As an author or prospective author you’re sure to keep a good dictionary handy, right? I thought I was doing pretty well in this area until a friend pointed out that my favorite dictionaries were all several decades old and oodles of new words and new definitions have cropped up since they were published. I sniffed and griped and grumbled at the thought of retiring the familiar and dog-eared tomes that have been my writing companions all these years, but after a while decided she might have a point and ended up buying the Third Edition New Oxford American Dictionary.
I’ve been using it for a few months now, am very pleased with it, and indeed it does have plenty of new words and definitions reflecting today’s lexicon.
My brother, David W. Cowles, who publishes his numerous cookbooks and how-to’s and steamy mystery novels as ebooks, has for some time been telling me I should add the Sixteenth Edition Chicago Manual of Style to my bookshelf of numerous writing guides. He’s correct, of course, and Amazon presently has it in hardcover, discounted about $25, with free shipping. I plan to order it as soon as my wife gives me a green light on spending, and tells me which plastic card in my wallet isn’t already maxed-out.
These two books may help keep my writing and publishing current regarding editorial style, spelling and usage, but won’t do a thing to overcome my awful hunt-and-peck keyboarding practices. From time to time I do put on the headset and dictate into Dragon, but often find the result fraught with homonymish errors that aren’t always easy to spot. And we all know relying on spell check is another road hazard for authors.
There’s really only one “sure” way to proofread our manuscripts, and that’s to get someone else to do it for us. Why? Because built into the hard-wiring of that thing between our ears, is a “closure” mechanism that enables us to skip right past little errors in our own work, as if they aren’t there. No big publishing house will bring out an author’s book without having it professionally edited, and still those nasty little glitches have a way of sneaking in. As Indie publishers, we want our books to be free of anything that smacks of amateurism; spelling, punctuation, typographical and thinkographical errors need to be given the bum’s rush before our manuscripts are converted to typesetting—and then read again in galley proof form to be sure no new errors have snuck in.
If it’s absolutely impossible for you to find one or two other folks to read your manuscripts and galleys before they’re printed and bound and put out there for all the world to see, there’s a trick you can use that will greatly help you catch your own errors: Read the entire text aloud. This technique helps overcome the mind’s “closure” effect, because your gray matter is now processing how the words and punctuational pauses sound, as well as how they look on the page. Forcing your mind to do these two things simultaneously will keep you from overlooking all but the most subtle of errors, such as an extra space between words.
When I read aloud I pretend I am reading to someone, and put in inflection and emphasis. It isn’t necessary to include this in order to dampen down the mind’s closure mechanism, but it’s a useful practice for listening to and tightening up one’s writing. If possible, it’s even better to actually read to someone.
Next time: CHOOSING TYPE FACES
Special Note from the Self Publishing, Inc. Editorial Department: Depending on the special needs of any given publishing project, different references may be used. Much of the publishing industry regards The Chicago Manual of Style, Sixteenth Edition and the Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition as the industry standard for most books targeted toward segments of the general public.