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Professional writing- Proofing for self publication

Updated on June 19, 2012

Proofing for self-publication is a job most writers truly loathe. There are two issues, both of which are annoying- (a) It’s hard work, and (b) “It doesn’t need proofing- I know every word”. Both assumptions are quite wrong, and lousy proofing is a real own goal.

I found this out while I was migrating my books over to Amazon. One of my books, Ads, and also one of my personal favourites, needed to be proofed. I was prepared to do it on the basis of the fact I hadn’t used an online proof before, and because I was quite confident I wouldn’t have much work to do.

Wow, was I in for an experience and a half. This actually did develop into a sort of reality check. My accuracy on content is actually pretty good, usually better than 98%. However – when you bear in mind that the book itself is 100,000 words long, that adds up to quite a lot of mistakes. I also found, to my absolute disgust, that there were even a couple of plot issues, theoretically trivial, but almost instantly self-contradictory even in the sentences.

I was kicking myself. It really is one of my favourite books, and the plot is quite complex. Readers do not deserve to be confronted with idiotic and misleading mistakes in a book like this. It also had attracted a remote from the quality of the book, which was otherwise quite good. Readers may put up with some level of irritation from typos, misspellings and other nuisances, but they shouldn't be expected to put up with basically lazy mistakes.

The result of this situation was I actually did three proofs. It took me a week. I can say that I'm a lot happier with the book as it now is, but I doubt that I'll ever forgive myself for the original mistakes.

Proofing basics

There are some things which are obvious about proofing and some which are simply impossible to detect until you actually do it yourself. With all due respect to professional proofreaders, who may find some of this very obvious, I'm writing this from the perspective of a writer. I have proofed other people's work myself, and there are a few basic facts which writers simply won't get for themselves.

Proofing your own work and proofing somebody else's work are definitely not the same thing. Writers tend to be overconfident about proofing their own work. I really do know every word of Ads, and I still found glaring mistakes.

Proofreading requires patience. This is not a rubber stamp exercise. You must be prepared to go through your text, find and fix the problems and are really put in some effort to get the best results. It will be worth it.

Proofing is actually an exercise in objectivity, not pedantry. As a writer, you tend to write objectively, but most spellcheck and grammar checking software is purely pedantic. It falls far short of what you need for good literary flow. You also need to keep the written materials in context with your writing objectives. "Proofing" may actually involve rewriting whole sections. Thankfully, I managed to avoid that situation myself, but only just barely.

You can trip over syntax at any time. While writing, the tendency is to concentrate on a good flow, but even one distracted thought can throw multiple spanners into your text. Proofing allows you to pay attention to your syntax and the series of progressive problems that it can cause. Syntax can even change your meaning in ways you wouldn't have believed possible. You can also introduce a particularly ridiculous level of non- sequiteurs and some truly lousy usage. I actually found myself writing a line on some ad copy – "selecting your selections". I literally howled.

"Publication standard" means the absolute best you can achieve. I once wrote a blog to apologise to a reader for a typo in a chapter on freelance writing where I was stressing the need for accuracy. That is not an experience I am in any hurry to repeat. It wasn't just embarrassing, it proved a point.

Formatting is not the enemy. In just about all forms of electronic publication, you will find a requirement for formatting in some form or other. This may appear to be utterly trivial beneath notice, but I discovered recently that some of my previous self-published books included little details like six point font, which is almost unreadable, lousy page margins, and similar insults to readers. Formatting may be a pain, but I can tell you from experience that it is far less of a problem than the alternative.

I hope that’s some sort of help to writers thinking of self-publishing. I feel a lot better for having put in the extra time and effort, even if I have so many years’ experience that I really should know better. I was truly horrified to see these things in one of my own favourite books. If I've helped to spare you from that particular experience, this Hub has done its job.


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    • profile image

      Rathna Peters 5 years ago

      Good article, keep writing like this

    • B. Leekley profile image

      Brian Leekley 5 years ago from Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA

      This hub is good advice.

    • Keith Ham profile image

      Keith Ham 5 years ago from Niagara Falls, Ontario

      Thanks, I'm a writer and this will help me greatly. Very useful and a tad inspirational. I'm going to say - definitely useful.

    • CarolynDarling profile image

      CarolynDarling 5 years ago from Arizona

      Wow, thanks for all the tips! I've been putting off my own proofing for weeks now because of how tedious the job is! I'm not dreading it quite so badly anymore!

    • landscapeartist profile image

      Roberta McIlroy 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Thank you for writing this hub. I am finding out today that almost every hub that I hop has content in them that I actually need to know, but never thought of.

      Amazing! Thanks again and voted up.