What is a Proofreader? Why you need one, and how to choose one – Part 1
Making your book as error-free as possible before publication is essential in today’s flooded market. New writers with no experience in the industry may not know exactly what a proofreader does, or how to find a good one. Today I’ve asked one of the UK’s top proofreaders, Julia Gibbs (@ProofreadJulia on Twitter) to help writers through this stage of the publishing process.
What is a proofreader? Why you need one, and how to choose one, Part 1.
First of all, can you explain the difference between content editing, copy editing and proofreading? I know a lot of new writers wonder about this.
Certainly! An Editor will look at the book as a whole, and make suggestions such as: let’s make this character more prominent in the plot; how about inserting a short chapter with a bit of back story; this plot thread isn’t fully explained; you might consider writing this character in 1st person PoV (point of view) etc. It’s not an editor’s job to correct typos, although they may spot a few.
A Copy Editor will look at the actual text more closely as a whole, and will point out for example: overuse of a certain word in a paragraph; factual errors; a word that isn’t quite right, and will suggest an alternative. The function of a copy editor is to look at each page/paragraph/line and pick up inconsistencies or repetitions, or just quirks that could put off a reader.
A Proofreader will correct your spelling, punctuation and grammar. The content of your work does not concern a proofreader, but they are the final person to work on your book and make it as error-free as possible before it is published.
Do all writers use editors? Should they all use a proofreader?
Most writers need an editor, but there is a small percentage who are capable of editing their own work. You may be one of those people. However, and it’s a big however, about 98% of authors need a proofreader. Make that 99%. I say this from experience. In the work of the most educated and assiduous of writers, I find between 300 and 800 corrections to make. Often they’re surprised! Why is this? Well, it’s because you can’t proofread your own work. Your mind reads what it expects to see. I recently contacted a blogger to point out a glaring error in the first line of a book review; she said she’d read over the piece about 8 times, and not spotted it. QED, I say!
At what stage of the pre-publication process should the proofreading take place?
It’s essential to ensure that you’ve finished editing your book before you pass it to the proofreader. No matter how tempted you might be, please don’t rewrite anything after the proofreader sends it back, as you might (will) insert more tiny errors. I recently worked on a very good book, whose author subsequently inserted a few more paragraphs – thus throwing up around 40 new errors! And we all know what that means – reviewers pointing out typos, which spoils our good work.
Some writers are on a limited budget, and might get a friend whose English is very good, to proofread. Is this a sensible option?
It’s not a bad idea, but not a great one. Your friend will not read the book with the same mindset as a proofreader who doesn’t know you. They may skip bits without meaning to, they may wish not to offend you by finding too many errors, and they may not work to your timetable! A case in point; one of my clients said that his fiancée had proofread his 40k-word novella, and I found over 300 typos in it. Look at it this way; if your friend doesn’t spot, say, a particular 45 typos in your book, you can’t really reprimand them. But you would not expect a proofreader whom you are paying to miss those 45 typos.
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