Proofreading A Novel Manuscript, by Phillipa Fioretti
Before the finished product hits the shelves, publishers send out book proofs or galley copies. They’re sent to reviewers and bookshops and usually labelled ‘uncorrected proofs’.
Strictly speaking, they are not uncorrected. The book has had editors, proofreaders, typesetters and the author combing through it like zealous mothers looking for lice in a four year old’s hair.
So it has been corrected many, many times, but inevitably errors survive. Like lice, word repetition and other minor blips of written expression possess an eerie cunning. You can look and look and you can’t see them. Change the print format and the little blighters lose their cover and you can pick them out at will. Change the format again and you will find more that eluded the searchlights and cross hairs.
With both my books I was fortunate to work with professional editors and proofreaders, but sometimes I have to catch these devious pests on my own. I’ve laboured through submissions and, satisfied I’d dispatched all errors, I’ve signed, folded, sealed, kissed and posted the submission. At home later, I’d pick up my copy of the submission and there in the second line would be a smirking great typo or spelling mistake or some other evil malfeasance. At that point a glass of wine is needed, as well as a chair to slump in – because the goodbye kiss of luck has suddenly become the farewell kiss of doom.
It’s common knowledge in the world of aspiring authors that a typo or spelling mistake or some other evidence of sloppiness gives the agent or publisher a reason to toss the manuscript into the gaping maw of the recycling bin. Some say this is unfair. But if these professionals want to get on with the jobs they are paid for, then they cannot afford to be suffocated by a mountain of unsolicited manuscripts. There must be a triage system put in place, and signs of sloppiness are a good enough place to draw the line. If the manuscript is good, or great, then it will rise above these small errors, but a manuscript littered with them simply shows an unprofessional approach.
As a writer you must do everything you can to rid your beautiful creation of these pests. You can’t rely on a spellchecker and you have to devise systems that will help you on your search-and-destroy mission. I have lists of weasel words that must be used sparingly and I use the ‘find’ function to seek them out and rethink the whole paragraph word by word. I work through the list and find it is a great way to focus on each sentence. I also look for my own personal weasel words, and we all have them… mine include ‘look’, ‘just’ and ‘well’.
Then I print off the manuscript, list the chapter numbers on a separate piece of paper, close my eyes and use a pin to choose a chapter number. Then I work through that chapter from the end back to its beginning – this is to distance me from the narrative and help me focus on the formal aspects of the text. I make the changes on screen then change the font, change the line spacing, or anything that lets me see the words with a fresh eye.
This is the hard part of writing, and it can be exhausting, requiring the same level of concentration as a long distance drive. I think of myself as though I’m checking a computer code on a jet auto-pilot system. If I don’t get it right, jets will fall out of the sky and people will die.
Regrettably, the list of imaginary airline disasters this method has caused is a little disconcerting – but I continue to search for those infuriatingly deadly errors in the hope that one day a miracle will occur and a blemish free manuscript will emerge.
Here’s a list of the little succubi –
would, should, could
down/up – as in sat down or stood up
Phillipa Fioretti’s author website: www.phillipafioretti.com.au
Writing Novels in Australia