When Should I Hire a Proofreader?

When I receive a query from an author I often request a sample of their work and ask if it has been through any round of editing. This is to assess whether or not proofreading is the appropriate service for them at that time. New authors are not always aware of the stages a manuscript should go through to make it publication ready. Hopefully, this guide will help you understand the publishing process a little better.

As a proofreader I am the final person to work on your manuscript before it is published. So, what are the steps that should come before the proofread?

1.    The Structural/Developmental/Substantive Edit

After writing your manuscript and going through a round of self-editing it is time for the ‘big picture’ edit. The structural/developmental/substantive edit looks at the manuscript as a whole and searches for plot holes, weak characterisation, inconsistencies in the story/descriptions of characters, use of language, unrealistic scenarios and structure. Basically, everything to do with the flow and readability of your story. It may involve parts of text being moved around and even removed in order to make it read better.

Not all authors pay out for this kind of an edit and will rely on beta readers and/or pay out for a manuscript critique. There are groups on Facebook and Goodreads in which people offer beta reading services and sometimes authors will beta read/critique for other authors. If going down the beta reader route I would advise using more than one to get a rounded view of the positives and negatives that come up in your manuscript.

2.    The Copy-Edit

You have worked on your manuscript following the structural edit and now feel that it is ready and complete. The next thing to do is hire a copy-editor. If you can, I really recommend that you do this. The copy-editor will look at your manuscript at the sentence level and will check for things such as grammar, consistency, continuity, repetition, and fact checking. The Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) define copy-editing as:

The aim of copy-editing is to ensure that whatever appears in public is accurate, easy to follow, fit for purpose and free of error, omission, inconsistency and repetition. This process picks up embarrassing mistakes, ambiguities and anomalies, alerts the client to possible legal problems and analyses the document structure for the typesetter/designer.

SfEP, www.sfep.org.uk/about/faqs/what-is-copy-editing/

3.    The Proofread

The final stage after all the suggestions the copy-editor has made have been implemented is the proofread. The proofread is the word level edit. This is where I come in. I aim to ensure that your final manuscript is error free. You need to be aware that errors can slip in during the copy-editing process and for this reason I would always recommend that you have the final proofread done.

The proofreader looks for errors in spelling, punctuation, word usage (including those homophones I have been talking about in ‘Pesky Words’) repeated words, that consistency has been followed, that chapters are numbered correctly and more. The SfEP define proofreading as:

Proofreading is the quality check and tidy-up. However, some clients expect more than that.

A proofreader looks for consistency in usage and presentation, and accuracy in text, images and layout, but cannot be responsible for the author’s or copy-editor’s work. The proofreader’s terms of reference should be agreed before work starts.

SfEP, https://www.sfep.org.uk/about/faqs/what-is-proofreading


All of the traditional publishing houses will go through the above processes to ensure their books are publication ready, and all of them will use a different person to copy-edit and then proofread. A fresh pair of eyes is needed for the proofreading process as the editor can become too familiar with the work and their eyes begin to miss errors. We are all human after all. Of course, not all self-publishing authors will follow this process exactly and I will always advise you as best as I can about where I think you are in the process, and if I think you would benefit from any of the other steps.

I hope this helps you understand the publishing process a little bit. I am always happy to chat about your manuscript and what you need, and you can get in touch with me via the contact page. 

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