Let’s be honest, once you’ve gone through the different editing phases: developmental editing, line editing, copy editing…you’re ready to set your laptop on fire. Hey, we’ve all been there. But you need to power through one more round…proofreading.
Unfortunately, this phase is as important as the rest. Maybe even more so because it’s your final opportunity to catch that misspelled word or missing period. Sometimes you even think, I’ve read this thing a thousand times, how could I have missed these many mistakes? Easy. You and your editors have at least 50,000 words to read every pass. And during those passes you’re looking at big picture plot and character development issues, or sentence structure and world building consistencies. There are so many things to catch during editing that it’s understandable to accidentally have two “the’s” next to each other. It happens. In fact, I’m going to quote Rick Riordan, author of the Percy Jackson series, from a tweet that he had about proofreading:
Some random reader tweeted to Riordan, “I found a misspelled word on page xxx”
To which Riordan replied, “But the other 89,465 words were okay?”
The level of sass that man has is inspiring, but more than that, this interaction helps us gain some perspective. You’re not going to catch every mistake, so it takes some of the pressure off, but you do what you can to at least try.
I’ve found through my own proofreading experience that being on close watch for these errors is the best that you can do, as the creator of the story, to keep things as clean and accurate as possible:
1. Spelling of Names
As embarrassing as it is to admit, I got all the way to the proofreading stage to find that in chapter one I had a small side character named “King Randolph” and in chapter five the same character spelled “King Randalph.” I nearly had a heart attack when I caught it. It was one letter difference but an entirely different name!
2. Capitalization Consistencies
Especially for fantasy, sci-fi, and other similar genres involving world building you need to keep a running list, or reference sheet if you will, of words that are capitalized. For instance, my book uses curses and royal titles, so my capitalization rules were as follows:
- The types of curses (i.e. drought curses) are not capitalized
- The specific curse (i.e. the Curse of Venera) is capitalized
- Titles of Royals are capitalized (i.e. Princess Ivy)
- References to Royals are not capitalized (i.e. the princess)
3. Repetitive Words
Even during line editing you sometimes don’t catch that you’ve used the word “feet” twice in one paragraph. This is your last time to flag those words that sound repetitive on a page, so it’s worth asking your editor to switch out a word for something similar to maintain the flow and pacing.
4. General Flow of Sentences
Often we have the tendency to cut out words during an editing phase where we are trying to reach a certain word count. Removing words like “that” or “the” can trim down sentences but sometimes make that sentence harder to follow. Even though removing “that” is technically grammatically correct, it can make the reader stumble. Be on the lookout while proofreading for sentences that make you pause because your reader likely will as well.
To wrap up this post, I want to convey that proofreading is probably one of the seven levels of hell for writers. Because it is during this phase that the publisher will tell you, “Okay, you can’t make any large changes,” and of course it’s through this read-through where you say, “but it’s all garbage I have to change everything!” To this I will say, take a deep breath and take heart! More people than you have read it and loved it, so you must be doing something right. Keep that in mind and you may just be able to make it through proofreading.