Sunday, February 04, 2007

The Proof is in the Nitpick

Probably the most boring task in writing and producing a book is the proofreading stage. Any POD author must develop a taste for this task or the result will just invite the slap-fighters to a game of pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey, and we all know who's posterior is getting stabbed with pins! Did I say who's? Now this is exactly what today's lesson is about. We are also going to discuss how to sit your paper down on you're desk and read the text of your the book from your comoputer screen. Their are of course many other ways author's make a mess of there proofreading job, and I hope to manage to compile a complete listing of all the many ways I have encountered them doing so. So, get the led out of your pencils so I can lead the ways. You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him durnk.

The final inspiration for this article was a post by POD-dy Mouth. She has a link to a site that is currently displaying the first chapters of many potential POD books. A read through some of the chapters with particularly low ratings will quite promptly expose a lack of proper proofreading. After many comparisons of what the Girl on Demand says about her multitudinous submissions for reviews with the few submissions I have received, I can only conclude that I have discovered the way to read a selection of very high-quality iUniverse books, while she has waded through the depth of the POD pit to discover the few diamonds she seeks. As I have covered in previous posts, I can only conclude that we each effectively find what we seek. The key difference is the manner in which we run our respective slushpile operations. I think I can honestly surmise that Poddy Girl and I both feel that many deserving POD authors do not get the attention they deserve. I also think there is no downside to the production of a POD book that has been as perfectly composed, edited, and proofread as possible.

For those of you who do not wish to play the donkey at the next party, here is a list to help keep the pinholes out of your derriere. Just for your information, the last book I completed contained more stupid, careless, proofreading-type errors than any iUniverse book I have read or reviewed on this site. It was a 500-page, traditionally published book on the subject of HTML. It was published in 1998, so you cannot say that the sloppy proofing was the result of Bush's bad trade policies. It was written by a PhD, so you cannot say it was written by a moron, either. Does a computer nerd know how to use a spelling and grammar program? Somebody just did not care enough to properly and carefully proofread the book.

Here is your first hint to use in the betterment of your future publications: the errors increased in frequency as the text neared the final pages of the HTML book. By the end, I was spotting at least one every other page! This is a common problem that I have observed in both iUniverse and traditionally published books. My guess is that the proofreader is tiring of the tedious job as he plods toward the end. I deliberately misstated the problem. I don't think the proofreader is plodding enough. He is rushing to complete the job as the finish line comes into focus. He is missing little boo-boos that he would have easily caught when he was feeling fresh and excited on his first run through the text. He's fumbling the ball in overtime. He dropped the ball in the last inning. There was a turnover at the five yard line. He was being led by the text when he should have gotten the lead out. Do you see how I got in a hurry and let the tense get jumbled while I began repeating myself? Rule #1: Pay even more attention as you read Chapter 50. I know its boring, but do it anyway! And while your at it, do it again... and again. Proofread the whole book three times.

Rule #2: Proofread the book in a somewhat different manner each of the three times you go though it. If you are reading it silently the first time, read it aloud the second. If you are reading it in a goal-directed, short-term manner the first time, read it at your leisure on the second go around. The best method is to read it out loud to another person while that person follows along in the text. If one of you is reading from a computer monitor, have the other one read from a copy you have printed on junk paper. If you like to mark up the junk paper version with a red pen, do so. If you like to correct as you go in a Word document, do it that way on the second reading. Whatever floats your boat keeps it from being christened Titanic.

Rule #3: Don't never ever let your trusted assistant make any changes in the Word document. You and only you should make these alterations; that is, unkless you want to confuse yourself silly and widn up with errors you throught you fixed, but she said she fixed thm, and you assumed that you had the correct and lastest version of the document in your computer, but actually that was the one she threw in the trash when she said she thought you had the findal document version in you're comoputer. Whew! You got the message?

Rule #4: By all means, use whatever spelling and grammar checking program(s) you have, but keep in mind that Bill Gates doesn't know everything about writing the world's greatest novel and publishing it with iUniverse. Look carefully at the suggestions made by the computer programs, but make each final, small decision yourself.

Rule #5: You are no longer in middle school. Don't be afraid to open a dictionary whenever you have a question. There are no smart alecks in the back row to laugh at your nerdy ignorance.

Rule #6: As I have stated many times previously, the most common mistake is the misplacement, omission, or repetition of the most common words.

Rule #7: Watch out for incorrectly changing tense. It happens to the best of us. It happens within paragraphs, and it even happens within sentences.

Rule #8: No matter how clever you think you are, none of your readers like plowing though any particular conceit, grammatical element, or any other cute twist of the English language if it is repeated too often in your book. A few examples are: italics, bold text, super-short and/or incomplete sentences, too-long sentences, and words or phrases that are simply repeated too often. A particular point to keep in mind is that the iUniverse printing system does not handle underlining well. Any word or phrase underlined in an iU book looks as if the underline is in bold and the word is in regular text. I recommend using underlining in an iU manuscript only in applications in which the underline is the only grammatically correct way to display the word or phrase.

Rule #9: Many sentence structures are not exactly incorrect, but they are what I call funky. These are the ones that Word will highlight as grammatically incorrect every time, but we all know that real Americans speak that way anyway. For example, you may have discovered that Word sometimes spits up sentences with a passive structure. If you have no personal objection, then by all means follow Word's orders and fix the funky sentence. In many cases, you may want the sentence to still do the funky chicken, and this is not necessarily wrong, just funky. Pay attention to Word, but use your own judgement, too.

Rule #10: Punctuation is the little engine that could funk up your whole project, so give it its due. Capitalize the right words and put the commas in all the right places, but none of the wrong ones. Use too many ...'s and I'll have to send you back up to #8! Punctuate your whole book as if you were addressing an email or searching for a URL. You know where a lost dot can take you in that department, don't you? Ignore #10... and we'll be saying; we've got the tail, where are the pins?

1 comment:

Writerwomyn said...

Hi, Tabitha, I am an iUniverse author and friend of Lyda Phillips. She sent me the link to your blog. It's very validating to see your interest in reviewing iUniverse books. I think they are the best of the POD publishers. I've published two books with them and feel really happy with the results. Actually, the "proofing" task is close to my heart as I am a teacher (former high school English now writing instructor for students ages 12 and up). But also, because when I published the first book, I thought I had done my due-diligence by hiring an editor. Well, that didn't work out as well as i planned, not to mention that I made some horrendous global changes on the proof sheet. Anyway, the second book turned out much better in terms of the editing. I learned the first time. The first time around I relied too much on only one pair of eyes thinking mine were not reliable enough (I had just given birth!). Anyway, would love to get a review on your site! My email is hrgoodman@cox.net. Oh, and my name is Hannah Goodman.