Tag Archives: proofing

Thoughts on proofing a novel

I just finished the first round of proofing for my novel, Love Trumps Logic, and have some thoughts I’d love to share about the experience. Since my eyes are still bleary from three weeks of searching for misplaced commas, awkward sentences, funky word choices, and believability, I’ll keep it as short as possible.

Whoever coined the phrase “blood, sweat, and tears” in reference to doing something must have been proofing a book.

I’m amazed how I can think my book is finished…done…final manuscript sent to the publisher—and I’m proud of the result! But wait, a few months later it’s time to proof.

When I look at it again with fresh eyes, I invariably discover all sorts of things that now horrify me. Did I really think it was okay to use the word ‘surreal’ in a story that takes place in regency England?

This first proofing was brutal. A few pages survived unscathed, but whole scenes were shifted, conversations changed, and personalities strengthened. In all honesty, it wasn’t a proofing at all but an edit. Does this mean that I’ve gotten more perceptive as a writer in two months time or that I have a split personality? Not sure…

So at what point does a writer stop editing and just proof for the grammatical stuff? I’m still waiting for that to happen…I’m not sure it’s possible.

I’m hoping that being a writer is like other professions. Over time things get easier… For example, when I first became a speech pathologist (a.k.a. swallowing therapist) the job made me nervous. After all, one bad recommendation could mean a fatal choking incident. Now—after 15 years of not hurting anyone—I don’t worry as much. Will 15 years of writing have the same result? Will I eventually be able to write a book with a minimum amount of edits and without fear of ridicule? I hope so.

At present I spend about 20% of the time putting new storylines down on paper, the other 80% of the time is spent editing. Will these percentages shift toward center as I become more experienced?

I think that proofing is influenced by what’s going on in my life as I do it. I just finished reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, and one of the characters was an amazingly brave and likable woman who defied the Nazis during World War II. As a result, my own heroine—Fiona—got a dash more of the same gumption. In one scene tears were eliminated in favor of stoicism.

Does anyone else try to read their book through the eyes of their harshest critic during proofing? I do, but it requires a very deliberate mental shift since I’m not nearly as detail oriented as my copy-editor sister. When I read through the eyes of my sister I catch all kinds of things: language too modern for the time, sentences made too long by unnecessary words, stilted conversation…It’s great to have an editor residing in my head during proofing, but I have to kick her out when I’m doing the creative stuff, or I get blocked by a need for instantaneous perfection.

As an author who is about to launch her first book I’m terrified that mistakes will stay hidden and pop out to haunt me once the book is finally printed. It’s like I’m back in my new hospital job so many years ago, freshly certified as a speech pathologist, and making that first diet recommendation. I’m holding my breath and praying that the patient won’t choke. I also pray that my book won’t choke, but the fear surrounding such an event is part of what writing is all about—putting your words on the line, both literally and figuratively.

Thank goodness for flash drives. I would have been in dire straits without mine. For some reason the original file started to freeze every few sentences, or every time I’d try to save new stuff. Writers heed this warning: always back up your work!

I can’t wait to see what the next round of proofing brings. I already know that I need to change something in the Epilogue that I messed up in my panic about the frozen file.

Does anyone have any other proofing and editing thoughts to share?

Lucy Balch

Love Trumps Logic

Coming soon from Second Wind Publishing

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Heroine Smugglers and Aroused Geese

Now that two of my books have been published and a third is on the way, (Second Wind Publishing will be releasing Daughter Am I in August) I don’t feel I have the right to complain about anything — I’ve achieved something that many people only dream of. But I’m going to complain anyway. Or at least state my truth very emphatically. I do not like to proof my books. By the time I get to the proofing/copyediting stage, I have written, rewritten, and edited the manuscript so many times that I find it almost impossible to focus on what is there rather than what I think is there. I also have a little voice in the back of my head whispering that if the story is riveting, if the writing is good, if the characters are real and sympathetic, a mistake or two doesn’t matter.

Perhaps not, but . . .

The other day I was reading a book by an established author, and I came across this line: They were heroine smugglers. Um . . . yeah. Can’t you just see it? Men in enveloping black capes carting dozens of young women in antebellum costumes over the border during the dark of night. Of course, if the heroines were true heroines, they would have heroically rescued themselves, in which case they would not be smuggled, hence there could be no heroine smugglers.

I admit that I’m being silly, but the point is that a mistake or two does matter. (At least one slipped by me in More Deaths Than One, but it is truly difficult to spot and I intend to get it corrected.) So I will grit my teeth, gird my loins, clench my jaw, prepare for battle, and finish proofing Daughter Am I.

For those of you who are going through the same torment, or will be going through it, here are a few tips that I’ve gleaned along the way:

Go slowly and carefully. Use a ruler or your fingers to mark the lines of print and to keep your gaze from sliding down the page. Check to see that hyphenated words at the end of the line are hyphenated properly. You might also try working from back to front like many professional copyeditors do to keep from getting involved in the story, which, surprisingly, does happen even when it’s your book that you’ve read and reread a hundred times.

Feel free to add your own tips to my list. I’ll be glad of any suggestions to make sure I don’t end up with heroine smugglers or aroused geese. Yep, aroused geese was another phrase in the same book. It might be grammatically correct, but idiomatically . . . let’s just say I don’t even want to know what those geese were up to.

Pat Bertram is the author of More Deaths Than One and A Spark of Heavenly Fire, available from Second Wind Publishing.

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