I have to read it AGAIN?! …or Proofreading: The Bane of an Author’s Existence

No book is ever going to be perfect.

This is kind of a comforting statement, one I’ve pulled out a few times over the last six months. I can do my best, but I’m growing as an author with every book and I know that there are some things I wish I could change in my already-published books. But at some point, you just have to brush your hands off and walk away.

I know, too, that typos happen. No matter how many times I look at a manuscript, or Kelly does, or our editor, or the copy editor or the proofreader…stuff gets missed. It’s not ideal, of course, but that’s part of being human and not a computer. But we do our best to catch everything.

So when I see really blatant errors in published books—for which I’ve paid a fair amount—I get grumpy.

I read a lot. These days, I’m almost exclusively reading m/m romance, because I love it—the tropes, the way the tropes are turned on their heads occasionally, and the absolute joy of love triumphing over societal restraints. It’s awesome. Since January 2015, according to Goodreads, I’ve read 177 books (and let me just say holy crap, really?). Most of these books are fantastic, really enjoyable reads—even the ones with errors. But damn, sometimes the errors make me want to weep.

Examples:

  • A book in first person POV referring in the narrative to the other hero by the POV character’s ex’s name.
  • The second book in that series, told from the second hero’s first person POV, slipping and calling the other hero by the second hero’s name in narrative and dialogue. (By the way, when there’s a switch between first-person narrators from book to book or chapter to chapter, I’ve seen the name slip thing quite a bit.)
  • The name of an organization changing from chapter to chapter in a book.
  • Chapter Two of a book talking about a kiss between the heroes that happened in Chapter One…except it didn’t.

I’ve read plenty of books with grammatical or proofreading errors—depending on the voice and the quality of the overall story, I can often ignore those. It’s these logical-type errors that throw me out of a book. The last thing you want to do, when you’re writing fiction, is to have a situation where reality intrudes. You might as well have “THIS IS FICTION” flashing in red on every page.

As an author, you need to proofread your own work. Professional editors and proofreaders are great, don’t get me wrong, but this is your book and you know your book. It’s hard, I know (GOD, I know). When you’ve already read the manuscript ten times, the words tend to blend together, right? And it’s tough to remember what scenes got cut in the developmental edit stage and if there are ramifications elsewhere in the book, and did we end up keeping that scene in Chapter Five or…

Thing is, when it comes down to it, it’s your name on the cover, not your editor’s or your proofreader’s.

So, some tips for proofreading:

If deadlines allow, give yourself a few days of not looking at the manuscript before you try to proof it.

If you’re reviewing your manuscript for typos and grammatical errors, read it backwards. This will prevent your brain from reading the word it thinks should be next.

Microsoft Word has a “Text-to-Voice” feature that will read out highlighted text. It’s not perfect (seriously, it can pronounce made-up alien names but has difficulty with regular words sometimes) but there are three reasons I use it:

  • It forces me to read at a slower pace, following along with the words, instead of skimming.
  • I will sometimes hear the error when I can’t see it (it’s especially good for catching missing words).
  • Hearing swear words and sex scenes read out in a robotic voice is pretty damned funny.

Print out your manuscript and read it on paper. I’ve gotten more used to editing and proofreading on-screen but this was once my go-to method for proofreading. There’s something about reading on paper that really helps you find errors.

Alternatively, you can send a Word or PDF document to your Kindle (or Kindle app) with “Convert” in the email subject line, and it will convert the file to a .mobi. If your publisher provides galleys, this probably isn’t the best method of proofreading for you, as it will destroy the formatting, but it’s great for flipping the switch in your head from “this is my work-in-progress manuscript” to “this is a book!”

To keep track of story and scene progression, consider making a cheat-sheet for yourself that lists the chapter number and gives a brief description of the scenes with whose POV they’re in, etc. (I think Scrivener does this sort of thing automatically, but I’m not all that familiar with that software so I can’t say for certain.) Not only can this help you keep track of scenes that get cut and reorganized (if you keep it up to date), it can be really helpful in identifying any pacing issues. Not to mention a shortcut for creating your synopsis.

Do you have any other proofreading tips you’d like to share?

6 thoughts on “I have to read it AGAIN?! …or Proofreading: The Bane of an Author’s Existence”

  1. Great post!

    I’ve found sending my doc to my Kindle to be an invaluable exercise. It’s like reading a real book, and by not being able to edit as I read (I highlight errors instead), I can remain immersed in the story which is essential for gauging pace and picking out repetitious plot elements and dialogue. Also, you don’t need to convert Word documents. You can email them to you Kindle as is and they format very nicely. I usually take out the double spacing and justify the text first, though.

    Reading backwards is also really great for catching those repetitious elements and, oddly enough, continuity errors. This is now my preferred method for my final read through.

  2. Reblogged this on Kelly Jensen and commented:
    This isn’t as much a peeve of mine as it is Jenn’s. A plot that hasn’t been developed to it’s full potential annoys me more, or a book that is twice as long as it should be because no one could bare to sacrifice word babies on the altar of expediency. But when it comes down to it, when we buy a book, we’re paying for a product. If that book is full of errors, then our product is faulty. A book that is full of errors should not be offered for sale, in my opinion. Publishing is a business, after all.

  3. A few tips for the very final attempt to catch typos:

    * Increase the font size temporarily, so you have fewer words per line. This stops the eyes from sliding across and not reading what’s really there, only what it thinks is there.
    * zoom in so you have to scroll across horizontally. Horizontal scrolling is INFURIATING but for these purposes is good, because it slows you down.
    * try reading from the bottom of the page up, reading lines not sentences and paragraphs, so you don’t fall into the flow of the narrative.

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