Tag Archive | Proofing

Hints and Tips on Proofing and Editing

There has been much discussion between various authors and writing groups concerning the whys, wherefores and benefits of having work proofread and/or edited by a professional. This has been particularly prevalent between Indie writers who, for one reason or another, feel wronged and slighted if someone comments that their book is let down by typos and errors, as if this is the worst thing in the world to happen and makes them less of a professional author. It doesn’t. There is no shame in making a mistake. Even in mainstream publishing one or two typos do slip through. And let’s face it, even with the best will in the world, a good proofreader and copy editor is not infallible and can, and does, miss the odd thing. But what many independent authors fail to appreciate is that it isn’t just the annoying little typo that’s the problem.

Over the past couple of years I have read lots of books published independently; what is the problem in many of these is not spelling errors per se – it’s all the other bits and pieces that make up the whole reading experience that is often sadly lacking. By this, I mean the typesetting and formatting skills of bookmaking and the lack of the necessary writing skills needed to tell, and thus sell, a good story.

Many authors do not know how to format prose and dialogue, do not understand how dialogue should be set down and punctuated, they fail to use consistency in spellings, and many authors fall down completely in the use of capitalisation and paragraphs, apostrophe use, misplaced colons, when words should be italicised or not, when to use ellipses or not … the list goes on. And it is these things that annoy a reader far more than the odd little spelling mistake and typo. These are the things a good editor will highlight, things a good proofreader will correct. They are not the things your granny or best friend would even consider when checking your manuscript for you.

Yes, I know many will say that the odd typo or error doesn’t detract from a story for them, but there are a great deal more that say it does. Hence, the plethora of discussions and comments on Amazon or wherever about them.

Unless dialogue is set out correctly and tags used to good effect, it can be sometimes impossible to follow who is saying what to whom. Often a writer will think using he said/she said is adequate every time. But, used all the time, not only is this boring to read, it is taking so much away from the story when the words, the actual dialogue itself, should be making it clear who is speaking. The odd grammar mistake isn’t a problem for most readers, and I’m certainly no slave to perfect English grammar, after all, most of us don’t worry about correct grammar when speaking in everyday life.

Whilst it is appreciated that what is acceptable in one country is not in another, that there are various differences in acceptable grammar and spellings, I can only speak from a UK standpoint, and from my many years involved in typesetting, writing, proofing and copy editing and reading. I have thus set out at  Proofing Tips a few hints, tips and guidance on how a book should be set out. I’m not talking chapters, fonts and page numbers here, but the physical layout of words and punctuation that should be used, in order for your readers to have a much better experience of your work and lose themselves in your story, instead of being confused and thrown out by poor crafting.

The list will expand over time, in the hope that the standard of independent books is raised and the profile and credibility of Indie authors grows. And well it should, for there are a great many stories out there, huge numbers of excellent writers. Although independent publishing is slowly receiving the accolade it deserves, there is still a great deal of work to be done in. These are exciting times we live in through this changing world of publishing. Together, let’s make it the best it can be for future generations.

Click here to go to Proofing Tips page.

Proofreading Is More Than Just Checking Spelling!

My working career has always revolved around the written word in one form or another; from typing to running a wordprocessing agency, from typesetting manuscripts to proofing and editing all manner of books, legal and statutory documents and much more besides. Wearing a writer’s hat, I have attended countless writing seminars, courses, conferences, and a member of small and large writing groups and communities. I’ve done the jumping through hoops and agonised over that wretched synopsis, learned what is accepted practice and what is not. Thus, whenever I read a book, be it conventionally published or otherwise, I cringe at the errors in the proofing and editing spotted in an increasing number of these books.

“But it’s the story that counts!” is a retort I’ve heard so often it’s almost become a cliché. “Readers can forgive the odd typo, the odd spelling mistake, the missed punctuation.” Sorry, author, that is not the case. Most don’t, certainly not if errors are there in herds that leap out of the page at you. Mistakes do, will and can throw a reader right out of the story; that is their job – to make a reader not want to finish, never mind buy another of your books again. Is that what you really want? It’s not the odd little typo that’s the troublemaker; it’s the glaring howlers that shouldn’t have got through that irritate. Those misspelled or wrong words, the bad punctuation and inconsistencies that all should have been corrected long before a book was thrust into the hands of your paying readership. The poor formatting, the switched tenses and lazy grammar that poke you in the eye and confuse the brain. Even if a book is offered free of charge, a writer owes it the reader to present it in the best manner possible. Proofreading is a whole lot more than just checking the spelling.

When I hear or read comments such as, “Well, my mother/granny/friend proofed it” or, even more worrying, “I checked it myself”, I know I shall not bother to read the book. If you don’t care enough about your work then why should I as a reader? You see, it takes a trained, experienced eye to see the mistakes, to know the things to look out for. The Society of Editors and Proofreaders advocates you cannot proof your own work, not because they are touting for your business but because it is true. A given. Your brain doesn’t read what your eye sees. Your brain already knows your story, it wrote it and knows what should be there without seeing what actually is. Scientific fact. You might have the word spelt correctly but is it the right word? Have you placed too much reliance on computer spellcheckers and the next-to-useless grammar checker? These mechanical devices cannot and do not know the difference between plain and plane or bear and bare, breath and breathe, principle and principal. They do not know that forget-me-nots do not grow in England during September, that there’s a difference between mum as a noun and Mum as pronoun, or between having lead in your pencil or being led up the garden path. That you toe the line, not tow the line. I have no doubt there are errors in this text, which goes to show you cannot proof your own work and that proofreading is a whole lot more than just checking the spelling.

Grammar is another minefield. What is acceptable to one school of thought or continent may not be to another. Most authors write as they speak. That is good, it forms part of the author’s voice, brings stories and characters to life. Books written in the Queen’s English, all grammatically proper and correct, or presumed correct, can appear stuffy and, frankly, dull, especially when it is clear the writer has striven so hard to do it in this way. It doesn’t work. And who says you can’t start a sentence with And or But or Because? Who wrote the rule that you cannot split an infinitive? There are no such rules. Prose that switches tenses, uses superfluous adjectives and a never-ending stream of he said, she said, is boring, and unnecessary if the narrative is crafted skilfully. Proofing is a whole lot more than just checking the spelling.

When we speak, we use intonation of voice, eye contact, hand gestures, to convey our meanings. We don’t have commas and fullstops and quotation marks. When writing we need punctuation to perform this function, but used in the wrong place it can change complete meanings, make reading difficult. And if reading your text is difficult, it isn’t doing its job. A bear eats shoots and leaves is a whole lot different to A bear eats, shoots, and leaves. There was a theory that a comma means this is where you take a breath, a semi-colon a longer breath and a colon an even greater pause. Not correct. Too often, writers suffer with that common complaint known as comma diarrhoea – too many, too often, and in the most inappropriate places. And as for those rogue apostrophes …

This isn’t unique to self-published books. I’ve seen glaring errors from conventional publishing houses too, often due to being a sad marker of lean, economic times in publishing when the proofreader is often the first to be let go, leaving it up to the author to get it right or, at most, the editor. Editors do an excellent job, a hard job, and they are not infallible. Neither am I. I get it wrong sometimes. Even I get confused with compliment and complement occasionally. I was taught that anything to do with time you used the word past, as in past, present and future, and anything to do with movement was from the verb to pass, as in he walked passed the breadshop. A lesson I understand now to be wrong. Am I?

What really annoys is these so-called independent publishers who take your money, claiming to offer a full editing service, often charging extra for proofing, when in fact they don’t bother to do the job properly. Those that don’t seem to care about your work, they already have your money. A form of daylight robbery. The Kindle and ebooks and ipads etc are wonderful inventions allowing writers to reach a reading public they would never have touched through conventional methods, and it is time the big boys moved over, but if self-published authors want to be taken seriously, elevate themselves out of the “vanity” publishing mindset held by others, make reviewers and readers and people sit up and take notice, they owe it to readers to get it right.

Proofreading need not be expensive. It’s time consuming, yes, but oh so vital. Circumvent this important element of the writing process at your peril because proofreading is more than just checking the spelling.

Recommended reading: Eats Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss

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