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Proofreading Tips for DIY Publishers

written by: •edited by: Michele McDonough•updated: 9/12/2011

You've finished writing, so now you can publish, right? Not quite yet. Here's some practical advice for self publishers on how to make your work look its best in the competitive print and eBook markets.

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    Self publishing your own book can be a lot of fun and yield high profits because you’re cutting out all the middle men that want a piece of each sale. However, this method of publishing often gets a bad name because of the ease with which anyone can bang out some words on a keyboard and put them into a book. This is why proofreading is so important and here are some general tips on how to proofread a book you intend to publish yourself.

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    Advice From Stephen King

    Whether or not you are a fan of author Stephen King, there is something to be said for a guy who can sell as many millions of books as he has in the past few decades. When someone that successful writes a book on how they did it, every writer should pay close attention. This is why I bought King’s book, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, the day it came out in 2000.

    Of all the things I learned from King on the craft of writing, the most important was the idea that you should not proofread a single thing until you are finished writing. His reason for this is that if you start editing and nitpicking what you’ve written before you reach the end, then you’ll get so caught up in making changes that you’ll be less likely to finish what you’ve started.

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    Don’t Rely on Technology

    This should be a given, but it deserves mention. Do not rely entirely on your software to catch problems. Just because a word is misspelled in context does not mean it is really misspelled. Mixing up words like its/it’s or there/their will make your writing come off as amateur. When I see someone write "your" when it should be "you’re," it makes my eye twitch. These are common mistakes that are often overlooked by word processors because those words are technically not misspelled – just misused.

    Grammatical errors like misplaced commas used to almost never get noticed, but recent word processors have gotten a little better at finding problems. However, you will often get weird false positives when it flags words that it thinks should be changed. I use Microsoft Word and it can be helpful in catching the really obvious mistakes, but it’s the subtle ones that get you in the end.

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    An Extra Pair of Eyes

    There is an expression in proofreading that involves finding “an extra pair of eyes” to look at your work. If you can afford it, hire a professional to look at your book and give it a proper critique. These type services can be incredibly expensive, though.

    An alternative suggestion would be to see if you or any of your friends know an English teacher that might be willing to look it over for a small fee or even as a favor. You’d be surprised how many people are willing to read it over for free just for the honor of being one of the first to read a book. Be sure to offer them an editor’s credit in the liner notes. Restaurant gift cards are greatly helpful, too.

    Having someone else look at your writing is crucial because they will catch mistakes that you miss. One problem in writing is that you become too familiar with your own work, and while you think that you might be proofreading something, the reality is that you will skim right over some blaring mistakes.

    In my personal experience, I’ve found that for every time I read over something again, I am less likely to catch something that I missed the first time. What happens is you start to memorize passages of text and your mind recalls those passages from memory more quickly than your eyes read and process the words from the page. When this happens, you literally do not see the errors even though you read right over them.

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    Different Print Mediums

    Another really good technique is to print hard copies of your work and edit them on paper, rather than on screen. What this accomplishes is making the text look different and changes the format in such a way that it seems more new to you. This might seem a little odd, but it works. If you only edit on screen, it’s easy to pass over some simple mistakes that jump out when you read the same things on paper. It’s also easier to make notes and scribble through portions with a pen rather than get into a bunch of cutting and pasting in your word processor.

    Having printed copies of your work also makes it easier for you to pass them along to someone else for a quick proofread. If you are looking for someone to critique your work, you may find it easier to hand them a printed copy rather than send them an email attachment or expect them to read it all on screen.

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    Write First, Format Later

    Proofreading is not all about spelling and grammar. If you are self publishing, then you also need to worry about formatting issues. Whether you choose to print a 6x9 paperback from or publish an eBook for the Kindle or Nook, there are specific formatting rules that must be followed in order for the book to look correctly.

    As an addendum to Stephen King's advice on making edits after you're finished writing, the same rule applies to formatting the document for publishing. I’ve found it best to write what you want to write first, then do the formatting afterward. The reason is that formatting for different mediums can be a bit troublesome, and you’ll often wind up with several copies of the same file as you experiment with fonts and layouts. This is why it’s best to wait until you are finished writing so that you don’t have to remember what file is the most current. It’s also easier to do a "select all" and change everything at once than go through section by section and try to make it all work.

    Looking for more tips and advice? Check out the other articles in Bright Hub's guide, What You Need to Know About Self Publishing.


  • Image credit: WikiMedia Commons,, Public Domain License
  • Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft (
  • Author's personal experience self publishing eBooks and printed books.