Proof reading


proofreading marks graphicI used to work for a small publishing firm that handled a range of non-fiction books; mostly new age stuff and music almanacs and self-help tomes. For months, there had been this music anthology moving between design desks. It was being worked and reworked and tweaked and prodded and poked by pretty much anyone who had anything to say about it.

I was handling the cover art mostly (including the back cover and flaps). The design mandated that the top ten popular musical artists of the past one hundred years or so were represented. Which meant Elvis, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Michael Jackson, Aretha Franklin, etc.

Of course, it wasn't everyone's top ten. As ever, contemporary flash-in-the-pan/one-hit-wonder popularity figured highly, and even then it seemed likely that some of the included personalities were, before the decade ended, likely to fall from the public balcony and disappear forever. But a selection was made, and the cover was designed and adulterated to death and duly signed off, and the advance copies of the book arrived a few weeks later.

Jimi Hendricks was on the cover. He'd ousted Elvis for the prime position, and was right in the centre twanging a Gibson Flying V or something. But not Jimi Hendrix, note, but Jimi Hendricks.

Whoever that is.

No less than eleven good and reasonably literate people proof read that cover. Eleven people that included five or six designers, the book editor, the account director, the assistant account director, a couple of secretaries, whoever else happened to be milling around and, of course, the proof reader himself.

But no one spotted the fact that James Marshall Hendrix had his name spelled wrong. No one spotted any of the other dozen or so errors that appeared as if by magic elsewhere in the book. Those 60,000 wordsplus 178 full colour pageswent through a very sophisticated publishing system and rolled off a two million pound Heidelberg press with a gaping error smack bang in the middle of the cover.

It could have been worse, perhaps.

It might have been John Lenin.


Typographical errors

The point is, typographical errors in manuscripts are like weeds; they just keep popping up. You can't stop them. It's impossible. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't try.

Why? Because literary agents and submissions editors loathe spelling mistakes and typos, and it can and doesmake the difference between acceptance and rejection.

You might get away with one or twoor even tenif the manuscript is very good. But make no mistake that every error on your submission will count against you, and sooner or later the axe will fall and your 3 sample chapters (plus synopsis) will be on its way home.


So what can you do about it?

If you ever discover a sure-fire, foolproof method of presenting a manuscript without typos, let me know. The best you can do is spell check rigorously and then have as many people as possible read your manuscript or sample chapters before you post it off. Try offering them one pound (or one dollar) for every error they discover. That should motivate you both. And it could be worth it.

Another trick is to change the font on your second read of the sample chapters. For instance, if you're using a Times New Roman font, make a back-up copy and convert it to Helvetica or Courier. The reason for this is that familiarity blinds, and the more familiar you are with your document, the more likely you are to ignore an error; the irony being that the harder you check, the more inaccurate you are.

Next, try increasing the point size of the font on the back-up document. Same principles apply. What you're trying to do is give your eye a fresh view. Increasing the point size will shift words around the paragraph.

Best of all, leave as much time as possible between your final checkand your final, final check. And then spell check one last time.

When working on this site, I'm amazed at how many errors have crept in. I'm not sure that I'm significantly more useless than anyone else. But my literary garden sprouts fresh weeds on an almost daily basis (and if you spot any, please feel free to tip me the winkbut I'm not going to send you a pound or a dollar for your trouble).


But doesn't the publishing industry employ
proof readers?

Yes it does. And a good proof reading is a skill in itself, as opposed to a knack. I've known proof readers without an obvious ounce of creativity anywhere on their body. Some, if not most, of them have been terminally dull and uninspiring. But throw a newspaper on their desks and they'll instinctively reach for the red pen and will begin highlighting all the errors that some other proof reader missed. They can't help it. It's a genetic thing.

If you can get a professional proof reader to check your manuscript, then do so.

But beware. Many of the proof readers who advertise their services on the www simply aren't good enough (and some would argue that many of the professional editors aren't so bloody hot either, and they'd be right).

Otherwise, just do the very best you can. With luck, the literary agent who's just rejected your latest manuscript will set you straight here and there, which will improve your next submission. If they do, be grateful and make corrections before sending your sample chapters off anywhere else.



Mr Edit YouTube videos


Meanwhile, here are some of my You Tube videos that might be of interest to you. Hope you enjoy them.

You Tube video for writers and authors


Mr Edit. Let's talk about dialogue




You Tube literary agent video help


Mr Edit. Pitching fiction to a literary agent.




You Tube video - how to write fiction


Mr Edit. 5 Minute Fiction Fix.




You Tube video for authors and novelists


Mr Edit. Let's talk about tautology.





Links for writers


Preditors & Editors. Here's where you can check out the credentials of literary agents and publishers. A must for any writer.


Creative Helps. Helpful resource for the creative community. Articles, links and tips.


Nick Daws' Writing Blog. Lots of useful posts on all aspects of writing, both for print and online, plus a guest post for anyone who wants to make a contribution. Check it out.






Creative writing





Special features


Darley Anderson, literary agent

Darley Anderson, top UK literary agent, on books,
publishing and success

Zo Sharp, thriller writer

Zo Sharp, creator of the

action-packed Charlie Fox series of books

Jeff Kleinman, literary agent

Jeff Kleinman, New York literary agent, talks shop

Creme de la Crime logo

Crme de la Crime:

An interview with

Lynne Patrick,

publisher and managing editor of a smallerbut


publishing house.

Proof reading tips

Tip 1

Get yourself a piece of stiff white card, buy a scalpel or other suitable cutting knife, and make a slot just wide enough and long enough to accommodate a single sentence of your novel. Use that on the final read. It will mask the rest of the page which, whether you're conscious of it or not, will always be a distraction. If you can't do this, at least use a strip of white card to blank off the sentence beneath the one you're working on.


Tip 2

Read backward. Start at the last word on your novel (or at least sample chapters) and crank your cart all the way to the beginning. Yes, it's tedious as TV. But it can work well.


Tip 3

Use grammar checking software - but don't rely on it. Grammar checkers haven't much sense of creativity and will warn you of sentences that are wrong, and yet so very, very right.


Tip 4

Note your weaknesses on a sheet of paper and check globally for them. For instance, I'm in the habit of writing the word "new" when I mean "knew" - and I'm by no means knew to the business.


Keep this list close and sensitize yourself to your weaknesses. You'll never get them all, because new ones will always crop up.

Check globally for botched plurals such as: There were many car's in the street. The apostrophe in that sentence isn't needed - and this is another persistent weakness of mine.


Tip 5

Learn to proof read as you read books or newspapers or billboards. You don't want to get too heavy about this, especially when reading fiction (which, come to think of it, probably includes newspapers and billboards) because it will spoil your enjoyment. Just try and keep an eye open for typos wherever you happen to be. It all increases your writing muscle, and anything that does that is probably a good thing.


Tip 6

At the very least, never send off a submission without at least checking the name and address details of the literary agent or submissions editor. Get it accurate right down to the postcode. Attention to detail shows that you care about the written word. And it will help elevate you above everyone else who can't be bothered to do these relatively simple things.


Tip 7

If you're sending stuff overseas, such as to US agents and publishers, you might briefly mention that you're using English spelling (or US spelling if you're Stateside sending to the UK). It's a small courtesy and can't do you any harm.




















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