Friday, November 19, 2010

When Spell-check Fails: Proofreading and Your Manuscript

Everyone’s experienced it: you finish a paper or a story that you’ve spent hours and hours working on, read it through one last time on the computer, and print it out. You then reread the hard copy, only to find a spelling or grammatical error that spell-check didn’t catch. What went wrong?

The problem is in the proofreading—namely, the fact that most of us have become pretty lax about it. We depend too much on spell-checkers that don’t always fix everything. I can’t count the number of times I’ve read manuscripts that have grammar or usage errors – from something as simple as mistaking the word “reed” for “read” to something bad, like repeatedly conjugating the same verb incorrectly.

Basically what I’m saying is that before sending your manuscript to us, make sure it’s been proofread. Now, a badly proofread manuscript probably will not make or break our decisions on whether to accept something—after all, it is easier to correct a few typos than it is to develop a character or to change the pacing of a story. What it does do is give us the impression that the writer does not care as much about getting her manuscript published, which is something I’m sure none of the writers sending in materials intend.

It’s even more important to make sure that query letters are well proofread, because they are our first impression of you and your ability to write. We are less inclined to request materials from someone with a poorly written and proofread query letter, again because it gives us the impression of apathy on the writer's part.

However, do not fret because there is a very easy way to proofread your writing: read it out loud. When we read silently it is far easier to skip over parts of a piece, but reading aloud forces us to spend time with every word. You are much more likely to catch little mistakes by reading aloud – I promise. If proofreading is not your forte to begin with, just ask a friend who knows their grammar to help.

It's worth the time and effort, because we are sure to notice both good and bad proofreading. Keep up the good work, and happy writing!

Becca

3 comments:

Louise said...

I agree, reading aloud is a MUST. But because I work from home and I've a family of six I often get teased for it - especially when I use expression in dialogue (my male characters always sound a cross between American and Australian apparently!).

Errors do happen though - I've had letters from editors and agents with typos so it shows we're all human in the end.

Lee A. Lopez said...

This is such great advice, especially pointing out that spell check isn't fool proof. I've found that out the hard way..
Have a couple of proof readers, beside yourself, and your buddy. If possible, have more then one writing pal do a line edit, looking for glaring mistakes. The only problem with this, it's pay back when they need you to do the same.

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