The Proof is in the Pudding

Welcome to Tuesday at the Scribes. I’d like to talk about pudding…well…really I’d like to talk about proofing. Proofreading, that is. But first, since I don’t want to be accused of false advertising, I’ve included my favorite recipe for Bread Pudding on our Scribe’s Savories and Sweets recipe page. There’s nothing low fat or cholesterol free about this yummy comfort inducing dessert, which doubles for breakfast in a pinch, (eggs+bread+milk=breakfast), but it was one of my dad’s specialties. My dad made the best peanut butter fudge on the planet. His bread pudding was a close second, although he would be the first to give credit to Betty Crocker. He always said that the secret to his success was in the details. I couldn’t agree more.

 This leads me to my real reason for being here today. When it comes to producing a quality product, whether it be for publication or contest entries, the importance of proofreading cannot be overstated. And the more eyes, the better.

Part of my indie-pub process after the book has been professionally edited, is ordering proof copies from CreateSpace a few weeks before I upload to Kindle Direct Publishing, B&N Pub-it, and Smashwords. I give one to my editor to read through again, and I hand off a couple of copies to beta readers willing to write reviews and give me feedback. I go through my copy with a fine-tooth comb, finding a remarkable amount of typos, overused words, weak verbs, punctuation problems and formatting issues. It’s not that I haven’t been through the manuscript a hundred times already, but my eyes miss things on the computer that they pick up on the printed page.

It takes me a week to read through and mark up my copy. I try to read it like an editor, being picky about word choices, characterization, and adding depth or cutting anything non-essential. I’m basically looking for anything I need to change at the last minute to make the book really shine. From the missing quotation mark at the end of a sentence to ‘does the last line of the book tie it all together?’ I then collect feedback from my editor and my readers, make all the necessary changes to both the inside content and the cover of the book, and then upload again to CreateSpace. I order a second round of proof copies, go through it all again on my own, as well as having it proof read one more time, and  then do a final upload.

At this point I order about fifty hardcopies to start. I’m relatively certain I can sell, gift, or use that many copies for reviews and giveaways, but it’s not so many that I’m “stuck” with them if there are any remaining errors that got by me and my team. One of the nice things about self-publishing is that if I still find errors, I can go back and fix them before I print any more hardcopies. I can also make corrections at any time on my digital copies, which takes a lot of the stress out of trying to get it exactly perfect. Since I’m all for saving myself time and headaches, however, I try to make it as best I can on the first print run.

 You’d think after three projects, I’d have it down to a science, but no matter how many times I go through one of my books, I can always find something that needs fixing or changing. So before I do that final upload, I do hire a proofreader–someone who does this for a living. I pay this woman about $100, and it is money well spent. Even after all the eyes that have been on the book, she still finds a significant amount of tiny details that need fixing. She catches misplaced commas, compound words that I missed, and any misspellings that don’t show up on spell check that I and my editor may have missed.

Each time I’ve gone through this process, I’ve been down to the wire on getting those hardcopies back in time for my release date. This time is no different. I’ll have my second proof copy of SAVAGE CINDERELLA this Thursday, do a final read-through and have my “proofer” go through it, and do my upload on Sunday to get my final copies for the 15th. I pay some whopping shipping fees for that kind of turn-around time, but it’s a necessary evil to get it right and get it quick. No monkeying around. I’ll admit that I stress myself out a bit by cutting it so close and being so picky, but I can’t seem to do it any other way. I bet my dad would approve of my method. And to ease the stress, I can always bake some bread pudding while I wait.

How do you ensure that your work is “perfect” before you submit? Do you have a proof reader, critique partner, or beta readers? Any ideas on how I can streamline my process?

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25 thoughts on “The Proof is in the Pudding”

  1. Would it be wrong to each bread pudding for breakfast? Sounds delish PJ.

    As far as proofreading, I go through several steps. The first being time off from the book. I usually let it sit for a week or two, then I load it on my Nook or Kindle and read it. I find a ton of mistakes, overused words, passive phrases, etc. this way. My first readers and critique partners also help me out. Later, I print it on paper and read through it again. For my WIP, I’m going to try something new – scramble the printed pages so they are out of order (that way I can line edit without getting caught up in the story). Final edits come from my publishers. So far both my editors have told me I’m a very clean writer – so what I’m doing must be working!

      1. i believe your Kindle comes with instructions about how to load a .doc from your computer. I think you can also use Calibre to convert documents for e-reader devices. Casey can probably tell you the step by step. i know with the Kindle Fire you can even e-mail the document to your Kindle. One of the teenagers in my writing droup asked me to do that. i was like, “um…okay…didn’t know we could do that!”

    1. Kindle just added a program that makes moving documents to your Kindle easier. With a PDF file, you should be able to drop and drag it onto your Kindle (but you have to use the USB cord to do it). But, like PJ said, your user manual should tell you how to do it. I do it with my Nook all the time.

  2. I’ve read your work, Casey, and you are a very clean writer. I get the same comment from my editors, but it still amazes me how many things I miss without seeing it in print. I may try your trick of printing it out and scrambling the pages. That sounds like it would definitely help. Thanks!

    Oh, and bread pudding for breakfast is perfectly fine. Just skip the ice scream and no one will be the wiser:-)

  3. Wow. Very timely post. I wrote the final chapter (for the third time) of my WIP last week. It’s been through critique partners, but now the real work starts. I recently took a fabulous class from Rose Colored Glasses on self-editing. At the end of the class they gave us a check list to use in editing, which I will be starting today. Then off to beta readers. But after reading yours, I think I may print out my own copy and read it off the computer. Then I feel like it will be ready for my publisher. Thanks so much, and best of luck with your new release.

  4. I’m a freelance proofreader, but that doesn’t help so much with my own work. In addition to printing it out to read it, I highly recommend reading it out loud. It helps so much with sentence structure, cadence, and catching those little missing things like articles and possessives, and any verb tense errors.

    1. Thanks for commenting Ally. i am so much better at finding problems in other people’s work than I am my own, so I hear you there. I do read aloud as well and you’re right, it definitely helps pick up a lot of things you’d miss by just “reading” in your head. My problem is that my voice gets tired, LOL. I think because I’m reading in a lower, monotone voice than is my normal range.

  5. Great article PJ. I’ve been looking for a goood Bread Pudding recipe, too. (Really!) Like you, I go through so many different layers of proofing and editing, that I wonder if I spend more time writing, or polishing my writing.

    My 1st stage, which I am trying to eliminate, is editing while I write. I pore over ever scene, and sometimes every paragraph the moment I finish it, agonizing over the perfect word choice or turn of phrase. Then I re-read it, change it again, and continue until I’m satisfied. It makes for a very long writing process.

    Stage 2: After a scene is finished, I read through it aloud, recording myself. I find plenty of missing words and awkward sentences while reading, and then listening to it really points out stiff and unnatural dialogue. If I could only use one proofing method, this would be it.

    Stage 3: A full read-through on paper with a red pen and a pencil. The red marks errors, the pencil makes notes for possible changes or improvements. (God forbid I think of a major story change at this point).

    Stage 4: With my corrected print out, I shuffle the pages and read through each line backwards, speaking each word as I read it. I still find typos and incorrect words at this stage. I check off each line as I finish, then mark the top of each page with the number of corrections it needs.

    Stage 5: Off to the beta readers. One of my readers will always find the last misspelled or misused word in the document. Another will always ask questions that reveal a bit of story line I didn’t tie off, and the others generally just tell me they love it, and think it’s perfect. I know, that’s not particularly helpful, but they are loyal readers and are thrilled to be involved.

    That’s my process. It is certainly not perfect, and very far from efficient, but it is effective. Every time I read about how other writers do their proofing, I revise my methods, so it is constantly evolving. I like your idea of ordering proof copies. I’ll give that a try with my WiP. Thanks for the great post!! … and the recipe!

  6. Awesome, Greg! You have quite an amazing work ethic which I sooo appreciate. I’ve gotten a little better about not self-editing on the first draft, but it sometimes works to my benefit if I back track and add things as I think of them. I hate it when I lose a neat thread that should go into the book three chapters back.

    Thanks for sharing your process with us and I know you’ll enjoy the pudding. Try not to eat the whole casserole dish in one sitting. It’s tempting…believe me.

  7. Thanks for the insight into your process, PJ! Whatever you’re doing is definitely working, so perhaps you’ve got it closer to a science than you think. I agree, it’s so much harder to find problems in your own work, no matter how many times you go over it. I like the scrambling of pages idea — may have to try that! BTW, I love bread pudding. I’ll have to try it some Sunday.

    1. You won’t regret the pudding, my friend. It’s quite yummy!

      I do feel like the process is getting less stressful and feels less daunting these days. As I tell my kids, life doesn’t really get any easier. You just get better at it.

  8. Having been a newsletter editor for 14 years, I discovered one of the best ways to proofread is to read it backwards. The idea is not to read, but to find mishaps. Who can read a story or column backwards? The system is almost foolproof. Please note “almost.” Of course, most important for us writers is to have good grammar, appropriate punctuation and correct spelling. So, an English teacher is also a great methodology. Who amongst us is one of those? Fortunately for me, I had an editorial team for my newsletter, but in the end, I took all responsibility for mishaps missed. After all this talk, there is no foolproof method. My hubby, also a writer, scientific, edits for me. He is great, but, alas, not perfect. Great post Paula. Thanks . . .

    1. Thanks for visiting, Gail. It drives me crazy to try and read backwards through an entire mss. but I see how it could be effective. My first editor is a retired High School English teacher. She’s very helpful at pointing out grammar issues as well as deeper issues like plot, characterization and word choice. I then hire an actual copy editor to do the heavy lifting and a proofreader for the final touches.

      As you said, it’s never quite perfect, but the more layers of gatekeepers I add, the better the final product is. I’m sure that’s why traditional publishers have been so successful in the past. They have an entire team of editors, copy editors, and proof readers. Unfortunately, with all of the cutbacks, traditionally published books are showing up with a lot more typos than they used to. At least that’s been my observation.

  9. Hi PJ,

    I found my editor through one of your blogs or comments somewhere. I love her too. She has a way of pointing out my ridiculous mistakes and making me laugh while she does it. It’s soooo worth the money to pay an editor. That’s my biggest time saver.

    Having CPs and beta readers is invaluable too. It sounds like you have this self-pub thing down to a science. I’m following you closely and learning from you. Even though I’m with a small publisher, I may try my hand at self-pubbing to see how I like it. Thanks for sharing your process.

    BTW, bread pudding is one of my favorite things in the world. I used to make it all the time when I was young and poor. It’s comfort food to the nth degree!

  10. Thanks Suzanne, nothing wrong with the Hybrid model of publishing, as Tonya Kappas called it on her blog this morning. I think it would be the best of both worlds to work with an agent and publisher willing to support writers who want to traditionally publish some of their books and still be able to indie publish the ones that perhaps lie outside of the mainstream. I foresee there being more and more of that as time goes on. It needs to be a natural evolution of the industry if traditional publishers want to remain competetive.

    Just the thought of bread pudding makes me warm and fuzzy…and sleepy…mmm.

  11. PJ – This was fascinating. I’m so glad to hear about self-pubbers who put such effort into producing quality work. Unfortunately, I have read a few self-published books which were good in content but desperately needed more proofreading before going to print.

    I am curious about the credentials for a professional proofreader. I am naturally good at finding those itty-bitty mistakes in novels that others miss. I am often asked to proofread my friends’ and family’s writing. I have wondered about doing proofreading on the side.(I already love to read and see the mistakes anyway when I read, so why not help an author out and get a little cash for it?)

    Thanks for sharing your process and wisdom. You’re helping the rest of us navigate the river after you’ve gone ahead.

      1. Thanks Julie! We all miss something when we’re in a hurry or after we’ve read something a hundred times. That’s why a good proof reader is worth their weight in gold. If you have a knack for it, I’d go ahead and offer your services. Look around and see what other people are charging and ask for a comaparble fee. Don’t undercut yourself if you are good at it. I think most people who proofread for money have done some work in the editing world. My gal is a copy editor for college curriculums and she catches a lot that i and my regular editors miss because we’re looking more for grammar, characterization, word choice, plot, etc. No one person can see everything!

      2. Thanks for the advice. I’ve worried that I won’t get hired without substantial editing world experience. I’m just always tapped for that task at jobs and with friends. Perhaps I could build my resume up. Thanks again!

  12. The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step, right? You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

  13. PJ,

    Great article! Where would you recommend I search for a professional proofreader? Do you have any names you would be willing to share?

    Two years ago I tried bread pudding for the first time and it was love at first bite. Thanks for the recipe. I intend to make it for my next family brunch!

    -Pauline

    1. Thank, Pauline. My proofreader for my last book was a personal aquaintence who edits college curriculums. She doesn’t hire out as a rule. For Savage CINDERELLA, our very own Suze Hardy is both my editor and proofreader.

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