8 Proofreading Tools for Beta Readers

FeedbackBy C.K. MacLeod

This post originally appeared on August 14, 2014, at Tech Tools for Writers.

Many self-publishing authors use beta readers to get feedback on a book before publication. You don’t have to work on paper; you can use a computer or a tablet to “mark up” or make notes on an author’s manuscript. Below is a list of tools for beta readers. An author may send you a manuscript in a variety of formats, so I’ve included options for several file formats.

File Formats

Sometimes it will make sense to convert the author’s file to another format. Many of the proofreading tools below will read PDFs. You can save an .rtf, .doc, or .docx file as a PDF with Microsoft Word or WPS Writer (free). If you have a stylus for your tablet, you may be able to mark up text like you would on paper. This table will tell you which tool will read which file format. I summarize the features of the tools below.

Tablet Apps

Adobe Reader (free)

  • Reads PDF files
  • Available for Android and iOS
  • In-text highlights, strikethroughs, and comments
  • Drawing tools for mark-up
  • Works well with a stylus
  • Search function, so you can search all instances of an error


  • Reads PDF files
  • Available for Android (free) and iOS ($9.99)
  • In-text highlights, strikethroughs and comments
  • Drawing tools for mark-up
  • Works well with a stylus

WPS Writer (free)

  • Part of the WPS Office suite
  • Available for Android and iOS tablets and phones
  • Reads .doc and .docx files
  • Track changes
  • Comments
  • Find and replace
  • Voice search
  • Syncs with desktop version so you can alternately work on a computer and a tablet

Computer Apps

WPS Writer (free and paid)

  • Part of the WPS Office suite
  • Reads .doc, .docx and .rtf files
  • Track changes
  • Comments
  • Robust find and replace
  • Wildcards
  • Pro version can run proofreading macros
  • Syncs with the tablet app version so you can alternately work on a computer and a tablet

Adobe Reader XI (free)

  • Reads PDFs
  • Used by professional proofreaders
  • Drawing tools for mark-up
  • Allows you to load PDF stamps into the software (see below), so you can mark a variety of proofreading errors with symbols instead of with comments
  • In-text highlights, strikethroughs and comments
  • Robust search function
  • Read-aloud feature so you can listen for mistakes that your eyes might miss

PDF XChange Viewer (free)

  • Reads PDFs
  • Used by professional proofreaders
  • Drawing tools for mark-up
  • Allows you to load PDF stamps into the software
  • In-text highlights, strikethroughs and comments
  • Robust search function

Adobe Digital Editions

  • Reads epubs
  • Use ADE if the book has already been professionally formatted for e-readers
  • It’s not possible to mark up in ADE, but you can copy sections of text into a word processor and mark up the changes there—procedure explained by Rob at 52 Novels

Kindle E-ink Readers and Apps

  • Reads mobi files
  • Use this method if the book has already been professionally formatted for Kindle e-readers and apps
  • Highlights
  • Notes
  • A bit clunky—see How to Proofread on a Kindle for the procedure

App or Desktop Version?

Computer software tends to have more robust search functions than tablet apps, but it can take a while to figure out how to use the drawing tools to mark up the text with a mouse. Proofreading stamps are a shorthand for proofreading errors, and tend to make the proofreading process faster. Use them if the author knows what they mean (or provide the author with a glossary of symbols, if you like). Note: As far as I know, stamps tend to only work in the desktop versions of proofreading software.

Proofreading stamps
My stamp library; blue stamps by Adrienne Montgomerie

If you want to imitate the pros, you can import* proofreading stamps into your proofreading software or design your own. Louise Harnby of the Proofreading Parlour offers a collection of British proofreading stamps for free, and you can find American proofreading stamps on the Wiley Publishing website. Do you have a favourite proofreading tool not listed here? Tell us about it in the comments below.

*To learn how to import proofreading stamps into Adobe Reader XI or design your own, see this video by Adrienne Montgomerie.

Image by Alan Levine

Related Posts
How to Proofread Your Book Like a Pro, Part 1
How to Proofread Like a Pro, Part 2: Checking Your Formatting
How to Proofread on a Kindle
How to Check Your Ebook Using Kindle Previewer

4 Levels of Editing Explained: Which Service Does Your Book Need?



This post originally appeared on April 23, 2014 at The Book Designer.

In a previous post, we discussed how you can work with beta readers to enhance the self-editing process. Self-editing, or revision, as we call it, is the furthest you can take your manuscript on your own, with feedback from others, but without professional editing help. This is a great first step towards polishing your manuscript.

Let’s suppose that you’ve gotten feedback from your beta readers and made any necessary adjustments to your manuscript. What else can you do find out what your book needs?

Why, hire an editor, of course! (If you’re on the fence about hiring an editor, see this article on what editors know about readers).

In this article, we’ll talk about your first contact with an editor — and what happens to your manuscript when it lands in an editor’s inbox.

Finding an Editor

Your first step in connecting with an editor is to find the right editor for you and the book you’ve written. There is an editor for every book and author. To find the perfect fit, consult editors’ profiles at these professional editing organizations:

  • Editorial Freelancers Association
  • Editors’ Association of Canada
  • Institute for Professional Editors (Australia)
  • Society for Editors and Proofreaders

One of our clients told us that he combed through 60 profiles before he decided to hire us to work on his book. Do your homework. You can learn a lot about an editor’s expertise and manner by reading his or her profile. It’s reasonable to contact more than one editor before settling on the one who’s right for you. By reviewing editors’ online profiles, you should be able to narrow the field to two or three.

What do I send my editor?

After you’ve found an editor who you think will be a good fit for you, you’ll need to make initial contact. In order to assess your manuscript, your editor will most likely ask you to send a sample:

10-Page Sample

For a quick initial assessment, we ask for 10 pages from the “messy middle.” Why? Because most authors understand the importance of starting well, and as a result, the first chapter of a book often gets a great deal more attention from the author than a chapter in the middle.

If we can see the middle, where many authors’ writing energy tends to flag (and understandably so), we’ll get a better sense of how much time it will truly take to help you with your book. You’ll want to know an editor’s assessment of the messy middle because it can directly affect how much editing services will cost. It’ll also help an editor to make some DIY recommendations that can reduce editing costs later in the process.

Table of Contents

If you’re writing a nonfiction book, include a table of contents (TOC) with your 10-page sample. A TOC can help your editor to see how you’ve arranged the major topics in your book, and whether you might need help with the book’s structure.

What does a book need?

When your book sample lands in your editor’s inbox, he or she will assess the “level” of editing that’s needed. There are four levels of editing, and each level builds on the next. Every successful book manuscript will have resolved issues at each of these levels:

Big-Picture Edit

Also called developmental, structural or substantive editing, this kind of editing involves moving large chunks of text around and possibly cutting some sections as well. It addresses the structure of a book — how everything hangs together.

This happens more often than you’d think: An editor receives a large fiction manuscript for copyediting. During an initial scan of the text, she notices a few trouble spots — for example, the plot is lost in large sections of background information and the characters are difficult to distinguish from one another.The editor knows the novel would be better if she could address these issues, but how? At more than 350 pages, it’s a large apparatus.

Her solution? And this happens more often than you’d think, too: She prints out the difficult sections of the novel. Then she gets her scissors. Yes, scissors, and begins to cut and re-assemble those parts of the story, so that they fall together more naturally and present the story in the arrangement that serves both the story and the reader’s expectations. (Note that by now the editor has taken off her copyeditor’s hat — she’s not quite ready for it!)

Needless to say, big picture editing can be very expensive if you need to address a book’s structure after it has been completely written.The cheapest way to address big-picture items is to get help structuring your book before you write it.

If you like to structure your book before you write it, send your editor a detailed outline, or a detailed 10-page plot summary to see if he or she can spot any potential holes.

If you’ve written your book, but you’d like feedback on your structure, you can still send it to an editor. But keep in mind that your editor will need to read an entire book instead of a 10-page plot summary, and this extra time will be reflected in the cost.

Paragraph-Level Edit

Also called stylistic or line editing, this kind of editing involves recasting sentences for clarity and flow. It can also involve moving sentences around so that your meaning is clear. Stylistic editing always aims to preserve the author’s voice, first and foremost.

Suppose you’ve finished your manuscript, and everything is where it’s supposed to be for best effect. What features of your finished book could indicate that it still might need a stylistic edit? Here are a few examples:

  • All your sentences are about the same length
  • You use a lot of adjectives
  • The vocabulary isn’t suited to the intended audience
  • Your meaning is lost in too many big words or jargon
  • Transitions from one paragraph to the next are awkward

Effective writing has a rhythm and pulse, and with practice, good writers learn to develop an ear for these qualities. A stylistic editor can help you hone these skills.

Sentence-Level Edit

Also called copyediting, this kind of editing addresses grammar, usage and consistency issues. It is entirely understandable that an author can lose track of many small details over the course of writing a book. From how a character’s name is spelled to the colour of her eyes to her mother-in-law’s hometown to how that’s spelled, the possibilities for small errors are many.

What’s more, sometimes these errors are introduced by the author himself during the revision phase. I once asked an author I was working with how it could be that her main character was entering high school that September when she had just had her 11th birthday the previous June. The author replied, “Oh, yeah. Hm. It’s because I cut a section out and reordered some events during one of my revisions. This is my fourth revision. I’d better take care of that detail!”

So in addition to consistencies in spelling and punctuation (colour or color? skateboard or skate-board?), a copyeditor will find issues of continuity that don’t add up. Sort of like quality control. This grid lists the kinds of things that editors attend to in a copyedit (Have a look! It’s like peeking over a copyeditor’s shoulder!). You can use a grid like this one to help you determine which copyediting issues you can confidently address yourself, and which ones you’d prefer to hire an editor to fix.

Word-Level Edit

Also called proofreading, this kind of editing addresses typos, repeated words (the the), spelling, punctuation and formatting issues (how things look on a page) as they occur in your book’s final environment. So, if you’re publishing an ebook, your editor will look at your book on an e-reader, or in an e-reading app to see how it looks and operates. If your book will be printed, your editor will proofread a PDF. Proofreading is the last pair of eyes on your book before it goes live: it’s the last chance to catch an error before a reader finds it and gleefully points it out.

What kind of editing will I need?

Typically, a manuscript will travel more or less through all four levels of editing before it’s deemed polished and ready for the reader. But that doesn’t mean that you’ll need to hire an editor for each kind of editing.

What your book needs depends on your strengths as a writer.

If you’re brilliant at outlining a book in a clear and logical way, or if you’re a master at crafting the perfect plot or story arc, you won’t necessarily need a big-picture edit. But if you struggle with explaining yourself clearly, or crafting realistic dialogue, your editor might recommend a paragraph-level edit.

At the very least, every manuscript will benefit from a sentence-level edit, or a copyedit. If your editing budget is limited, you can be strategic about the services you select.

Regardless of what your manuscript needs, working with an editor can help you improve your writing — particularly if you approach the process with a willingness to learn about your writing quirks (we all have them). With a positive and open attitude, you’ll not only get a better book, you’ll save money on your next editing project with what you’ve learned from this one.

How We Use the Kindle for Publishing

by Corina Koch MacLeod & Carla Douglas


If you’ve been following some of our earlier posts, you’ll know that at Beyond Paper we are fans of the Kindle — not just for reading ebooks, but for a host of publishing-related tasks.

Below is a list of what we use our Kindles for with links to posts that will tell you more about how we use them.

Note: Carla and I each have a Kindle Touch — Amazon’s e-ink device that was the precursor to the Paperwhite. Len Edgerly of the Kindle Chronicles podcast (an excellent podcast about publishing industry news and tips for using the Kindle) demonstrates the Paperwhite’s additional features. For our purposes, it would appear that the Touch is similar enough to the Paperwhite with one notable exception: the Touch has a text-speech read-aloud feature, the advantages of which I’ll discuss below. If you have a Paperwhite and there are additional features you think we should know about, feel free to leave a comment.

While a Kindle e-ink device makes the most sense for the kind of work we do, we do read on and consult the Kindle iOS, Android, and PC apps for specific purposes.

Research and Productivity

Editing and writing is focused work, and it’s all too easy to get distracted or lost in a research vortex on the Internet when we should be writing (or working with someone else’s writing). We have a Send-to-Kindle plug-in in our Google chrome browsers so that we can capture self-publishing articles that we encounter in our Internet travels. We then read these articles on our Kindles later, so we can stay abreast of changes in the publishing field.


You can load unpublished or “personal” documents to your Kindle using the Send-to-Kindle plug-in for your computer. This is particularly useful for manuscript evaluations in which we offer suggestions to authors on what might make their books better. Authors can send us a manuscript as a Word document, and we can pop it onto our Kindles to read it — much like a reader eventually will.


If you’re publishing an ebook, it makes good sense to proofread your manuscript in its final environment, ideally after it’s been copyedited and formatted as a mobi file.

We convert a file using Amazon’s converter (or receive a mobi file that has been already converted by a formatter) and then transfer the mobi file to the Kindle. Once it’s there, we can make use of the highlights and notes features on the Kindle to flag any changes the author or formatter needs to make.

There is a way to relay a list of changes to the author and formatter, and Carla will write about that in an upcoming post. If you’ve already published your book, but now realize it needs some proofreading, you can follow the steps in this post.

While proofreading, it’s important to read every word as you see it on the “page.” Our brains are meaning-making organs and have this amazing ability to see “from” when “form” is actually what’s written. To prevent your brain from tricking you into seeing what’s not there, it helps to read every word aloud, or use the Kindle Touch’s text-to-speech feature while proofreading. You can adjust the reading speed so that you’re reading at the right rate to catch errors.

Format Checks

It’s important to know that ebooks display differently on the various Kindle apps. Your book on the Kindle app will look and behave differently than it will on the iOS or PC apps. After we proofread a book on a Kindle, if an author requests it, we can page through the book in the various apps to see if it is displaying properly in each evironment. Of course, you can use the Kindle Previewer for this purpose, and while it’s an excellent option, it’s more accurate to page through the book on some of the devices readers will be using.

This is how we use the Kindle at Beyond Paper. We’re always looking for new ways to use our Kindles. How are you using yours?

*Image by Windell Oskay

Related Posts
The New Kindle Paperwhite Demo: Incrementally Great, by Len Edgerly
Scrivener Tip: Text to Speech, by Nicole Feldringer
Use Send to Kindle to Read and Review Your Personal Documents
How to Check Your Book Using Kindle Previewer
How to Proofread on a Kindle: 8 Steps to Proofreading Your Ebook
How to Get Your Book Ebook-Ready

Check Your Ebook with Kindle Previewer

by Corina Koch MacLeod


Tablets and phones
Image by tribehut (CC BY-SA 2.0)

An author I know hired a book service to convert and upload her book to Amazon. Learning to convert a Word document to various ebook formats without glitches is not for the fainthearted. Many authors decide to hire someone to do the ebook conversion for them.

After her book was uploaded to Amazon, I downloaded a copy, and opened it on my iPod using the Kindle for iOS app. I discovered that it contained several e-reading distractions: the “Go To” menuor the external table of contents (TOC) that readers can use to navigate the book in a manner equivalent to flipping pageswas missing. Complete lines of text had disappeared. Uh oh.

I picked up my Android tablet to see if the problems existed in the Kindle for Android app. Same story. What happened?

How readers read ebooks
When you create an ebook, you don’t know which device readers will use to read it. You likely upload your file and hope that everything will turn out alright on the reader end. And, if you’ve paid someone to do the conversion, you might just assume that they will address device-specific difficulties. No so. When you hire someone to convert your file for you, ask them how they check to see whether your book will read well on various devices. If that’s not included in the service you’re paying for, you’ll need to check your ebook yourself.

Yup. First it’s author as marketer, now it’s author as quality assurance inspector. You just got a new hat to wear!

When you upload your book to Amazon, readers can read your files in any one of these ways:

  • on an e-ink device (Kindle DX, Kindle Touch, Kindle Paperwhite)
  • on a designated tablet (Kindle Fire)
  • on an iOS device (iPad, iPod, iPhone)
  • on an Android device (tablets and phones)
  • on a computer (Kindle for PC, Kindle for Mac)

Amazon has done a very nice job of creating apps and devices that give readers choices for how they want to experience ebooks.

But wait minute. Does that mean you have to buy a slew of devices to see if your book is going to work on various e-reading devices? Not necessarily. As I mentioned in a previous post, some ebook developers invest in a slew of devices on which they can check your book, but developers also use this nifty tooland authors can too!

Kindle Previewer
Kindle Previewer is a free tool that allows you to see what your ebook will look like on Kindle e-ink devices, on a Kindle Fire, and on iOS devices. Here’s a screenshot from the Kindle Paperwhite view in Kindle’s Downloadable Previewer:

Amazon offers two options for viewing your ebook: the Online Previewer and the Downloadable Previewer. You can access both of them through your Kindle publishing account.

According to Aaron Shepard, author of From Word to Kindle, the Downloadable Previewer does a much better job of simulating your book on various e-reading devices than the Online Previewer. If the Online Previewer is your only option, then it’s certainly better than nothing. But if you can, he recommends that you use the Downloadable Previewer to preview your ebook.
Here’s the kicker, though: the Downloadable Previewer only accepts files in epub, mobi, HTML and OPF formats. Most authors work in Word. If you’ve hired someone to convert your ebook for you, they will likely have created an epub or mobi fileask them to send you the file so you can open it in Kindle Previewer to identify potential problems.
*Note: The Downloadable Previewer works in tandem with a free command line tool called Kindle Gen. Be sure to download this tool. Though you won’t actually need to open it, it needs to exist on your computer to allow the Downloadable Previewer to do its thing. 

But I Didn’t Hire a Designer
So, what if you’ve taken the DIY route and your ebook file is not in a format that the Downloadable Previewer can read? Not to worry. You have a few choices:

  • As I mentioned earlier, after you’ve uploaded your file, you can preview it online using the Online Previewer, keeping in mind that this choice is second best. The online previewer is not entirely accurate, but it will tell you if you have some glaring formatting issues.
  • You can upload a Word file to Amazon and Amazon automatically converts it to a mobi format using the Kindle converter (the Kindle conversion software that runs invisibly after you upload). You can download the mobi file that it produces to your computer and then preview it on the Downloadable Kindle Previewer. 
  • You can save your Word file as an HTMLa file format the Downloadable Previewer can read. If you’re using Word 2010 for Windows, Building Your Book for Kindle recommends that you save your file as “Web page, Filtered.” Other later versions of Word will allow you to save your file as an HTML as well.

You don’t need to own every e-reading device to preview your ebook. You can make use of Amazon’s free previewing tools to ensure a distraction-free reading experience for your readers.

Related Posts
How to Proofread Your Ebook Like a Pro
How to Proofread Like a Pro, Part 2
How to Get Your Book Ebook-Ready
Authors, Images and Copyright: How to Stay Out of Trouble

How to Proofread Like a Pro, Part 2: Checking Your Formatting

Image by toolstop (CC BY-SA 2.0)

by Corina Koch MacLeod

Updated February 2014

In a previous post, I explained that professional proofreaders proofread a document for language-related proofreading errors. But that’s not all they do. Proofreaders also check a document for formatting errors, which means that they generally do two passes of a document (read through it twice), sometimes more. Rigorous? Yes. But aren’t your readers worth it?

Your first proofreading pass can be done on your computer, in whatever word processing program you use. I think it’s a good idea to do your second pass on an e-reading device so you can view your book in the form that readers will experience it. I describe how to proofread your book on an e-reading device in this post.

For now, let’s focus on the kinds of formatting problems that creep up in ebooks. By formatting, I mean how a “page” looks and works. To understand formatting problems in ebooks, you need to put yourself in your readers’ shoes to determine the kinds of things that will distract them from a positive e-reading experience. Here’s what to look for:

Formatting checklist

  • Is there an external or meta table of contents that readers can access to navigate your book?
  • Do you have an internal linked table of contents? (readers may want to see this in your book sample)
  • Are your paragraph fonts the same size throughout?
  • Are your paragraphs styled consistently (first-line indent, block style, or hanging indent?)
  • Are your chapter headings the same size throughout? Are they too big?
  • Are drop caps displaying properly?
  • Is your running text font too big? Too small?
  • Have you used smart quotes? Are quotation marks and apostrophes turned the right way?
  • Do you have a space before and after em dashes (—), en dashes (–) and ellipses (…)? It doesn’t matter if you do, but you’ll need to be consistent.
  • Are boldface or italics applied randomly to words?
  • Are there funny characters where punctuation should be?
  • Are there forced line breaks where there shouldn’t be?
  • Are there blank pages?
  • Are there large gaps between words? Extra spaces where they don’t belong?
  • Does a space need to be inserted between two words that run together?
  • Are you missing entire lines of text?
  • Do hyperlinks work when you tap on them?
  • Are visuals where they’re supposed to be? Are they sized correctly?
  • Is the text in tables large enough to read?
The presence of any of the items in the list above can distract and irritate readers. Attending to these details will ensure that your readers will notice what they’re supposed to notice — your writing.

Related Posts
How to Proofread Your Ebook Like a Pro, Part 1: Looking for Language Errors
How to Proofread on a Kindle: 8 Steps to Proofreading Your mobi Book
How to Get Your Book Ebook-Ready
Working With Page Proofs (Proofreading in Print), by Louise Harnby