Tag Archives: Proofreading

Writer, show your proof!

“Be hard on yourself and make your book the best it can be.”

BY now your book and your plan to market it should be well advanced. You’re nearly at the finish line with the formatted, beta-read manuscript that you’ve read multiple times from start to finish; your effective title and cover; all your publishing matter (such as an ISBN and barcode), and your established working relationships with the mainstream and social media into which to spread the good news about your book’s publication. It’s now time for one of the very hardest parts of the marathon: to proofread your book and ensure is passes the eagle eye of hungry readers.

Good housekeeping

What no independent publisher should try to do without is a cast-iron back up of their work somewhere external to their computer, such as a USB memory stick or a separate hard drive. Within that, ensure you always know which is the most up-to-date version of your work as you proofread it. If you’re proofreading eBook and paperback versions of the same content, you’ll need to ensure every change is made across each version. Work out what kind of system works for you, and stick to it religiously.

Copy editing

In independent publishing, beta-reading has come to replace what was once the first stage of copy-editing. After having your work read by one or more beta-readers, take the opportunity to use the feedback to rework it. Once you’ve formatted your work, and before you do your final proofreading, there is another chance to tweak your book’s plotting and content. Be hard on yourself and make your book the best it can be.

Watch the formatting

Ensure that any copy-editing does not throw out your book’s formatting. If you make cuts or a lot of additions, your paperback will end up thinner or thicker than it was and you may need to adjust the spine width of your cover design. Very often, a traditionally published book has a few blank pages at the very end. These are to allow for expansion and contraction of the content prior to publication without impacting the cover design, but check with your print on demand (POD) platform as it may have restrictions about leaving too many pages blank.

House style

Whether you complete your own copy editing or you engage someone, you’ll need to decide on a house style or style guide. There are differences in publishing style between major international publishing territories that reflect not only the spelling of those regions, but also publishing conventions. Choose one and stick to it.


There is no rule on earth that demands independent publishers follow an existing house style, but what readers will always notice is a lack of consistency in a book. Consistency suggests to readers that your choices are intentional, not mistakes. If your house style is all over the place, they’ll be unforgiving. Staying consistent between books is also important. Think about visual links between book covers and interior styles across all the books you publish in a one-year period. Let readers grow familiar with your publishing style.


It’s crunch time. If you want an excellent publication that doesn’t let you (and your readers) down, this is your chance to prove yourself a quality book publisher with a future in the industry. There really is no way to avoid this stage of the process… put friends on notice, make the kids walk the dog, lock the office door, take the phone off the hook and put every sentence through its paces.

Contracting-out the job

You may wish to engage a copy-editor and/or a proofreader to complete this stage of the work for you. Agree on the terms of the job and the cost before they embark on the task, and which house style you require them to follow. Don’t expect the work to be done swiftly if you want accuracy. As with every part of the publishing process, if you want speed, anticipate errors and an invoice that reflects your impatience.

Start at the end

After several reads of a manuscript, you’re bound to have been alert to copy errors in the first half, and blind to them in the second. On one of your error-hunting missions, work backwards through your book, starting at the last section and working your way to the first, giving fresh eyes to text that’s probably not had much focussed attention.

Mistakes on mistakes

One of the easiest stages to make proofreading mistakes is when you’re correcting errors. Get into the habit of altering the text, then reading the whole sentence again to ensure you have corrected it properly.

Avoiding litigation

As an independent publisher, it’s crucial to ensure that what you are publishing does not defame anyone. If you’re quoting a person or a source, check that you’ve been accurate. Be accurate with the portrayal of people’s identity (job titles, spelling of their names, backgrounds). If you are writing about real events, think about changing names and locations to protect the privacy of individuals, places and businesses, and include a disclaimer in your book’s front matter. Be scrupulous about this process and don’t rush it. Check every source, quote, attribution and reference. If in doubt about anything, leave it out.

Copyright clearances

If your work quotes from or includes the work of others, you’ll need to get clearance from whoever owns or manages the copyright of the material. Usually, your first port of call is the publisher of the work, who may seek clearance for your use of the material from the author. Sometimes, work is out of copyright and in the public domain, and there may not be a need to get clearance, although out-of-copyright material is often held in a collection that requires clearance for its use (for example, an art gallery that owns a copyright-free painting). Always check if clearance is required, or if there are limitations imposed on use of word and images; and always attribute a source where it is known.

Readers are your friends

“Let go of perfection and aim for consistency – imperfections will be picked up by your early readers.”

Independent publishers need to come to terms with a reality: publishing without the support of others will mean making at least a few errors in your first print run. Even whole teams of highly skilled users of the English language have been known to miss obvious inaccuracies before titles hit the printing press. Prepare for this inevitability by engaging ‘first readers’ of your work when it’s just been published – perhaps your beta readers – and ask them to give you feedback about spelling mistakes, grammatical errors, inconsistencies, etc. Your online publishing platform will allow you to make as many changes as required to the publicly available versions of your books. There’ll be a few rogue copies out there with errors… but that happens to every book publisher in the world.



For many writers, there is a willingness to hit the publish button in a rush at the last minute, but quality publishers will slow down at this penultimate moment and proofread the work properly first. Let go of perfection and aim for consistency – imperfections will be picked up by your early readers, so invite them into the process. You can see the finish line from here, just don’t trip!

An extract from Write, Regardless!

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.

Proof that you can read!

A Writer drowning in words.

I’M proofreading my first two publications right now, and I’m aiming to complete around 140,000 words in under a week.

It’s an ambitious task and thankfully I have some assistance, however, as an independent publisher (a fancy way of saying ‘self-published’, which carries a terrible stigma), this is my self-inflicted creative penance.

Cue the violins! Independent publishing is not all it’s cracked up to be!

“It’s no wonder everyone’s avoiding checking their own work – it was always a relatively crap job.”

Sure, it’s liberating when you don’t have to run decisions past anyone, but when it comes time to hit that publish button, where the quality of the finished product is concerned the buck stops with you. What’s worse it that although they pay very little for our books, quality has very high value placed on it by our readers.

If you’ve ever watched TV talent shows you know how risky stepping into the limelight can be for singers who have not been massaged into the public gaze by management and stage training. Quality comes across only when contestants have a decent amount of singing ability.

How cringeworthy is it when wobbly performers compete week after week slightly off pitch or rough on the high notes? It doesn’t mean they’re not talented, but it’s almost a relief when they get voted out, leaving the stage to more assured vocalists.

Art is a bitch that way, and writers have all the same potential to seem extremely unattractive in the public domain. No matter how schmick our book’s cover or what publicists we’re tempted to pay, we are prone to get voted off in the first paragraph.

Part of being match fit is ensuring our words are the best they can be, which means either paying for copy editing and proofreading, or doing it ourselves.

I’ve chosen the latter, because I have the skills, but this week I have wondered if this was the wisest course of action.

All writers have patterns. We use language in wildly different ways, and, despite appearances, there is no one language standard when it comes to the written word.

My particular weakness is hyphenation. If I can manage to slip-in an inappropriate or un-necessary hyphen, I will.

Yes, we have spell check and grammar guides in our word processing software, but do you know which standard of which language yours is set on, and have you ever tried to change it?

Yes, there are dictionaries, but have you ever wondered how many?

5113847621_10e4cbdb2e_bThe factual answer is nobody knows, but that doesn’t stay the judgmental hand of the average Grammar Nazi, who I imagine scanning free samples of eBooks instead of buying them, seeking out the errors as a form of bloodsport.

Language is an organic, ever-changing entity. To successfully proofread something, writers need to accept that they’ll capture the language they’re using for a brief moment before it continues its evolution.

If you decide to DIY your book’s proofreading, doing so consistently within that moment is your job, and that’s the really hard part, especially for the generations of writers who were not taught grammar at Australian primary or secondary schools from the 1970s, when it was deemed unnecessary, a directive that continues to this day.

I know several writers who claim to be unable to proofread their own output – journalists, mainly, who’ve had the luxury of sub-editors for decades.

But sub-editors are being shafted by media organisations across the English-speaking world, leaving journalists to proof our own articles.

It’s no wonder everyone’s avoiding checking their own work – it was always a relatively crap job that should be royally paid for, when at its core it’s basically clearing up the shit written by others.


I have one tip for writer-proofreaders aware of the reality that self publishing is expensive – shut the windows, put the cat out, tell your partner not to come knocking, and simply read your work so damned well it’s like the last time you’ll ever read it.

And I have one tip for writers willing to pay for proofreading – no matter how much you pay, it’ll never be perfect.

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.

Check out Michael’s book on indie publishing.