Saturday, August 18, 2012

Proofreading Your Manuscript

Your book draft is done. You lovingly finger the warm pages you just printed. You enjoy a feeling of accomplishment. Your book is almost ready.

Almost. But it’s too early to celebrate. You’ve got proofreading to do.

If you’re an English major (like me) or have a strong command of the English language, you may not need to hire a professional editor for your book. However, if you choose the DIY (Do It Yourself) editing option, here are a couple tips I’d like to share from personal experience.

Ask someone else to read your manuscript.

I’m not downplaying your skills, but even if you’re the best editor or proofreader out there, you still want a second set of eyes.

Why? A couple reasons. First, you as the author are so close to your book that you may have a hard time seeing its flaws. (It’s natural. You’ve just poured months of your life into this project; you’re going to be a bit protective.) You want an objective, unbiased opinion. Don’t bristle at criticism. Welcome it with open arms.

Another reason for a third party perspective is that we can become so close to our stories that we tend to read sentences the way they should be – not the way they are.

Here’s an example: “I cracked open the door and found you package on the step.” (Did your mind naturally fill in the word “your” instead of reading “you” as mistyped?)

Another: “You’ll have plenty of time think of this later.” (Did you catch that the word “to” is missing?)

There’s another helpful exercise to spot these kinds of flaws, which brings me to my second tip.

Read your manuscript out loud.

You may have read your story a dozen times, but “hearing” it helps awkward sentence structure and missed or misplaced words stand out.

Also, it helps you identify overused phrases and words. Do you say “rolled her eyes” on every other page? Do you use the adverbs “really” and “very” too often? I recommend making a list of your “trouble words” and keeping an eye out for them.

Spell check. Spell check.

It’s obvious, but sometimes, we overlook the obvious. Spell check is your friend. You can’t rely on spell check alone, but it provides one additional help for identifying grammar, spelling and punctuation mistakes. (Granted, sometimes you have to ignore it, because it can’t discern the difference between an intentional fragment for expression and an actual mistake.)  

If you have the luxury of time, I suggest setting your manuscript aside for a couple weeks and then returning to it with fresh eyes. For those of us who have deadlines or are trying to make sure our books are ready for Christmas, try the tips above.

Happy proofreading.   

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