Proofreading is something that happens after thorough editing; proofreading and editing are not the same thing. Furthermore, there are different modes of editing. For the purpose of this post, let’s assume your manuscript has already been fully written, rewritten, and has had solid editing. If you want to aim for an error-free book after it’s been printed, you should perform three post-edit proofreads.
When it comes to proofreading for self-publishing, have the copy as clean as possible before layout; for the sake of efficiency, you want the designer to make as few changes as possible after it’s laid out. I aim for as much perfection as possible before then by following these steps:
- When the manuscript is written in full, have it thoroughly, professionally, and objectively copyedited. It’s up to you how many times you want that to happen. Once? Twice? It depends on how many people are involved and how many changes happen as a result of feedback. Once is probably not going to be enough. Ideally, I’d say at least twice. It’s worth the financial investment to have a working relationship with an editor, not just a one-time transaction.
- After all editing rounds are complete, have everyone involved in the project agree that it’s been edited and tweaked as much as it’s ever going to be.
- Give it a first proofread while it’s still in a Word document.
- Make corrections to that Word document as found in the proofreading round.
- Have the book designed.
- Once it’s designed, look at the PDF and give it a second proofread. Remember—one round of proofreading will catch at least 95% of existing errors, as is industry standard); 100% is not realistic at this point. Mark up any stray errors on the PDF proof with the Adobe tools.
- Give the marked-up proof back to the designer; they will refer to the PDF to make any revisions in the native file where the book block was designed.
- After those corrections have been made, look at the PDF proof again; perform a third proofread. It should be as close to perfect now as it is ever going to be, providing no new additions or significant changes have happened (beyond correcting those errors found while doing that second proofread).
- If you’re satisfied that all errors have been remedied, and if everything else looks good (cover, back of book bio and synopsis, design elements, etc.), get everyone to sign off in agreement that this is the version you all want printed.
- Authorize the designer to prepare the book design files for delivery to channels (printer, distribution channels, wherever you’re getting it printed up).
At this point, you can certainly feel free to proofread a hard copy. Let’s be real: you’re likely going to scrutinize your first hard copy and sweat bullets over errors. Your editor likely will, too. It’s just part of the whole deal—the human factor that we can’t edit away. There comes a time when you just have to let go and be human. After all those editing and proofreading rounds, you deserve to relax.
If you do find errors in the hard copy, decide how important it is; if there are a few minor ones, I’d be inclined to just let it go. I try to avoid making any changes after it’s become a hard-copy book; printers charge fees for post-publication revisions. Before you submit files to printers and distribution channels, talk to your printer about what’s involved in having a preview hard copy; that’s also a good time to find out if there are any post-publication revision fees, and what it would mean for your title’s availability while undergoing said revisions.
More than anything, edit and proofread the h-e-double-hockeysticks out of your book before it gets printed—and then trust that all is well in the universe.