Career authors share many of the same concerns, from financial uncertainty to social isolation to impostor syndrome. However, one terrifying possibility looms above all others, striking fear into our hearts and posing a constant threat to our legitimacy and accomplishments as writers: typos in an already-published work.
In all seriousness, just as every veteran writer will recognize the aforementioned fodder for existential crises, they’ll know that typos are frequently made and often difficult to catch. To complicate matters, if you’re publishing independently, you have to smoke out your own typos rather than relying upon the multi-layered editorial process of a traditional publisher (though to be fair, this can be faulty as well).
So if you’re embarking on, entrenched in, or just finishing up a book that you intend to publish, don’t underestimate the task of sweeping it for typos. Instead, familiarize yourself with these methods: five simple, effective tricks to eliminate typos from the final proof of your book, so you won’t end up with something you’d be ashamed to send your high school English teacher.
1. Have an app read it to you
“Read it out loud” is the oldest trick in the book for sorting out a book’s tricks (by which I mean typos; sorry, couldn’t resist the wordplay). But reading out loud to yourself won’t necessarily help you catch all the typos in your book. Your brain is primed to skip over the little mistakes that appear on a screen, plus the sheer quantity of text in a book makes it challenging — and exhausting — to sift through in its entirety.
For these reasons, it’s much more scrupulous to use a text-to-speech reader that will recite your book back to you. This will still take up a good chunk of time, but it’s easy enough to break up your book into manageable listening sessions while you’re getting ready for the day, preparing food, driving or commuting, etc. Just make sure you can always hearwhat the app is saying, lest you fall right back into the trap of missing those mistakes.
As for which app to use, there are countless text-to-speech (TTS) applications available. My favorite is Natural Readers, which offers voices that speak a little more slowly and clearly than your typical text-to-speech robot, allowing you to catch typos with ease. However, if you’re seeking efficiency, the classic TTS Reader will serve you better — and there are built-in (if rudimentary) TTS functions on most modern word processors as well.
2. Run a Grammarly check
Speaking of standard word processors, their spelling and grammar checkers will catch blatant misspellings and misused words, but what about subtler errors? To detect malformed sentences and words used out of context, you’ll need a more sophisticated tool. There are tons of programs designed to aid the editing process like Hemingway, AutoCrit, and ProWritingAid; however, for the proofreading stage specifically, I’d recommend Grammarly.
Of all the tools I’ve tested, Grammarly is the only one that consistently points out even the smallest errors, such as accidentally repeating a word (for instance, I’m prone to double articles, like “the the”). It will also help you fix questionable punctuation, passive voice, and clichés, on top of the spell check you’d get with any word processor. Basically, Grammarly works like a second, better brain: it analyzes text with contextual nuance, but isn’t vulnerable to human error.
The only downside of Grammarly is that, because it suggests changes in real-time, it can be a bit distracting when you’re trying to write. For this reason, I usually keep the extension turned off until I’m ready for a proof. Also remember that you don’t have to accept ALL of Grammarly’s suggestions, especially if they’re detrimental to your voice! But the thorough nature of the tool means it’s practically guaranteed to catch your typos, making it the best application out there for final-stage editing.
3. Print it out with unusual formatting
Another oft-repeated trick is to print out your work and read it on actual paper, rather than on a screen. So I’ll add another twist: before you print, switch up the formatting. This has the effect of defamiliarizing the text and forcing your brain to examine it as if it’s completely new.
If you haven’t already double-spaced your work, do so now, and increase the margin size — both to alter the formation of the words, and to give yourself more room for corrections. You should also enlarge the font to 14-16 pt (at least) to make the typos “jump out.” Finally, consider changing the typeface itself from an industry standard to something unorthodox: American Typewriter, Courier, maybe even Comic Sans.
These fixes might seem suspiciously simple, but you’ll be amazed by their impact. Printed out in a large, nonstandard, double-spaced font, your manuscript will appear utterly foreign, which is exactly what you need for typo spotting (and for self-editing in general). If you still find yourself feeling too familiar with the text, try reading the chapters out of order, or each page “backward” — starting with the last sentence on the page and working back to the first.
All that said, there’s no true substitute for actually reading a text for the first time… which is where this next tip comes in.
As daunting as it can be to ask someone else to read your book, it’s undoubtedly one of the best ways to check it for typos. So if you have a trusted friend who hasn’t done any other editing work for you, consider handing your manuscript off to them for proofreading duty. If you don’t want to edit the story or style any further, be clear that you only want the typos corrected: “This is the final version of the book and I won’t be changing anything else, but please let me know if you notice any spelling or grammar mistakes.”
Also keep in mind that you don’t want to pick just any friend for this task. For example, someone who typically speed-reads is not a good candidate, nor is someone who’s easily distracted and needs to take lots of breaks. You need someone with attention to detail, who reads carefully and comprehends meaning, rather than merely glancing over the words on the page. An author friend might be especially helpful, though you may also be inviting more structural criticism than you want at this stage.
Still, if you can find the right proofreader among friends, asking them for help is a cost-effective and reassuring way to eliminate typos. And if you can’t get someone to do it for free?
This isn’t so much a “trick,” as it’s pretty common knowledge, but I’d be remiss not to mention the most reliable means of ridding your manuscript of typos. If you can afford it, and if you feel anxious or simply uncertain about typos in your final proof, the best solution is to hire a proofreader with the experience and eagle-eyed scrutiny to put your mind at ease.
A professional proofreader is familiar with common mistakes, so they’ll know what to look for, and years of combing through manuscripts will have sharpened their observational skills far beyond that of the average reader. You can glance through each proofreader’s portfolio to see which books they’ve checked — hard evidence that they operate reliably, and that published authors trust them to get the job done.
For those curious about other qualifications, most proofreaders are developmental and copy editors who also perform final proofs! However, don’t make the mistake of requesting a final proof from an editor who previously worked on your book. It might be tempting to collaborate again, but your editor(s) will be nearly as familiar with the text as you are, and proofreading demands a pair of fresh eyes.
While your own eyes may never be “fresh” when it comes to your own manuscript, you can approximate it brilliantly by combining these tips, and come away with a book you’re proud of in every capacity. Best of luck in your quest to unearth these mistakes, and may all of your writing be typo-free evermore.www.reedsy.com