Self-publishing may be an inexpensive way to publish a book, but without thorough proofreading and good editing it can turn out to be an embarrassing disaster. Engaging reliable and professional proofreaders and editors, while a wise move, is far from inexpensive. Charges range considerably, but at say $0.02 per word for proofreading and $0.03 and upwards for editing, it doesn’t take applied mathematics to discover that for a 100,000-word novel you are looking at a sum in excess of $2,000.
While there is just no escaping the absolute necessity of having an independent pair of eyes, at least, proofread your book before publishing, you can save yourself a lot of money and embarrassment by doing some of the work yourself. However, our brains are programmed in an odd way that can make it difficult to find errors in our own writing. So here are a few ways I have found that work effectively. This is not to say that you will achieve perfection, but I guarantee you will be very surprised by the number of errors you do find.
A thorough check with your word processor’s spellchecker is the obvious place to start. Make sure your document is set to your desired form of English. Analyse each found word carefully and not just skip through quickly. Also, look for words around the found words. Mistakes often congregate due to your level of concentration when you were writing.
Then use the inbuilt grammar checker on a separate pass of your document. I particularly like the one installed in Word, but there are many others available. Check every found error carefully, but also again, look at the whole sentence and make sure all your agreement is correct. As I use a Mac, I also copy my document into Apple’s Pages programme as the ‘Proof Reader’ function is very useful as well.
‘Find’ is your friend. The find function in your word processor is the best tool for finding problems in your document. Think about common errors such as, its and it’s, there, their and they’re, were and where, if and of and well, you know which ones the spellchecker can’t find. So go hunting. Also, use ‘Find’ for annoying double spaces between words. Another use is to check all of your character’s names. I have often found that I have used the wrong character’s name in a sentence by this method.
Read your book backwards. May sound silly, but your brain concentrates on the story when you read, so proofread out of order. Perhaps last chapter first, or even print out a chapter and mix the pages up. This helps concentrate on the text only.
A new way I have found is to convert my book, or parts of it, into .mobi format and load it onto my Kindle. For some reason, errors really stand out when it looks like the finished product. You can use a programme called Calibre to do this. I also put a copy on my wife’s Kindle and she always finds more errors. As you can highlight the errors on your Kindle, you can then go back and correct your original MS.
The last and I think the most valuable tip is never try to proofread or edit unless you have had a few weeks break from writing your MS. Your head is overloaded at the writing stage, so your brain just does not want to do it. It’s still too much in love with your story to find fault.
Now that you have completed a thorough cleaning up, it’s time to find someone independent to at least proofread for you. Friend, spouse, son or daughter is fine, but rarely critical enough. But if professional services are too expensive for your project, at least you know you have improved your book.
Then when you are ready to publish, think about reading it just one more time before you hit the button. I bet you’ll find a few more errors and typos that you’ll be so happy you found – that your readers will not.