Good Advice from Author, Kit Sloane

THE ERROR-FREE MANUSCRIPT, or how to TRY to make your manuscript as
perfect as possible in an imperfect world

So here I am, just finished with proofing the EIGHTH in my mystery
series. I emphasize the 8th because by now you’d think I’d have this
error-free, writing process figured out. Well, I don’t!

I found 52-errors! These ranged from the sublime (a horrible gaffe in
the plot that was fixed by changing ONE word!) to the ridiculous (an
extra space here or there, the usual extra “the” in a sentence, silly

Now I am not a fast writer. It takes me a good year to finish a
75,000 word story. One reason for this is that we live on a working
horse ranch and there are lots of chores to do on a daily basis. I
fit in my writing when I can. And I self-edit as I go, reviewing and
rewriting whatever I wrote the day/week/month before. So this
manuscript, as all seven others, was gone over and over and over by
me before being printed out for the 2nd or 3rd time. (I find it a
good editing tool to print it out and read it myself on real paper,
NOT on the computer. My red pencil is very busy as I do this). At the
point I finally finish a draft, it goes to my various readers, all
who spot this or that that needs fixing. I carefully fix the ms each
time, go over it again, and finally send it off to my publisher.

I’ve been with three publishers and each one handles the proofing
procedure slightly differently. My first depended on me exclusively
to proof it. (Not a good idea...) My second employed a “professional”
proofer who drove us all batty since she was an editor wannabe and
would mark up the pages with her ideas. Now, with Oak Tree Press,
it’s a collaborative ordeal with us trying to make the new story a
“clean” copy, e.g., as perfect as we can make it.

What makes “perfection” so elusive? Well, I read an article published
in the UK that stated that scientists have shown that writers tend to
fill in the “right word” when reading! Really, our brains know what
the word SHOULD be, and we see that one, not the incorrect one that
we’re reading. That’s why I use my readers. But they, too, don’t
always see the same errors, whether these are plot, punctuation, or
spelling. We all see details differently. That’s why I use several
different pairs of eyes.

Spell checker is also not your best friend. It’s too easy to press
“skip” when you mean to press “replace,” and its vocabulary is not
always up to your own, etc.

The bottom line is to make the ms as “clean” as possible and then
force yourself to read every golden word and fix the one’s that
aren’t so very golden. Labor intensive? You bet. And I KNOW there are
still little glitches lurking somewhere in those 250 pages. I like to
think I am leaving space for the evil spirits to depart, as our
Native American friends so nicely rationalize!

We do our very best, if we’re smart and conscientious, and hope that
our best will be good enough to make us proud and our readers happy!

--Kit Sloane


Gail Pallotta said…
An intersting take on editing. It's a tedious task, that's for sure. Congratulations on your editing and your book.
G.Miki Hayden said…
Newer authors never realize how clean even their submissions must be--and they don't realize what mistakes they've made. Because those glitches are common and repeated, I wrote my style guide, *The Naked Writer*.

I agree with you, Kit. You don't want to wince when you see those errors in print.
Dana Fredsti said…
Hi, ladies!

Spell check can be useful, but it sure gets pissy about certain words. I suspect mine was put together during the '50s...

Printing out the document is the only way to really proofread as far as I'm concerned. Just so much easier to catch things... plus it's MUCH more interactive for cats, if you have 'em. :-)
Jean Henry Mead said…
Good advice, Kit. I always set my "finished" manuscript aside for awhile, then take it out to read as though someone else had written it. It helps to spot plot weaknesses as well as typos and other errors.
Hi Gail, Miki, Dana, and Jean. So glad you stopped by to comment on Kit's post. I definitely agree with you all--and printing out is the only way to come close to eliminating all that the gremlins have done.

Holli said…
Kit, I do the exact same thing, constantly editing while I'm still working. Most professionals say to just write it down and go back and edit after, but I have never been able to do that. I'll print out a chapter here and there before I'm finished the whole thing to make sure it's what I want it to be.

I also read my manuscript backwards, in the printed form, and mark off the words as I read them to make sure I'm not glossing over any, before considering it ready to submit. I have caught unusual things that spell check and grammar check and all the other checks in the computer didn't pick up on.

Our brains do try to make sense of words and sentences and tend to fill in a missing "the" or "a" or even "and." Sometimes none of your proofers may see it, but the upside is that readers' brains are doing the same thing, so most people may not even notice a one time error.

Holli Castillo
Gumbo Justice
BillieJohn said…
All good thing I do when reading on the computer is set the image size to 150%. It is amazing the things that are obvious then, things that I breezed right past when reading at the normal size.

Another thing I do, like Holli, is go from back to front on one of the reviews. And, when time permits, I like to limit the sessions to 8-10 pages, then break off. This helps me to NOT be swept into the story.

And yes, polishing certainly shows...or maybe I should say, the lack of polishing!

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