Proofreading: Your Last Line of Defense

On the road to publishing a manuscript, finishing the editing process is a huge milestone, but it’s by no means the last.

Once your editor finishes, there’s one more critical phase to complete before publication: hiring a trained and experienced proofreader to take a final look and ensure no embarrassing errors are hidden in your manuscript.

After all the blood, sweat, and tears that go into writing a book, there is nothing more cringe-worthy than seeing something like “for all intensive purposes” immortalized in print.

Why You Need a Proofreader

Ask any proofreader, and they’ll tell you the same thing: even proofreaders hire colleagues to check their work. The reason we bother to do this, despite being professionally trained ourselves, is the number one reason for hiring a proofreader: our brains trick us.

When our brains know what to expect in a text, they automatically fill in missing information or correct wrong things. We are essentially blind to our errors.

Our faulty brains are the real reason everyone who writes for an audience needs a proofreader. Your proofreader safeguards that precious first impression by making sure you don’t publish anything embarrassing for the world to see.

Any time you write, you create an impression about your work ethic and who you are. Your proofreader protects your reputation.


What Proofreading Entails

“But isn’t proofreading the same as editing?” Not exactly. While editors and proofreaders both form an essential part of the writing process, they carry out vastly different tasks.

Editing happens before proofreading and focuses on big-picture changes and stylistic word- and sentence-level changes that enhance the overall quality of a manuscript. Yes, your copy editor will correct grammar and spelling errors, but since they also focus on other things, they will miss some errors.

Proofreading, on the other hand, is the final step in the editing process. It’s all about taking an in-depth look at the text to ensure that it’s publication ready.

Here are some tasks proofreaders do:

  • Fix typos
  • Check that every period, comma, quotation mark, question mark, and dash is correct
  • Ensure accurate homonyms are used
  • Correct spelling errors that spell check doesn’t always catch (“it’s” vs. “its,” “to” vs. “too,” or the spelling of character names/places)
  • Delete repeated words
  • Ensure formatting remains consistent throughout the manuscript (delete extra spaces between paragraphs, correct discrepancies in font size, fix incorrect headers, etc.)

Here are some tasks proofreaders don’t do:

  • Provide feedback about your writing
  • Give you tips on how to organize the information and ideas in your book
  • Rework sentences
  • Give feedback on word choices

Proofreading Cost

 

Proofreading rates vary based on several factors, such as the subject matter, if it requires the proofreader to have specialized expertise in the subject matter, and whether it’s a rush project. Clients can be charged hourly, per word, per page, or per project.

Many proofreaders prefer to charge flat rates or per word, as these tend to be the most transparent pricing models. A reasonably standard per word rate is $0.012/$0.013, and those that charge per hour may charge anywhere between $25–$35 or more.

 

Turnaround Time

 

It’s important to know that many factors affect turnaround time, such as:

  • The proofreader’s familiarity with the subject matter, especially when proofreading technical or scientific material
  • Their workload
  • How well written the content is. Even though we’re not editing the content, proofreading well-written material makes the whole process much easier.

Given all these factors, a real “average” turnaround time is challenging to establish, and you may hear very different answers if you ask around.

According to the Editorial Freelance Association, an average proofreader can proof nine to thirteen manuscript pages per hour, with a standard manuscript having 250 words per page. Most proofreaders would agree with this estimate, though not all material is created equal.

It’s also important to keep in mind that an hour spent proofreading requires high concentration and can be quite draining, with your ability to catch errors diminishing as time goes on. For this reason, many proofreaders work a maximum of five to six hours so as not to compromise quality, and some prefer to do two read-throughs to ensure nothing slips through the cracks.

Before being too impressed with fast turnaround times, be aware that the ability to complete a project faster doesn’t necessarily mean that one proofreader is better than another. Quick turnaround times may just mean that the proofreader has less work and can complete the project rapidly.

Pro Tip: If your proofreading timeline is tight, send over a sample of your book along with your inquiry when reaching out to proofreaders. Doing so will save you some back and forth and get you a faster answer.

Why Your Editor Shouldn’t Be Your Proofreader

“Can’t my editor just proofread my book?” is a common objection to hiring a proofreader.

Aside from sometimes lacking proofreading training, there’s another big problem with having your editor proof your manuscript. They typically suffer from the same affliction as the writer: editors spend too much time with the book to spot all the errors like someone with a fresh pair of eyes would—which is why editing and proofreading should always be done separately.

Be wary of editors who say they’ll also proofread your material. These are two separate tasks with independent costs. Paying for both services (and having to hire someone else) may be less than appealing, but keeping them separate is vital to maintaining the integrity of your work.

 


How to Get the Most Out of Your Proofreader

While proofreaders do most of the heavy lifting, clients can do a few things to get the most out of our services.

It’s helpful if you send your proofreader any style sheet your editor may have created for you, or if you don’t have a style sheet, return the one they ask you to fill out as quickly as possible.

They’ll also appreciate it—and be able to do their job faster—if you respond to their emails promptly. We may not email you a ton, but when we do, it’s generally something important.

You will need to accept or reject changes we’ve made, so be prepared to do so. And lastly, we always appreciate prompt payment once your book is proofed to your liking.

Meet the Guest Blogger: Danielle Decker

I am the owner of Decker’s Word Shop. I love clear, concise, error-free language, and I feel most comfortable expressing myself with a pen and paper–or a keyboard and word processor, as it were. Safeguarding the sanctity of the written word has always been my priority, whether as a freelancer, English teacher, or account manager. Though I am originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, I have lived in Spain for several years and am fluent in Spanish.

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