Proofreading Your Own Work: 10 Practical Tips for Authors

By Harriet Hodgson

After I have finished a book I check the spelling one last time and proofread it. It’s hard for me to proofread my own work because I get diverted. Instead of looking for specific errors, I get caught up in the content. I remember the easy parts and the troublesome parts. As usual, I ask myself, “Did I reach my goal?”

I just proofread my latest book. My publisher wanted me to look it over before forwarding it to the printer. Two months had passed since I last proofread the book and I was surprised at the number of errors I found. Some words were singular when they should have been plural. Two Internet addresses were incorrect. Words had been lost due to text editing.

Why did I miss these errors? The biggest problem with authors proofreading their own work is that we know what is coming. We know each and every paragraph, each and every sentence, each and every word. If words are missing, our minds fill in the blanks automatically. That’s why publishers have editors and proofreaders.

Still, you may be asked to proofread your book. How can you do it efficiently?

The Writing Center at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill has posted an article, “Editing and Proofreading,” on its website. The first tip, distancing yourself from the text, applied to me. I picked up new errors because two months had passed. “Clear your head of what you’ve written so you can take a fresh look at the paper and see what is really on the page,” the article advises. Proofread in short blocks of time is another helpful tip. I didn’t do this before, but do it now.

LR Communication Systems, Inc., has posted proofreading tips on its website. According to the first tip, you should read your work aloud. I do this all the time and find it helpful. But I couldn’t possibly do the second tip, reading sentences backwards to catch spelling errors. However, I do follow some proofreading tips and here are the 10 best ones.

* Proofread early in the morning when your mind is fresh.

* Print out the manuscript. Though some authors can proof electronic copy successfully, it is harder on your eyes.

* Use spellcheck, but don’t rely on it. Spellcheck often misses medical and technical words or flags jargon.

* Each time you proofread, do it with a specific purpose in mind: content, topic sentences, word flow, punctuation, spelling, tense, proper names, etc. Doing this makes it easier to spot errors.

* Pay attention to the little words, the, to, at, me, my, because they may be missing a letter.

* Check headings separately. “Headings are prone to error because copy editors often don’t focus on them,” according to LR Communication Systems, Inc.

* If your book includes a bibliography, make sure the resources are listed in the proper format and Internet addresses are correct.

* Consider the overall layout. Look for missing spaces, extra spaces, tight copy, indenting inconsistencies, numbering and bullet errors. If you have included charts, graphs or photos with captions, look them over carefully.

* Check page numbers to ensure they are in the right place and sequential.

* Look for consistencies, such as printing book titles in italics and bold.

Though I was embarrassed by the number of errors I found in my manuscript, I didn’t berate myself for them. I had kept the promise I made to readers in the Preface. “This book is going to help lots of people,” my contact person said. That was all I needed to know.

Copyright 2011 by Harriet Hodgson

Harriet Hodgson had been an independent journalist for 30+ years. Her 24th book, Smiling Through Your Tears: Anticipating Grief, written with Lois Krahn, MD, is available from Amazon.

Centering Corporation published her 26th book, Writing to Recover: The Journey from Loss and Grief to a New Life and a companion journal. The company also published The Spiritual Woman: Quotes to Refresh and Sustain Your Soul and her latest book, Happy Again!

She has two other new books, 101 Affirmations to Ease Your Grief Journey, available from Amazon, and Real Meals on 18 Wheels: A Guide for Healthy Living on the Highway, Kathryn Clements, RD, co-author, and available from Amazon soon. Please visit her website and learn more about this busy author.

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Critique your own Writing

There is no doubt that a professional novel critique can help you to get your work published but it is possible to critique your own writing before investing in a professional manuscript evaluation as there is much that you can identify if you read your work and consider it analytically. Whilst a professional novel critique provides feedback on your work as a whole and also, feedback on elements that you may not have even considered, by changing your perspective, you can read the manuscript through a reader’s eyes.  

If you would like to critique your own writing:

1.  Read your manuscript through from start to finish and then make an honest assessment. Consider whether you really liked the plot, how well it read and any areas that might need a little bit more work.


2. Do your characters stand out? You might know that the main character looks like your Uncle Charlie but have you described him properly to your reader? The reader cannot hope to visualise your characters unless you have made them larger than life through careful description and the revelation of important facts.


3.  Does your opening chapter have the wow factor? Make your opening dynamic and compelling because if you don’t, the reader will simply stop reading.


4. Have you added conflict to your story? The best storylines have the reader gripped by the characters having to fight to overcome the odds. Even the most romantic of fiction will have carefully places obstacles to hinder the unfolding love story.


5. Do you have too much dialogue? Dialogue is a fantastic way of bringing life to any story and to also break up large passages of text but it shouldn’t be overpowering, but must be relative and flow naturally.


6. As a writer, it is important that you find your own voice and style. Are you happy with yours and satisfied that your style is easy to read?


7. Have you provided a satisfying conclusion to your writing? If not your readers’ will be left feeling disappointed.


8. Finally, check and re-check for correct punctuation and that language and grammar is correct. Silly mistakes will detract from the flow of the storyline and would hinder your chances of placing your manuscript with an agent or publisher.

Critique your own writing and note the difference in the polished version of your manuscript, then once you are ready, invest in a professional novel critique before submitting for publication.

Manuscript Critique- Why You Should Invest In Your Writing

You have sweated blood and tears and poured every emotion into writing thousands of words and have finally finished  and yet requesting  a manuscript critique may be the last thing on your mind..why?

Whilst there is no hard and fast rule that writers have to have their manuscript appraised, it does make sense to have someone check your manuscript over in a professional capacity prior to sending it to an agent or publisher.  I see hundreds of manuscripts each year and there are very few that don’t need a fair bit of editing or rewriting and this is not detrimental to those writers, it’s simply the way it is. Even those writers who have gone to considerable lengths to edit as they progress throughout the novel will still have a fair bit of work to do at the end.

I have the utmost admiration for those writers who complete their novels. Writing a novel is a tremendous commitment and as so many people these days are overly stretched in terms of time and personal commitments, it is astounding that so many novels are actually completed at all. I have run several novel writing courses at college in the UK and one term, some students were completing upwards of 70,000 words within a ten week period, that’s a lot of words  pouring out on to paper and with this much time and dedication, it makes sense to give your novel a fighting chance.

Requesting a manuscript critique shows a determination to address any issues that might be apparentand therefore reduces the chances of receiving unwanted rejection slips.  I personally think that many writers are concerned  about hearing ‘bad news’ when the critique comes through but I’m a writer myself and  I know how difficult it can be to hear any type of criticism. Just remember that a professional manuscript critique is not there to slate your manuscript, it’s a positive tool that supports your goals and ultimately raises your potential to be published.