One More Time (Nooooo!) The Final Proofread

I don’t know if I’m alone in this (doubt it) but I always reach a point in the process where if I have to look at a piece of writing ONE MORE TIME I will either a) take a blowtorch to my eyeballs; or b) curl up in a fetal ball and whimper. If I’m forced, if I have no choice, I tackle the job with all the enthusiasm of a sleep-deprived 4-year-old on an airplane. There is much whining involved.

I am, of course, talking about the final proofread. The “galley” proof stage. The book is written, edited, formatted and converted into an ebook. And it must be read one more time before it released into the wild.

I make a distinction between “pre-production” and “post-production” proofreading. Pre-production proofing is more akin to line editing. Purists, indeed, will call it line-editing, but whatever you call it, it’s the step after copy-editing and right before production. It involves style sheets, questions, research and a whole lot of nit-picking. I wrote about that process here.

Post-production proofreading is much simpler. The assumption is that the writing has been edited, fact-checked, and the style is consistent throughout. What you’re looking for is mistakes. Goofs. Gremlins. You’re also looking at the actual format and deciding if it needs tweaked. Trust me, folks, there will be mistakes, goofs and gremlins to find—some (horrors!) will have been introduced during formatting. If you don’t find them at this stage, readers will.

I was pondering the other day—how many goofs are acceptable in a book? This after reading a book that was so chock-full of errors I wondered if the editor/proofreader was even familiar with the English language or had ever opened a dictionary. A mass-market paperback put out by a Big 6 publisher. Appalling. Definitely a crime against literacy. I came to the conclusion that five errors per 100,000 words meets my standard of a properly produced book. Print or digital. That’s a damned high standard, but I have bookcases full of books that have met that standard, so it’s achievable.

So, whether you have formatted your ebook yourself or you’ve hired someone, it’s essential that you proof the copy in its final form. That means converting the file into an ebook and proofing the ebook on an ereading device. If you do not have an ereading device, you can do this process on your computer with a program like MobiPocket Reader or Calibre.

The most difficult part of this kind of proofreading is actually reading. When you read, your mind has a tendency to fill in the blanks and skim over goofs. Proofreading involves going through the text word by word, comma by period, quote mark by quote mark.

Some tips:

  • Mix it up. Go through the text backward. Or proof the chapters out of order.
  • Change the screen. Enlarging or shrinking the font, adjusting the line spacing, or even changing the screen color (if your device allows it) can serve as a reminder NOT to read the story and focus instead on the minutia.
  • Use a marker. When I proof printed manuscript I use a metal ruler. That is not a good idea on an ereader. I do have a six inch plastic ring sizer though, which is perfect. You probably don’t have a plastic ring sizer, but you can use a plastic bookmark or a strip of cardboard. Anything that forces you to look at just one line of text.
  • Read aloud, including punctuation. It sounds ridiculous—Open quote How dare you tell me what to do question mark closed quote—but it works.
  • Take your time. The temptation might be to rush the job and get it over with, but this final proofread is important. It is necessary. You owe to your writing and to your readers to do the best job you can.

What about you, dear readers? Any tips or tricks for doing a good job on the final proofread?


22 thoughts on “One More Time (Nooooo!) The Final Proofread

  1. Even when my eyes are crossing and I’m nearly blind, I do that final proofread… and I still find stupid errors. A step you just can’t skip.

  2. Oh, dear, I hate to point these out, but – I know you would want me to. (Delete this comment if you want.)

    “What you’re looking for *is* mistakes.”
    “You’re also looking at the actual format and deciding if it needs *tweaked*.” – should that be ‘tweaking’?

    In regards to the content of your post: I agree completely. They are like gremlins with a twist – they breed. And I completely agree with the standard you quote.

    I just read a novella by John Scalzi – the John Scalzi – that had numerous typos. Not a whole lot, but more than I would have expected from a *novella* and from a major publisher, and some someone so experienced. I loved the story (God Engines), but was disappointed by the editing. I’m even sure there was a section that was misplaced (meaning; should have gone before another section).

    I hope I can live up to your standards. Though I may fall short, I do hope I get close.

    • You caught me–didn’t proofread this post well enough. See, people? This is what happens when you rush. 😀

      But in all seriousness, that final proofread is something nobody particularly enjoys, but I consider it a vital part of the process. Indie writers are at a disadvantage in that they don’t have staffs of editors and browbeaten little interns dying to prove themselves worthy of an editorial position. Even with the advantage of multiple eyes, goofs and gremlins sneak through. I don’t think I have read anything that was perfect. I have a $200 reference book sitting on my desk right now that I’ve found typos in. Not a lot. Enough to remind me that goofs happen to the best of us.

      So we strive.

      • Actually, I rarely see typos in your posts. Given that and the topic, I felt the urge to point them out. (Someone should slap me.)

        But you are right about typos happening in the most edited of books. Before I started writing, I can honestly say I never noticed them – unless it was super bad. So, I imagine that most readers never do notice them unless it’s really bad. So, yes, striving for our best is all we can do.

  3. I can put up with a lot more than five typos or other errors in 100,000 words — in someone else’s book. I try to keep mine a lot lower, but it does get to the head banging stage eventually. I’m also going to have to force myself to go that one more step — a last line read after the final formatting and conversion.

    • Head banging describes it exactly, Catana.

      By the way, I’m not nearly the hardass about editing as I sound sometimes. If I’m reading for pleasure, I’m fairly easy going about goofs. I’ll only get mad and quit if the sheer number of goofs starts interfering with the story. And that doesn’t happen very often.

  4. For earlier drafts, I like having a text-to-speech reader read the text to me. Hearing the piece read out loud helps me avoid the problems you pointed out of skimming over errors and having your mind fill in blanks.

    Though I generally hate what I write with a passion for a long time after I’ve written it, I find listening to it isn’t nearly as offensive to me as reading it. (Why? Different medium? Don’t know.)

    For a final draft, a person would have to do a visual inspection, too, to catch punctuation, capitalization, spelling (homonyms and other spelling errors a person can’t hear), and other visually-oriented mistakes.

    So, a text-to-speech reader would add more work — and prolong the misery. But it could also help a person catch more errors, and s/he would get to spend some editing time listening instead of reading.

    You’d almost certainly have heard the goofs that tmso pointed out.

    • I have heard of people who do the text-to-speech. I’ve tried in the past to tape record my reading and got so distracted by my own voice i couldn’t stand it. The text-to-speech reader doesn’t have that problem, does it? Is there a way to activate text-to-speech through MobiPocket or Calibre? I guess I can go over there and find out. Good tip.

  5. Here’s something you might not have noticed when proofreading on a white background:

    When you do a graphic as a separator between scenes, and use a white background for said graphic, and then the reader chooses sepia to read the text (anything but white will show the effect), the graphic looks funny, a white box with a little picture in it.

    To make it look nicer, you need to make the background transparent, instead of white, so the sepia seeps through. Just a small touch.

    I have no idea how to achieve it – or even if it CAN be achieved – but I use sepia as easier on the eyes, and the little white rectangles around the graphics look odd.

    • Crazy-making, isn’t it, Abe? I’ve actually tried making the backgrounds on my graphics transparent. Either I did it wrong or I’m using the wrong program, but the white boxes still showed up when my daughter looked at it on her iPhone. That is definitely on my list of Stuff to Figure Out.

  6. I always catch far, far more errors when proofing a paper copy. Having my ink all over the page makes me go back and look again at the spaces I didn’t mark, wondering what I missed. There’s also a sense of completion when I mark up a paper page that helps me focus on each line.

    As for final edits for typos and such, it really pays to have a new set of eyes on it. Trade a favor to a friend. It will be easier than killing yourself to catch the few errors that remain, they might even enjoy themselves, and you can take a break. You’re still going to have some errors, but you will anyway. Choose the right friend.

    • Yes! Award for the Best Tip—get someone else to do it. Copy blindness is a very real phenom and annoying as all get out.

      As for paper proofing, that’s where I do my pre-production proofing. I can do it on a Kindle or even on-screen if I have to, but I’m far more efficient on paper. BUT, there’s no substitute for proofing an ebook on an ereader. Gremlins do sneak in, sometimes codes go awry. The only way to find them is to see what the ebook actually looks like.

      • Even better – offer to pay someone (not necessarily in money) for each typo he/she catches and/or an acknowledgment on a special page.

        People love spotting your errors, especially if you make it a competition.

  7. I actually did that once, Abe. Told my daughter a nickel a goof. The manuscript pages she gave back to me looked like they had the measles. Turns out she has the heartless editor gene, too. Also taught me to take care of my own damned sloppy commas before I go offering cash for finding them. Heh. (bright high school students love this game, by the way)

  8. I am with you on this one, Jaye. The final proof is dreadful. I discover that I hate every, single word – no, not hate! Despise! 🙂

    Reading the chapters backwards helps, and I think I’ll give the read-aloud tip a try next time around.


    • If I ever go back to traditional publishing it will be for one reason only—the number of eyes on the manuscript. Not that NY editors are any better than I am (some are, but most aren’t) but just the fact that different people have a shot at finding goofs increases the chances that more goofs will be found. Then again, the last trad book I did required that I proof the galleys in PDF form. My choices were: read it on the screen (oh my aching eyes) or print the thing and my computer and printer need to do a lot of thinking, pondering, fiddle-fartin’ around, turning a fifteen minute job into a four hour job. pfft.

      Best thing all around for indies, I’m thinking, is to develop relationships with other indies in order to trade the proofing tasks. Even finding an enthusiastic fan who’d love an advance copy in exchange for reporting errors can help.

      • PDFs are great for trading copies between different computer types, but I can see that would be great for proofing! I prefer to proof a hard copy, especially for the last two reads. I see different things on the literal page than I can notice on the screen.

        You are right: getting more people to look at the MS can go a long way to catching those little embarrassments that somehow slip past the first lines of defense.


  9. I like the idea of using little tricks and gimmicks to change up the book for proofing. I find writing (fairly) easy, but editing and proofing agonizing. So thanks for the tips!

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