Proofreading is one of the most important things a writer can do. Submitting work with multiple errors is like going out of the house with your shirt buttoned wrong, wearing two different shoes or simply looking like a slob. Did you really think no one would notice?
Of course the content is extremely important—publishers want compelling, well written work. Content represents the bones of your creation. However, like it or not, the way a manuscript and book look definitely affects the way others judge it and you as a writer. Let’s face it. You’ve worked hard to develop and present your book or article. Why risk letting careless errors distract your reader from what you have labored so hard to create. Shouldn’t you dedicate a reasonable amount of time to paying attention to the details that help you to make a good impression?
In my opinion, now that the art of texting has spawned “creative spelling,” it is really important to make sure that pieces submitted for the net or print have been proofed. Imagine how easily that could have read “been proffed” if I hadn’t checked. Would I have seemed like a competent writer?
Believe me. They are all lurking there waiting to detract from your work: the misspelled, extra or missing letters, actual missing or extra words, sentences that go nowhere, paragraphs created in the middle of a sentence. Yep. They hope you’ll just slide by them and if you do, the person you submit your masterpiece to might also slide by the whole thing.
Beyond frequently seeing a lack of editing in self-published books and articles, just as obvious is a lack of proofing. What does it say about a book when there are spelling errors all over the back cover, or in the acknowledgement or the dedication. It practically screams, “this is a loving hands at home book.” Those are the things that often make bookstores shy away from the self-published author even though their book might be fantastic and perfect in every way. It is a perception fostered by those who rush to print without going through very necessary steps. Don’t be a sloppy author.
Spelling errors are sometimes very elusive. The eye sees what it thinks it sees. Have you ever done those tests where only the first and last letters of words are correct, but you can still read the entire paragraph or page? Your mind fills in the proper letters despite the fact that what is on the page is wrong, wrong, wrong.
You can’t trust your spell check tool to catch everything. It won’t know if you are using the wrong form of a word. As long as words are real and in its dictionary they will pass with flying colors. One of the best tools is a friend who is a great speller and also a nitpicker. Like homing missiles, they will find every inverted i and e, every e that should be an a—think how many people interchange words like then and than and vice versa, and every missing or extra letter or word. If you aren’t fortunate enough to have one of those, do ask someone else to read your work, or even enlist two friends. If all that fails, let it get cold and then read it again. It is amazing how nasty typos and misused words seem to jump off the paper, daring you to spot them.
Some authors simply don’t understand why writer’s groups, conferences, and writing teachers emphasize having a manuscript proofread and professionally edited if possible before submitting it. As it stands, with the volumes of manuscripts received every day by agents and publishers, poor formatting or obvious sloppy work habits are enough to earn an invitation to the waste basket on the way to the dumpster.
Many writers devote only a few minutes to proofreading, hoping to catch any glaring errors. But a quick and cursory reading, especially after you’ve been working long and hard, usually misses a lot. It’s better to work with a definite plan that helps you to search systematically for specific kinds of errors.
Sure, this takes a little extra time, but it is worth it in the end. If you know that you have an effective way to catch errors when the first draft of the manuscript is finished, you can worry less about editing while you are writing first drafts. This makes the entire writing process more efficient.
It is also important to try to keep editing and proofreading separate. When you are editing an early draft for content, that’s when you really must focus on developing and connecting ideas and monitoring the flow of the piece. If you find spelling or punctuation errors during that phase, by all means fix them. But plan on doing a read-through for proofreading without focusing on content. It is sometimes very hard to do both at one time because one is creative and the other is “nuts and bolts.”
Award-winning author Morgan St. James has ten published books to her credit with the latest, La Bella Mafia, a true crime book co-authored with Dennis Griffin and Bella Capo (whose story it is), due for release this year. She co-authors the Silver Sisters Mysteries series with her real-life sister, and has also written books on her own. Morgan publishes the online bi-monthly eZine Writers Tricks of the Trade and has written over 500 published articles related to writing. She frequently presents workshops and appears on author’s panels.
All of her books are available at Amazon worldwide, many other online bookstores or can be ordered at your local bookstore. www.morganstjames-author.com
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