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Writing: 4 Top Tips for Editing & Proofreading

When one of our author members asked on the ALLi Facebook forum for a straw poll of who pays both editors and proofreaders to perfect their manuscript, a lively discussion followed, sharing best practice and top tips useful to indie authors everywhere. Here’s a summary to help you make YOUR self-published book the best it can be.

photo of ereader, glasses and dictionaryAs I said recently in my talk at the SilverWood Books Open Day,  writers are too close to the words they have written to be 100% effective at editing and proofreading their own manuscript. Yes, they should draft and redraft as much as they can, but when it comes to quality control, the writer’s eye will see what the brain remembers, not what his hands accidentally messed up while typing.

To Pay or Not to Pay?

Any authors with an unlimited budget would be likely to employ both editor and proofreader – either two or more separate people for distinct tasks, or one person doing those tasks in separate, successive stages. But most indie authors have financial constraints, particularly at the early stages of their self-publishing careers and aren’t sure whether they’ll sell enough copies to justify the investment in paying for professional editing and proofreading. This is a chicken-and-egg dilemma, of course – if your book is poorly edited and proofread, your sales will be adversely affected when disappointed readers post poor reviews flagging up your typos.

Four Top Tips – For Free!

But there is good news: if you can’t afford to pay a professional, the top tips listed below will enhance the quality of your finished work, and none of them will cost you a penny:

  1. Read your manuscript in a different format: print it out, send it to an ereader or a reading app on your phone. You’ll see it in a different way than on your writing screen.
  2. Read it aloud, either yourself, or send it to a text-to-speech converter on your ereader or computer. Mispelled words may leap out as nonsensical.
  3. Change your perspective: read it backwards or even upside down (hard to do on a computer, so best to print it out first!)
  4. Use beta readers with different skills and interests – some will more likely spot editorial errors, others will highlight typos.

These tactics don’t preclude a professional edit and proofread, but here’s more good news: if you do all of these things before passing your manuscript to a professional, their charges may be lower, as you’re presenting them with a manuscript that requires much less work. (It depends on how they charge – whether by the number of words or by the hour, so check before you commit.) They should also be happier to work with you, knowing how much care you have taken to perfect your manuscript. You’re being pretty professional yourself!

What If An Error Slips the Net?

Even with the best of care, all the people involved in this process are human, so there may still be the odd typo that sneaks through (as indeed it does in trade-published books). What a blessing, then, that digital technology usually allows us to fix these things swiftly by uploading an amended file, hopefully before an eagle-eyed reviewer has time to name and shame you!

In the final analysis, you cannot put too much effort into polishing your manuscript to perfection – an essential part of the process in raising the standard of your self-published book to equal that of the best trade-published ones. If you don’t pay that courtesy and respect to your reader, you have only yourself to blame if they come back to haunt you with a disgruntled review.

With thanks to all those ALLi members who took part in the Facebook discussion: Jackie Griffiths for kicking it off, and Di Castle, Emily Cotton, Carol Cram, JoAnne Dyer, Anita Exley, Linda Gillard, Jackie Griffiths, Linda Hall, Chrstine Claire McKenzie, Kevin McLaughlin, Fenella Miller, Rex A Owens, David Penny, Joanna Penn, Liza Perratt, Alison Ripley Cubitt, Katherine Smith, and A D Starrling for joining in.

The private ALLi Facebook forum is one of many benefits of ALLi membership. If you want to know how to join, visit our website, www.allianceindependentauthors.org. You’ll also find on that website a searchable database of members where you can find approved proofreaders, editors and other author services.

JOIN THE CONVERSATION: Have you any more top tips you’d like to add? Or advice on the best way to use editors and proofreaders? Please leave a comment!

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6 Responses to Writing: 4 Top Tips for Editing & Proofreading

  1. Beth October 21, 2014 at 6:20 am #

    You offered many good tips!

    I am glad to see you stressed professional proofreading and editing along with the other self-checking tips. I have seen too many self-published books that have used crowd-sourced editing and the results were less than stellar.

  2. Anna Castle October 3, 2014 at 3:14 pm #

    You don’t mention running spell & grammar checkers on your ms. Maybe you take it for granted that everyone would do that much at least, but I get the sense from bits I’ve seen that many writers don’t use them. You have to add a lot of oddities to your dictionary as you go, but over time you build up your own lexicon. Mine is full of things like y’all’re and whyn’t. You don’t want to misspell those either. Then you’re right, my editor has less mess to wade through so the errors that remain stand out more clearly.

    Thanks for a useful post and a great topic!

    • Debbie Young October 4, 2014 at 5:42 pm #

      That’s a very good point, Anna, particularly if you’re using a lot of colloquialisms in dialogue or some unusual proper nouns. I think spellcheckers and grammar checkers are fine if used wisely – but important not to let them correct everything automatically because they do sometimes make inappropriate changes. I think I heard of an author who had set up different versions of his books for distribution on various platforms – Amazon, Apple, etc – and was including a note in his front matter of which edition was which e.g. “This edition available for Apple” etc. All very well until using “search and replace” to substitute Amazon for Apple, resulting in one of his characters taking a bite of an Amazon on a picnic… 🙂

      • Kristen Steele October 30, 2014 at 8:03 pm #

        Ha! That’s a great story. Some things you just can’t automate!

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