Taking Some of the Pain Out Of Proofreading Your Ebook

Okay, everybody, raise your hand and wave it wildly if you love proofreading your ebook!


Yeah, me, too. Nonetheless, proofreading your ebook is essential. By that I mean, actually opening the ebook on your Kindle or Nook or iPad or phone or magic toaster, and going over it word by word, character by character. You’re not just looking at the text. Funny things can happen during conversion. You need to find the goofs and glitches and fix them.

If you don’t have an ereader? Download Calibre onto your computer. It’s free, the display is attractive, and while it doesn’t give you the exact display you’d find on a handheld ereader, it is good enough you should be able to spot the worst problems.

When I proofread an ebook I’ve produced, I load it onto one of my Kindles, run it through its paces (make sure all the links work, and that it responds properly to all the user-interface commands, and that the navigation guide is properly displayed), then I go through the text. I pull up the actual file on my computer and make corrections as I find them. No biggie.

Where the process gets sticky is when someone else proofreads. I prefer the author proof the text. Not just because it’s time-consuming and not much fun, but because the author is the most deeply invested in their work and the final proof is their opportunity to tweak and polish. Plus, they can actually see how graphical elements look in “real time” and see if text effects look good on the screen.

You can’t mark up an ebook. Oh, you can use bookmarks and notes, but it’s ridiculously difficult transferring those to another device, especially when working with “document” as opposed to “book” files. And because such things as “percentage of book read” and “location” depend on the device and the user font and spacing preferences, those are not reliable markers either. What I’ve been doing is asking writers to type out their notes with enough text for me to search and to note which chapter or section the goof/change is in. There are inherent problems with this method. One is typos (the writer’s and mine). Another is fatigue. If you’re tired, the temptation is there to think, Ah, a backward quote mark doesn’t really matter, or What difference does this not-quite right word make?

I stumbled onto a method with a book that required two proofreaders. The key is Square Brackets.

[ ]

In the books I produce, there is usually no reason to use square brackets. That makes them, for search purposes, unique characters. What I did was copy the ebook file(s) and turn them into text files. Windows and Mac users have a basic text editor included (under Accessories in Windows–mine is called Notepad). It will open a text file. So the writer opens the text file and while they are proofreading the ebook on their device or in Calibre, if they find a goof or want a change, they can mark up the file. All they have to do is enclose any changes in square brackets. It looks like this:

aProof1When the author is done, they send the entire file back to me. I open it side by side with the ebook file, search for square brackets and voila! I can see the author’s notes in “real time.” If there are text changes, I can copy the author’s exact text and paste it into the ebook file. No typos. (watch those quote marks and apostrophes–make sure you don’t accidentally use straight quotes instead of curly) Last night I keyed in the corrections from the above example. What would have been a two to three hour job using the old method, took me instead about 30 minutes. That included going back through and double-checking my work. The writer reports that after she got over her shock over how weird the text file looks, the job was much, much easier on her end, too.

What about the rest of you? Has anyone else found simpler or more effective ways for proofreading ebooks when two or more people are involved in the process?




15 thoughts on “Taking Some of the Pain Out Of Proofreading Your Ebook

  1. I haven’t had to do this kind of editorial exchange digitally yet, but i I am hugely fond of using square brackets when I write to cue a word Pr phrase I know isnt right but don’t want to get bogged down fixing right then. What you describe seems a good methiod for integrating edits.

  2. Sorry for the length of the comment, but it’s a long subject for me. 🙂

    Oh, how I wish more editors would latch on to Markdown as the common syntax the way so much of the computer world has. Particularly for fiction books where there is usually very little markup. If you’ve never heard of Markdown, it’s a very simple markup language that is meant to look like just plain-old, obvious text to the reader even as it is (mostly) parseable by computers. As a quick example:

    This is just a sentence with *some italics* in the middle.

    In Markdown, the two words between the asterisks are converted to italics. Given that this is about all the markup a lot of fiction needs, you’d never need to learn more than that. Thankfully for little ol’ me, Scrivener supports Markdown. Which means all of my books are nothing but plain text with the occasional *word* in italics somewhere, and Scrivener just converts those as I compile.

    The nice thing that Scrivener does here (on the Mac version at least) is that you can sync all of your documents to an external folder as plain text. So every chapter, every scene is exported as a separate file when I save my project. For me, this folder is also in Dropbox, which makes my editing REALLY nice.

    When I edit, I read on my iPad with a program called iAWriter, which is not really important so much as it’s just a plain text editor that links with Dropbox. There are dozens out there, that’s just the one I picked. I actually read each chapter / scene and make changes as I go if there are little typos or fixes. When it comes to bigger things, Scrivener uses (( )) and {{ }} as highlights and notes, so I just insert a ((add more exposition here)) note in the text somewhere and move on. When Scrivener imports my changes in (upon syncing), all those notes show up as highlights.

    Now, what would REALLY be nice is if the writing / editing world (Scrivener too) adopted this:


    This project showed up a few weeks ago and is an extension to Markdown for editing. Click on it and watch their little demo video on how they use it. I think you, Jaye, above all others can understand my desire to get writers and editors all working in nothing but text (with simple Markdown) instead of big editors with varying file formats.

    Markdown is nothing but text with a few wingdings for markup. CriticMarkup is an addition to that to make editing a document easier while all still remaining plain text.

    You have no idea how many times I’ve almost started writing my own novel software that did nothing but simple Markdown and saved everything as plain text. CriticMarkup was the only missing piece, but now I’m so busy actually writing that creating yet another piece of software just sounds like hell. 🙂 I’m going to be pushing on the Scrivener guys to support it though.

    Now all I have to do is get my editor to stop using Word. Blech.

  3. I’m in your corner on this, Damon. Markdown would certainly make my job easier. My workflow includes cleaning up document files so I can turn them into text files and go to work formatting. Word is full of nasty little tricks that I have to root out and repair. I’ve turned into an expert and can do that job in minutes now (usually, there are some exceptions).

    The biggest problem is that most writers tend be visual. They need to see their “formatting” on the screen. When I started learning to use text editors the toughest obstacle was shutting off the alarmed voice in my head saying, “That doesn’t LOOK right!” Until writers grow comfortable with the concept of digital files as opposed to print documents, which will happen eventually as fewer and fewer writers submit paper documents, then Word (and all its inherent nonsense) will continue to be the norm.

  4. I use a triple pound sign for revision notes. Haven’t seen a book with ### in it yet, except maybe some some of Card’s “Shadow” books.

    When I have a friend or family member proof, i just ask them to copy down the kindle location number and the wording of the error. The location number gets you very close, usually close enough to spot the error by itself (since it puts you in the same paragraph). The wording of an error is usually enough, too, since it’s a grammatical error that has to be replaced no matter where it is.

    I don’t usually make little word tweaks after I finish writing and revising, though. That way leads to madness. 😀

  5. I’ve used a variety of different proofreading methods. Firstly, I like to download my book to my kindle and use highlights and notes to mark bits I need to change. This does have it’s problems, notably being hard to do if you’re in the situation of someone else having done the proofread, since you can’t transfer them.

    Recently, I had a friend send me just the line with the problem, and I quickly found the bits that needed fixing with a search. That’s worked pretty well. I like to have someone other than me (the author) read the book, to catch the errors I’ve missed. Also, at this point in time, every time I read the book I over-analyse every sentence!

    • With highlighting and notes the Kindle makes a great editing reader. I no longer make print copies of manuscripts. If anyone wants to use their Kindle for quick and dirty files, download MobiPocket Creator. It will accept your Word file “as-is” and turn it into a prc file you can load into your Kindle (or someone else’s Kindle).

      And as, rnellegrey points out, over-analysing and tweaking is the temptation. Since the Kindle doesn’t allow changing text, you quickly learn to be a little less tweaky.

  6. Thanks for the tip. I’ll have to look into this. I have been, while reading for pleasure, proofread some books. I have then sent a list of errors and recommended corrections to the authors. Two authors of one book insisted on giving me a free copy of their next book to thank me for my efforts, while another author said he would send my list to his publisher and would try to get me acknowledged in the next printing of his book. The two authors I mentioned responded differently when I sent them corrections for the free book they had given me and I wonder if anyone can tell me why. They asked me to not go to the trouble of correcting the latest book, because it had been published by “Pocket Books.” I got the impression that there was no way to re-publish the e-book, utilizing my corrections. Would someone please explain their response to me? Do some publishers refuse to make corrections to books? I have been typing out a list of corrections, noting the Kindle page and location. Realizing that the page and location are not consistent over all readers, I make sure to include the surrounding phrase for a typo, but I like the idea of using [ ] and ### best. I have been typing out the errors in MSWord and sometimes even in the window of my e-mail message. I am going to have to re-read about your method to see if your method might work better for me.

  7. Hi, Jean. Indie authors, especially those who format their own files, can make corrections and file updates easily and with little or no cost. I don’t know about other formatters, but I keep client files on standby and will make corrections/updates if the author needs them. I assume most formatters will do the same thing at little or no cost.

    Book publishers (such as Pocket Books) are different. They have organizations and systems and people they pay by the hour and contracted workers. They also have attitudes. They will not look kindly upon authors who point out that their ebook needs correcting or updating. The author has no hand or even a voice in the formatting of their ebooks. If you buy a big publisher product with poor formatting or a lot of errors, return it to Amazon for a refund and state the reasons why in the comment block. Amazon will contact the publisher. If they get enough complaints, Amazon will pull the book.

    Trust me, a poorly produced ebook is just as painful for the author as it is for the reader.

    • Thank you, Jaye. I appreciate your clearing that up for me. What a shame that the book publishers feel that way.

  8. Pingback: Step-by-Step Guide by 115 Experts for Writing, Publishing, and Marketing EBooks | Medical Writing Coach

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