Today I welcome fellow author, David Powning, who is also an experienced copy-editor & proofreader, to guide us through what we need to know as writers about proofreading. Learn more at: www.inkwrapped.com and find out more about his novel The Ground Will Catch You go to: https://goo.gl/wtkdod (10% of the proceeds goes towards the struggle against breast cancer).
1. Copy-editing and proofreading are not the same thing.
This foxes a lot of people, and understandably so, mainly because there is a certain overlap between the two disciplines. The aim of a copy-edit is to not only find errors in spelling, grammar and punctuation, but also to address issues around style, usage, consistency and repetition, among other things. In other words, it involves editing the text.
A proofread, on the other hand, is the final read-through before publication. Its purpose is to look for errors and inconsistencies in spelling, grammar and punctuation that were missed by the copy-editor or have subsequently crept in when the author made amendments to the text. Your proofreader will also check layout, page numbering, chapter headings etc.
The important thing to remember is that a proofread is the last read of the text to make sure everything is as ‘clean’ as possible. It is not an edit.
2. It isn’t particularly cheap. And if it is, you should be hearing alarm bells.
The bad news is you will have to shell out a bit for a copy-edit, and for good reason: when done properly, it’s time-consuming. The copy-editor has to get inside your text, hunting out mistakes and discrepancies, and that includes keeping tabs on people’s details (the colour of their hair or eyes, for example) or what car they drive (if it’s a green Ford Fiesta on page 24, it can’t be a grey Ford Fiesta on page 238), as well as the timeline to make sure events are happening in the logical order. There’s a lot involved, and, as with everything in life, you get what you pay for.
The good news, however, is that a proofread is cheaper.
3. You can’t proofread your own work.
I know, it would be lovely if we were all able to proofread what we’ve written – and of course I’m not suggesting that you don’t continuously check your work – but it’s a fact that even the best writers have to hand over their efforts to a professional. The problem with proofing your own work is that you know what you’ve written, so, like it or not, there will be times when your brain fills in the words simply because it ‘knows’ what’s coming. And that’s where mistakes occur. You need a neutral person to look at it, because they don’t know what’s around the corner so to them everything will be fresh.
Also, logic dictates that if there are some words you always mis-spell or grammatical constructions you get wrong, how would you know the difference? You can’t spot what you don’t know.
4. A good copy-editor/proofreader will respect the author’s wishes.
Sometimes as a copy-editor you come across stylistic curiosities that aren’t what you would call, erm, ‘traditional’. Grammatically wrong, even. If it’s a one-off, nine times out of ten you would automatically just correct it. However, if it’s something that crops up repeatedly, then you have to bring it to the author’s attention. And if they say it’s deliberate, then you have to respect that, even if it makes your red pen quiver every time you see it happen. It’s a delicate balancing act. Readers may well go, ‘Ah-ha, I’ve spotted a mistake there, and there, and there…’ but if your client is happy and views it merely as their own stylistic quirk, you must take that on board. It may go against a copy-editor’s natural instinct, but as with a magazine’s house style, sometimes there will be things you disagree with.
5. Proofreading is important.
I’ve often heard it said that readers are not fussy these days about coming across typos when reading a novel, but, you’ll be shocked to hear, I don’t think it’s acceptable. Of course, even with the best will in the world, the occasional error may slip through the net – and that’s true of all books – but to me anything more than that is the thin end of the wedge. If you start to think, ‘Oh, I’m not too bothered about a few spelling mistakes in my novel’, then what’s to stop you being bothered about half a dozen in the next one, and ten in the one after that?
Self-publishing has really taken off in the past few years, and I think indie authors have a duty to keep their standards as high as possible so that the public can buy with confidence, as when purchasing a novel from an established publisher/author. Is it okay for a CD to jump half a dozen times? Wouldn’t you return it if it did? Well, the same goes for books. Typos and grammatical errors stop the flow of words and momentarily take the reader out of the imagined world you have created, thereby undermining all your hard work. What’s okay about that?
6. Track Changes is a wonderful thing.
For those not in the know, Track Changes is a function in Microsoft Word that records each amendment a person (i.e. your copy-editor/proofreader) makes in the document. This means that when your novel is returned to you, you simply go through each change and either ‘accept’ or ‘reject’ it. I mention this only because chances are you’ll be sending your work to a copy-editor as a Word file, and I’d be very surprised if they didn’t use Track Changes. It’s simple to use and gives you complete control over the final product. Brilliant.
7. Proofreading is very satisfying.
I love copy-editing and proofreading, whether that’s for magazines or books. To me it’s a challenge to find things that aren’t quite right, and not because I want to feel clever. Every writer makes errors (my novel went through the wringer quite a few times until I was happy), so when you discover something amiss you know you are doing your bit to improve the work, and that’s a good feeling.
Ultimately, when you’re working for an author, it’s a partnership. You’re both striving towards the same thing – high standards – and to help someone achieve that, after all the hours they’ve put in creating a story, really is very gratifying.