Mastodon The Writing Desk: Guest post ~ How to have a positive proofreading experience by Wendy Janes

12 September 2015

Guest post ~ How to have a positive proofreading experience by Wendy Janes

Thank you to Tony for inviting me to write this guest post. I hope it will be of help to authors who are considering having their book proofread.

I’d like to begin with some thoughts about timing. I suggest you start looking for a proofreader at least six weeks before you think you’ll need one. Proofreaders are often booked up months in advance. Although we do sometimes get cancellations, you’re more likely to secure the services of the person you want if you get in touch sooner rather than later.

However, if you’ve booked a proofreader and find you’re running late, rather than rush and risk sending a manuscript that you’re not happy with, get in touch as soon as possible if you can’t make the deadline. We always try our very best to accommodate all our authors, but the earlier you tell us, the more chance we’ll be able to reschedule with you.

And now some practical suggestions to ensure your book is ready for proofreading.

As proofreading is the final stage before formatting and publishing, you should only send your book to a proofreader when you feel your story is ready for publishing. If it is still at the stage where you’re unsure whether to retain that chapter containing the main character’s back story or to delete it and scatter the information throughout the book instead, you need to make that decision and complete the rewrite prior to proofreading.

You also need to make sure you’ve researched any references to modern and historical culture. The role of the proofreader is to pick up final typos, not to carry out a detailed online search for information. For example, it’s reasonable to expect a proofreader to correct Brad Pett to Brad Pitt, but not to check that his character name in an episode of Friends was Will Colbert and not Paul Stevens (which was Bruce Willis’ character name). Actually, I really enjoy researching, but it’s not strictly within the remit of a proofreader.

Now, moving on to a more detailed look at your manuscript, a really useful exercise to carry out prior to sending your work to a proofreader is to search for overused words such as “just”, “that”, “very”, “really” and “totally”. A proofreader will spot these, but can do no more than suggest deleting or amending. Another thing to look out for is your characters repeatedly doing things. I proofread a book recently where characters kept sitting on settees, getting up from settees, crossing over to settees… I could do no more than mention it to the author, leaving her with a significant amount of rewriting to do, which is something most authors will want to avoid at such a late stage in the writing process.  

Other useful checks to perform prior to proofreading, include:

  • choosing US or UK spelling;
  • using consistent spelling of common words such as toward/s, while/whilst and among/st;
  • checking for words that are easily mixed up, such as sign/sigh, simple/simply, that/than, than/then, though/through/thought.

Of course a proofreader will correct all of the above, but most of us use track changes, and therefore you may feel overwhelmed and demoralised if your proof is covered with redlining and you have hundreds of things to accept or decline.

Lots of redlining is a particular issue when it comes to punctuation and spacing. In fact, I’ll often liaise with an author and may make the following changes with track changes off so that the author can concentrate on the words when the proofs are returned:

  • When using dashes parenthetically, I replace spaced hyphens with spaced en dashes (UK style) or unspaced em dashes (US style). 
  • Where there’s a mix of straight and curly quotes, I replace them with either straight or curly quotes. 
  • I amend double spaces to single spaces between words and after punctuation.

A word about punctuation of speech. Although a proofreader will check for correct punctuation in dialogue and make appropriate amendments, it’s not advisable to leave it to us to do wholesale insertions of quote marks, full stops or commas.

In effect, the job of the proofreader is to check for correct implementation rather than to impose punctuation, grammar and spelling rules from scratch. We can do a better job, and you’ll have a more positive experience, if your book has been edited first.

Wendy Janes
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About the Author

Wendy Janes is a London-based freelance proofreader. She enjoys working with publishers (mainly non-fiction) and indie authors (mainly fiction), helping them make their books error free. Here’s a link to her website where you can find out more about her proofreading and her writing If you’d like a chat about proofreading, words, books and chocolate you can find her on Twitter and Facebook.


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