Hello, everybody, and welcome back to Quote, Unquote!
Not everybody likes to write, I know that. And some people who do like to write don’t quite understand the intricacies of spelling, punctuation, and similar concepts (it took me a long time to get the hang of parentheses, but now…here we are!).
But these things are so vitally important to the presentation of your story that I wanted to dedicate a whole post specifically to them. Today I am here to tell you about how crucial proofreading is in your story.
A quick note before we begin: This post is specifically targeted towards authors who intend to publish independently. Though proofreading is just as important for a traditionally published author, your publishing house will usually supply an editor for you that will take care of proofreading. Indie authors face much more pressure because they do much of the work themselves and may not always hire an editor. So if you want to publish independently, this post is for you!
Let’s jump right in.
errors can pull readers out of the story
I am not terribly detail-oriented, much to my parents’ chagrin. I often miss things that are right in front of my nose in favor of the bigger picture. But there is one exception to this rule, and that is in anything that I read.
Typos, punctuation errors, and especially egregious grammatical errors can pull me out of a book and break the spell faster than you can blink. I don’t know what it is that frustrates me so much about it, but my attention is drawn to the typo and it’s extremely hard to get back into the story afterwards. You could have the greatest, most captivating story in the world, but if each page is filled with errors, I’d put it down immediately.
(This could just be me, of course. You might not be the type to be distracted by errors—in which case, good for you. However, there are people like this out there, and it’s best to respect them by making your manuscript as clean as possible.)
You get fewer typos in traditionally published books because they typically go through rounds and rounds of professional proofreading, but in independently published books errors are far more frequent. I’ve read indie-published books (and I won’t say which ones) that have errors more often than not, and it frustrates me to no end.
Which brings me to my next point:
errors can diminish the readability of the story
It’s no fun to have to try to puzzle out what the author is saying. (Oxford commas are important, people!) By proofreading and making yourself familiar with both basic and advanced grammar rules, your story will be clearer and more readable.
I’m not just talking about line editing, either. There’s a difference between line editing and proofreading, though people often get them confused. Line editing is where you’re going through your manuscript, line by line, and fixing small-scale things to help your story flow better. It’s what beta readers often do. Proofreading is similar to line editing in that you’re going through and looking at the sentences instead of the whole story, but with proofreading you are focusing less on the content of the story and more on how it is presented.
Line editing is just as important as proofreading—both will eventually make your story clearer—but proofreading will make it clean as well as clear.
errors can show a lack of respect for the reader
These two factors—interrupting the flow of the story and making it less clear to read—reveal something serious: that you might not actually care for your reader.
What? you say, outraged. Liesl, of course I care for my reader! I wrote this whole book for them, didn’t I?!
Yes, you did. I think that’s great. But the value of the story is significantly diminished if the reader can’t actually understand it.
By proofreading, you are helping the reader through the story, allowing them to flow through it like a calm boat ride. If your story is full of typos and punctuation errors, or if it’s not formatted in a clean, clear way, it can feel less like a cruise and more like whitewater rafting.
Your job as an author is to give your reader something new, fiction or nonfiction. A new perspective, a new experience, a new concept, a new world—whatever it may be. And since human minds aren’t necessarily always receptive to new ideas, it is also your job to give it to them in a nice, shiny package. Proofreading helps with this. By making sure your writing is as uncluttered as possible, you can prepare your readers’ minds for the new thing you’re about to give them.
errors can make you appear less professional
Now let’s talk about you. So far we’ve discussed how your readers are impacted by errors in your story. How are you impacted by your readers?
Whether your reader realizes it consciously or not, if your book is full of typos, they will recognize that you are not making the best use of their time by forcing them to wade through the mush of unedited writing to get to the actual story. This can lead to them getting frustrated with you, the author, and likely deciding to put the book down.
Now, this already sounds bad—you worked so hard on your story, only to have a hopeful reader get discouraged. But it gets worse, because it can spread. Your reader might tell another potential reader, “The story was great, but the writing was bad, and there were too many typos”—and just like that, the potential reader might no longer be a potential reader.
This has happened with me more than once. I have had a friend, knowing how picky I was about grammar, tell me about a really good series that she loved but that had common grammatical errors and typos. I didn’t even have to try to read the book to know that it wasn’t going to work for me. That disappoints me because I know I’m missing out on a great story, but for whatever reason, the author, whether they knew it or not, didn’t respect their readers enough to package it up cleanly.
This is going to sound harsh, but ultimately it boils down to this: Your oversight/decision/whatever it may be to not make sure your story is grammatically correct reflects badly on you.
Also, this doesn’t just apply to stories. This applies to anything you write: articles, blog posts, essays, whatever it may be. Respect your reader and their time by proofreading and cleaning up your writing.
how can I avoid this?
I’m so glad you asked. The very best way is to familiarize yourself with grammar rules and use them. Internalize them. If you need to, find some middle school or high school exercises and practice using the grammar rules that trick you the most.
I highly recommend buying a copy of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style at your local used bookstore—that book will walk you through most everything you need to know. And if you can’t find something that you’re looking for, there’s always a Google search—Purdue Online Writing Lab (or Purdue OWL) is my go-to site for things like this. Online programs like Grammarly can be good for proofreading, but they don’t catch everything, and they don’t read like a human would, so I would use it sparingly.
The next best way is to get someone else to read your writing, preferably someone who you know is good with grammar. This could even be your parents or grandparents, if they know what they’re doing. They can help you point out the small issues that you might have missed and teach you how to fix them. Better yet, if you have the money, hire a professional editor. They’ve been trained in this very thing.
If you don’t have someone else who can read your writing for you, you can do it yourself. Just follow the age-old rule of stepping back from your writing for at least a few days before attempting editing so you can look at it with fresh eyes, or put it in a different style of formatting to trick your brain into thinking it’s different.
I wanted to make one last thing clear: If you forget a comma now and then, or you don’t put an apostrophe where you’re supposed to, it’s really not a big deal. In this post, I’m mainly talking about writing where there’s a typo every other sentence. It’s rare, but it happens. Small grammar issues aren’t the problem here—lots of small grammar issues are.
Writer, if you have a hard time with grammar, don’t get discouraged. Lots of people struggle with it. It takes practice and patience to learn how to wrangle the English language. If you really want to learn—and if you’re reading this post, I assume you do—you’ll put the time and effort in and pick it up in no time.
So go forth with your new knowledge, but don’t use it to correct your friends when they make a tiny grammar mistake. You don’t want to be that person.
Thank you so much for reading, and I’ll see you next Wednesday!