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10 Proofreading Tips to Ensure Your Self-Published Works are Flawless [Guest Post]

The following is a guest post by Randall Davidson

Self-published works are not subjected to the watchful eyes of professional editors, leaving the job of proofreading in the hands of the writer. To create self-published works that look great and convey your ideas appropriately, follow these 10 proofreading tips from professional proofreaders:

    1. Allow some time to pass. If your self-imposed deadline allows, put the work aside for a few days or weeks before beginning the proofreading process.
    2. Simplify whenever possible. Look for complicated words that can be replaced with simpler ones. Also, look for long passages that can be broken down into multiple sentences or paragraphs.
    3. Format your text. Arrange the text as you will be publishing it. Then, look for problems with paragraphs breaking strangely across pages. Formatted text also looks different from plain text, so typos you missed before may show up.
    4. Have someone read the text to you. If it’s not too time consuming, have someone read the text to you. You will hear problems with word choice, transition issues, and other awkward phrases that aren’t apparent on paper.

  1. Look for consistency. Make sure you write in the same perspective (first or third person, etc.) throughout the work, and remain consistent with your writing style. You may have written the work over several weeks or months, but the text should seem like it was all written at once.
  2. Use grammar-checking software. While there’s no substitute for careful examination by hand, grammar software can catch many simple errors before you begin the final proofreading stage.
  3. Pay attention to graphic design. With no editor or publisher involved when you’re proofreading a work that you will publish yourself, you have to pay attention to every detail. This includes design elements.
  4. Get the technical things right. No matter the format in which you are self-publishing your work, make sure to check copyright and title pages as well as indices and tables of contents. No one else will check these things.
  5. Consider your audience very carefully. Re-read every word to make sure the information is directed at your audience, and is not just serving your needs. The work is for the audience, not you.
  6. Do it all again. Once is never enough when proofreading. While it can be tedious to read the same words again, it’s a necessary part of good editing.

While not a replacement for professional editing, these 10 proofreading tips will improve your self-published works dramatically!

About the author: Randall Davidson is one of the founders of ProofreadingServices.Us, a proofreading services company that offers manuscript proofreading. Randall enjoys sharing writing tips and best practices with other authors.

  • Regarding point #4: Adobe Acrobat can read back any text to you. Just go to View–>Read Out Loud. I listen to my book a number of times before it is published.

    Michael E. Newton
    Angry Mobs and Founding Fathers: The Fight for Control of the American Revolution
    The Path to Tyranny: A History of Free Society’s Descent into Tyranny

  • @Michael: Great point! Thank you!

  • Emily

    Good tips! A lot of self-published are edited by freelance editors, but these are good ideas for both someone who hired an editor and an author who didn’t. I simply don’t have the money to do it with my novella, so I’ll use some of these for sure! Thanks!

  • Excellent article. I have now learned to swear by tip #4, using my kindle.

  • I found the tips very helpful, especially for their simplicity. I liked tip # 2, because its the way I write.
    Thanks so much!

  • While I self-publish my articles without professional proofreading, I’d never publish a book or e-book without having another set of eyes on it.

    As the author, it’s very difficult for me to read each and every word and watch for perfection in punctuation.

    I may be self-publishing my book, and I’ve got money set aside for a professional editor. I owe that to myself for all the hard work that’s gone into the novel, and I owe it to my readers to deliver a perfectly polished product.

    This is a great list, and I’d still save a lot of stress by having a book professionally edited.

  • I disagree with tip number 2…. Sort of. I think, when simplifying, you need to first consider your audience. One of the major complaints about indie published e-books is that the quality of writing is getting lost. If you are writing a fiction piece, brevity is not really your friend. A pictures paints a thousand words and if you do not use good descriptive writing, your audience will not appreciate that fact. Now, a how-to book or other technical piece, sure. Just think about your audience first!

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  • I agree with Cynthia, having applied all these tips myself as I blog and craft writing for others: it needs another pair of eyes. The end.

    That said, it’s not like you can’t possibly produce a flawless piece of work on your own, especially if it’s short and sweet. Great tips to go for it!

  • Also useful for translators as we proof own translations before delivery.

    Some people swear by printing out their texts to proofread on paper, others claim reading backwards helps (as it disconnects the words from what your brain expects to see, so errors are easier to catch).

    You can also proof in a different font, (larger) size and colour.

  • One of the best tips I’ve had is to print your manuscript on different colored paper (pink or yellow instead of white). It makes everything look new and typos jump off the page.

  • LK Watts

    These are all good tips but I think there’s certain things only a professional copy editor can tell you. Such as the legal framework where libel is concerned. When I had my book edited there were issues that didn’t even relate to writing. Things like only sticking to one measuring unit – metric or imperial, how to use brand names etc.

  • Great tips! I think number 1 is especially important as allowing some time to pass enables you to see you work with ‘fresh eyes’. Stephen King, in his book ‘On Writing’, suggests putting your work aside for 6 months before looking at it again.

  • Use a text-to-speech feature (e.g., Kindle, Final Draft) to listen to the text and follow along with the text. It will surprise you.

  • I would never consider publishing a book without having it professionally copyeditied/proofread. No matter how carefully you read your own work, the human eyes see what they *think* the hands typed, not what is really on the page. These days it’s also important to get technical help with the formatting issues for the various e-reader sites. It’s not easy to get it just right for multiple devices.

    By putting uncopyedited, poorly formatted work out there, you risk no only killing that book, but future ones (even if they are done well). Because readers leave reviews. They will kill a poorly done work. And then the next potential reader will read those reviews and not buy the book. Or your next book. Or the one after that.

    Be smart. Don’t publish until you can afford to do it right.

  • Great tips. I’ll keep these handy when proofing my next project.

    #5 should probably read: “Make sure you stay with either FIRST or third person throughout the work” Second person is rarely used unless one is writing a How-To.

  • Aside from the above ten, I am holding out for number eleven that is foolproof! Despite following these tips, it seems impossible to get it one hundred percent correct and I am not alone in this.

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  • I see hundreds of self-published books a year, and my #1 suggestion for improving these books is to hire a professional editor. The self-publishing industry will never get the respect it deserves until we stop thinking it’s OK to produce books that have typographical, punctuation, spelling and grammatical errors. After all the time you’ve spent creating your book, don’t let the thought of a few dollars for a real editor undermine your accomplishment.

  • Randi Black

    I disagree wholeheartedly with 9. I write as a form of pleasure. My work is for me, and serves my needs. If anyone else happens to like it, that’s awesome, too.

  • I have paid and paid and paid in terms of agony and re-submitting a book only one proofreader saw–and then I fiddled with it.

    Thanks for these wonderful ideas. It feels as though every time I open the “final” version, words fly out like moths and paragraphs jiggle around.

    I didn’t know that about Adobe Acrobat either. I’ve got no one to read for me. Thanks.

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  • Susan Wenger

    Late to this party, but … What Cindy said. Self-editing is valuable, and these are great tips. Self-editing is still no substitute for hiring a professional editor.
    I’m a professional copyeditor. If I write a book, you’d better believe I’ll be paying somebody else to edit it after I go through it. It’s a lot harder to see your own mistakes.

  • Better yet, use some of the money you would have spent on an agent and hire a copy editor!

  • LB

    It may sound silly, but I’ve found that reading the text backwards also helps a lot with finding errors, it makes you focus a little more on every word and you notices errors faster.