Editing is more complex than just fixing misspelled words (though that is an important step). There are several distinct types of editing that every manuscript should go through: substantive editing, line editing, copy editing, and proofreading. Writers can benefit from understanding these types so they can self-edit as much as possible before handing their manuscripts off to a professional editor.

What is Proofreading?

Proofreading is the final step in a novel’s journey. Any rewrites or changes suggested in a previous phase of editing should be finished and implemented before a proofread. The goal is to make everything look as perfect as possible before publication or submission to an editor.

At a publishing house, a proofread will often be done after a book has been laid out, or typeset, into a file ready for print. This is one last chance to double-check spellings, remove wayward commas, fix widows or orphans, catch any last copy editing-level errors, and ensure the text layout looks sharp.

How to Self-Edit

In this pass of your book, ignore plot points, character interactions, pacing, style, etc. You’re just making sure there are no outright errors.

A good spellchecker like the one in Microsoft Word can catch the same word typed twice in a row or help you flag misspellings of your characters’ names (just hit “Ignore All” when it flags the correct spelling). But spellcheck won’t notice if you type “duck” where you meant “deck” or “she” instead of “he,” so be wary putting too much trust in it.

The find and replace functions can also serve you well. Use Control + f (Command + f on a Mac) to look for two spaces after a period or words you commonly misspell.

Also, read your novel aloud. You won’t be able to skim or gloss over a line while you’re pronouncing every word. Many word processors also have a text-to-speech function, so you can listen to your novel being read back to you. Printing out your manuscript will also help your brain see the words afresh, as will changing the font or spacing of your document.

What to Look for in a Proofreader

  • Obsessive attention to detail. No typo is too small.
  • Thorough corrections. You shouldn’t get back a document with a note saying “I spotted a few times you misspelled cavernous” without the misspelling being flagged every time.
  • Respect for the author’s voice. A proofreader shouldn’t interfere with your style, move blocks of text around, or tighten a sentence to be less wordy.
  • Familiarity with various style manuals and formats, as well as readiness to refer to a house style or individual book’s style notes.

Working with a Proofreader

You don’t need to critically evaluate everything your proofreader suggests or try to come up with your own solutions. A good proofreader knows what to look for and most changes are not subjective.

Since a book being proofread is often already laid out, proofreaders may leave notes on a PDF document that you or an editor will have to manually apply to an editable file. Make sure you don’t miss any notes—checking them off or keeping a count can help you keep them straight.

A proofreader using a PDF may also check things like text alignment on a page, accuracy of running heads (the title, page number, or other information at the top of a book’s page), index or glossary page numbers, or footnotes, if they’re used. Some publishing houses call this a “blueline edit” and may treat it as a separate step.


< Read “Editing Explained, Part 3: Copy Editing”