How to Proofread Your Novel
Hire a professional.
You were expecting an easier way? Sure, you can proofread your own novel. You can also do your own open heart surgery but I wouldn’t recommend it. On second thought, maybe that’s a bad comparison. OK, don’t do either.
If you’re like me, you’re 5’9” tall and classically handsome. You’re also embarking on self-publishing your first novel. At any given moment you no doubt have a hundred million things competing for your attention in that big, beautiful, creative brain of yours and are therefore apt to jump from one task to another with no logical path connecting any of it. But when it comes to writing (any stage of writing), you need to put on your game face, get to work and stay there! Proofreading is no exception. It’s crucial that you remain on task while proofreading your work because this is the final stage of the process and if you mess up here, there are no additional checks forthcoming. This is it, boss! This is as good as it gets!
Side note: I may have just significantly freaked myself out. I can’t believe I’m this close to the end.
Goodbye, Writing. Hello, Editing!
If you’re with me in this tops-turvy boat, you’ve come to terms with your novel being 95 percent complete. There is nothing left for you to do sweeten the plot. Your characters are as developed as they’re ever gonna get and you love them despite (or maybe because of) their imperfections and idiosyncrasies. In fact, it’s a truly a wonderful, lovely story. You’ve worked so hard to get here so maybe just take a moment and congratulate yourself for this marvelous accomplishment! Go you! OK, that’s enough self-aggrandizing for now. Back to work, fool.
Are you really going to attempt to proofread your own novel? Well, I guess I can’t stop you if your mind’s made up. And if that’s the case then you should have already copy edited it too, right?
”Wait, what’s the difference? I thought copy editing and proofreading were the same thing?”
No, silly! Yes, they’re in the same family, perhaps even siblings or fraternal twins, but definitely not the same person. <— Weird analogy, but I’ll let it slide.
If you were previously unaware of the difference, do you know what sort of things you should be looking for? Spelling for sure. That’s a given. Comma placement, repeated words and phrases, unnecessary use of ellipses and wishy-washy trouble words such as “had,” “probably,” “anyway,” and whatever others you may crutch on regularly. Beyond that, there are hundreds if not thousands of grammar rules that copyeditors and proofreaders adhere to. It’s their religion and unless you’ve studied this specialized way to glamorize grammar, you’re probably going to be doing your manuscript a disservice.
I’m only saying that you may not be the best person for either job of copy editing or proofreading. Besides, it’s always good to have an extra set of eyes on your work that can potentially capture and retool spots where your writing has gone astray.
If you’re at the proofreading stage (like me!) then you should have already been through developmental editing as well as copy editing. But just to be clear, here are the
Three Stages of Editing
Developmental Editing usually comes somewhere between the initial story concept and a completed final first draft. “Final first draft?” Yes. Because all first first drafts are atrocities. That’s not my rule, it’s literary law. When you’re ready though, the developmental editing stage is where you will take a serious look at your booky book and say to yourself, “Self, how do all the pieces of my narrative fit together? Are there places where I can add or subtract or shift plot lines to improve on the overall arc of the work? Are my characters fully developed to the point where they suit the story as a whole? Do all my literary devices make sense? Have I read my book out loud? What feelings do I want my story to convey in the reader? Is my story pretty? Am I pretty? Am I superficial? What should I have for lunch?” All good questions, friend.
Copy Editing rears its meticulous head when your story structure is as polished as it’s ever going to be. Again, if you’re at the proofreading stage, you should have already been there/done that copy editing thang. If not, go back and get yourself a good copy editor. He or she will treat your words right. A copy editor’s job can vary from professional to professional but their overall goal is to help make your story be the best it can be using their grammatical expertise. They may also check for style inconsistencies, intricate details of character descriptions and plot points. Think of this editing stage as essential picking and dissecting on a micro level to give the illusion of seamless flow using proper English. Yup. Someone should really copy edit this bloggy. I’m aware.
Proofreading, as I have previously stated and stated and stated, is the final editing stage. In publishing, uncorrected proofs (or galleys) are printed and pored over by professional proofreaders. Generally speaking, a lot of proofreaders try to look at individual words and sentences one by one. One industry secret they employ is to read a manuscript backwards. In doing so, they are better able to focus on the little errors that may have been overlooked in previous stages. So if you’ve come this far and you still are adamant against hiring a copy editor or proofreader, then try going through your manuscript in reverse. Read the last sentence first, then the penultimate, then back back back all the way to your title page. Sound exhausting? That’s only because IT IS! And that’s why talented grammar nerds get paid to do it. Better than you ever could. And when I say you, I mean me. No disrespect. Maybe you’re a self-proclaimed grammar nerd yourself and don’t need anyone else. If so, I bow to you and I respect your mad skills. Nerd.
By the way, I name you nerd in solidarity. But still, maybe you should let someone else look at your baby before you hit that big ol’ publish button. It couldn’t hurt, right?