A Fresh Eyes Reader Can Save Manuscript Errors
If you’re asked to be a fresh eyes reader by a friend or colleague who’s writing a book, you are being given an honor, a privilege, and most important, a responsibility.
Whatever your religious affiliation, you’ve heard of the Ten Commandments, right? No stealing, no killing, and the one about adultery? God definitely meant it was a sin to commit adultery. No gray area there. So imagine the impact, in 1631, when publishers of a new Bible left out the word “not” in that particular commandment. It didn’t just advocate, it commanded readers to couple with people they were not married to. “Thou shalt commit adultery.” Oh boy.
The offending line in the Wicked Bible (courtesy of WikiCommons).
You’d think if you were editing a work as important as a new version of the Holy Bible, you’d take every precaution against errors. The saga of the “Wicked Bible” goes to show how hard it is to publish a book-length manuscript with zero typographical errors, and how costly it can be to make just one.
The gentlemen who published the errant holy book were severely tongue-lashed by Charles I and the Bishop of Canterbury, fined £300 ($45,000 in today’s dollars), and had their publishing licenses revoked. All but a few copies of the book were retrieved and burned.
Granted, this wasn’t your standard blunder, and not all mistakes will turn you and your book into errata non grata, but even just an error or two can dramatically reduce the viability of the most carefully researched and written manuscripts.
Get fresh eyes on your manuscript
The mandate for a “fresh eyes” reader is obvious: read an edited manuscript for the first time and report all errors you find. The fact that you’re seeing the manuscript for the first time is what makes a fresh eyes reader so valuable in the late stages of the editing process. The opposite of fresh eyes are tired eyes – the eyes of the author and the editor who have already put in dozens, if not hundreds of hours reading and revising hundreds of pages from front to back, more than once. Tired eyes become blind to errors that jump out to fresh eyes, and so in the final proofing stages (or even before), this reader becomes a critical member of the “Zero Tolerance for Errors” team.
A book’s credibility is based on numerous elements, and one way to undermine it is having typographical, grammatical, or otherwise avoidable errors. Most people don’t understand what it takes to make a perfectly clean book, so expectations are that there shouldn’t be any errors. As an author, editor, and publisher, I know how painfully difficult this process is. Still, as a reader, I find myself just as easily influenced. When I read a book, I may forgive one oops, maybe even two, but that’s it. If there’s a third strike, I start to wonder how much care was actually taken in the writing, research, and editing.
That’s why zero tolerance for errors should be the measuring stick of every writer and editor, every time. It doesn’t mean it’s achieved every time, but it should be the goal.
Being a fresh eyes reader
As a fresh eyes reader, your goal is not to edit the book. That’s been done. You are proofreading, which literally means to read the printer’s proofs and mark any errors. This can be extended to spotting design-related errors – an unintentional space between letters in a title or a caption that’s centered instead of flush-left (or vice versa, depending on the style of the book).
Here are a few tips to making your Fresh Eyes reader experience as helpful as it can be.
#1: Make a plan. If possible, meet with the author and/or editor to develop the style guide, timeline, and method you’ll use for proofing and returning the manuscript.
#2: Choose your proofing method. You can proof on a computer using an editing tool, a hard copy you manually mark up, or you can read from an online version and create a written corrections list. Each has advantages and disadvantages, so discuss your preference with the editor and author.
Online. You’ll probably receive a manuscript as a PDF, just make sure you have access to the commenting and proofing marks contained in Adobe Acrobat so you’re able to properly comment and make suggested corrections. If you are using a specific version of Reader or Acrobat, you might want to make sure you consult resources specific to those products, as different versions of Acrobat or Reader may show proofing marks differently.
Hard copy. If you prefer reading a hard copy of a manuscript, you can ask for one, or arrange to have it printed, but understand it will have a cost and take extra time. But if that’s the way it works best for you, talk about this with your author and editor before agreeing on the project. Make sure the production schedule allows enough time for you to do your job thoroughly and in the way that works best for you.
Corrections list. You may wish to read the document online and make a written list of corrections to give to the editor or author. An advantage to this is that you don’t have to learn any software tools if you don’t already use them. However, there is a process for doing this that will save the editor/author a lot of time when they insert your corrections into the manuscript.
A simple structure looks like this:
page 6, para 2, line 3. Insert “s” after “product”
page 12, para 5, line 1. Capitalize “s” of “sonoma”
When making a corrections list:
1. Save the editor time and frustration by clearly indicating the location of the error. Without these bread crumbs, it can be nearly impossible to find an error in an entire page of content.
2. Be accurate in describing the page number. If it isn’t on the page you indicated, the editor has no idea where to find the error.
3. Be as clear in your correction description as possible. You don’t need to explain why you’re making the correction; the editor/author will know why you made it.
4. Create your corrections list in the order the corrections appear in the manuscript.
#3: Educate yourself. Study the proper use of proofing marks. Acrobat makes it relatively simple to choose a comment bubble, highlighter pen, underline, strikethrough (for deletion), insertion, and replacement – as well as other tools. It’s not very complicated, and 10 minutes of study before engaging with a manuscript will be well worth it to your author/editor, as well as making your life easier.
#4: Use comments. Use a comments box when you just have a comment to make, rather than a correction.
#5: Study the style guide. A book’s style guide can be as simple as a list of specific things to look out for to ensure consistency (i.e. a religious book might want to capitalize all references to God, like Creator or Son – words that would not be capitalized in another text).
A style guide might also contain common errors made by a particular author, like incorrect comma or semi-colon use, or the misspelling of a certain word. If you receive a style guide from the author or editor, you’ve been given clues to look for. Ideally, the editor should have already searched the document using the “find” feature in an effort to catch and correct these inconsistencies, so you should have your eyes open to find any the editor missed. If you don’t receive a style guide at the beginning of the project, ask for one. It can save a lot of time and uncertainty for you as you’re going through the manuscript.
If you’re asked to be a fresh eyes reader by a friend or colleague who’s writing a book, you are being given an honor, a privilege, and most important, a responsibility. Don’t take it lightly, but be sure to enjoy it along the way!
About Suzanne Paschall
Suzanne is a blogger, author and coach of the FreshVoice Academy for non-fiction book authors. She is a Huffington Post contributor and has two books to her name, as well as many editing credits for other books. Her personal blog-to-book project is The Pink Notebook.