Proofreading: Choosing a Better Word

During the final proofreading of a novel, a writer can be tempted to change a word, deciding another word is better. I try not to cave to the temptation at this stage, but sometimes I just can’t help myself.

One thing I’ve learned while proofreading is that I need to be very careful during the final reading. It’s easy to introduce a typo, but worse, what if the new word doesn’t fit with the surrounding text?

How to I test this?

First, I replace the word. Then I read the entire scene to determine if it sounds right in the whole context. I often find that I’ve chosen a word already written in a paragraph before or after the one I’ve just altered.

The word change might sound better or it might not, but without testing the scene I wouldn’t know.  To make the process faster, I could search for the word, to find out if it’s anywhere near, but I still think it’s worth reading the scene to make sure the change makes the story better.

Are there things you look out for in the final proofing?

Thanks for reading . . .


Can a Ruler Help You Proofread?

I’m fascinated by how difficult it is to proofread my work. Why can’t my eye see if on the page instead of reading of – that’s not really there?

What does a ruler have to do with proofreading? Let’s call it the new tool in my toolbox.

When I think my work is ready to send to my agent, I print the final copy and read it, line by line, very slowly.

I place the ruler underneath each line as I read it. This forces my eye not to stray forward to the next line. The ruler stays in place until I’ve read every word.

Out of 80,000 words, I found five typos. They were:

–       a missing quote

–       a missing word (had)

–       a missing period at the end of a sentence

–       you’re instead of your

–       color instead of colour

I don’t think I would have found the mistakes without the ruler. This may seem like a lot of work for just 5 errors, but I believe in sending my best work out. If I don’t take is seriously, why would anyone else?

Do you have any proofreading tips you’d like to share?

Thanks for reading . . .

Copyediting – Proofreading Comments Summary (Part Two)

 So we continue with copyediting and proofreading comments . . .

After my five-part blog on copyediting and proofreading, I collected the comments from this blog and from the LinkedIn writing group called Crime Fiction managed by Theresa de Valence.

Today I’ll focus on Having Others Proofread Your Work:

I received some interesting ideas about having others proofread your work and have grouped the comments below. Some comments gave a similar message so I picked one of them to post. I hope you find these helpful.

  • I threw a party…after my manuscript had been proofread by a pro (and she was good). I invited five well-read, literate friends and gave them each five page stacks of non-chronological parts of the manuscript. They were to read them over, mark what was wrong, tag those pages with coloured stickers and then trade with someone across the table. I reassembled the manuscript and made the CX where needed. It’s a constant process as you know. Not perfect, but darn close . . . I was in the room because . . . when my readers had questions about dialect or some military or nautical term I could answer them immediately. They read silently for the most part . . . unless they had questions. Having the pages out of context made for closer scrutiny . . . helping eliminate the usual tendency to mentally fill in words automatically . . . which the writer may do when reading one’s own book. . BTW, the manuscript was 102,000 words and having five readers meant it was accomplished in about four hours. I had a thank you card and gift for each reader when we were done. They liked the chore so much they volunteered to do it with future books . . . and I’m going to take them up on it.


  • If you can, have two of your most obsessive compulsive friends or relatives read the galley. They’ll work hard to find the little mistakes, the kinds that editors miss. However, in the end, don’t beat yourself up over every error; we are human. 


  • As a newspaper reporter, I knew many editors, but only a handful as meticulous as needed for a book manuscript. When I receive galleys, I ask two really good editors to read copies. Each of the three of us has her own copy. It is amazing to see how many errors each of us find, mistakes not duplicated by the other readers. And this is after the books have been through editors at the publishing house. Wow! For the first several books I used editor friends whose work I knew. I took them to dinner or some other entertainment as compensation. In all, five different editor friends have read for me. Now, I write them checks, which are never enough for what they contribute. They fuss, but will cash the checks. They get a kick out of reading the first print-outs, even boast about doing it. Others have volunteered, but I need pros. It works for me.


  • Genre is extremely important. You have to know the
genre to be able to tell the timing, rhythm, wording and nuances of the
story. Each one has its own blood pressure and heartbeat. Editors are
inclined to pick out things that they say are wrong, and may actually take 
away from the story than they put in. They tend to be superior in demeanour. 
example, an editor might tell me that the language in EINAR is too formal, 
they do not know Scandinavian speech patterns. I speak Norwegian, Danish,
Swedish , as well as English, German and Dutch to varying degrees and know the
rhythm of all the languages. It also helps in research. It is their opinion
unless they are on the payroll of one of the major publishers. In that case you
kind of have to do what they say for the most part if you can’t prove your


  • Be careful who you go with as an editor. Be absolutely sure that they are well versed in your specific genre. If you write horror, do not settle for a fantasy editor, it is not the same thing. Always look for personal compatibility. It is your baby that you are entrusting them with, not some mangy red boned mutt from the pound.


  • Trade with someone – you proof theirs & they proof yours. Errors tend to get less detectable with repeated readings, until they look more “normal” than more “correct” usages. And that script reading by your characters is probably a good idea for reasons way beyond proofing – might want to do it while you’re doing drafts as well, to try out alternative sequences. An audience helps, although they’ll get testy after a while, no matter how good the writing is.

Thanks for reading and thanks for the comments . . .

Copyediting – Proofreading Process (Part Two)

Today’s blog focuses on a list you can create to help you copyedit.

Creating a list is part of my process when reading another author’s manuscript. I use the list for my work too, but if you’ve edited your own writing, you’ll know how hard it is to find your mistakes.

Before I start – thank you to the people who pointed out the difference between proofreading and copyediting. Their definitions are in the comments of Proofreading (Part One). Also, thanks to everyone else for their comments. I had fun reading them all.

Monday’s blog took us part way through the second reading of a manuscript, but there’s still work to do on this pass.

While reading the manuscript for the second time, I create a list that includes:

  • Words with hyphens or words I think should have a hyphen.

While writing a novel, it’s easy for an author to forget which format they used for a word. It’s better to keep word formats consistent, which can be difficult, especially when the dictionary offers a choice or two dictionaries disagree with each other.

  • Words that are easy to type incorrectly, but the spell checker won’t find the error. There are many, so here are a few examples:








This list grows with each new manuscript I read. Heard/herd came from the manuscript I’m currently editing.

  • Words that are spelt differently in Canadian or American spelling. This is hard to catch because some spell checkers allow both forms.  A difficult situation occurs if the author uses a Canadian spelling for one word and American for another.  For example:

My pyjamas are the color of green olives. Pyjamas is in Canadian spelling. Color is in American.

Search for words that can be spelt with ‘ou’ or ‘o’ and words where a consonant may or may not be doubled, such as:



  • Words that can be spelt (spelled in the USA) two ways.



Both are correct, but again consistency is important.

But what do you do with this list?

Even if you have read the manuscript in printed form, this is the point where a computer can help you eliminate errors.

In whatever word processing program you use, turn tracking on. Search the manuscript for each word in the list you’ve created during your second reading and make the appropriate changes. The author can decide to accept or reject the changes when he/she reads the suggested corrections.

Call me crazy, but I thought I was going to finish this subject in two blogs. We’re still not on to the third reading, but we’re getting there.  My next post on copyediting will be on Monday.

If you have any tips to share, I’d love to add them to my process.

Thanks for reading . . .

Proofreading Process (Part One)

I estimate it takes 40 hours to seriously proofread an 80,000 word novel. It’s a daunting task, so here are some tips to get you through it.

At least this is the process that works for me.

1) PASS ONE: Read entire novel or short story before proofreading.

Why is this step important? I find if I don’t allow myself time to read, especially if it’s a good story, I don’t concentrate on proofreading, and I get engaged in the story.

I allow myself to jot quick comments as I read, but try not to do too much at this stage. Once I’ve done this, I can concentrate on the detailed proofreading.

2) PASS TWO: Check Basic Formatting:

Before checking for formatting, I get the document into a format that works for me. I:

  • Zoom in on the document. I go to the largest size my screen can take. This enables me to see each mark on the page.
  • Turn paragraph marking on. This allows me to see paragraph breaks and extra spaces.
  • Go into review mode and turn on track changes.
  • I’m heavy on the comments. When I make a change, if it’s not obvious why, I tell the author by using the comment function.

Things I check and correct (make consistent) during PASS TWO:

  • Are all chapter headings formatted the same?
  • Are the headers and footers formatted the same?
  • Do the same number of lines appear before and after each heading?
  • Is each chapter heading in same font and size?
  • Are italics consistently used?
  • Are paragraph indents formatted the same?
  • Does the first paragraph of each section or chapter have 0 indents, while the rest are consistent?
  • Are there any double or triple spaces between words?
  • Are there any double spaces after a period?
  • Are times formatted the same – am, a.m. AM?
  • Is the spacing between ellipses consistent (. . . and not …)?

I check these things because I think it gives the manuscript a professional feel. It shows the author took the time to check the details, even the ones that are boring to check.

I don’t like to write long blogs, so I’ll publish part two of The Proofreading Process on Thursday.  So yup, you guessed it. There is a pass three.

I hope this helps your proofreading. 🙂

Step Away From Your Novel


How many times have you heard or read that when you finish your first draft, and I mean a serious draft, that you should put your novel in a drawer for a couple of weeks?

I never understood this until recently. I had three readers commenting on my updated version of The Final Gate.  While they were commenting, I decided to start work on my fourth novel, and leave The Final Gate alone.

Now that I am reviewing their comments and doing the final proofread, I finally get the importance of the advice.

I can see things I hadn’t seen before. Maybe it’s a passage of text that is too earnest, or maybe it’s narrative describing something I’ve already described. Without taking a break, I couldn’t see these things.

Even thought it’s hard to leave something alone that you are passionate about, I am now a believer in “Step Away From Your Novel.”

How Do You Proofread?

#writetip Proofreading takes intense concentration. Do you have method you’d like to share?

I’m talking about the final proof, after all your readers have given you feedback, you’re not going to make any story changes, and are about to send your manuscript to your agent or publisher.

It takes me about an hour to proof 5 double spaced pages. That may seem slow, but I think worth the effort.

First, I look at each character in a line, then the sentence, then the paragraph, then the page, and finally the scene.

This is where I check every punctuation mark, check for their/there swaps, and grammar errors. For example, I force my eye to look for a period at the end of every sentence.

The only editing I do at this phase it to ask whether I need every word.

If I start to skim, I take a break, let my mind relax and get back to it.

What is your process?