In this post I outline what proofreading is and why it’s vital to making a good book.
What is a Proof?
In publishing, a proof is a test version of the final product. If the proof were approved as-is, the final product would look exactly like the proof. But instead of printing 10,000 copies of a book and hoping there aren’t mistakes, publishers prepare proofs for proofreaders to comb for errors.
Depending on your personality type, proofing can be a lot of fun. I’ve done professional proofing as well as proofing of my own books, and it’s very satisfying to spot and fix an error. On the other hand, it takes patience to crawl through hundreds of pages looking for missing periods, incorrectly-facing quotation marks, and even typographical errors that the author had nothing to do with.
Why Proofreading is Essential
A book is more than its story. Everything about a book contributes to a reading experience, including the cover, text size, paper texture, and — any mistakes.
The dragon crouched, his wings fanned to full height, his eyes as fiery as the storm brebing in his—
Wait, what? Oh. The author meant ‘brewing.’ Right, let’s get back to the story . . .
Typos jolt the reader from the story and remind him or her that this is just a book. When there are many typos, they add up until they form one of the reader’s memories of the book. I’ve seen this often in reviews: “The story was great, but there were a lot of typos.” A reader may still very much enjoy your story, but you don’t want that ‘but’ in their review. Most importantly, you’ve given him/her a less than optimal reading experience.
I’m not saying this as an error-free proofreader. I’ve found many embarrassing errors in my published books, but maybe that does give me a leg to stand on for writing this post. I know how bad it feels to see a finished product that has not been properly proofread.
Who Will Proofread My Book?
Ultimately, you. Your name is on the cover, so most readers will blame you for any problems with the text.
If you have a traditional publisher, they will probably have one or more professional proofreaders work on your book. That’s fantastic. It’s still your job to give them the cleanest manuscript possible.
If you’re self-publishing, you’d better get out your red pen. One of the benefits of traditional publishers is that they have established quality procedures and are usually better equipped than you to turn out an error-free book. Don’t be discouraged, you can still do a good job.
- Do as thorough a job as you can.
- Consider hiring a professional editor/proofreader.
- Ask friends and family (really good friends and close family) if they’d be interested in proofreading your book.
That leads into my next point . . .
There is Wisdom Among Many Proofreaders
. . . and many different opinions.
If you’re working with friends and family, be prepared for them all to offer different opinions. Everyone will probably agree that ‘teh’ is misspelled, but they might think differently about whether ‘lay’ or ‘lie’ is appropriate in a specific situation. Ultimately, you need to synthesize all their edits and do the best job you can.
Your writing software’s ‘Search and Replace’ function is your friend. Use it to find instances where you meant to type one word but actually typed a similarly-spelled but different-meaning word.
- Though instead of thought
- Form instead of from
- And so on. Assemble a list of common mistakes you make to refer to with each project.
Also, search for two spaces next to each other. Just open your Find box and hit your space bar twice. You may be surprised at what you see.
When you’re proofreading and find that you made a mistake, even if you’re reading a physical proof, try searching the digital file for that same mistake. Then fix it, or at least mark it down on the proof to fix later. This way you won’t accidentally miss the same mistake.
Mindset is key, so if you hate the idea of trolling your manuscript for errors, you’ve already made your job harder. Look at proofreading as a treasure-hunt. It’s your job to find all the hidden clues (typos) that lead to the treasure (an error-free manuscript). That mindset probably won’t last you through page 300, but at least it can get you started well.
Do you have any questions or comments about proofreading? Share them!
John J. Horn is a Christian writer from San Antonio, Texas. You can learn more about him and his Men of Grit Christian Fiction series at johnjhornbooks.com.