Preparing a work for publication can be immensely exciting, but sometimes writers are so eager to publish immediately that they overlook one of the most crucial steps in preparing their manuscript: proofreading. If you’re going to self-publish, proofreading your work thoroughly is absolutely critical. A manuscript filled with errors looks unprofessional, and you don’t want to make a bad impression on your readers.
However, writers are often unable to proofread their own work thoroughly at this stage. By now you’ve read your manuscript dozens of times, you’ve edited extensively, and you’ve nearly memorized each line. Rereading one more time can feel painfully dull, and you’re likely to skip right over the errors because you’re so familiar with what you think it says. For this reason, I recommend that writers planning to self-publish hire a professional to proof their work or, at the very least, have a new beta reader with fresh eyes take a look at the manuscript before publishing. Obviously I am biased here, as I am a professional proofreader myself; but as a writer, I would never publish a manuscript without having someone else, whether it be a fellow pro or trusted writer, proof the final draft.
I’ve often heard writers say that they don’t need to hire a professional proofreader because they’re good with spelling and grammar, or because their critique partners have already caught all the typos. However, it’s important to remember that by this point the manuscript will have been through multiple drafts; it’s quite possible that you’ve changed a line since your critique partner last saw it and introduced an error in the process. It’s very easy to make mistakes during edits, even for writers who are very good with spelling and grammar. I’ve personally experienced this, and I know many other writers with similar experiences.
Additionally, writing and proofreading are very different skill sets, and many writers lack the necessary knowledge to proofread thoroughly. Fixing simple typos and spelling errors is not all that a professional proofreader offers. Here are just a few things that a professional might catch:
- Misplaced or missing modifiers
- Commas, hyphenation, quotation marks, and other punctuation
- Missing words
- Consistent word usage
- Consistent tense usage
- Ambiguous pronouns
- Misused words
- Proper capitalization
And so much more. Even if you’ve spellchecked and reread the entire manuscript, it’s still quite likely that some of these errors are present. For anyone pursuing self-publishing, proofreading is a step that you don’t want to skip. And it’s more affordable than you think! I’ve seen some skilled proofreaders working for very competitive rates, so it might be easier than you expect to find services that fit your budget.
Regardless of whether you hire a pro, ask another writer, or try to proofread yourself, there are a couple of things you can do to make sure the process goes smoothly:
- Create a consistency sheet. Make notes for names and terms that you’ll be using frequently to ensure that they’re kept consistent throughout the manuscript. How do you want certain words to appear, or certain names to be spelled? Is that minor character’s name spelled Kaitlyn or Kaitlin? Do you prefer % or percent? How about serial commas? Or words that may or may not be compound, like goosebumps vs. goose bumps? Keeping a list of these preferences will make things much easier and faster for either you or your proofreader.
- Have style and grammar books on hand. If you’re not sure of the proper punctuation or spelling, look it up. This will also help you create your consistency sheet, since some choices are a matter of preference.
- Allow sufficient time. Proofreading, when done properly, is a slow process. It’s easy to miss small errors when the reader is moving too quickly. You should probably allow two-three weeks minimum for the process (and many pros will give you an estimated timeframe when you inquire about their services). Too often I see writers who are in a rush to publish and want proofreading done within a matter of days, but rushing the process only creates more errors.
It’s easy to feel that your work is error-free, but it’s hard to see the errors when you know what the page is supposed to say. A good proofreader is a valuable investment in your self-published novel.
If you’re self-publishing, would you hire a proofreader? Why or why not? Let me know in the comments!