Getting Your Book Critiqued, Edited and Proofread: Why You Should | With Catherine Ryan Howard

Getting Your Book Critiqued, Edited and Proofread: Why You Should | With Catherine Ryan Howard

Catherine Ryan Howard (author of Mousetrapped, Self-Printed: The Sane Person’s Guide to Self-Publishing & Backpacked) as well as all round hilarious writer and self-publishing guru, talks about the importance of quality control – critiquing, editing and proofreading – in your writing.

Many times when I tell writers that under absolutely no circumstances should they release their work into the world without getting qualified, professional feedback on it first, they smile and nod in the same way I do when I receive advice I have no intention of taking. They think that since they’ve been working on it for a long time and read over it on numerous occasions, both on screen and on paper, it’s in good enough shape. But getting your book (1) critiqued, (2) professionally edited and (3) proofread are crucial steps that cannot be omitted when it comes to self-publishing your book.

Now I could reel off all the usual reasons why you should involve other people in your efforts to make your book as perfect as possible – because writing matters; because it’s the professional thing to do; because when you put a price-tag on your work it becomes a product and a product should be properly produced – but I’m sure you’ve heard them all before. Instead, I’m going to tell you about three real incidents that happened with my own books that drove the point home for me.


Typos: Hiding in Plain Sight


The first book I self-published was a 67,000-word travel memoir called Mousetrapped: A Year and A Bit in Orlando, Florida. I started writing it on the floor of my Orlando apartment in the summer of 2007, sending chapters piecemeal to an agent in London who was interested. I checked these chapters, needless to say, several times before they went out.


In the summer of 2008 I took eight weeks to finish the first complete draft, and then went through to check for errors, edits, etc.


In January 2009, I went through it again.


In October 2009, I re-wrote the book right the way through for a second time. Then I ordered a proof copy and went through that checking for errors. I found so many (down to the fact, I think, that this was the first time I was looking at it in the form of a real book) that I realized I absolutely had to get a copyeditor, so I did. And she found plenty more errors.


You might read this and think, “Is that girl blind? How could she have missed mistakes after reading it so many times?” Well, you can’t find mistakes you don’t know you’re looking for. The average writer does not have as firm a grasp of grammar as a professional copyeditor. Compounding this is the fact that when you’ve read over something a couple of times – especially something that you yourself wrote – your brain starts to fill in the gaps and fill in the errors. Save yourself the bother and hire a copyeditor from the start.


The String of a Bad Review


As a writer, there is no worse feeling in the world than reading a bad review. I don’t mean a negative review, because we don’t all like the same things and negative reviews are just par for the course, but a baaaaad review, one that rips your book (and your confidence) into tiny shreds. If you’ve had your book professionally edited, you can console yourself with the fact that you know your book is good, and that that reviewer must have a bee in their bitchy bonnet for some reason unrelated to you. If your book hasn’t been professionally edited, you don’t have this comfort.


Furthermore, the bitchy reviewer will undoubtedly point out any errors they’ve found in your book – and if you don’t have an outsider look at it, there will be at least a couple – which will lead other potential readers looking to your reviews to help them decide whether or not to buy it to believe that, since this is clearly a fact, everything else in the review must be true too. And then they’ll cease to be a potential reader of yours.


This happened to me with a poison pen review that was so angry and bitter I can only assume I offended the writer of it in some way. She accused me of lying (i.e. making something in my book up) which was completely unfounded. But she also pointed out that I had spelled a character’s complicated surname two different ways, which I unfortunately had. Since her accusation about the spelling could be confirmed, readers of the review could not be blamed for believing her accusation about fabrications. All because of a typo.


Every Reader is the Most Important One


As well as two different versions of a surname, the print edition of Mousetrapped also had an “if” where there should’ve been an “it.” It would’ve taken five minutes and the price of a proof copy from CreateSpace to correct it, but I figured it wasn’t that big of a deal. (This was before the poison pen review, needless to say!) After all, nine out of every ten books sold were e-books and I’d fixed the errors in them, and I regularly bought books published by the biggest publishing houses in the world that had more typos than that in them.


Then last February, almost a year after Mousetrapped came out, there was a story about my self-publishing success in The Sunday Times newspaper here in Ireland. This led to a number of radio interviews. One morning a producer from one of the country’s most listened-to radio shows called me about possibly appearing on the show. Even internationally bestselling authors would sell their grandmothers to get on this same show, so I was amazed I was even being considered.


But the producer wanted me to send up a copy of the book.


Hearing this, my stomach dropped. I thought of the typos. In order to get on the show, I’d really have to impress them. What would they think when they happened upon my “if” that should’ve been an “it”? This producer was probably going to be the most important reader I ever had. I wished I’d fixed those typos before now.


But then I realized something. For all I knew, someone just as important could already be reading my book. Someone just as important may have already read it. In fact, they definitely had – because wasn’t every reader just as important as that producer? Couldn’t they be reporters, agents, publishers? And even if they weren’t someone like that, wasn’t paying $14.95 (or $2.99) enough to deserve being treated as if they were? In a word: yes.


So when you consider not having your book critiqued, copyedited and proofread:

 * Consider how many times I thought my manuscript was good to go, when it wasn’t

 * Think about how bad it’d be to give a poison pen reviewer fuel for their fire

 * Imagine the most important person you can think of – your dream agent, your worst enemy, a producer on the Oprah show – reading it.


I’m sure you’ll change your mind.




CATHERINE RYAN HOWARD is a writer, blogger and excessive coffee drinker from Cork, Ireland. She is the author of Mousetrapped: A Year and A Bit in Orlando, Florida, Self-Printed: The Sane Person’s Guide to Self-Publishing and (coming September 2011) Backpacked: A Reluctant Trip Across Central America. She blogs at

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