Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Proofreader: A Writer's BFF

She's saying, "If only you had let me proofread this
before you published it in this big, fat book."

Ten years ago, I self-published my first book, "The Accidental Gringo."  It was a little thing, maybe 115 pages, but I read and re-read every word so many times it took up encyclopedic quantities of my brain.

At one point, I thought, "You know, I bet I've got entire chapters of this thing memorized."  I was probably right, too. 

Gosh, I sure was proud of how thorough I had been fine-tuning that book.

Now, if that moment were a scene in a movie, the low strings on the soundtrack would start some ominous ostinato and everyone in the audience would brace themselves for the guy in the hockey mask to come at the poor, arrogant author with a band saw. 

(Band saw?  Maybe I should Google carpentry tools.  Or see more horror films.) 

Confident that there couldn't be even a hint of an error in my manuscript (not after all that memorizing, right?) I sent it off to the printers.  

Imagine my dismay, then, when I opened the box, pulled out a copy of my beautiful new book, and found that somewhere in the 80-page neighborhood an entire sentence had been printed twice!  

How was that possible?  I had worked so hard to guarantee that this very thing wouldn't happen!

At first I blamed the printer.  It had to be someone on their end, sabotaging my efforts!

Then I checked my own file copy, and sure enough, there it was - the punchline to an otherwise hilarious paragraph, completely un-funnied by poor editing.  As a humor writer, I was not amused.

All that reading, all that 'memorizing' had made me blind to a glaring error.  I simply did not see the duplicate sentence. 

There were other problems with the book.  The type font was cute, which meant it was amateur looking and at times made reading difficult.  There were one or two homonyms that flew under the spell-check radar.  There were even certain references that, while clear to me, were confusing to my friends.

That was when I realized that having a proofreader look over your work is absolutely essential to producing a quality product.  Whether you are planning to publish your writing yourself, or are hoping to attract the attention of an agent or publishing house, having a second or even third pair of eyes go over your manuscript can often mean the difference between grabbing your readers' interest and bringing them back for more, or being written off as an inexperienced newbie.

The good news / bad news for writers today is that there are so many options available for seeing our words in print.  It's good news, of course, because writers write to be read.  And it's bad news because it's so easy for an audience to wander away after just a few minutes or even seconds, before we writers have really had a chance to prove ourselves.

This means it's more important than ever to be open to proofreading, editing, even critique of our work.  Look at professional athletes, at the top of their game.  And right behind them, shouting instructions and offering corrections to their already nearly-flawless technique, are their coaches.

Every one of us can improve!  And writers of all backgrounds can start by letting others proofread their work.

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