Maybe you’re one, but I don’t know a single writer who enjoys proofreading their work. It’s that absolute final step that comes hot on the heels of copyediting but is even pickier. And it’s so crucial to the final product.
What is it about proofreading that we all dislike so much? For me, it’ soften because it means that I can’t be writing somethgin new―exercising my imagination. It is true that proofreading isn’t all that creative, don’t you agree? Still, we have to do it.
Some writing gurus seem to think that we shouldn’t even try to edit our own work. While I agree that we do develop blinders, often failing to see a whole swath of errors that look right to us, I still think we have to do much of it ourselves. Of course, when it comes to a project like a book, you’ll need a final copyeditor and proofreader in the end. But what about all that other stuff you write? Book blurbs, your bio, your blog posts, query letters? You need to copyedit them yourself.
There’s hardly a news story, magazine article, blog post (!) or book these days that doesn’t bear at least one typo or punctuation error, and don’t we all hate them when we see them―especially in our own work. So, before you can send anything out to editors or readers, proofreading isn’t an option. And there are a few tips and tricks to make yours better (and maybe even easier) that I’ve learned over my thirty-plus years of writing.
So, proofreading is important no matter whether you write books, business reports, advertising copy, social media content, or magazine stories.
If you have five minutes, I have five tips that might help to improve your proofreading.
Seventeenth-century philosopher Blaise Pascal once wrote the following:
“I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.”
Clearly, he had an innate sense that tight writing takes time―and is preferable in many ways. The concept of “writing tightly” is one that all writers have to come to terms with at some point in a writing career. The reason this is so important is simple: tight writing is more likely to be published.
When an editor tells you that you need to tighten your writing, what does that mean? If you think it means to trim your narrative of all unnecessary words and phrases, then you’d be right.
Tight writing is important because it compels the reader through your copy, whether it’s your book, feature article, blog post, or advertising copy. Loose, wordy writing slows the forward motion of the story and bores readers.
In this week’s video, I explain my five tips.
Use fewer prepositional phrases.
Eliminate filler words.
Use strong stand-alone words instead of weak words padded by adverbs.
Read everything you write out loud and listen to it carefully.
Okay, we’ve all made mistakes. And I doubt that there’s a writer among us who has yet to experience a misstep in his or her writing career. Throughout my (long) writing and publishing history, I’ve made my share of doozies (To read about one of them see The dumbest publishing decision I ever made), but to broaden my observations even further, I’ve observed a long litany of mistakes among my fellow authors as well. Here are the ten I believe to be the most common.
Publishing a first (or even second) draft. As a new writer, you might think that your writing is just fine the way you put it onto the page or computer screen. It isn’t. Believing in the infallibility of a first draft is the hallmark of an inexperienced writer. The more experienced you get, the better your writing gets. And the better your writing gets, the more you realize that the first draft (or even second) is not the draft you want ANYONE to read – not even your beta readers. Have a bit of respect for their time.
Failing to take the time for writing practice – without publishing a single word of it. Just like figure skaters, pianists and dancers to name only a few, writers need lots of practice before any of their words should see the light of day. It’s a question of quality.
Believing that basic building blocks of writing – grammar, spelling and syntax come immediately to mind – aren’t important. I’ve actually heard neophyte authors on online forums arrogantly suggest that readers don’t care about these things if the story is a good one. I beg to differ. Many care a lot and you should too. It is impossible to convey the right message/story if you and your readers are not using the language in the same way. Remember the book Eats Shoots and Leaves? If you don’t, you need to read it. Immediately.
Failing to carefully copy-edit. Or even better, failing to hire a professional copy-editor to do it for you. New writers don’t seem to know the difference between a substantive edit (which gets you from draft one to two to three etc.) and a final copy-edit. Every book out there – even ones that are professionally copy-edited – can harbor typos and other errors that are missed at this stage in the publishing process. That doesn’t make it okay for you to publish a book that hasn’t been edited in this fine fashion.
Designing your own book cover (without even a modicum of design experience or talent). If you do have graphic design experience, then I think you should go ahead and design your cover. In fact, you are probably the best one to do it since you know the book intimately. However, without this kind of background, you need to step away to avoid a book cover that makes it onto sites like Lousy Book Covers or in articles like Kindle Cover Disasters: the world’s worst ebook artwork . Readers do garner a lot of information about a book from its cover. Primarily they decide if they want to read it. Or not.
Failing to do a final format check after conversion of a Word file to PDF for publication. I’ll admit it – I’m guilty of this one. Before I realized that PDF’s would read some of the background formatting that I could no longer see in the Word document, I blithely thought that once I had done a final review of the Word document, that was enough. Not so much. That PDF needs a careful final review before hitting the ‘publish’ button.
Disregarding the importance of writing and carefully editing the book’s online description. Mother of God! How many times have I read online book descriptions with typos?! Sentence structure problems?! Grammatical errors?! Of course not to mention those ones that fail to provide even a modicum of persuasive copy.
Continually tweeting “Buy my book, buy my book.” This is beyond annoying to those of us who would otherwise like to follow your contributions to Twitter. Once in a while it’s fine to promote your book, but don’t do it in every tweet. And don’t do it every single, blasted time you contribute to a LinkedIn Author discussion. This is beyond irritating. (For more on this rant of mine read When book promotion gets annoying.)
Failing to understand that you need to connect to readers online – not a whole lot of other writers who are equally trying to sell their books. Unless your book is directed to writers (uh…hem…some of mine are) you’re barking up the wrong tree.
Apologizing for being self-published. Can we all just stop it? If you write well and provide readers with a quality product that respects them, you don’t need to apologize for how it got into their hands. Readers who love your books don’t care.
I think that creating quality material in whatever genre, and providing it to readers with respect are the two most important parts of being a writer – regardless of who publishes your work.