Editing red pencil

Read Aloud: A Neat Way to Self-Edit

By Larry Martin

Poor editing is probably the number one criticism of self-published books. The reason so many self-published books have this problem is two-fold. One is the well-known phenomenon that writers who go over their work tend to read what is in their head, not what is on the printed page (or computer screen). Thus, we miss obvious errors that others see, such as wrong tense, a missing verb, word repetition, a character named Mr. Smith who should be Mrs. Smith, etc. etc.

The second reason is that professional editing is expensive, so many (?most) self-published authors don’t opt for it. A common attitude is that the cost (easily over $1K for a full-length novel) will never be recouped in book sales, so why bother.

At the same time, probably every self-published author will admit that self-editing is not a good idea, and choose a middle ground between sole self-editing, and professional editing. The middle ground includes: review by family and/or friends, who likely won’t be critical or nit-picky when they should be; critique groups that only see a small part of your story at a time; and online programs such as Grammarly, AutoCrit, Hemingway, et. al. These methods certainly can catch many errors, but they are not the same as true editing. The proof is in the result: the overall quality of self-published books doesn’t match books from traditional publishers, a major reason being that the latter employ professional editors.

If your editing plans do include some aspect of self-editing, then by all means consider Read Aloud, which costs nothing. Two broad options:

Option 1: Read it aloud to yourself. Whenever I read aloud in my critique group, I’m amazed how mistakes become apparent that I missed when I read it silently. Steve Martin (no relation), in his Master Class on Editing played for WLOV members on Thursday afternoons, emphasizes this technique.

Option 2: Have your work read back to you, by the computer. Again, you will be amazed at the things you missed, that you now want to change or, in some cases, must change (i.e., it is Mrs. Smith, after all). The feature is available in Word, but only in Office 2019, Office 2021, and Microsoft 365 – not in older versions. It is also available in the Microsoft Edge browser.

If you don’t have Read Aloud in your version of Word, another option is to use the Read Aloud feature in PDF format. Save your Word document in PDF format, then click to open it. It automatically opens in the Edge browswer.

Do this for your work and you will likely be surprised at the difference between reading it yourself, silently, and how it comes across when read aloud to you.

Instructions for a Windows computer:


After you’ve saved your Word document as a PDF, open the PDF. Select the page(s) you want read aloud. In the ribbon at top of the screen click on the “A” with the two little lines next to it.

Once you start Read Aloud, note that the top ribbon shows 2 vertical bars for stopping, and right and left arrows for skipping up or down by a paragraph.


Instructions for an Apple computer:

Read Aloud or “text to voice” requires an initial setup on an Apple computer.

First, you must open “Accessibility” in “System Preferences” and select “Spoken Content” and check “Speak Selection.”

This is a one time setup that you will not have to do again.


Accessibility Options

Next open your PDF in the Safari Browser and highlight  the page(s) you want read.

Highlighted text

To start the Read Aloud, hold down the Option key + ESC Key together [Option + ESC]. To turn off the reading, press the same keys.

Below are other controls you can use during the reading: slow done, go back, pause, play, go forward, speak faster.

read aloud controls

Play around with the Read Aloud options until you feel comfortable. Once you’re in the driver’s seat, start editing this new way.

Larry MartinLarry Martin is the editor of the WLOV (Writers League of the Villages) Newsletter where the article first appeared.

He is also the author of several books including Liberty Street: A Novel of Late Civil War Savannah, What Just Landed in The Villages?, Stories of Intensive Care, and The Wall: Chronicle of a Scuba Trial.

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