Check, Recheck, and Then Check Again

Mary Keeley

Blogger: Mary Keeley

I was asked to proofread a newsletter this week. Because it had already passed through two sets of professional editorial eyes, I doubted I would find anything wrong, but I agreed to give it another pass because over the years I have learned it’s always good to check, recheck, and then check again.

Your manuscript goes through three stages of editing in most traditional publishing houses. The first is the developmental, or macro, edit. Big-picture issues such as plot, POV, and character development are addressed here. The second and third stages are the focus of today’s discussion.

When the developmental issues are resolved and the author has made requested revisions, if any, the manuscript progresses to detailed editing. These editors are called line editor and copy editor in some publishing houses or copy editor and proofreader at other houses. The roles and functions of the last two stages are blurred and may overlap, which is a good thing because these editors provide a check and check again for each other. In between, you, the author, will have the opportunity to be the recheck person when the editor sends you galleys to review.

And yet after all this, errors may slip through the cracks and appear on the printed page or e-reader screen. You’ve all seen them and probably wondered how the publisher could have missed correcting it. I cringe when I see the rare error in a Bible because I know how much detailed scrutiny a Bible goes through. The answer is that we’re human and we’re not perfect. If human error can cause a plane to crash, it surely can overlook a misused word.

Because we’re human, we need all the editorial help we can get.

You might be wondering if I found any errors in the newsletter. Since it had already gone through a professional check and recheck, I approached it with a cursory glance. Until the third paragraph. There it was, the first of four errors I eventually found in the document. Once I discovered the first one, I was on high alert. I hope I caught all of the remaining errors.

The main point in all this is that, while I stress the need for you to check, recheck, and then check again, realize that editorial professionals do so as well. If the experts can miss errors, so can you. For those who self- or indie-publish, the editing falls fully on your shoulders. Self-published books have notorious reputation for being poorly written and riddled with poor grammar, punctuation, and spelling. If the authors of those books had been diligent to check, recheck, and then check again, or had hired a freelance editor to cover the editorial stages, their chances of attracting an agent, and then a publisher, would have been much improved.

Some of the detail errors I have encountered in proposals recently include wrong use of a word, overuse of colloquial phrases, clichés used by a male character that are more commonly attributed to women, a teenager’s slang that hasn’t been used since the last generation, and contemporary slang used by a character in a historical novel. Not to mention grammar, punctuation, and spelling errors.

Do yourself and your work a favor by seeking multiple editorial detail reviews from your critique partners—on a reciprocal basis. Even better, invest in a good freelance editor for one of the reviews before you can have confidence your proposal is ready to submit.

Do you have a group of experienced writer friends with whom you can share good detail proofreading? What errors have your critique partners or an editor pointed out to you? Have you ever made any of the mistakes I mentioned above? Did you notice my error in this post?


Check, recheck, and then check again. A motto for writers when editing and polishing a manuscript. Click to Tweet.

Being human, writers—even editors—can miss errors. Check, recheck, and then check again. Click to Tweet.