrick Stahl May 23 2014 at 4:50 pm #

    Also, when I read my manuscripts aloud I do it in different voices to make sure the characters seem distinct (as in the words seem to imply a certain, unique way of speaking, for example) and because it’s more fun that way.

    For my novel W.I.P. (which I hardly ever work on because I’m focusing on short fiction right now), I changed the appearance of the document in order to make it look almost the same as a mass-market paperback of the Wheel of Time books (since the W.I.P. is a cross of epic and heroic fantasy).

  10. Carrie-Anne May 23 2014 at 7:43 pm #

    Previewing by Amazon’s Kindle view really helped me to catch a couple of embarrassing typos I’d never caught before, as well as finding a few other errors. Seeing your book in a different format does wonders for making it look different, when your eyes and mind have long become inured to errors.

    I’ve also heard the suggestion to change the color and typeface, since things look different in, say, blue vs. black or Janson vs. Garamond. Since Palatino has been my typeface soulmate for over 20 years, though, it would be mighty difficult to even temporarily change a book into something like Janson, Baskerville Old Face, or Didot even temporarily. It would just feel wrong to look at it, as much as I love those other typefaces.

  11. Grace Buchanan May 29 2014 at 7:28 pm #

    I’m with you a hundred percent! I spend a LOT of time proofreading, using your suggestions and assorted word processing programs at various sizes and layouts, reading it aloud at different speeds and volumes and levels of dramatization, running it through a word cloud program, and listening to Text To Voice readers with different voices and speeds.

    Tess, changing font styles is GREAT! That’s a new one to me. Thanks, Carrie-Ann, changing font color is another great one 🙂

    When printing, keep in mind that Times New Roman might be the most ink-efficient font of the common fonts. I saw that somewhere that I considered reputable… However, I see now that Garamond is considered more environmentally sustainable.

    Now, I’ll resist running this commnte thrgohu proogreating toools.

  12. Terry Walsh May 30 2014 at 9:47 am #

    Back in the day, when there was no spell-check software to underline “wrong” words in red, a good proofing approach for typos and spelling errors was to read each line backward. Reading right-to-left is not about continuity or comprehension. It’s just a great way to individually examine each brick in your wall of words.

    For dialog, reading aloud EARLY is very helpful for me. This is particularly helpful for dialogue-heavy writing like dramas and screenplays. Because the intent is for the words to be skillfully spoken, and heard by (hopefully) many, it’s vital to write words that work out loud. I read from a printed script while pacing around my kitchen or out on the deck, with a pen or highlighter in one hand to just stab a mark at anything that sounds off. I usually read straight through the dialogue, then go back to any marks and examine why it didn’t work.

    Several dramatists have told me they love voice recognition programs. They START with spoken words. This, ah, approach is you know really really helpful sometimes when you want to um capture–create–craft–whatever some words that sound like real speech even if it’s really really inept, inane, even stupid–“Neanderthal speak” as one of my in-house advisors (and future author) Sloane Palmer puts it. It has the benefit of never being boring.

    The read-aloud approach is also vital for children’s books. When such a book catches on, it may be read more than fifty times to one child. It must flow. One glass of water is all you need since these books are often less than five hundred words.

Leave a Reply

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.