I’ve just finished working through my proofreader’s comments on Murder at the Maples. This is a process I really love – my proofreader-stroke-editor, Jude White, is brilliant at picking up what I meant to say, at making my own words sound even better and more polished. This is the fourth book she’s worked on for me, and I think a working relationship between editor/author improves over time because the editor begins to get a real feel for your voice, and knows what to leave alone as well as when to jump in and suggest changes.

Flora Lively cover

Still, I expect Jude was tearing out her hair with my lack of knowledge of hyphenated words! Forlorn-looking and twenty-nine are just two examples of times I failed to join up linked words, and I tend to compound words that shouldn’t be, or fail to join words that should! Ah well, this is why we have a proofreader after all 🙂

But working on a Word document in Track Changes was a learning curve for me, and quite scary the first time I did it, so I thought a blog post about it was long overdue. Here are my top tips for working on your proofread book:

1. Save the master copy and leave it alone. I always save the copy Jude sends me and then make another copy called something like: Murder at the Maples proofed – working copy. This I save at the end of every session with the date and time, as it’s impossible to get through the whole document in one go. When I return to work on it, I make sure I’m working on the most up to date copy, but it also gives me the option to go back to previous copies if I suddenly decide I want to reject some changes but don’t want to have to start all over again from the original. (This happens, believe me.)

2. Get comfortable with Track Changes. When I received my very first proofread copy of Can’t Live Without back from Jude, I’d never used Track Changes before. I was terrified of the responsibility of clicking the right buttons, the whole concept of ‘Accept or Reject’, and worried I’d miss something, or change something by mistake thus making even more errors.

It’s not that bad once you get used to it. Here is a screenshot of Track Changes in Word, with the first page of my proofread document.

Track changes

The main buttons you need to worry about are Accept, Reject & Next, and under ‘Comments’, Delete. One tip I picked up is don’t click on Accept if you are happy to accept a change – this will automatically jump you to the next suggestion, and I get twitchy if I can’t see with my own eyes that the change has taken place! Instead, click on the drop-down menu underneath Accept and choose ‘Accept Change’. Then you can see the change has worked and click on Next to go to the next one. Remember for changes like those shown above, you’ll need to Accept twice – once for the deleted text and once for the new text.

If your proofreader or editor has put comments in the grey margin, you can read and then delete these using the Delete button in the Comments box, which is greyed out in the screenshot above but will show when you have clicked inside a comment. Sometimes my proofreader will query something to check it’s as clear as it can be, and sometimes I’ll take her comments on board, other times I won’t.

3. Take your time. There really is no point rushing this stage. You might even find other things you want to change as you go through, but I cannot stress enough the importance of not adding new material at this point. Who is going to proof the new stuff if you’ve already had it proofread? Only send your final, final, triple-final copy to be proofed.

4. Make a Master Copy of the finished document. From my master copy I then go on to format the book for Kindle, and typeset it for Word. You need to make sure you have one copy that is perfect, and make sure you give it a file name that identifies it as such. It’s easy to end up with so many copies of your book you can’t tell which is which!

5. Make a style sheet for next time. If you find there are certain preferences which come up a lot, you can save your proofreader – and yourself – time by making a proofing style sheet for future books. For example, my preference is to have numbers written out in words, and I also like to use okay, instead of OK. And forever, to mean ‘he’s forever telling me to eat my greens’, but ‘I’ll stay with you for ever.’ I can change my mind about this stuff, but it helps to think about it first and let your proofreader know so she/he can help you be consistent.

Well, over to you – what proofreading tips can you share? Does anyone have a proofreader who works on a printed copy? Looking forward to reading your comments.

pen and ink