Self-publishing skills: Proofreading

Welcome to the fifth in this series of blog posts all about self-publishing. Do make sure you follow the blog to get all the latest updates direct to your inbox.

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“I need a proofreader!” cries the self-publishing author.

Very often, however, the term “proofreading” gets mixed up with “editing”. See an earlier blog post about the differences here.

Proofreading has to be done after the editing, the design and the typesetting. Why? Because it will pick up on all those things that have been overlooked at the typesetting stage.

Perhaps a misspelt word or inconsistently capitalised phrase has made it through the editing stage. Maybe your page numbering went wrong at page 36 and you haven’t noticed. Or, as I frequently see when I’m proofreading, paragraph indents have been missed.

Other things to pay particular attention to include:

  • Page numbers
  • Chapter titles (including the correct and consistency capitalisation)
  • The height of dropped capitals
  • Direction of apostrophes (see this post)
  • Correct use of italics and bold

Traditionally, proofreading took place on physical book proofs and the proofreader would use a series of specially designed marks and notations. In the more digital age, however, working on physical proofs is rare and proofreading will typically take place on PDF copies of your book.

Your proofreader may continue to use these standardised symbols or they may simply use the comments features of the PDF software. Make sure you discuss this with your proofreader. If you have a copy of the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook (which you should, by the way!) then you’ll find a copy of these marks in there.

Oh, yes, you will definitely need someone else for the actual proofreading. If you’ve done everything else to your book, this is the very last opportunity you will have to ensure that your book is as error free as possible.

The first law of proofreading: Have your document or book proofread by a person who had absolutely nothing to do with its creation.

The skill, for the self-publishing author, is not in the proofreading but in the understanding of the proofreader’s markings and making the appropriate changes.

Now is not the time for major plot changes. Now is not the time to decide that chapter six works best as chapter eighteen! If you do discover that this really is necessary, then it’ll be time to go back to editing. Proofreading is all about the little details. It’s about ensuring that your book appears as professional as possible.

And don’t forget, proofreading includes all the book’s pages. That includes the copyright page, the contents page and the covers. How embarrassing would it be to see your name spelt wrong after you hit publish?

When your proofreader returns your manuscript, review it carefully and make any changes you need to with equal care. Why? Chances are, that it will not be seeing another editorial professional before you release your book into the wild. If you proofreader suggests you insert a comma, make sure that you only insert a comma and not a space too.

Just a note on non-fiction books. This is also the chance to check indexes, references, bibliographies and the like so make sure you include all that matter for the proofreader to check too.

So, that’s it. Your writing has gone from an idea in your head to a well edited, designed and laid out book. It’s been proofread and you’ve made all the appropriate corrections.

Now comes the hardest part of all … Selling your book!

Proofread by Rupert Ramsgate

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Published by Nick Taylor | Editor & Proofreader

Fiction editor and proofreader.

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