At last the moment arrives—your manuscript is complete! You’ve read it and re-read it one, two, three times. You’ve made tweaks, fixed typos, run spelling and grammar checks, and read it one more time for good measure.
You may think your manuscript is polished to perfection, but before you hand it off for formatting and page layout, consider speaking your story. Yes, I mean read it out loud. It doesn’t matter whether you have an audience or not; what’s important is hearing how the words sound. Because I can pretty much guarantee some words will sound different out loud than when you read them silently to yourself, and the process of speaking will help you notice errors.
To illustrate how we mentally gloss over mistakes when reading to ourselves, see if you can read this:
Aoccdrnig to a rshreceaer at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.
Chances are you can. And as the passage explains, you can because we tend to read words as a complete unit, not letter by letter. Context also plays a role, helping our brain identify the words even if they are misspelled.
There’s more to understand about the factors that enable us to read the passage, but the point is, our brain is really good at filling in gaps when we read to ourselves. By reading out loud, we engage other senses that allow us to catch typos and incorrect word choices instead of skimming over them time after time.
I began recommending the practice of reading out loud several years ago after a few clients came back to me with changes to their already published print books that came to light when recording their audiobooks. Now I regularly suggest it, and I regularly hear from authors who follow my advice, despite feeling somewhat awkward speaking their story. One client recently said:
“I am absolutely flabbergasted and more than a bit horrified and chagrined at the number of errors we detected in proofing the book. Your suggestion to read the text out loud was truly an eye opener for us.”
A further improvement to this practice is to implement it before delivering the manuscript for layout. That way, you can catch and correct mistakes yourself, which is faster and less costly than having a designer or formatter make such changes during the layout phase.
And who knows—speaking your story as a proofing mechanism may inspire you to consider narrating your own audiobook and open up a whole new audience of readers, er, listeners for your book.