Proofreading Your Novel: 8 Ways to Edit Your Final Draft
We all want our novels to feel professional.
Whether you dream of writing stories full time or just want to finish your passion project, creating a professional quality novel is a big deal—especially if you’re a self-published author.
Though many of us don’t like it, readers will compare us to our traditionally published brethren, and not always in a good light. While perceptions are changing, there were many years when “self-published” meant “amateur” in the eyes of readers. But what’s the actual difference between traditional and self-published novels? Well, the answer has a lot to do with proofreading.
This article is loosely based on my book, The Ten Day Edit.
Not only will this book include more detail on how to proofread your novel, but it’ll also walk you through everything that comes beforehand too. If you enjoy this post, I hope you’ll consider checking it out! 🙂
The Difference Between Pros and Amateurs
- 1 The Difference Between Pros and Amateurs
- 2 Why is Proofreading so Hard?
- 3 8 Ways to Make Proofreading Your Novel Easier
- 4 It’s All About the Details!
Before a book can be traditionally published, that book has to go through a long and intensive journey—and no, this has nothing to do with querying or hunting down literary agents!
Instead, what I’m talking about is editing.
You see, while publishing houses are scaling back many of their support systems for authors (especially when it comes to marketing) the one thing most traditional publishers still put a lot of time and energy into is editing. Developmental editing is there to polish a novel’s story, copyediting handles its prose, and proofreading ensures it meets a professional standard.
Yes, you heard me right—proofreading ensures your novel meets a professional standard.
Though you might think proofreading is just about checking for typos or misspellings, it’s actually a vital step before publication, and this goes for indie authors just as much as traditional ones.
Unfortunately, this is also where many self-published authors fall short. Proofreading is a time-intensive process, and many authors ignore it rather than spending the time or money required to do it right. Not only does this give self-published novels a bad name, but it also sells your writing short. Your story may be amazing and your prose inspiring, but without that last layer of polish your novel will always seem amateurish to readers.
Fortunately, as dull as proofreading may be, that doesn’t mean you can’t get it done.
There are tons of tips and tricks for proofreading a novel successfully, along with some handy tools for proofreading you’ll want to check out. Ultimately, if you take your writing career seriously—whether you’re an indie author or not—then proofreading is one part of the editing process you won’t want to skip!
Copyediting vs. Proofreading:
While most of us have some idea of what proofreading means, there is still plenty of lingering confusion surrounding this term, especially when comparing it to its closely related cousin: copyediting.
Long story short—no, copyediting and proofreading are not the same thing.
While proofreading is all about the tiniest details of your novel, copyediting is more focused on your prose as a whole. Are your sentences clear and is your writing compelling? Are you consistent in how you use different terms? How can you strengthen your word choice? Above all, how can you polish your writing style to better convey your story and capture your reader’s imagination?
Copyediting: this form of editing occurs after you’ve finalized your story itself, and focuses on reviewing your draft for clarity and writing style.
Proofreading: this is the final stage of the editing process and ensures your manuscript is ready for publication.
Importantly, copyediting comes before proofreading when editing a novel. If you haven’t copyedited your manuscript yet, definitely tackle that before you dive into the proofreading tips below. After all, proofreading should be the final task on your self-editing to-do list!
If you’re interested in copyediting your novel, here are a few places to start:
- Show, Don’t Tell: How to Write Like a Movie Camera
- How to Discover Your Writing Voice
- The Complete Guide to Self-Editing Your Novel in 8 Steps
- The Hemmingway Writing App
Why is Proofreading so Hard?
As you dig into proofreading your final draft, you may find yourself wondering: Why is proofreading so hard?
Well, for starters, proofreading is a weird outlier when writing a novel. It’s not creative like storytelling, but it’s also not analytical the way the rest of the editing process is. Instead, it’s just about knowing the rules and finding your mistakes—which sounds more like math than writing!
Here are just a few of the things you’ll need to look for when proofreading your novel:
- Grammatical mistakes
- Run-on sentences
- Passive Voice
- Formatting errors
- Tense skipping
Some people thrive on this game of hide and seek, but a lot of writers simply don’t. It can be very difficult to stay motivated and focused on such a tedious task, especially since you won’t see dramatic progress along the way. Not only that, but you need a firm grasp on English grammar to truly master the proofreading process, which not everyone has.
If you know you need to brush up on a few of these topics, check out these resources:
- How to Choose the Right Tense for Your Novel
- Top English Grammar Tips
- What Are the 14 Punctuation Marks in English Grammar?
- The Basics of Run-On Sentences
- Grammar: Run-On Sentences and Sentence Fragments
- Tips and Tools for Passive Voice
Fortunately, there are tons of tools that can help you proofread your novel successfully even without getting a PhD in English grammar, and most (though not all) of them are free!
8 Ways to Make Proofreading Your Novel Easier
Start at the Right Time:
I know I’ve mentioned it already in this article, but this is important:
Proofreading should be the very last thing you do when editing your novel.
There’s no point in rooting out typos or formatting errors if you’re still copyediting your draft, and definitely not if you’re still editing your story itself! All that will do is waste your time when you end up scrapping or changing sections of your story, inevitably introducing more typos right after you’ve finished proofreading.
Instead, save proofreading for the very end. Only once you’re satisfied with the final state of your manuscript is it time to complete these finishing touches.
Use a Story Bible:
Often, the hardest part of proofreading isn’t punctuation or spelling—most of us have at least a decent grasp on those things, and spell checkers can cover what we don’t know. Instead, it’s keeping track of the unique words and names you’ve created for your own story that’s the most difficult.
That’s where having a story bible comes in.
Not only can a story bible help you keep track of specific details within your story like a character’s birthday or eye color, but it can also remind you of how you spelled or used certain words. This is mostly helpful for fantasy and science fiction authors, but any genre could benefit!
If you think this could help you proofread your novel, then check out this guide to creating a story bible. I’ve even designed a free story bible PDF template you can download from The Novel Smithy Resource Library by signing up below. 🙂
Get an Extra Set of Eyes:
After days or weeks of editing your novel, it can actually become hard to see your own story. Words blur together, and soon there’s no way you’ll be able to spot a misplaced comma or a tiny error in your manuscript.
This is why enlisting help is so valuable!
Whether you ask friends, loved ones, beta readers, or fellow writers to review your story, their fresh perspective can be vital if you truly want to catch every typo in your novel. Plus, most of the time they’ll be happy to help, though you should make sure to thank them for their time—proofreading a novel is no simple task after all!
Personally, I lean heavily on my beta readers when proofreading, including for my soon-to-be-released book The Ten Day Edit. Not only are they fantastic people to work with, but they’re also very good at their jobs. I’m incredibly fortunate in that regard.
Of course, if you don’t have a group of dedicated beta readers, a close friend or writing confidant can still be an amazing help! Even if they only catch one error out of your entire story, that’s one less error for you to worry about.
While I personally enlist the help of beta readers, sometimes you need to bring out the big guns: professional proofreaders.
If you know your story has a lot of errors or if you’re working on a tight deadline, or even if you just don’t want to proofread on your own, hiring a professional is likely your best bet.
Professional proofreaders not only have the expertise to catch grammatical errors and other hard to find problems, but they also have the experience to back them up. This means they’ll be able to proofread your novel far faster than you could, simply because they know what they’re doing thanks to years of practice.
Of course, this will come with some added costs.
Any professional editor will be a big investment, so you’ll need to weigh the pros and cons carefully before looking into professional services. Still, if you’d like to hand your manuscript off to a pro, a professional proofreader would be a wise choice.
Proofread on Paper:
Sometimes the best thing you can do when proofreading is to work on paper.
While a lot of us love to write our novels using software like Scrivener or Word, there’s something about the feeling of pen on paper that makes it much easier to focus. You’ll find yourself noticing details you wouldn’t have otherwise, and you won’t be as prone to distract yourself with random internet browsing.
Proofreading is simply one of those times when going old school is best, so I encourage you to break out the red pens and print your manuscript—it might surprise you just how much this simple trick can help!
Read Aloud (Or Have Your Computer Do It for You):
Alongside proofreading on paper, there’s another editing hack you’ll want to consider:
Reading your manuscript aloud.
For many of us, we’re more likely to notice an error by hearing it rather than by reading it. This is especially true when it comes to grammar—certain things just sounds wrong, even if they look correct on paper. By listen to our stories aloud, we’re that much more likely to catch errors we otherwise would have overlooked.
Of course, not all of us have the lung capacity to read an entire manuscript to ourselves. Fortunately, there are plenty of options for having your computer read it for you, from dedicated software to simple online tools.
One great (and free) option is Google Docs, which you can set up to read your manuscript out loud. The steps to get this to work are a bit too long for me to relay here, but you can check out this article to learn more.
It’s no secret that I’m an enormous fan of ProWritingAid.
Not only do I use it for all of my blog posts and books, but I also recommend it to basically anyone that asks. While there’s nothing quite as good as having a set of outside eyes review your manuscript, ProWritingAid is definitely the next best thing. Plus, it’ll make your beta readers’ lives easier too. 🙂
Here are a few of the things ProWritingAid can help you with:
- The basics: grammar, spelling, and punctuation
- Sentence clarity
- Weak word choice
- Run-on sentences
- Sticky words
- Passive voice
Holly Ostara over at Books and Alchemy wrote an awesome post all about the pros and cons of using ProWritingAid, which I definitely encourage you to check out. She goes into a ton of depth, making her article a great way to decide whether or not ProWritingAid is right for you!
Take Your Time:
Above all, when proofreading a novel, you need to take your time.
There’s nothing worse for you or your final manuscript than rushing yourself. Not only will you miss both minor and glaring errors, but you’ll stress yourself out unnecessarily in the process. If you’re on a tight deadline, hire a professional to help you. Otherwise, be patient and be thorough—your novel will thank you.
It’s All About the Details!
At the end of the day, nothing is ever truly perfect.
Even if you master the proofreading process or hire a professional proofreader, there will always be at least one typo lingering in your manuscript. Unfortunately, this is just the nature of the game—even traditionally published novels have errors hidden here and there.
The most important thing is to show that you care about the quality of your final novel. Your readers will thank you, and you’ll be able to take pride in the book you’ve created.
Ultimately, that’s the point of proofreading in the first place!
Of course, there are tons of other tips and tricks for proofreading a novel beyond just the ones in this article. These eight are some of my favorites, but I’d love to know how you proofread your stories too! Let me know your best proofreading secrets in the comments, or share what you find difficult about the editing process instead. That way we can all help each other write the best self-published novels we can. 🙂