I’ve been appalled of late at the errors I’ve stumbled upon in a number of books—published works that have been through the editing process and have been professionally proofread. Cold instead of could. Missing auxiliary verbs. Verbs not in agreement with their subjects. My guess is, the authors of these books are equally appalled.

What’s a writer to do?

The best option is to create clean copy, and of course, to do a careful read-through of the galleys that will turn into the actual book. After all, the author’s name is on the cover, and the ultimate responsibility for the text must lie with him.

An excellent method to uncover errors is to read the text aloud. I’ve heard some authors say they read a page in reverse order, starting with the last paragraph first. That may work for some, but I don’t think it would work for me. Rather, when I read aloud, I am caught by something that doesn’t make sense to the story. If I’m reading out of order, there is no sense of story. All becomes a string of words.

I suggest an author experiment with both methods to see which works best for her.

But even after establishing a preferred method, mistakes can happen. Recently I wrote a short story in which I used the words wave and waving. When I finished, I sent off a draft to my critique partner who corrected both. While I’d spelled the words correctly, what I meant to say was waive and waiving.

No matter how many times I read the story aloud, I would not have discovered the incorrect homonyms. I needed the fresh eyes of another writer.

Because of the present economic realities and the effects of the digital revolution on the book business, a writer may not be able to rely on the publisher for the kind of close scrutiny a manuscript requires. Consequently, having a writing partner can be a huge boon. A supportive spouse or other family member can also serve as that second pair of eyes. The important thing is to have someone else read with an eye to catching the mistakes spellchecker will miss. And then the author can have one more read-through—out loud.



Filed under Proofreading

3 responses to “Proofreading

  1. It’s over the top bad in some books. And seems to be on the rise. When an instant bestseller (Vince Flynn’s American Assassin in hardcover) shows up with easily over 20 errors beginning on page three and extending throughout the novel, it’s no secret this had to be a first draft. Published by a top of the line publisher.

  2. I, too, have noticed an appalling increase in writing errors by professionals. I think there’s generally a lowering of standards nowadays and I think there are fewer well-trained editors and proofreaders to catch those pesky mistakes. You’re lucky to have a writing partner who’s competent enough to know the difference between “wave” and “waive.”

  3. Nicole, it’s this increase in errors that makes me think the economic realities of today are playing a bigger role in publishing. Too bad. But ultimately the author must take responsibility which means sharpening our editorial skills, I think.

    TW, I am very fortunate to have a good writing partner. I also have a good critique group and I suspect one of them would have spotted the mistake, too. Sometimes I take it for granted that I have such help, but it’s valuable—something I think we writers should seek out.

    Thanks for your comments.


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