For my early novels, although I invested in professional editors and proofreaders to make sure my craft was as water-tight as possible, I was dismayed that readers still managed to find typos. When I was preparing the manuscript for my fourth novel to send to my editor, I decided to adopt a practice I had heard other authors use—listening to the book via a text-to-speech app.
Despite the fact that at this point the manuscript had been read by beta readers including a professional marketing writer and an Oxford University linguistics professor, this approach uncovered an astounding number of mistakes. Our minds are so adept at gleaning meaning from what we read that we gloss over errors such as dropping an article or using “he” instead of “she.” However, those errors are impossible to miss when you hear the words spoken. It’s also great for catching things like awkward construction, or excessive use of a pet word or phrase.
An unexpected additional benefit was that it was much easier to pick up mismatches between the character from whose point of view a scene was being told and the language used—for example, formal language used in a scene told from the point of view of a teenage girl.
At the time of this writing, inexpensive text-to-speech applications are still a bit stilted-sounding, and the listening process isn’t particularly riveting, but advances are being made so quickly that it won’t be long before there will be little to distinguish a machine-read text from a human-read one (at which point, every book will be automatically available in audio!).
Listening to your book is a time-consuming exercise, but one I feel is worth the investment. However, if you’re looking for an alternative, I believe any variation in how you’ve been experiencing your book for the weeks, months, or years of its creation can literally give you a fresh look at the material. This could be as simple as displaying it in a different font on your screen or, the classic, printing it out for a final edit. (You can double the benefit by reading along on the text-to-speech app as the text is being voiced, which I did for my novel. Tedious but valuable.)
If you’ve ever sanded a piece of wood, you know that a plank that looks pleasingly smooth from one angle will reveal flaws when viewed from another angle. In the same way, looking at your work through a different medium can help you identify those areas that need work.