Wednesday, 11 September 2013

The Pudding Is In The Proof (proof reading tips)

Before starting, I’d like to thank the people who’ve been incredibly generous with their help, support and advice on proof reading.

Not only have I had lists of corrections that were sent at double-quick time (meaning ‘Sweetheart’ quickly became clean and polished), but I’ve had ideas and suggestions that I’m going to take forward with me with my next publication.

Some of them I’ve seen and used before (and clearly forgotten) and others are new to me. 

Essentially, the message is the same. Proof-reading is painful, hard-work, difficult and mundane, but it’s also vital to what we do as writers.  The pudding really is in the proof – a pie with a soggy bottom really shouldn’t be served up outside of the family (thankfully, my family are the only ones I ever cook for!).

Here is a summary of the advice I was given. If it’s old-hat to you, I don’t think there’s anything lost in being reminded.

Off we go.

1.       Be patient. A book’s finished and there’s a buzz of excitement and relief. The worst thing that you can do straight after finishing is proof-read. The work is far too fresh in the mind and the eyes will play tricks – yes they will. Leave the story for at least a couple of weeks (preferably longer) and do something else in the meantime.

2.       Beta readers are extremely useful. The more pairs of eyes that read the work, the more mistakes and errors you’ll find. If you have family or friends that you can trust, use them (don’t use them for reactions to the book or for bigger editing suggestions, however, unless they have particular skills and complete detachment). If you don’t have anyone in mind, ask in a forum, offer to barter you skills for theirs. Join a writing group. Use places like You Write On for community advice. If these things aren’t possible, paying for a read might be the only option and this might be expensive even if it is money well spent.

3.       Once the book is written, upload it to Createspace or Lulu or similar and order a proof copy. Reading on paper is so much easier than on a computer screen. Use post-it notes to mark errors and changes. I saw some great photos of books full of notes what looked more like hedgehogs than anything and it gave me comfort to see I’m not the only one.

4.       Listen to the book. Use Word Talk or Kindle Speech and listen to it. Make sure you’re intending to pay attention though – no sneaky kips!

5.       Use the stand-up-and-read-aloud method. I suppose the standing up keeps you on your toes (ouch).

6.       Upload your work to your ereader and read it there. By changing the format, the new experience makes things easier.

7.       Go for a root-and-branch review. Sentence by sentence. Does each one make sense?

8.       Use spell-check properly. It’s there and it needs to be used. I find it frustrating because it picks out so many things that I wanted to be there that aren’t necessarily correct – names and speech patterns for example – so I tend to stop taking it seriously. I will next time.

9.       Explore different writing software if you want. I saw mention of one and tried to download it and failed, so I’m not going to mention it.

10.   For spellings, read the work backwards. It leaves the brain in unfamiliar territory and there’s no prediction getting in the way.

11.   Try a coloured background for your text. It may make it easier on the eye and also alter the impression. Experiment with different colours to see what works best for you.

12.   Work hard at it. This isn’t the place for short-cuts or haste. If you don’t, you might come to regret it.

I’m stopping at 12. They seem really helpful and I’m going to use the list next time without doubt.

Write well and, when it comes to proof-reading, let’s be careful out there.

I'll finish with a mention for the wonderful Thomas Pluck. He's a talent as I'm sure you know. He's also one of the good guys. If you haven't heard, he's produced a trilogy that you can get separately for kindle or in one as a paperback or kindle as the omnibus. Better still, the first book is free for you to check out and it's called Blade Of Dishonour Part One: The War Comes Home (US). It looks very interesting indeed, so I'd urge you to check it out if adventure is your thing.

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