Q What does a proofreader do?
A proofreader will read your manuscript and correct all the spelling, grammar and punctuation mistakes that you have missed. Sounds simple, right? Not really, it takes years of practice (yes, that is the UK spelling!), a huge amount of gradually accumulated knowledge, and a genuine fascination with the English language.
Q How does this differ from what an editor does?
An editor will not necessarily make the above changes, although they may pick up a few spelling errors. An editor will make suggestions about the narrative arc of your novel, the ‘point of view’ character, the description of events, and even the sequence of chapters. They may give advice about plot, characters, or your writing style.
It’s worth saying that there’s a small percentage of writers who can edit their own work. You may be one of them.
I believe it’s important for self-published authors to put forward the very best version possible of their manuscript, in order to maintain the integrity of indie publishing in general. We all wish to dispel the myth that indie published books are somehow inferior to traditionally published books. I know that I’ve had several clients whose work I consider far superior to that of many traditionally published authors.
Q What is a ‘copy editor’, as opposed to an editor?
A copy editor (a function I also perform, mostly in my capacity as an annoying pedant!) will look at the actual copy in more detail. They will, for example:
- Note that you’ve repeated a word in a sentence and possibly suggest a new one
- Point out small but telling plot loopholes
- Correct paragraphs where the tense, or point of view, changes for no accountable reason
- Make suggestions if they feel that a certain character would not know about or say a particular thing
In general, a copy editor will help with those little points that picky reviewers are all too keen to point out. What the copy editor won’t do is attempt to change your ‘voice’ or influence the content or direction of your novel.
Q Why would I need a proofreader? I was always good at English, I know about correct grammar, and anyway I have a couple of well-educated friends who are going to look over the manuscript for me before I publish it.
It’s a fact that you can’t effectively proofread your own work. This is because, when you try to do so, you see what you expect to see, and your brain makes sense of it, even if you don’t read all the words in a sentence. Scary stuff! I have to make sure someone else looks at my blog posts before I publish them, just to double-check.
Your friends can certainly help, as another pair of eyes if nothing else. But your friends have a different mind-set than that of a proofreader who knows nothing about you. They will be looking at content, noticing where you write about certain events that they think are based upon your life, making notes about parts of the book they enjoyed. I can guarantee you they won’t read every word, even if they believe they are doing so.
Q Do most readers really care about the odd error? They know I’m an indie author, after all, and it’s the story that counts.
Some readers won’t notice an occasional error. A few readers won’t even notice a lot of errors. But there are some readers, who love to review books, who will not only notice but will make a point of itemising those errors and complaining about them, not to mention bringing down the overall star rating of your reviews. These people don’t make allowances for the fact that you’re a self-published author, and indeed, why should they? Your books are competing with traditionally published books.
If you have a publisher, it’s also a good idea to have your book proofread before you submit it to your publisher (I have clients who do this). After all, you want to give the best impression of your work.
Q How much would a proofreader charge me?
This varies enormously. Obviously, very few people have unlimited funds and cost is important, so try and find a person whose services suit your budget and your other requirements – do you like the tone of their emails, for example?
Q There are so many proofreaders advertising their services on the Internet. How can I find one I can trust to do the job properly for me?
I would suggest 2 things; firstly, ask if the proofreader will work on a few pages free of charge for you, so that you can see if what they provide is what you are looking for. A genuine person should not have any objection to doing this. Secondly, ask for some testimonials, and ensure that these are from people whom you can actually contact. By the way, there’s nothing wrong with trying out someone who seems to be quite new to the business, who may have only 1 or 2 testimonials, but make sure you get a sample first!
Q I have seen companies that offer proofreading based on ‘custom-made software’ because they say that is better than the human eye. Should I give my business to them?
When I first saw this claim by a company I was somewhat suspicious, but did not dismiss it out of hand. However, when I was given a manuscript to read that had already been ‘proofread’ by one of these software systems, I found over 70 errors in my first half hour of reading. So I say this – there are no shortcuts, you can’t beat good old-fashioned human expertise.
As we all know, even the seemingly simple spellcheck can mislead you in so many different ways.