Proofread Those Errors Away!
Congratulations, Swooners! You’ve just finished NaNoWriMo! Give yourself a pat on the back!
Okay, celebration’s over. Now roll up your sleeves, grab an extra-large cup of coffee, and get back to work—it’s time to proofread! Since you’ve just written a large volume of content in a short amount of time, there are probably a lot of errors throughout your manuscript.
I know, I know. Why should you bother with the tedious, super not-fun task of proofreading if your manuscript will just be copyedited anyway?
It’s true that if your manuscript is acquired, it will go through rounds of professional copyediting and proofreading; however, Swoon Reads is a unique platform because your manuscript goes directly to the reader.
If a story has a lot of errors it can be distracting and annoying for the reader. A cleaner manuscript means a cleaner read for your audience. And on Swoon, you want your readers left with the best possible impression of your manuscript.
I talked to Lisa McClendon, a former board member of the American Copy Editors Society and a lecturer at the University of Kansas, and she says that too many errors distract readers from the content of the story. “If mistakes are noticeable, it means readers are paying attention to them and not to your story,” Lisa says. “Every mistake is like a pothole on a street, and if a street has enough potholes, people won't use it.”
A clean manuscript is important because it not only keeps your reader engaged, but it shows the editors at Swoon Reads that you care about your project. One Swoon staffer I talked to skims at least eight Swoon manuscripts a month. “An error-riddled manuscript immediately sends up red flags in my head,” she says. “If the author doesn’t bother to proofread, maybe they won’t be willing to put work into revising.”
Proofreading your manuscript gives you a better chance of being noticed, and therefore being published! How could you not want to go through all of that work? Oh, right, because it’s a lot of work.
I know that the thought of proofreading the 200+ pages in front of you is daunting, but that’s why I’m here! Here are some tips before you start:
Take a break from your manuscript before proofreading it. You want a fresh set of eyes on your work. It can be difficult to proofread something you just wrote. I would wait at least a few days before going back and reviewing your work, or work on another project. Anything that will help you clear your head of your work so you can look at it from a technical perspective.
Do small increments at a time. Try working on smaller chunks, like three to four chapters, at a time. Take a short break between to clear your head and keep you alert.
Review your work in multiple passes. Note that proofreading and copyediting is different from line editing your work. Proofreading is re-reading your work to detect errors. ("Darn it—I used the wrong form of 'too' again!") Line editing is looking at the content of your work. (“I should probably just cut this scene.”) You don’t want to overwhelm yourself with tackling everything in one pass. Lisa recommends doing the big-picture edits first, and then going back for a detail edit, paying attention to grammar, usage, punctuation, etc., with a final proofread for spelling, typos, style, and so on.
Keep calm. Just the act of re-reading what you’ve already written will help fix many of the blatant errors that appear in manuscripts (missing words, misspelled words, awkward phrases). Even if grammar isn’t your thing, you’ll still fix many embarrassing typos.
Take the time to read through your manuscript out loud—even if it’s just at a whisper. Read it to yourself, or anyone who is willing to listen. (Even your dog will do!)
Make a style sheet. It’s helpful to list characters, places, and other information to keep it consistent throughout your work and to catch misspellings. It will help you remember how to spell your main character’s brother’s best friend’s arch nemesis’ name without flipping back and forth between pages.
Refer to the Chicago Manual of Style and the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Confused about proper grammar or spelling? Our house style (and many publishers’ house styles) is the Chicago Manual of Style (or CMS) style. And we refer to the Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary for spelling.
How do you tackle edits, Swooners? What are your best editing tips?