Originally post at the Book Designer on August 26, 2015.
Do you proofread your book after it's been laid out for print or formatted for e-reading? You should. Proofreading is the last stage of the editorial process and its goal is to catch any errors that the writer, editor, and book designer or formatter have missed.
Why Your Book Needs Proofreading
By this point in the publishing process, you might be thinking, "Wait a minute. What errors? There shouldn't be any errors. I hired a copyeditor to take care of those!" While a copyeditor will catch most errors, they won’t catch them all. Most editors agree that 95 percent is the industry standard. What’s more, it's not possible for a copyeditor to correct errors that haven't yet been made.
Every time someone opens your book file—you, your copyeditor, the formatter or book designer, or your keyboard-curious cat—an error can potentially be introduced!
Have you ever inadvertently leaned on your space bar while reaching for your latte and inserted extra spaces between words? Copied and pasted a section of text and discovered you missed copying the last sentence? You know what we're talking about, then. Because these things can happen to a book’s designers and formatters, and because they will receive your book after a copyeditor works his or her magic, any errors that occur in the design process will never be seen by your copyeditor.
All of this points to the importance of having a last look at your book, in its final environment, after it has been designed for print or formatted for e-reading devices. You need to be your book's first reader.
Print or Ebook?
There are lots of ways to proofread a book. How you proofread it will depend on the publishing format you choose. If your book is headed for print, you'll need to proofread the PDF that will be sent to the printer or print-on-demand service you’ve chosen. If your book will be an ebook, it makes sense to proofread it on an e-reader.
How to Proofread a Print Book
In the past, professional proofreaders proofread books on paper. Now, most proofreaders will proofread a book with software that allows them to mark errors on a PDF. Self-publishing authors can do the same, using these two free software options:
PDF XChange Editor
Adobe Reader XI
Both pieces of software have drawing tools and text tools that will allow you to circle errors, insert missing words, and make notes in the margins without disrupting the book designer's layout. You can even mark errors with proofreading stamps, which is entirely too much fun.
Proofreading an ebook requires a different strategy. You can't mark up the text as you would in a print book. The text is not static, but flowable, so you need another method for keeping track of errors.
If your ebook has been formatted as an epub (for Apple, Nook, and Kobo), it's best to proofread it using Adobe Digital Editions 3.0 (free). The ebook formatting and design company 52 Novels has created a proofreading procedure that works well for epubs.
If your ebook is in mobi format (Amazon), you have a couple of options. You can proofread your ebook using
If you're proofreading a print book, standard proofreading procedure involves checking that words at the end of lines are breaking in the right places.There are many do's and don'ts surrounding word breaks—far too many to discuss here. The gist is that you want words to break in a way that won't distract the reader or interrupt the flow of reading. Looking up words in a dictionary will help you to break them correctly.
Having said that, controlling for word breaks in ebooks is time-consuming, so many formatters and traditional publishers don't do it. Do readers notice? We'll leave it to you to decide! If you'd like to know more about controlling word breaks and similar ebook formatting decisions you'll need to make, see The Ebook Style Guide: Creating Ebooks That Work for Readers.
2. Develop a plan.
There are many steps to proofreading a document. Decide the order in which you’ll do things. For example, we tend to run a book through a consistency checker like PerfectIt Pro* before we begin an initial read-through so we can preview any inconsistencies in the book. We then do a focused, beginning-to-end, word-by-word read-through, marking up errors as we go. We might do a separate pass, using the search function to look for recurring errors, and then we'll do a "page-through" to ensure that we've addressed widows and orphans and word breaks (print books only). We then run PerfectIt Pro again, to catch any inconsistencies we may have missed or introduced.
Every proofreader will handle the proofreading process differently. Your process will be different if you're proofreading a print book or an ebook. Keep track of your process with each book, so you can find ways to make proofreading more efficient.
*To improve accuracy and efficiency, some proofreaders will strip the text from the designer's PDF and paste the text into Word. This allows them to use the Word add-in PerfectIt Pro to efficiently check for inconsistencies. Any inconsistencies are marked up on the designer's PDF.
3. Attend to details.
It's easy to allow details to slip past you as your read your book. Try not to get sucked into your story! Proofreading is a different kind of reading. You'll need to read every letter, every punctuation mark, and every space. For example, proofreaders will slow down enough to notice when a period should be italicized, or set in roman type! Proofreaders learn to search for inconsistencies, and to see the smallest details when they read.
4. Read "aloud."
In her handout Proofreading Secrets, proofreader Elizabeth Macfie explains that while reading, your brain will behave like the "autocorrect" function in a word processing program, meaning that it will tell you what should be on the page, instead of what is actually there. To bypass this tendency, read aloud or use a text-to-speech tool that can read the text aloud to you. (If you're using Adobe Reader XI for PC, it has a text-speech function built in). Hearing the words will help to you to hear the errors that your eyes are not seeing.
Tip: If you "whisper read" you'll save your vocal cords from getting too tired.
5. Read slowly.
Read at a steady “thinking” pace—not too slow and not too fast. Reading aloud or using a text-to-speech tool can help you to go more slowly than you normally would if you were reading silently. Some text-to-speech tools will even allow you to adjust your reading speed.
Set a timer and keep track of your reading rate (number of pages per hour). You’ll be able to use that information to decide if this is how you want to spend your time for future book projects, or if hiring a proofreader is a more palatable option. Keep in mind that some kinds of books, such as dense and technical nonfiction books, will take you longer to proofread than others.
6. Take frequent breaks.
Proofreading requires intense focus, and it can be difficult to sustain focus for long periods of time. Drink lots of water while proofreading to force yourself to take frequent breaks! Set goals to stay motivated. Decide how many pages or chapters you’ll proof before you'll get up for a stretch.
7. Be kind to yourself.
If you're proofreading on a tablet or a Kindle, find a comfortable armchair to sit in. It's nice to take a break from an office chair. Save your eyes from strain by positioning yourself near a window, so you have lots of natural light.
Summing it Up
There are many things to consider while proofreading. A plan, a few tricks from the pros, a handful of tools, and a little self-care will help to make the process easier and more enjoyable. If, in the end, you decide that DIY proofreading is not for you, that's okay. I know at least two proofreaders who'd be happy to help you out!
This post first appeared on June 17, 2015 at The Book Designer and on July 15, 2015 at Beyond Paper Editing.
In the tongue-in-cheek post How to Write a Book Even Faster, the author suggests that writers are not editing their writing. That can’t be true! (Right?) How do you edit your writing? Perhaps you use one of these self-editing approaches...
Approaches to Self-Editing
There are many ways to improve your writing. You can
set your writing aside for a month or two and tackle it again from a renewed perspective
hire an editor to assess your first draft and suggest improvements
run editing tools on your writing
Let’s look at each of these self-editing approaches.
You may be exhausted from your first-draft efforts. Setting your writing aside for a spell may give you the time you need to recharge and become excited about your book project again. It may also afford you the perspective you need to see where your writing needs fixing. This approach to self-editing is most effective if there aren’t time constraints, and if you’re able to see what needs improving.
The remaining items on the list above are different from the first item in one important way: they offer feedback on your writing from an external source — from someone, or something, other than you. Because it’s difficult to be objective about your own writing, external feedback can alert you to your writing blind spots.
Not everyone responds well to feedback from beta readers and editors. Writers need to be able to develop resilience for receiving feedback, but this takes time and practice. If you’re still working on developing your resilience, we have another “external” self-editing option for you: editing tools.
Many editors use automated editing tools to efficiently find problems in a piece of writing. If writers want to learn how these tools work, they can use them to diagnose their own writing!
Below is a list of some our favourite editing tools, linked to articles that describe how to use them. We’ve organized them into the four levels of editing that every manuscript should go through.
Not all tools are diagnostic and automated.* Some of them, such as the paragraph-level and big-picture tools, will help you when it’s time to fix your writing. We’ve selected tools that we think will be most helpful to writers, but there are many more tools that you can explore and try.
*Diagnostic tools: these tools will check for one or more potential writing problems with the click of a button.
+Fixing tools: these tools will help you fix writing problems, once they are identified.
As far as we know, there aren’t automated diagnostic tools that will point out paragraph-level and big-picture problems. At least not yet. For now, you’ll need to educate yourself about common paragraph-level and big-picture problems, or get some direction from beta readers and editors. You can use the paragraph-level and big-picture tools in the table above to efficiently fix problems, once you know what they are.
Advantages of Editing Tools
Editing tools have a few distinct advantages over the other self-editing methods mentioned at the beginning of this article:
They aren’t people, which means that writers probably won’t respond to feedback emotionally, or take feedback personally. A tool also won’t roll its eyes because you’ve forgotten to close quotations and parentheses 54 times in a 300-page book. It’ll point out these errors, without judgment. And we could all use a little less judgement.
If you consider what these tools are telling you about your writing, you will sharpen your self-editing skills.
You can use diagnostic editing tools five minutes after you’ve typed the period on the last sentence of your first draft. This makes editing tools brilliant for on-demand writing.
These tools are widely available, and some of them are cheap or free. (Editors are widely available, but they’re not cheap or free.)
If you plan to use tools for self-editing, and later decide to hire an editor, your editor may have less to do, and that can save on editing costs.
Can these tools help you to become a better writer? We’re still gathering data on that. From what we’ve seen — with authors who’ve been willing to act on the information suggested by diagnostic editing tools — it does seem possible.
For example, if a tool suggests that you’ve included needless words in your writing, after deleting 103 needless words in the first 50 pages of your manuscript, there’s a good chance that you’ll include fewer of them in your writing in future!
Limitations of Editing Tools
Editing tools will not do it all. They have limitations that are important to understand. They will not write your book, cook your breakfast, or collect your kids from school. And they also won’t do these three things:
Won’t Think for You
An editing tool can alert you to potential problems with your writing. You need to decide when to address a highlighted instance and when to ignore it.
For example, the Hemingway app will highlight adverbs in blue, so you can, presumably, obliterate them. Why? Adverbs can clutter your writing and indicate instances of telling instead of showing. (Show, don’t tell!)
But does that mean you need to excise every adverb in sight? No. Depending on what you’re writing, you may choose to sprinkle adverbs as you would expensive fleur de sel.
Won’t Fix It for You
Editing tools are not designed to fix your writing for you. They identify problems, or help you fix problems efficiently. You have to do the heavy lifting.
For example, if your tool has highlighted a sentence that’s too long, you will need to divide that unwieldy beast into two shorter sentences. Your tool won’t do that for you.
Won’t Do the Footwork for You
If a solution to a writing problem isn’t obvious to you, you may need to dig around in writing craft books or style guides for help with interpreting what a tool is telling you.
Consider the example below. PerfectIt Pro 3 is asking the author to check the use of a hyphen in this instance. Has the author used the hyphen correctly?
Looking things up isn’t a waste of your time. The more you know why something might need fixing, the better your writing will be. If you let them, editing tools will show you where you quirks are, teach you what to pay attention to, and inspire (or provoke) you to make adjustments.
How to Use Editing Tools
As with any kind of learning, you need to go slowly or you could become overwhelmed. Here are some tips for keeping things manageable:
Remember to begin with big-picture editing fixes and work your way down to word-level fixes. Editing order matters.
Run diagnostic tools, one chapter at a time, until you become familiar with how these tools work. Exceptions: Run Consistency Checker and PerfectIt Pro on your entire book. Why? They’re designed to check for consistency across an entire manuscript.
Run one tool at a time. Don’t run several tools at once. You’ll have too many things to pay attention to. The key is to remain focused and to improve your writing by degrees.
Be strategic. You don’t need to run every tool on your writing, every time. Once you’re familiar with the tools we recommend, you’ll know which ones best address your most persistent writing quirks.
Editing tools can help you to become aware of your writing blind spots and sharpen your self-editing skills. They may even help you become better at writing.
If, however, you’ve decided that learning how to use these tools is not for you, and you prefer to have writing problems fixed for you, we have yet another solution. Hire an editor! (You had to know we were going to say that.)
Note: We used the Hemingway app and PerfectIt Pro 3 to edit this article.