Call the Typo Police!

Last week I was helping an author friend of mine with some final proofreading of the galley proofs her publisher had sent – she sent me and other friends approx. 50 pages each to do a final typo check and, to her dismay, everyone still found some. The manuscript had been through so many rounds of revision, editing and proofreading that it seemed incredible that there were still minor typos to be found – but, as any author will tell you, those little buggers manage to elude even the most eagle eyed amongst us…

This got me thinking about my own proofreading process (or, to be honest, the lack thereof!). Obviously, I use spell check and have beta readers (although they are mainly there for content feedback) and I do as many careful run-throughs of the manuscript that I can before I email it off to my agent. Then, whatever revisions are needed are completed and another proofreading occurs before the manuscript is (hopefully) ready to go off to publishers. If you go the traditional route, publishers also have line editors who are the last line of ‘typo defense’ and usually the process results in a relatively clean manuscript…although inevitably (as readers will always point out to you) there are still  typos that slip through the dragnet and end up in the published book.

In the indie route, it’s really up to the author to make sure this ‘typo’ cleaning process is done and dusted before the book is uploaded and made available to the reading public. While there isn’t the same formal process as a traditional publisher undertakes, I assume most professional indie authors go through the same multiple ’rounds’ of editing to ensure the cleanest manuscript is produced.

I am acutely aware of my own proofreading limitations. While I am pretty good on the content editing side (and willing to take constructive feedback on that front and revise as many times as needs be) when it comes to the laborious task of proofreading I know I fall way short. The main problem is that I am too close to the material to spot typographical errors any more – and, if my friend’s experience is anything to go by, often multiple people can miss some typos even in a rigorous proofreading process. Although it’s much easier to proofread someone else’s work, when it comes to your own manuscript it can often be hard to find friends or family who are all that keen on acting as the ‘typo police’ after they’ve already read the book in its many iterations before.

So TKZers, what is your process for dealing with ridding your manuscript of all those pesky last minute typos? How do you handle the dreaded proofreading stage?

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25 thoughts on “Call the Typo Police!

  1. In addition to having someone else read the ms to try and catch those errors, I do a read through where I am ONLY focusing on those types of corrections, nothing else.

    One of the annoying things I have found is that now that I’m older, I have more proofing errors than I used to. I don’t know if that’s a vision thing, lack of attention span, impatience, or all three, but I don’t recall having as many errors when I was younger. 😎

    On the subject of proofing errors: I get a FB feed for the local news channel, because their viewers are really nice about capturing beautiful AZ photos and sharing them. Anyway, they posted a weather update yesterday which stated:

    “Brrrrr! We’re starting out with chilly temps this Sunday morning.

    But don’t freight! Temps should get as high as 70 degrees around 3 p.m. Take a look at your full forecast: http://bit.ly/2g4RqML

    Looks like they had a proofing oops too. 😎

    • I think there are always a few typo ‘oops’ but it’s always worse when it’s public:) I fear my proofreading skills are dwindling also as I get older – I blame the internet for chipping away at my attention span:)

  2. I find that revisions can be a source of late blooming typos. Do a small cut-and-paste, or take a sentence out, or change a few words and suddenly: random commas or periods. Random letters that somehow got missed by the “cut.” Even new grammatical errors, such as subject-verb disagreement. Or one or two words disappeared or didn’t get typed in.

    Spell-check can find some errors, but it comes up with too many false negatives (words not in its dictionary) and is notorious for its false positives (not using the write word is not it’s fault, he herd). (Relative to Jim’s column yesterday: One reason I keep my browser open is so I can quickly look up words whose spelling I’m not sure about.)

  3. A few proofreading tricks I use:

    1. Instead of editing onscreen, print out the document. What is invisible on the monitor magically appears on paper.
    2. Reformat the document in a different font with larger type and change from double space to single space (or triple space). Your eyes have to readjust to the different appearance of words on the page, making typos pop out.
    3. Transfer the Word doc to Kindle or other device and read the ms on it. As with #2, the rearrangement in different formatting allows your eyes to see afresh.
    4. Read the whole darn thing out loud.
    5. Read the whole darn thing backwards, starting at: “End…The…after…ever… happily…lived…They…”
    5. NEVER trust spell check.
    And if all else fails, hit the “publish” button and throw it up online. All errors will instantly become clear.

  4. I ALWAYS print a hard copy as Debbie suggests, and in a different font (if your ms is serif, choose a sans serif, for example). I also set it up to print in two columns, which totally changes the eye scan and overused words, etc. appear as if by magic when things line up differently (but that’s not catching typos.)

    Another tool is to let Word read the manuscript to you. It’s a monotonous voice, but if you (tediously) follow along, you’ll catch more errors. There’s a ‘read selected text’ option in newer versions of Word. I think Adobe Reader will also read to you. When you read your own work aloud, you’re likely to see what’s supposed to be there, not what’s on the page. A computer reads exactly what you’ve written. And the mispronunciations will help keep you awake.

  5. Well, with 30+ years of copy editing behind me, my go-to approach includes:
    1. Always work from a hard copy.
    2. Numbers, formulas, tables are the hardest to proof and most subject to error
    3. S-L-O-W down. You have to train yourself to read word-by-freakin’-word. It’s an acquired skill and absolutely foreign to how we normally read.
    4. Do it in small bites; a few pages or a chapter at a time. If you’re rushing to get it done for a deadline, that’s when the mistakes creep in.
    5. Never, never and NEVER assume that the revisions that you requested or thought you had put in earlier, are present in the latest version.
    6. Sometimes, I’ll just highlight the problems and go back later to fix. Other times, I’ll do the edit on the page. Depends on the project.
    7. Always try to have multiple sets of eyeballs go through it. That said, unless they’re pros, they’re going to miss stuff.
    8. A professional and experienced CE is priceless. I’m good, but know two who are superb — trained them both initially, but they became even better on their own.

  6. I always print out my manuscripts and read them aloud, but after reading all these great suggestions, I’ll be sure to do it in a different font and in columns.

    I second the suggestion that one shouldn’t assume changes/corrections are always recorded appropriately.

    The worst typo experience I had was when I had my debut novel optically scanned to release as an ebook. (Always ask for a final PDF from the publisher–this was back in 2007 and I was too shy.) There were certain letters and words that it repeatedly screwed up, and it missed lots of punctuation.

    If you’re going indie, spend the money for a professional proofreader, or make sure your copy editor also performs that service. It makes a huge difference.

  7. Macs also have the text-to-voice function.

    A good trick is to speed up the voice a bit so you don’t get bored or zone out as you follow along.

    Once, through a series of events, I had FOUR different editors go over a manuscript. Among them, there was close to sixty years experience as editors. After all this, I still found errors. Typos and misused words are evil and sneaky.

  8. I call myself the typo queen. I’ve know for years that I don’t see them.
    When I read I catch maybe 50%. Here’s what helps:
    My writing group reads sections aloud. Easy to see/hear corrections.
    Grammarly, although spotty on grammar, catches some but not all.
    After that, an editor.
    Lastly, for some unknown reason, when I use Amazon Preview I usually find at least one as I am reading.
    It’s a tough challenge.

  9. Copy- and proofreading will, in my experience, test one’s friendships, one’s cool, and one’s willingness to insult someone else’s mother. I was a book editor for a now-close small publishing house in San Francisco. There is one author, if he’s still alive, with whom I will end up in a fight with if we ever meet face-to-face, nearly 30 years later.

    But coincidentally, this came up in my free e-book listing e-mail this morning. I’m not recommending it because I haven’t yet read it, but it looks very interesting. It is free today in the Amazon e-book edition:
    Why Authors Fail: 17 Mistakes Self Publishing Authors Make That Sabotage Their Success (And How To Fix Them) Kindle Edition.

    Thank you for an insightful and encouraging post today. (I H-A-A-T-T-E-E copy- and proofreading, even today.)

  10. As a former proofreader — that’s how I worked my way through college — it’s almost impossible to proof your own work. Your mind restores those missing words and dropped “a”s and “the”s.
    I have an editor and a line editor as well as a copyeditor, but it’s true what others have said: the more changes you make, the more you risk extra typos.
    I print out the manuscript, then read it three times:
    First, a general read for sense and obvious typos.
    Then I read it with a piece of white paper under each line. That catches more errors.
    And finally, I read it out loud.
    That will catch many typos, but some still get through.

  11. I think the best advice is to print out your manuscript and read it very, very slowly.

    The human brain will automatically “autocorrect” words that are misspelt.

    Just to give an example;

    If you read a page with deliberately misspelt words, or where certain letters have been left out, the human brain will quickly adjusts and autocorrect the content, i.e. it becomes easier and easier to read as you go along.

  12. In my experience, I have learned that no matter what you do, there will always be at least one errant typo out there waiting to gnaw at your ankles.

    My court of last resort is my readers…they are kind enough to *usually* gently tell me where the typos lurk. The beauty of publishing with an Amazon imprint or doing it yourself is that you can go back and correct.

    Typos are like wire hangers. They multiple in the dark when you are not looking.

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