Sympathy for the Writer (or, Proofreading is Hell)

As an avid reader and also a college English major, one of my biggest irritations when reading a book was always the errors I ran across.  You know: a misspelled word, the wrong word used instead of the right one (‘mantle’, say, when it should be ‘mantel’).  Or when reading a series and from one book to the next a character’s name changes, or their eye color changes, or some other glaring mistake of that nature.  This stuff used to drive me to distraction, and would throw me right out of the story when it happened.  I am pretty sure many other readers feel the same.

I used to wonder why on earth the author did not get someone to proofread the book, or have an assistant to do that for him or her.  Mistakes like this happen even in the books of well-known, best-selling authors, and I always wondered why. Was it just carelessness?

Well, now I know why.  It’s because it’s damned difficult to write a book, and many times rewrite a book.  You get in there and change some things, do a bit of tinkering on a sentence, but you miss something, like putting the period at the end of your sentence.  And you don’t catch it right away. Or you use the wrong word all through your manuscript and do not notice it until your fifth rewrite (Remember ‘mantle/mantel’?  That was me. Arrgh).  And the spacing gets messed up between words or sentences, or you forget to close the quotation mark.  I could go on and on.

Having written a fairly long book (‘Disfigured, a Gothic Romance Featuring the Phantom of the Opera’), and having revised it about five times, I am now in complete sympathy with other authors when I find a mistake here and there while reading.  Because now I understand just how easy these things are to miss.  I mean, I would print out my manuscript and sit with a red pen and go over and over it, proofreading, but still miss stuff.  And I am regarded as a very good proofreader.  Why, I even paid someone to proofread my manuscript before I contracted to have it formatted for an eBook.  She did indeed find quite a few problems that needed fixing and that I had missed, but I found even more as I was going through it making the corrections. It was getting downright embarrassing, I can tell you.

When all was said and done (at last), I felt supremely confident that my manuscript went out to Amazon and Barnes and Noble absolutely error-free, but it was a lot of work to get it there.

Therefore, I wanted to offer some tips to pass along to other writers, based on my experience.  We writers need to stick together; writing is lonely work, and who else can really understand what you are going through?  So here are my thoughts to help you with your proofreading tasks:

  • When you are going back through your pages and editing and making changes, as you will do, quite a lot, pay particular attention to the sentences themselves. If you change one part, does it make sense all the way through?  Did you make sure all your commas are in the right place, etc.?  By making it right the first time, you will save yourself heartache later, believe me.


  • Take a break from your manuscript. Stop looking at it or working on it for a while.  It doesn’t have to be long; even a week will do.  Then you will come back to it with fresh eyes, and something you missed before will pop out at you.


  • Word processing programs won’t catch the wrong word usage thing because the word is not misspelled. So if you wrote ‘brooch’ but you meant ‘broach’, the program won’t pick up on that. You will have to do that with your own two eyes.  It isn’t always easy, but be on the lookout when you both write it and when you proof it.


  • Do have another pair of eyes proofread your finished manuscript, and make sure it is someone with a good grasp of language and spelling. That person will find all sorts of things you missed, and save you time as well.


  • If you are using foreign language words in your book, or are writing about something technical that requires special knowledge, it’s worth it to get an expert to look at your manuscript for accuracy. In my instance, I use quite a bit of French since the book takes place in Paris and the characters are French.  I was not completely sure if I was using the words correctly, but I had a friend who is an expert in the French language, and I had her edit my French usage for accuracy.  This, I know, saved me a lot of grief.  I could just see all the angry messages I would receive from readers if the French usage was wonky.  Lesson to be learned here: do not rely solely on the internet for your information.


  • If your book is published as an eBook, like mine is thus far (though I am shopping for an agent), you can actually take it off sale temporarily and make an editing change to your book. So if you discover a typo or other error that you just can’t live with, you can still fix it so that it will be correct going into the future. Just remember to put it back on sale when you are finished!


Good luck and happy proofreading!

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