Saturday, 31 August 2013

Proof Reading Hell

I’ve had a good week or two as a writer, or at least that’s the case on the surface.

My new romantic comedy is out there alive and kicking. I had a promotion that was relatively successful and people seem to like the book.  I should be walking on clouds.

Should be.

Instead, I’m walking under them.  And it’s raining. And I’m soaked through to the bone and I’m cold and miserable and so agitated that I can’t rest.

How can this be?

It’s because of 3 things, really.

1.       I’m a very poor and rather dyslexic proof-reader.

2.       I know (1) and yet I repeat the mistake over and over, which is really foolish.

3.       I seem to feel uneasy about asking for help, even when it’s been offered.

The first I was aware of it this time around was in the review that was posted by Elaine G on Wednesday morning. It was a lovely review, too, until it got to the mention of the errors that spoiled the read.

I couldn’t believe it when I saw it. I’d checked the book as thoroughly as I’ve ever checked anything before – doubly so, in fact.  More on that in a moment.

There was only one thing for it. To get in there and read the piece again.  The saving grace, possibly the only one, is that it’s no War And Peace.

I couldn’t believe what I found. It was like a blanked had been lifted from the text and I could finally see what was really there.

40+ errors, I kid you not, from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Of course, I uploaded the new file as soon as it was corrected – another couple of days of hard work spent in an area that should have been done-and-dusted. The thing is, I know it’s too late in some ways. The relative success of the promo is also now the book’s Achilles heel – 6000+ copies of a sub-standard book have gone out. In the process, I’ve let my readers down, myself down, the book down and the indie-publishing community down. It’s really awful.

That’s something I’m going to have to deal with – the what-ifs and so on. And, given time, I probably will. For now it’s a little too raw and upsetting.

This isn’t about aiming for sympathy, or at least I don’t think it is. And I have to write it and put it out otherwise I won’t be able to rest. I need to apologise and so, I’m sorry. Once this is posted, I may rest easier.

The main thing here is a request for ideas and tips so that I don’t do it the next time.

I’ll take a step back for a moment and consider the help I’ve had post-publication in the past. Ignite and Nicola Rain Jordan have quietly supported me and sent me lists of mistakes out of pure kindness and I really am indebted to them. What that should have done, did even, was alert me to my weaknesses.

I do have a form of dyslexia. It’s visual by nature – scanning and visual memory in particular – and it means I read more like a cart horse in a field rather than a thoroughbred at Ascot. It does often allow me to proof the work of others fairly well in the sense that I need to re-read sentences over again if they don’t make sense. My issues don’t relate to phonological awareness – rhyme, blending, phonics etc as a reader (I’ll not touch on spelling for now) and this means that I’m able to support pupils with literacy difficulties without issue. In fact, in my role as support for learning teacher, I feel it gives me a slight advantage as I’m driven by the passion of the afflicted.

What I’d say to a dyslexic pupil is that they must try that little bit harder. They must seek help when they need it. They must employ a few extra strategies to supporting themselves in their work.

I would have listened to some of that advice.

This time around, I read the book 4 times.

It’s possible that one of the times was wasted due to some kind of issue of me reverting to an old document.

Even so, I did the fine-tooth comb thing.

Clearly, some of the teeth were missing.

I read it straight.

I read it with a coloured background.

I read chapters one at a time and out of sequence.

I read with the font so big on one occasion that there were only a couple of sentences on the screen at any one time.

And I still messed it up.

And I didn’t ask for help.

I could have sent it to one of my publishers and had some of their expertise on side. Untreed Reads would have taken it, I think, but I’d have been impatient with their pace (a sensible one) and actually quite like the control I have as an indie. I will use them as a distributor in the future for this one.

I could have sent it to Blasted Heath. As a top-notch crime/noir outfit in the main, they would have been right to laugh in a non-ironic way at the submission. Much as I love them, they weren’t the right place.

So what should I have done?

What can I do next time that’s different?

What are the best proof-reading tips you have?


Looking at this, Elaine did me a big kindness in her review and focussed on the positives. I’m very grateful for that.

And I’ve had a lovely offer from Kew to pass on the mistakes spotted so that I can make any more changes.

I believe the version now available is clean, but I’d like some extra confidence in that which must come from somewhere else.

If you’ve stuck with this to the end, thanks for hanging in. If you’ve got ideas, please pass them on – I don’t think I could go through this process again without some kind of new angle of approach at the proof-reading stage.

With thanks.


  1. Hey nigel. Man you knoe how I feel about your writing. It touches places in my heart. You also know how I feel about editing. We all hate it but we also know that it's the most necessary of evils. Best advice I have is: do not trust spellcheck -- but use it. If you have the capability also use the edit for content and grammer arm of that application. Just remember, when you hit that button, to actually look at each and every blue highlight and the suggestion list. Like I said, it takes skull sweat and paitience to figure out what the damn thing means everytime you use it. Part of the price, mate. Pain in the ass that those two applications are, they draw your attention for a reason.

  2. Bang on AJ. Thanks for the words. Patience and hard work and use of resources seem to be pretty damned important. I'm learning stil.

  3. I'd suggest having a couple of readers. Friends you can trust who are pretty good about spotting errors. Even if you don't have dyslexia, it's easy to miss that stuff. Especially, I think, after you've read it a couple times. That's where other eyes come in. Or maybe even finding someone you can pay for that sort of editing without costing you an arm and a leg. I understand where you are coming from though; with Hoods, Hot Rods, and Hellcats, I read over that damn thing until I was sick of every single story. After, I had the print text formatted correctly, I was going to load the damned thing and realized I had forgotten to check the cover. Right there on the back, I misspelled a word.

  4. Chad, thanks. There's always something! Glad you spotted the cover thing before you put it up - I've done that before, too. Good luck with it, btw.