Self-editing. Gah! Just those two words being in the same sentence can freak people out. I can hear some of you now. “Don’t do it!” “Are you crazy?” “These self-published authors think they can do anything!” (Well, yes, we can do anything, because there is no one to stop us. Are you jealous? Don’t worry, your Big 6 editorial team can miss errors too. I’ve seen it. So have you. You just don’t have the opportunity to fix the problem. I do, which means I have a level of responsibility that you don’t. Just breathe a second, okay?)
At some point before you release a book or publish a blog post, you need to edit it. Yes, even if you pay an editor, (Please see the companion post, published before this one, on Selecting The Right Editor.) you still need to review it. I know that sounds ridiculous, and it sort of is, but you would be amazed at the number of editors I have hired that made layman mistakes. (Lamppost is one word.) Also, some editors use comma guns, which makes me crazy! Too many commas can change the power, or even the meaning, of a sentence. It is not acceptable for an editor to do anything that alters the strength of your work.
Now, I know this makes you wonder if you should hire an editor in the first place. I’ll spare you the commentary about that. However, if you do not understand the difference between a well-structured sentence and a run on sentence, you definitely need an editor. I’m betting you’ve heard the rest a million times already. So, let’s move on.
Once you have decided not to hire an editor, have hired Lit majors, or have found a bonafide editor and gotten your book back, it is time for you to review your document. Yep! Remember how I said that as an Indie, you could do anything that you want? That means you are responsible for the end product, even the parts that involve work for hire.
Here are my tips for reviewing your own work from a proofreading standpoint. They are not foolproof, but then again, what is? Keep in mind that your ability to review work is only as good as your skills. I can’t stress enough how important it is to understand the basics. If you don’t know what the most common grammar errors are, you are likely to make them. I highly recommend reading Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips For Better Writing. Also, check out the free grammar lessons and quizzes at English Grammar 101. While no one is perfect, the more armed you come in to battle, the greater your chances for success.
- Step away from the project!
Clear your head. Forget everything you can about the project so you come in with a fresh mind. This is not only good for finding typos, but also for finding holes in your story. The less you remember about your project when you begin to review it, the better.
- Do a key problem search.
Take a look at my Self-Editing Checklist for guidance on how to search for common, pesky errors—like though vs. through, further vs. farther, and you and me vs. you and I. It is time consuming, but boy is it worth it!
- Two birds, one stone. (Do these simultaneously, and do them at least twice.)
Bird One: Switch formats. Seeing a document in Word looks different than seeing it in Scrivener. Seeing in on paper is an even greater contrast. The change in format helps your brain see the project as being something new, which keeps you from glossing over the errors that have existed since you first started writing.
Bird Two: Hear the text. Do not read it aloud yourself! You know how once you look at something for a long time you read it as you think you wrote it and not as you actually did? Hearing the text helps you catch those errors. If you read it aloud yourself, you will recreate those errors audibly. Instead, make your computer do the work. Listen while reading along. This is a great way to find the pesky stuff, like transposed words, repetitive word use, or accidently using though instead of through. It is also ridiculously easy.
If you are a Mac user, select some text (about a paragraph at a time is good) and click Opt + Esc. Resist the urge to have the computer speak quickly. Using medium speed is slow enough for your brain to register that you heard and error. If the computer reads to quickly, your brain may not process the error. (You can adjust the speed in the Preferences.)
Use this method at least twice. If you are like me, when you hear the story aloud you will want to make some changes to sentence structure, because this method makes those errors clearer as well. Repeat this method until you no longer find errors.
- Have someone else read it.
Now that all is said and done, hand it over to someone for a final pass. Even if you do not know any super geniuses, have someone read it with a fresh set of eyes. He may not know the difference between lay and lie, but at least he can make sure you didn’t miss anything obvious. After all, one last pass can’t hurt, right? You might be surprised by what is discovered.
Then again, at some point you have to see that beating a dead horse is just plain cruelty.