Proofing Versus Editing Your Unpublished Book

When working to create the ultimate finished product for your self-released title it is imperative that you put out the most polished (book ready) manuscript you can—because in the end—your book is competing against thousands of other potential sales for the would-be buyer.

I have heard that more than 100,000 new fiction titles are released each year and if you weigh out the fact that most of (us) the self-released authors don’t have a substantial financial bankroll to cover the cost of general marketing and advertising, we may only have one real opportunity in the end to prove our worth to a potential audience, no matter how much we believe in the product or many friends (we) you have.

I was asked once during the course (2 years) of preparing Proud Souls for “release” to the wild which stage I felt was more important than the other—proofing the document or editing it. Now, I would be a liar if I didn’t come right out and say [that] editing is THE most important stage if I had to choose between the two. And for all my editorial friends out there—kudos to you and your work!!!

There are things, believe it or not, an editor can help with that regardless of how keen your eyes may be for finding errors, we simply can’t see no matter how hard we try. In my own experiences I found that the more you read (and re-read) your manuscript pages the more likely you will overlook simple errors, those a good spell-checker won’t find. Like these one right here. 

Spell checker (grammar check) didn’t find or notify me with the handsome squiggly line that I misused the word “these” for “this” and in our minds, no matter how many times we read it, we simply can’t see it—or at least not all of them. That’s what is meant by the term—can’t see the forest for the trees.

This happens because the more you read the same pages of your own manuscript, the more your mind begins to fill in the pages or complete the sentences because (whether you notice or not) you are completing the sentences from memory. That is the dangerous and normal part of reading your own work over and over again.

That is where a good editor comes into play. They read your work without any historical or emotional association; they simply read the words you typed, unlike us, who read the words we created and conjured from within our imagination.

Now just because you didn’t hire-in with a large publishing firm doesn’t mean you can’t get the same high-quality editorial service as the traditionally published author. There are countless editors for hire posted in the WWW and magazines such as Writer’s Digest. You just have to look for them and like any product or service provider, ask them to sample or site their work.

This will validate their credibility and ease the pain of justifying the cost of their work. I couldn’t be an editor for the simple fact that no matter how savvy I think I am grammatically, I am a writer and reader who finds more pleasure in dissecting the story rather than correcting spelling or grammatical mistakes.

Understand this however, editors don’t just correct spelling errors, they do more than this; some help with story flow, point-of-view and story structure—again it just depends on the editor and what they specialize in.

For me however I have come to appreciate the art of proof-reading a document more than “editing” it. Proofing is best described as skimming a document and depending upon the seriousness of the reader, they can help find countless mistakes to help formulate a well-polished document ready to submit to a potential editor for finalization.

Proofing can actually be the “fun” part of preparing and finalizing your manuscript. You get to know more about the story and characters during this stage. It was both a daunting and enlightening phase for me and my book, Proud Souls. I would recommend finding a team of proofers, people who can help isolate major and minor mistakes to help you and your story get where they are going and unlike an edit, which is usually performed when the manuscript is “completed”, a good proof can happen anytime during the creation of your story.  Below is a quick example of how I came to prepare Proud Souls for final edit.

RELATED ARTICLE:   Discovering Anselm Kiefer

Find friends with identical or similar interest

I found a team of 6 readers, each of whom had different taste in literature but in the end all enjoyed my work. This was important because if they were going to get through the reading of all 300+ pages—especially if the story wasn’t their cup of tea—there had to be common ground to help maintain their focus. That common ground was their bond to me as a friend.

Isolate their focus for finding mistakes

This too was very important, as most of them wanted to share their thoughts on story-flow, story structure, characterization, etc, but I couldn’t take the feedback from more than one person on the same topic because that would have opened the door for opinion and (quite possibly) may have changed my mind on how I wished to write my story.

What I did instead was ask one of them to tell me whether they could “see” the story. I asked another to focus on the emotions [feel] of the characters; a third was asked to determine whether they could identify with the protagonist and supporting characters, etc. Only a couple of them were asked to find the spelling and grammatical mistakes to help the story flow.

Each person was given a simple task which helped them maintain focus on proofing the story. I took their feedback over the course of my own personal re-write and used that information to help formulate the finished product. I learned a lot more about my characters this way, as each person during the course of our edits began to learn more about the characters as individuals and asked me to help clarify who they were.

The concept was simple and yet very complex. Of the five people (the sixth one being my wife), I can guess that maybe one or two would be interested in proofing my second novel, as the process can be emotionally trying on the soul. It’s hard asking someone to read and re-read the same pages over and over until you get it right. In the end, I was extremely pleased (as are the fans I am acquiring for my story) and to thank each of them, I sited their names on the Acknowledgement page of my book as an eternal thank-you for their help.

In the end I found an editor for my work, a man of great insight and thought—Mr. Kenneth Polito of Fort Worth, Texas. Let’s just say this: When the book was “done” for the ump-teenth time…he found close to 200+ mistakes I had to correct before the book went live on the Amazon.com storefront. Now I know why so many writers go mad!!!

So get out there and ask those people closest to you if they want to be a part of something great and something magical—because in the end—it is. It’s not just the book; it’s more than that. It’s a figment of your imagination brought to life on paper and born by the sweat and determination of the childlike faith we all carry inside us.

If Proud Souls never sales another copy, it doesn’t really matter. Justin Olerude Bower, Reverend Hillard Ray Polk, Ralph Winslow Parison and the lovely Tessa Jameson are alive today because of the willingness of myself, and countless others who wouldn’t dare have them hiding on a shelf somewhere collecting dust on pages that would never be read.

As I say every week—best of luck to you and your (self) publishing this year!

I believe…because you believe…

3 thoughts on “Proofing Versus Editing Your Unpublished Book”

  1. Hi, Bobby,

    I’ve been reading with great interest all the points and pointers you have here in your blog – and learning a bunch! However, the proofreader in me cannot let these go unmentioned: Your interest was not “peaked”! It was PIQUED. And you did not “site” those helping folks in your Acknowledgement, you CITED them! (As in Citation.)

    My book is to be a memoir, and is mostly funny. All true, it will have some amazing travel events that I had in my early twenties – alone and on my own, refusing to speak English, so I wouldn’t indicate that I was (and am) American. Thus, I hardly spoke at all.

    At first. Then I began to learn Italian, and trippingly formed some bad sentences. I do have one question. Should I have a “working title” or a real one? Should I call it something like “Too Old to be a Hippie” or “Farting to Steel Fleepy”- an actual quote from me in my best manner of spoonerisms. I will have several spoonerisms in the book.

    Thank you for communicating with us. There are lots of us out here, I’m as sure as you are. And POD seems to be the right way to go for me, too.

    Best wishes,

    Gretchen Jurek

    P.S. – I am a visual artist by training, and might do some line drawings for the book, so it will still be in blk-and-white. Does that make sense? Thanks again.

  2. Gretchen:
    First off, thanks for helping me with my Engrish…haha…. As you can see, without the help and support of my Pillars–my proof-reading staff–I would be a lost cause!!!

    I tried to pour as much helpful and insightful information as I could into this blog for Mr. Dessinger and then I became very burnt out by the process. Between writing new material, marketing my novel and the CultureFeast.com content…I had to take a break.

    I am however posting helpful tid-bits on my personal blog–”Drawing Stories…With Words.” There I am sharing information relevant to how I wrote my first novel, how I have marketed my novel (what did and did not work) as well as information I am finding on the Internet that can be of use to other independent authors. There are many more websites out there with MUCH MORE DETAILED information to help independent authors than mine–but that isn’t the sole purpose of my blog. So I help when I can and answer as many questions as possible. The last thing I am doing with my blog is journaling (I know…wrong use of the word) the process of writing my second novel: The Other Side of Glory.

    I hope you join me there!!! I will help in any way I can and I am always open to suggestions and requests for article content.

  3. OH! I almost forgot!!!
    In relation to the title…well you’re the artist Gretchen…you decide! If you begin to collect a following of fans as you produce your manuscript, you may lose them later if you change the title…or at least confuse them enough to slow down progress with relation to sales. But that also depends on whether you are serious about self-publishing. If you go with a traditional publisher–for whatever reason later on–they may opt to change the title anyhow. But you as the artist have the right to alter any aspect of the project until the date it is official “done” and released to the public. I like the title: “Farting to Steel Fleepy.” Go with your gut… in the end… it’s always the best choice!

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