When someone says, “I’ll proofread your stuff for free (or very cheap), because it only takes a good speller”—Run! Fast! Faster!
Take them on at your own risk. Sometimes free and cheap are too good to be true. Once it’s uploaded to Amazon or printed, there are no do-overs. Don’t be surprised when a reviewer calls you out and takes stars away, then makes personal attacks on your competence—for the whole world to see. Those comments are permanent, only a reader’s Google search away.
I believe putting words from their head down on paper is the writer’s job. The proofreader ensures they’re the correct words. Satisfied readers confirm they were the right words.
A few years ago, my personal description of a proofreader was someone who read text and viewed the proposed layout, then gave the final okay for the copy to be printed. Not exactly the specific technical terms, but that’s the job in a nutshell.
After a few years spent taking dozens of classes and devouring a humongous collection of resource books and applications, I’m revising that description to master vocabulary and grammar evaluator extraordinaire.
Where I’d imagined the time involved was minuscule, I’ve learned proofreading is an intense process. The evaluator has to be so prepared that the errors leap off the page and call for their attention. A proofreader’s eyes should be ‘fresh’ at all times. They must focus as if they’ve just picked up the copy, rather than re-reading known content. And a good proofreader will read the copy—line-by-line, word-by-word—several times before giving the final thumbs-up.
In my case, I prepare for each job before looking at the document.
Preparation? No, I’m not saying this in jest. I have an editing binder (I know—old school) of troublesome, vocabulary words and quirky grammar rules that I review prior to tackling those 50,000 word manuscripts. I receive, sometimes unedited, text in all stages of clarity, challenging my ability to finalize a version that allows readers to grasp the story as the author means it to be told. Between projects, I’m taking classes and scouring the Internet, honing my skills and converting my traditional binder into a Cloud-based digital tool.
Quirky grammar rules are always fodder for debate on editor blog sites and forums. The Chicago Manual of Style, the editor’s bible and my number one resource, is constantly updated to keep up with the times. Were you aware the ellipsis rule for pauses, that writers love to abuse, champions an additional dot or period in certain circumstances? Or, that Jones’s is now acceptable when showing possession of proper nouns ending in ‘s’? The familiar Jones’ is still okay, if a writer prefers, as long as they’re consistent.
Speaking of preferences and consistency, I keep a notebook for each writer of their own personal quirks. Before I start on their prized baby, I know whether they add a comma after a word series or use ‘to’ instead of ‘too’ every time. I look out for the missing ‘ed’ and ‘s’ or over-capitalization of titles; these facts save time when we’re up against the clock to meet a deadline.
Yes, I’ve won a few spelling bees back in the day, once netting an engraved Webster’s dictionary. But, when I’ve written something important, I’ll have another professional proofreader take a look. And for an author, what’s more important than building a loyal reader base?
I’d be interested in your opinion. Do you use a professional proofreader?
Paulette Nunlee is the proofreader for fivestarproofing.com. She currently proofreads for award-winning authors and is writing her first book. Reach her at .