For me, the proofreading stage is the easiest and most enjoyable stage of editing a book. I love digging through the pile of words to ferret out those hidden errors. Proofreading is often done at the end of the editing process, and it involves checking for typos, missing words, incorrect verb tense, and other types of errors that could detract from the readability and professionalism of the document.
As with every stage of editing, I conduct proofreading step-by-step. It often takes more than one run over the manuscript. The longer the manuscript the more I break down the steps in an effort to not miss anything.
I should note that I do all this process BEFORE I submit the manuscript to any publishers. I want the best and most professional version of the story out there, not something I’ve thrown together and called ‘good enough’. If the story is picked up by a publisher, the whole process begins again, under their direction and guidance. The publisher's editorial team will probably request further revisions or edits, and the manuscript may also undergo a more extensive copyediting and proofreading process before it is published.
Take a break: Before starting the proofreading process, take a break from the novel to refresh your mind and come back to it with a fresh perspective. This break could be a few hours, a day, or even a week, depending on your schedule.
Read through the entire novel: Read through the entire novel without making any changes or corrections. This will help you get a sense of the overall flow and structure of the story.
Make a list of errors: As you read through the novel, make a list of errors you come across, such as spelling mistakes, punctuation errors, and grammatical issues.
My list of errors ALWAYS includes a list of words I’ve overused (very, just, like, that). I spend a bit of time searching for appropriate synonyms before I begin making any changes. These words can be dealt with on a whole-novel basis, using Find and Replace. NB: Never do a blanket Replace-All because some of those words are exactly what they need to be, where they need to be.
Mark these words. Sometimes you'll be able to delete the word without making any other change. Other times, the change needed is a restructure of that sentence or paragraph.
Focus on one chapter at a time: Once you have your list of errors, focus on one chapter at a time. Read through the chapter slowly and carefully, making corrections as you go. Doing one chapter at a time helps break the task into manageable pieces. It’s not so daunting that way. It also help to keep concentration levels high so you don’t miss things.
Check for consistency: Pay attention to consistency in character names, settings, and plot points throughout the novel. Check for any inconsistencies and make corrections as necessary. A lot of people don’t understand how important consistency is. For some of us, spelling a word with UK spelling in one chapter and with US spelling three chapters later is enough to drop us out of the story and begin to question the professionalism of the writer/editor/publisher.
Read the novel out loud: Reading the novel out loud can help you catch errors that you may have missed when reading silently. It can also help you identify awkward sentence structures and other issues with the flow of the text. You wrote the story. When you read it in your head, you read what you think you wrote. Reading it out loud eliminates a lot of that problems and you see and hear what’s really on the page. When I work through this stage, my office rings with the words: Did I really say that? That’s not what I meant, and What idiot thought that would sound good?
Use proofreading tools: Use proofreading tools such as spell check and grammar check software to help identify errors. However, keep in mind that these tools are not foolproof and should be used in conjunction with manual proofreading. Some basic advice:
Try to have at least one of your beta readers proficient in the syntax and punctuation of the language you’re writing in. Even native speakers of English don’t always know how to use apostrophes. (I write exclusively in English which is why I’ve used that as an example.)
Check your use of apostrophes and plurals. Yes, I’ve mentioned apostrophes twice; that’s how irritating it is when a writer gets it wrong.
Don’t overuse commas.
Be aware of homonyms, homophones, and homographs. Make sure you use the right one in the right place.
Other words that are often mixed up:
Their, there, they’re
Get a second opinion: Once you have completed your proofreading, consider getting a second opinion from someone else, such as a beta reader or a professional editor. They may be able to spot errors that you missed and provide additional feedback on the novel. Find beta readers first—they generally don’t charge you for the service. Try to get a mix of writers and readers to be beta readers because they notice different things. It’s often a good idea to avoid family and friends when looking for beta readers. If they’re close family/friends, they might not want to upset you by telling you the first chapter is boring or they skimmed over most of the middle of the book because it went on forever and didn’t move forward. Also, try to find people who enjoy the genre you’re writing in. Someone who reads exclusively in biography or literary fiction isn’t likely to understand or get a lot of enjoyment out of a romantic high fantasy.