The importance of proofreading

As writers, we know the importance of having a good editor AND a good proofreader. A structural editor can take a good book and make it great by simply pointing out how to strengthen the story or the flow of the story. A proofreader helps save us from the dangers of relying on spellcheck. The latter has been proven once again in the book, Fire and Fury, published by Henry Holt & Co.

I don’t know about you, but I really don’t want to know about Bannon’s “pubic” appearance. Of course, that should have been “public appearance”. But that’s not the only instance of it happening.

Yep, you read that right. Bannon has “pubic venom” as well as a “pubic appearance”. Want to check it out yourself, you can click on the link above and get the Kindle version of the book or simply go to google books and look it up.

Add to that the factual errors that were missed — for example, the book is being called out for saying John Boehner resigned some several years before he really did — and there are a couple of conclusions that are easy to make. Holt either didn’t send the book through editing and proofing because it wanted to get it out ASAP or Wolff, the author, discarded all suggested edits and someone let him get away with it. Either way, it proves one thing: it doesn’t matter whether a book is traditionally published or indie published, editing must happen on all levels to put out the best product possible.

So the lesson to be learned is NOT to rely on spellcheck. Whether you are writing fiction or non-fiction, check your facts. Failure to do so will taint your book and any message it might contain. If it is bad enough, you might find your book, like this one, being leaked to the world by Wikileaks.  😉

Seriously, spellcheck is great for some things but it doesn’t make distinctions between a correctly spelled word being used in a wrong way and the correct word in context. Hence, “pubic” skipped right through the editors at Holt.  That means you have to put eyes on your manuscript after edits have been done to make sure nothing has slipped past. If you don’t do it, have someone do it for you. It’s important.

However, don’t be surprised if something is still missed. It happens. Just hope it’s not quite as “WTF” as we saw above.


42 thoughts on “The importance of proofreading

  1. Think the worst case of “proof reading” was going through a friends book that he had published and in one paragraph everything became instant gibberish. If this had been and ebook I would have blamed the reader. This unfortunately had been a dead tree edition.
    Same friend another manuscript had to go over it again after it came back from another editor and edit it again with another friend.
    So yeah, proofing only works if the proofer is any good. :/

  2. It cost some time, but I download mine in their final form from Amazon and go over them one more time. Something like the original meaning of proofreading – getting the first printing from the newly set type.

    No matter what, I don’t think that any of us can possibly top the first printing of the King James Bible that admonished its readers to commit adultery…

    OT, somewhat – Amanda, I am truly worrying about your liver these days. What Happened? was bad enough, but moving right on to another piece of bad fiction cannot do you any good. Any money I send to you now is designated for, hmmm. Cheesecake. Yes, cheesecake; no lacing it with bourbon sauce either, young lady.

  3. Proofreading, yeeeah. Every time I go through something I’ve written, I end up with a whole new revision from catching all kinds of little typos and “that’s not what I meant!” moments.

    Five passes, still find stuff. Argh.

    Hilarious to see the Lefty hit book riddled with stupid shit. So much for the Power of Dead Tree Publishing.

  4. Schoolmate long ago (duh…) was Most Relieved Indeed that I caught a similar thing in his paper. He was glad to not include the term “pubic humiliation” in his work.

  5. I’ve heard that the printers of Shakespeare’s First Folio made corrections as they went along in the printing, and no two copies may be exactly alike.
    One of my really cringeworthy typos was having some characters going through a forest and “making trees as they went.” I meant “marking,” of course, but brother, did people have their little jokes. One reader said, “Pretty good trick!” Another asked, “Does Joyce Kilmer know about this?” (Kilmer, you’ll recall, was the poet who wrote “only God can make a tree.”
    Good grief! I didn’t just make a typo, I infringed on a heavenly prerogative!

    1. Not just the First Folio. And they would assemble the pages anywhich way, so the only way you know you got all the corrections was get as many copies as you could, and compare. (And guess which was the later.)

  6. But, but, I can’t even proofread my posts. I mean, I do, but it’s as if I don’t.

    This is a serious nightmare. I’ve read texts aloud and changed the font and printed it out to proofread, and still errors slip through. It’s as though the things are alive and breed.

    1. Sometimes I edit a comment a lot and make it pretty good, sometimes I don’t bother and only notice later that it is garbage.

  7. All together now: spill chuck is knot ewer fiend. OttoCorrupt is indeed out to get you.

    The funniest typo/translation problem I have thus far found was in a tourist brochure that described a region of Germany as growing, “spelt, unicorns, and barley.”

    I suspect what happened was 1) The German version had “Einhorn” [unicorn] instead of Einkorn [a type of wheat]. 2) The translator/ GoogleTranslate had no human back-up to catch the error.

    1. I remember seeing something along the lines, that if a tsunami was about to hit, mermaids would sound, when the word was supposed to be “sirens”.

      And for fun, check out the “Google Translate Sings” page on YouTube. 😉

  8. Doe yew tryst year spill chucker?

    That was the headline on the handbills I posted on college bulletin boards when I tried to drum up clients for a proofreading service many years ago. The second line said “Microsoft Word thinks that’s a perfectly good sentence.”

    No takers. Sigh.

  9. Neither proofreading nor a first-rate editor can’t compensate for certain errors. After I was certain Shadow of a Sword was perfect, I discovered quite by accident that I’d omitted an entire scene.

    Not so clever, eh? And I did proofread my first draft before I sent it to my worthy editrix Kelly. I simply missed it on the second pass. And Kelly, of course, couldn’t possibly have known that a big chunk of text she’d never seen was “supposed to be there.”

    That provides an interesting lesson to those of us who write important, high-impact scenes “out of sequence” and say to ourselves, “I’ll insert that after I’ve written the rest of that segment.”

  10. Sometimes you find errors in print versions that never existed in the text you turned in. For example, Analog and Asimov’s create the copy for their Kindle editions from the product generated for their print editions. This means every word that’s hyphenated at the end of a line turns into two words, so you’ll see things like “He’s coming back but not to day. It will be tomorrow morn ing at the earliest.” Or you’ll see “I see you met my motherin-law,” where they treated ALL end-of-line hyphens as breaking two words.

    Curiously, F&SF seems to be immune to this problem. (Different owner, of course.)

  11. My “favorite” error — which was actually a copyediting error, rather than a proofreading one — happened in Fredric Brown’s, What Mad Universe.

    (slight spoiler — I’ll try not to give away too much for those who haven’t read the book and want to.)

    The book is originally set in 1954 (it was first published in 1949, but it starts slightly in the future of when it was published, before the setting really changes). Our hero, at the end, comes back, calls someone, and says, “Want to meet me at Idlewild Airport?”

    Starting with the 1978 Bantam edition (so it’s coming out from a major publisher) some copyeditor knows that after the JFK assassination, the airport was renamed to Kennedy. And, so that copyeditor changed it from Idlewild to Kennedy. Despite the book being set in 1954.

    And every edition from then on picked up that error, until I was re-editing it for the NESFA Press edition of his novels, and changed it back. I really hope that future reprints use the good text, rather than the Bantam text.

    1. I had a prolonged fight with a proofreader who wanted to change Charles Town to Charleston. The book was set in the late 17th century. Eventually I xeroxed one pound of contemporary references, highlighted Charles Town and sent them to her.

  12. Back in the nineties I used to index self-help law books. When I asked the first time if I should mention any typos I saw, the answer was, yes,yes, yes, there are never too many eyes. At least once I found an error that was missed by the proofreader who was working simultaneously. But of course when I put my book up on Amazon I switched a sentence at the last minute with the result that one sentence has no period and another has two periods at the end. And all three of my readers have mentioned it. I console myself with the thought that at least it seems to be the only mistake since they don’t mention any others.

    1. It really helps to let the story cool. Your memory fades after about a month. (And gremlins get in to mess things up.)

      1. Had a friend who told me he couldn’t proofread anything he wrote for college classes until a week had passed.

  13. Trussed knot thigh spiel Chequers.

    Curiously, the last word is being tagged, even though it is a perfectly good proper noun. The UK Prime Minister has a little country cottage. Chequers.

    The save the Titanic novel (the time travelers save the ship) in which the ship is at first floundering, not foundering, comes to mind. That appears to have been deliberate.

  14. Indie writers who are on Baen’s Bar and not afraid to publish a draft on the Slush Pile will get the benefit of the superb eye of Edith Maor. You may not always agree with her, but she is a wonderful aid.

  15. Tossing this out because it’s what my twisted mind came up with.

    Maybe the proofreader voted for Trump.

  16. One common type of error I have noticed in many Kindle books that I do not recall having seen in dead tree versions, is the elision of two letters into one. For example, rn, as in “morning” becomes m, as in “moming”. It is subtle, yes, but as a former proofreader myself, I notice it. And I don’t understand why it happens, especially in books that were printed long before they became Kindling.

    I worked for a couple of years as a proofreader (not a copyeditor per se) in two different photo-typesetting shops. I was very good at it (except for the week that I had a bad cold and my efficiency dropped about 70%.) I have thought about trying it again, but I am not familiar with the mark-up conventions/procedures of digital proofing. Any suggestions on where I could learn this would be appreciated!

    (An I sew hope their our know typos inn this comment!)

    1. Probably using text recognition software on old hard copies. Especially if the letters are a little blurred, or the old font had the letters a touch too closely spaced.

    2. That’s almost certainly an indication that they weren’t working from an original machine readable version, but OCRed a paper copy of the book. That’s a fairly common error (and which letters get hit depends on the font, the paper/ink combination, and dumb (bad) luck).

      Some OCR software catches some of those cases, by doing dictionary lookups on the words the OCR thinks it found. But that’s a slow process, since, even if you don’t get a new legal word, which won’t get caught, you then need to manually look at everything it does catch and fix it. So even if they’re supposed to be caught, some OCR errors slip through.

      And, of course, there might have been (I should probably say, “almost certainly were”) errors in the printed book that was scanned. So you still need to do a proofreading pass (although looking for OCR errors is a bit easier/faster than regular proofing, since you can try tricks like changing the font for a dummy copy into one where that’s more likely to show up — and, once you find them, go back and fix it in the real copy).

      1. Thanks, and also to Wyrdbard. Your explanation makes sense for many of the errors like this that I’ve seen. I was wondering how print-first books were converted to ebooks if an original digital file wasn’t available.

        1. Another thing you can do to help try to catch this kind of error is to scan/OCR another copy, preferably from another edition if it’s available, and then compare the two files.

          It can help you (and note that all these tricks just help, and don’t catch everything) to find not only the kinds of OCR errors that you get, but can also find errors that were in the prior print editions, since, unless the other edition just reused the other edition text, then they’ll have different errors in the two texts, and you can figure out which is correct.

    3. I actually saw that in a videogame. Used ‘garnison’ for ‘garrison’, or something like that.

  17. I used to have a sheet of paper with a one line space cut out so I could just see one line at a time. Of course, that didn’t work for the words before and after that line…

  18. I keep an older Kindle so I can email my draft m.s. to it and have it read aloud to me. My brain will supply missing words like “of” or “to” when I read with my eyes, but not when I “read” with my ears. Also, some word pairs like breath and breathe trip me up in print but are clearly different when spoken. Of course, this doesn’t help with homophones such as discrete and discreet, so I still get someone to proof it for me afterwards.

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