How Many Times do I need to Proof my Manuscript?

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by Jim Shubin

Q: Dear Book Alchemist,

After spending three years writing my book, I’m finally ready to publish it! I’m also kind of tired of reading it, and ready for my next project. I’ve rewritten my book about a dozen times. How many times do I need to proofread it?

— Ready to Move On


A: Dear Ready to Move On,

That’s a trick question! After all the time you’ve spent with your manuscript, you need someone else to proofread it. Really. A fresh set of eyes will find things you’re too close to the work to see, like unintended repetitions or inconsistencies in the way you used ellipses or italics. A proofreader can also catch errors in capitalization and punctuation that your spellchecker might not have picked up.

Whether you choose a friend who majored in English four decades ago or a professional proofreader or editor, you must complete this step, and you’ll need outside help.

You’ve probably had the experience of reading a professionally edited book and finding a typo (annoying, isn’t it?). Every book has them. But I once put together a book with copy that had not been proofread first, and found more than 2,400 typos. Yes, 2,400 (that’s not a typo) typos! If the author had fixed them, I wouldn’t have had to. In the end, it turned out beautifully, but we spent a lot more time (and therefore the author spent more money) than we would have needed if the copy had been proofed before we prepared the file for the printer.

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