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10 Proofreading Tips For Self-Publishers

9 May 2013

From PBS:

If you are self-publishing, then proofreading your manuscript is a really challenging task — and you’ll kick yourself if you find a mistake after you’ve told everyone about the book. No matter how many times you’ve read through your work, it’s amazing how often errors can sneak through to the final stages. The problem: You’re so familiar with the text that you see what you think you have written rather than what you actually wrote. For this reason, at the very least, it’s good to ask a few friends to help you proofread.

Don’t forget to carefully proofread the cover, copyright, and title pages as well as any indices, tables of contents, and dedications — mistakes in these areas happen surprisingly often.

So, short of hiring a professional proofreader, what else can you do to make sure your book is as close to perfect as possible? Here are some tips.

. . . .

2. Look at your weaknesses. Do you regularly misspell or repeat words? Do you make particular grammar or punctuation errors? If you are aware of these weaknesses, take extra care to search and spot them.

. . . .

4. Try proofreading backwards! To spot typographical errors, read your work from the end to the beginning, either word by word, sentence by sentence, or paragraph by paragraph. This disconnects your mind from the content and helps you focus on the text. Particularly useful for checking the cover.

Link to the rest at PBS

Editing, Self-Publishing

37 Comments to “10 Proofreading Tips For Self-Publishers”

  1. Most useful proofreading technique I’ve found:

    Convert book to .mobi format, load into Kindle, enable text to speech and listen to it. Problems are far more obvious that way than from reading the text.

    • Agreed. I love the text-to-speech option.

    • I used to use Kindle’s TTS, but I’ve started using a free Windows program called NaturalReader to read my book to me. The voices are slightly better, and you can control the speed of reading with it. I have mine read quite fast.. makes the whole process less tedious.

    • I can skip these steps on my Mac and go directly to text-to-speech from the text version of the MS. Now if only I could program different voices for the characters…

    • Great tips! Edward, Changing my manuscript to Mobi is what I do. But converting it to text-to-speech is such a great idea! I still send mine to a professional editor but I like to have it pretty clean before doing so.

  2. As someone who does a LOT of proofreading, I’ll second that the list is a very good one. I have some tips to add:

    1. Find/Replace. Sometimes fingers have minds of their own and they tend to repeat errors. For instance, transposing a period and an apostrophe. As soon as I spot an error like that, I run a search. Big time saver and lessens the chances of missing goofs.

    2. I use a strip of plastic to block out text so I can only see one line at a time. That keeps me from lapsing into reading rather than looking for goofs.

    3. Make lists. Preferred spellings, hyphenated words, foreign words, brand names, etc. That way I can maintain style consistency throughout even a long piece of work.

    4. When reading aloud, speak the punctuation, too.

  3. I second the Kindle option. I periodically sideload my WIP onto my Kindle, then I proofread during my downtime at work or in store lines, etc. I make notes when I spot typos, style errors, etc. I haven’t tried making the Kindle talk to me; I get impatient when someone/thing speaks slower than I read. I will read aloud to myself, though.

    I created my own stylesheet/wiki. My WIP is a sci-fantasy, and some words have multiple options for spelling–griffin, griffon, gryphon, gryffin anyone? When I finally get a proofreader I hope the stylesheet will save me from cringing in shame/horror post-publishing.

    • I 3rd the Kindle option. Mistakes are so much more apparent. I can’t even describe how much easier it was for me to spot goofs once I started loading to my Kindle. I just email my Word doc to my Kindle and don’t even have to bother converting. It makes a great mobi (which also helps me troubleshoot formatting goofs before I convert in KDP and elsewhere). Highlighting relevant sentences gives me an easy way to mark the errors for correcting on the computer. I honestly didn’t think it would work well for me, until I tried it.

      • I’ll also vouch for this technique. It definitely switches your gears from “editing writer” to “reader”. It’s not foolproof, but I’ve found it helps a lot, not just with spelling errors or what have you, but just odd turns of phrase that seemed to work at the time, but you then realize you just repeated a paragraph ago, or you use a descriptive word two lines back, and so forth.

      • Oh, cool! I had not thought of emailing the word doc. I’ve been using Calibre, and that takes at least five minutes. I will DEFINITELY try that email option.

        Reading aloud, especially to a group, is a sure-fire way, but how many people are willing to sit for an entire book?

        Friends, yes, LOTS of friends. And then pay it forward.

        BTW, I’ve seen plenty of “professionally” proofed books that had more a dozen errors.

  4. “Don’t.”


    “Short of hiring a professional proofreader–” No! Hire professionals. If you care about your work and want to be professional, you need to work with other professionals. Editors. Proofreaders. Designers.

    • 1+

    • Partial disagreement, Will. Some jobs do belong to pros. Proofreading isn’t one of them. Someone who has done it long enough to call themselves a pro is probably a whole lot faster than the person who doesn’t do much. Doesn’t mean they’re better. Proofreading doesn’t require an editor’s instincts. It’s scut work. Necessary scut work (I don’t finish producing an ebook until it’s been proofread, either by me or by the author) but scut work nonetheless. Even the major publishers recognize this, and thus provide galley proofs to the authors. I don’t know anybody who ever farmed out their galley proofs.

      Definitely one of the jobs where a writer’s sweat equity can save them cash out of pocket.

      • I think writers can proofread others’ work but not their own. They’re too close to it. All the “tricks” boiled down to helping writers distance themselves from their own work–like using strips of plastic and reading backwards. In the end, nothing is more effective than a set of eyes not one’s own.

        And I speak from experience. I used to think it was possible, but now less so. Mainly because I’ve tried every trick in the book, and my editor still catches stuff I missed.

        • We are not all alike. One person’s experience doesn’t project onto everyone else. And it doesn’t matter if we call the author a professional or an amateur. Only the final product matters, not characteristics, work habits, or production process of the author.

          • I don’t understand why this has to keep being repeated in discussion after discussion.

            Writers are all different. Yep, we’re special little snowflakes.

            Some writers need to rewrite, rewrite, rewrite some more; others have a fairly polished work when they type the end.

            Some power through and edit after the whole book is done; others edit on the fly.

            Some can’t proofread their own work; others are pretty adept at it (I proofread a lot and then send it to a few trusted friends, but the day I pay for proofreading is the day I stop writing).

            Some write from an outline; others think outlining hurts them.

            Etc, etc.

            Writers need to stop telling other writers how they’re supposed to do things. Do what works for you and be happy that it does.

        • We might not be talking about the same thing, Will. Pre-production, just about every writer could use a professional. Definitely extra sets of eyes. I’m talking post-production, the final step before the work is released into the wild. All the tricks are geared toward doing one thing–stop me from reading. Because proofreading isn’t about context or content or flow or even grammar. All that stuff should have been taken care of before the book went into production. It’s about finding mistakes and taking one more opportunity to make sure the style is consistent. It’s to catch production goofs, too. Also, goofs do happen during production and those have to be caught, too.

        • I don’t proof my own stuff as well as I proof other people’s stuff… But overall, no, I’m not bad at it. (Murphy’s Law of Correcting Other People’s Spelling/Grammar will now ensure some horrible blunder shows up. Oh, well.) I do have people who beta-read and note typos. It does help to have other eyes.

          But I’ve gone so far into editor-mode that my brain virtually never turns it off. (Being extremely tired can make me overlook things.) And no, this doesn’t bother me, doesn’t interfere with my enjoyment of stories (so long as they’re reasonably clean copy — but I’ll highlight the ebook errors and mark ’em up), and doesn’t make me a sour little creature. It’s where I live. I like it here. And, dammit, I can do a pretty good self-proofing job if I put my mind to it and am not under the influence of “sleep? I did that 20 hours ago, I think…”

          The various tips and tricks in the article are all nice ones for when a writer is stuck with no one else to proof for them. Not everyone is blessed with beta-readers who know their way around a comma. (Add another tip: if using Word, run a grammar check. Do not obey it blindly! But do try to figure out why it’s whining; it may be that it’s confused because you wrote “witch” instead of “which” or “compliment” instead of “complement.” Or the whole sentence is too big and complicated, and needs to be hauled out back and shot.)

      • Michael Thompson

        As a typographer/proofreader from the old school who became an editor, then a writer, apart from another set of eyes, I have found two things to be useful. One is to print it out and mark it up myself (the reading in this form is very useful for editing corrections and comments along the way as well), then making the corrections while editing at the same time in the file.

        The second is to drink tequila and read it, the different perspective can be useful, but better to read the print-out or a PDF in case you get impulsive.

        Errors of omission seem to be the most treacherous, so I agree that paying attention to the grammar checker is useful because it often spots those, sometimes we write a complete phrase in our heads and do not see the missing word. This is like thinking you have the keys in your pocket before closing your front door and locking yourself out.

        • Dave Farland recommends that you print out your manuscript in a different font than you usually use for proofreading, Michael. Not quite the same as the tequila proof you mention, however.

    • I proof read, Will. Just before I send the story off to my proof raeder. I mean reader.


    • I actually think an author should go through these steps before passing manuscripts over to editors and proofreaders. This will make them much happier, spend less time making changes, cost you less in the end.

      I agree you should not be your only proofreader.

  5. Don’t “Read” your manuscript. Look at each word as if it’s a drawing. If you read, you’ll skim, parse, etc. Look at the words. It’s a bit maddening but I catch the most that way, when I read every single word “aloud” in my mind. Don’t worry if your lips move, either 🙂

  6. I like the TTS idea, but I think I’ll try Ivona in Moon+ Reader. Any’s voice is less annoying than the Kindle voice.

    And I’m fortunate to have an eagle-eyed friend who will proof my stuff for the “cost” of lunch. She read my non-fiction book after it was published, and handed it to me covered in red ink. I’m embarrassed by what my editor/publisher and I missed. Not a self-pubbed work, either. Don’t believe the myth of “traditionally published books are automatically better.”

    • I mentioned this in another article, but I’ll repeat it here. a friend of mine paid multiple hundreds of dollars ($600?) to a “professional proofreader”, then released his book. Another friend bought said book, started reading, and eventually found 126 spelling or grammar errors. He sent the author the list, and it was tidied up, but not before another perceptive reader spotted some of the errors and specifically pointed them out in a cutting Amazon review.

      So even if you farm out your proofreading, don’t rely on just one person, even if that person is a “pro”.

  7. If you read the manuscript on the screen, change the font style with each new read. You’ll be surprised how “new” the writing is.

    • I agree with this suggestion. It is amazing how different text can look – and how many mistakes will reveal themselves – when you try a different format, page size, line length and type face. It looks different again when you finally receive the printed proofs of your book. That is when, as an author, you become objective, not only about the words but about how the text looks on the page. That said, I have used a pro proof-reader and did what I thought was a very thorough read-through of the printed proofs and four mistakes still slipped through. I am reading White Teeth at the moment and have spotted five typos so far, so I am trying to limit how much I beat myself up about it. Interestingly, I see that some proof-readers offer different levels of service, with pricing options for up to three read-throughs. This suggests to me that a pro cannot guarantee that they will catch everything with a single read. I recommend checking on what you are getting for your money. Of course, the joy of having opted for print to order is that you can upload a new version at any point in time…www.jane-davis.co.uk

  8. Back in the day, I wrote a bit of code that would run through a Word doc and spit out an alphabetized list of all the words used and the word count for each one. That helped with a few types of errors that were hard to catch otherwise:

    1. You see a word on the list that you know you didn’t use. Maybe you typed “site” when you meant “sight” or autocorrect burned you (It’s “Away in a Manger” not “Away in a Manager”)

    2. Overused words (“very” 428 times, really?)

    3. Alternate spellings – Is that character named Marian or Marion?

  9. I would never ever proof read a piece of writing of mine. It is a piece of corner cutting that will always end up biting me.
    Find someone literate who will do it for you, for a small fee. I have never found this to be a problem. And if a few small fees is too much … then imho I am not taking the whole topic seriously enough.

  10. I’m content with other people being able to do something I can’t. The fact that I fail at something tells us nothing about how anyone else will do.

  11. 1. Writing and self-editing are separate skills. Do not do both at the same time.
    2. To improve your skill, learn to self edit. see: http://bit.ly/selfediting
    3. Once you have taken your tome as far as you are able, hire a professional.

    • BY: Correct me if I am wrong but I am distinguishing clearly here between proofreading and editing. Editing is a completely different animal from what this article is about.

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