Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Proof your Manuscript Before Submitting

Eck! You’ve just submitted a manuscript to a publisher and discover a typo in the first chapter, after you hit send. What to do?

Well, good news: one typo, even in the first chapter, won’t ruin your chances for a contract, as long as there aren’t multitudes of typos or other errors later on. Let’s face it, typos are ubiquitous. Even after edits, somehow, they’re still there. Those of you who have published will be familiar with proofing the galleys after both content and line edits, quality control, and formatting by the publisher. You still find errors, don’t you? Truthfully, I find errors in published books all the time. But not very many, and we try extremely hard to minimize them. By the law of averages, the more typos or errors in the initial submitted manuscript, the more errors will remain in the published version, making your work look amateurish. And no one wants that.

It never ceases to amaze me how many writers submit manuscripts without a meticulous proofreading. A poorly proofed manuscript gives a poor impression of you as an author. Why is this so important? Isn’t the story, characterization, timing, and so on, much more important? The answer is you have to do both to be taken seriously at acquisition time. Many fine stories are marred by lack of proofreading. Missing words, incorrect tenses, even sentences that make no sense as written, all combine to make an editor groan. In reality, a manuscript riddled with errors probably won’t get read past the first few pages, no matter how good the story is. The editor will be thinking the author is, at best, careless, and that doesn’t bode well for a productive editing cycle. At worst, she might think you don’t know the basics of how to write. Either way, she will conclude that it’s too much work to whip your manuscript into shape for publication, and you’ll get a standard rejection letter.

Why do you have to worry so much if the book will be edited anyway? The days when editors pored over every single word are past. Editors now are expected to guide you, the author, in preparing for publication. We aren’t expected to do the work for you. In fact, we’re encouraged not to. And in any case, contrary to the image we like to project, editors are not infallible. We miss things, too. And the more there is to correct, the more we might miss. This means it is ultimately the author’s responsibility to proof a manuscript.

A lot of my authors tell me they have trouble proofing their own work. They get caught up in the story, or they simply don’t see the errors. This is quite common, but there are ways around these problems. One is to read the manuscript aloud, even to yourself. The effort of reading aloud will cause you to be much more conscious of what you actually wrote as opposed to what you intended to write. You’ll be surprised at what’s on the page. Another method is to read backwards, sentence by sentence. Combine these two methods and you’re golden.

Why risk rejection of an otherwise good story? Proof your manuscript before submitting.

Diane Breton is an editor with Champagne Book Group


  1. What was I saying about reading aloud? I didn't do that for this post, and there is a mistake in it! LOL. Brownie points to the first person who finds it and reports back....

  2. I should have kept it for demonstration, Diane. It was a tough one:

    Keep the typo to prove a point?
    Remove it because this is publishing and, no matter what stage of the game, when we spot errors, if possible, we fix them.

    But a good point, and reason why sometimes even two pairs of eyes are not enough! No doubt this is why it is industry standard to have not only the author proof rigorously, but to have at least two separate editors involved with a project at different stages of production.