Proofread Everything—and then Proofread Again

Proofreading is incredibly important. Not only do typos and grammatical errors in your writing make you look uneducated or just lazy, but they are also a distraction to the reader. Good authors or anyone publishing anything, whether it’s a book, pamphlet, website, or blog, need to have their work proofread, both by themselves and also by others.

As an author, I know the value of proofreading. In fact, my first book was edited very poorly, and as a result, I missed out on getting some reviews—reviewers actually told me they wouldn’t review the book because of the proofreading errors, so I hired a second editor and reissued the book. Since then, I have been extra careful with everything I have published—in book form—to make sure it is proofread.

However, I also post a blog and articles and have websites, and every now and then, I get a nasty comment from the self-appointed grammar police about an error I have made. Because I am part of the publishing and book marketing world, people forget I’m human. I’m expected to be perfect in my grammar and punctuation. Although I strive to be excellent, I know I’ll never be perfect. I don’t think an occasional error is a big deal. If I make one and someone points it out, I’ll gladly correct it. But there is no place for rudeness in pointing out a person’s mistakes, no matter what the issue. People who act like I’ve committed a major crime or I’m a complete idiot because I didn’t catch that I used “that” where I should have used “who” or worse, “who” where I should have used “whom” must lead small lives if they have nothing better to do. I am sure I am operating at 99.5 percent error free capacity, and that is better than most people.

That said, I know typos and grammatical errors are a real turn off to readers because they are to me. Any good author knows he needs an editor and a proofreader for his book, but he may still try to wing it when it comes to everything else he writes.

Do you need a proofreader for your blog, your website, your marketing pieces (brochures, posters, bookmarkers, etc.)?

Yes, I think you do. At the very least, you need to proofread them several times yourself. Let me explain why these pieces are just as important and needs just as much writing and proofreading care as your book.

We have a tendency to rank different kinds of writing. A book is at the top of the list as the most important kind of published writing. After that might come newspapers and magazines, then printed marketing pieces, websites, and finally maybe blogs.

Is a typo on a website or a blog a big deal? Are people going to quit reading your books or not buy your services because you have a typo? If you’re an author, or involved in the publishing world, they just might. I know one editing firm that had a typo on the home page of its website. If these editors couldn’t catch that mistake, do I want to trust them with my book?

Are blogs really less important than books? Are marketing pieces less important to proofread than books? I have to say firmly, “No.”

You might argue that books are special. People keep them for years and may read them more than once. They are substantial—a hundred or more pages long. People don’t pay that much attention to a brochure. They may only skim your blog and it will probably only be noticed for a few days and then get less attention once it’s replaced by newer postings.

Yes, those arguments are true, but ask yourself, “What makes a person decide to read my book?” Yes, the reader may stumble on your book in the bookstore and decide to buy it, but a lot of effort goes into marketing so that book gets noticed. Marketing pieces—including websites, blogs, and printed brochures—are your invitation, your selling point to read the book. If a person isn’t impressed with your brochure or your blog, then he or she isn’t going to be impressed with your book.

I knew one self-published author who had to be dyslexic the way he writes. Fortunately, he was smart enough to find a good editor who polished up his book so it read well and was error free. The book was sent to the layout person and the proofs sent back to the author, who then decided to read through the proofs and make some changes—without consulting his editor. This author was an intelligent man with good ideas and good content in his book, but he wasn’t a good writer, and unfortunately, he didn’t realize just how bad of a writer he was. The layout person was no expert in grammar and punctuation, so she made the changes the author suggested and sent the book to the printer. The end result, several typos and errors that could have been avoided.

This same author then started up his own blog. I can’t imagine that blog is helping him sell many books because when I’ve looked at it, I’ve seen numerous errors, even in the blog titles. This author should never let a word of his be made public without someone qualified reading his work first. I know a lot of people are going to say they can’t afford to have their blogs proofread, but the question really becomes, can you afford not to if your blog is going to make you look incompetent and dissuade people from reading your books?

Now, not everyone is a bad writer. Most authors are good writers who have spent years writing and consulting the dictionary and grammar books to make sure they don’t make mistakes. Even in these cases, it doesn’t hurt to have someone else read your blog or website copy before you post it. You may become confident in your writing after you ask someone to read something you’ve written a few times and they tell you it’s fine.

You might also want to hire someone short-term to edit or proofread for you. But stay proactive in the process. Don’t just accept their changes and post them. Look at what they mark and learn from their corrections so you don’t continue to make the same mistakes. Then you’ll become a better proofreader yourself. If money is an issue, find another author who also is blogging or also needs a little help and offer to read each other’s blogs before they are posted so you can help one another out.

The old saying, “If a thing is worth doing, it’s worth doing well” is absolutely true when it comes to the written word, whether it’s blogging or publishing a book.

Proofreading Tips

If you can’t find someone reliable or can’t afford to have someone else read your blog or other writings, here are a few tips:

  1. Read through the piece twice silently to look for and correct any errors.
  2. Now go back and read it out loud.
  3. If you find an error, such as a misspelled word, do a search and replace for that word just to make sure you don’t miss it again somewhere else.
  4. Run the spell and grammar check. (Most word processing programs have crazy grammar check programs that are wrong more often than they are right, so I am also very cautious about taking their advice, but I still run the grammar check because now and then it does pick up a real error).
  5. Try reading backwards. Start with the last sentence and then read the sentences backwards, or if that’s too difficult, read your last paragraph and work your way up to your first paragraph.

You don’t have to be perfect, but you can be careful and conscientious with your writing. If the self-appointed grammar police are pointing out typos to you regularly, you probably need to pay more attention or find a proofreader. If it happens rarely, then don’t worry about the occasional error. Thank the person for pointing it out, fix it, and go on to your next piece of writing. A typo is not a crime. But failing to proofread in the first place is definitely a misdemeanor.

Irene Watson is the Managing Editor of Reader Views, where avid readers can find reviews of recently published books as well as read interviews with authors. Her team also provides author publicity and a variety of other services specific to writing and publishing books.

Comments

  1. says

    Shelfstealers has four levels of proofreading: 2 in-house, and 2 freelancers. Should mean that no errors remain, right?

    Not, unfortunately. Some errors still sneak through, even though our proofreaders follow every step you mention.

    Fortunately, not many sneak through, but when they do, we cringe.

    Some people say that errors are relatively new, and largely in self-published works, although they say they’re more frequent than before even in traditionally published works. I’m not so sure.

    I was reading Robertson Davies’ WHAT’S BRED IN THE BONE (published in 1985) a few weeks ago, and found a number of errors. Not many, but more than one.

    Would that the computer programs could do a better job than humans, but not yet. Anyone up for programming software that could really do the job? We’ll wait.