There is more to proofing a book than just reading the story.
At some point in every writer’s career, you’ll be asked to proof a final version of your work.
Sure, you’ll have various editors doing this, but you’ll need to be a part of it, too. After all, it’s YOUR name on the cover and you want it to be as perfect as possible.
Even at the manuscript stage, submitting a well-polished story will help your work stand out. It shows agents and editors that you are industry-savvy.
There is more to proofing a book, however, than just reading the story (aka body matter). It means examining literally every centimeter of the product. During this process, I get down to some serious detailing, checking for any and all mistakes, and taking copious notes—old school style.
Over the years, I’ve developed a checklist to make sure I don’t miss anything. I break the task into sections, moving from easy to more difficult; mostly to warm up and to feel like I’ve accomplished something. Remember, for each item on this list, we’re looking for spelling, grammar, punctuation, correct vocabulary, correct numbering and sequence, etc. Read stuff aloud—it helps like nothing else to catch mistakes.
- Spine (place your book on its back. The words on the spine should read left to right)
- Back (correct jacket copy, ISBN number, publisher’s contact info, etc.)
- Praise Page
- Title Page (called the recto side)
- Copyright Page (called the verso side)
- Acknowledgements (unless this is at the end, then skip for now)
- Table of Contents (if applicable)
- Foreword (if applicable)
- Preface or Introduction (if applicable)
- Acknowledgements (here’s where you want to triple check that you’ve spelled your publisher, agent, editors, publicists, and cover artist names correctly, as well as everyone else you want to thank)
- Discussion Questions
- Author Interview or Q & A
- Author’s Bio (triple check that your contact info is correct)
Chapters and Pages
- Check each chapter title for sequential numbering. Trust me on this.
- Check each page for sequential numbering. Trust me more.
- Orphans and Widows. Tedious, but it must be done.
- Read your story aloud. This is single most productive use of your time at this stage. As I mentioned earlier, you’ll catch dropped words, repetitive vocabulary, and grammar mistakes like crazy.
- Proper nouns (characters, locations, etc). Keep a cheat sheet nearby.
- Foreign languages. Triple-check spelling and punctuation. Then, check them once more. Get this right.
- Paragraphs. Make sure the breaks are correct.
This sounds so easy and straightforward, but you and I both know this is blood-letting time. Re-reading a manuscript you’ve labored over for months or years can be downright nauseating. I don’t know about you, but I spend a lot of time cringing, too.
But, I often find myself enthralled with the story, and a bit in awe of some writing I didn’t remember producing. Which is pretty cool. It is really okay, you know, to feel pride and satisfaction in your creation. If we writers (or painters or musicians or dancers) do not cherish our work, then our readers or viewers won’t either. So, proof away and be prepared to fall in love again.
Darby Karchut is an award-winning author, dreamer, and compulsive dawn greeter. A proud native of New Mexico, she now lives in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, where she runs in blizzards and bikes in lightning storms. When not dodging death by Colorado, Darby is busy wrangling words. Her latest book (lucky number thirteen), DEL TORO MOON, releases October 2 from Owl Hollow Press. Visit the author at her website.