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?