In this instalment of the Independent Author section of the blog we have copyeditor and proofreader David Pearce. I make no secret of the fact I’m a dyslexic writer. I don’t expect any special treatment for so being, but it makes me acutely aware of the value of good editors of all kinds.
Now, the proofread comes at the very end of writing a book and preparing a manuscript. If we thought of it as a sequence, it would be something like the following.
The writer writes the first draft. They may write and edit as they go along or them may blast through a first draft and then do a rewrite. Each author is different, but this as Stephen King opines in On Writing is a private stage of writing however you do it. It’s just you the writer and the manuscript, bashing it into shape by any means necessary. Thereafter, comes a stage of semi-public editing, where the manuscript is shared with first readers, sometimes these are called beta-readers, but sometimes this refers in the indie world to readers later in the process as part of the post-proofread. Anyway, for some writers their first reader is their significant other or a writing group or the like. Others, such as myself jump straight to my story editor, Joe Sale. If it is your first book you may opt for a ‘development edit’ first – this is for those still learning the mechanics and basic to intermediate skills of storytelling (show don’t tell; dialogue; story arcs and structure etc…). After the story edit, which is more of a general edit, which may include some line editing through to structural comments and suggestions to improve your narrative, you move on to a copy edit.
Copy editing could be seen as a sentence by sentence edit, including checking for inconsistencies. It could be argued that there are more types of editing, and there are, but we don’t want to over complicate things.
And so finally, we are on to the proofread, the final check, the proverbial doting of Is and crossing of Ts. It could seem so inconsequential after all the hard work you’ve done so far. But just as people judge a book by its cover they also gripe about typos and proofreading errors.
So on this important but easily overlooked topic, I give you David Pearce…
Check out the reviews on Amazon for the latest blockbuster by Stephen King or John Grisham and one thing you won’t find is comments on the quality of the proofreading or lack thereof. However, take a look at a few indie authors and you’re more than likely to find something along the lines of “Great story, shame about the proofreading.”
Now, as someone in the latter category, you might think that a few misplaced commas here and there aren’t all that important, and that just running your treasured manuscript through Word is going to fix all your problems, but with the sheer amount of competition out there, you’re doing your work a disservice and are likely costing yourself precious sales by cutting corners. If you want to play in the major leagues, you have to match them on every front and that includes presentation, which is where thinking seriously about your proofreading comes in.
There are three main ways of looking at the process. First up, there’s the obvious one of doing it all yourself. After all, you wrote your book, so surely you know it best. Well, yes and no. Ideally, you should never proofread your own work for the simple fact that you did write it. Spotting any kind of error is instantly more difficult because you know what you wrote, or rather what you intended to write, and the brain is going to miss anything that it doesn’t expect to see. As such, this really should only be used as a last resort.
Secondly, there’s your loyal and ever growing band of supporters, including friends, family and mailing list subscribers (you’ve got one, right?). This option has the advantage in that you’re getting a range of eyes on your work, so more general errors are likely to be picked up with relative ease, while it’s also comes at the bargain price of absolutely nothing. However, just because someone is a native speaker of whatever language you’re writing in, don’t assume that they’re going to be aware of the nuances of the comma splice, coordinate versus cumulative adjectives and the other myriad issues that are the bread of butter of the professional proofreader.
This last point, of course, leads us rather neatly into option three, the absolute best choice for any serious author (and not just because that’s what it says on my CV). Readers these days are a discerning lot, and one of the biggest turnoffs is poor proofreading, something which leads directly into negative reviews and which ultimately costs you sales. Therefore, hiring someone who does know when to use the aforementioned coordinate or cumulative adjectives really is a necessity if you want to do your work justice. Of course, this does come at a price, but consider it an investment in your writing career that will undoubtedly pay dividends in the long run.
If all this isn’t enough to convince you, then consider the following example. The story Delta and the Bannerman from the classic Doctor Who TV series features a scene of the Doctor spying on the villain of the piece, Gavrok. However, an unfortunate lack of proofreading for the subsequent novelisation resulted in the Doctor “peeing” over a shelf, rather than the intended “peering”, something which likely scarred generations of young readers for years to come, as that’s really not an image anyone needs in their head.
David Pearce is an experienced proofreader, having worked in the subtitling industry on major films and TV series for clients including Disney, Netflix and Warner Bros. He also works with independent authors to perfect their work for the wider market. And yes, he knows the difference between coordinate and cumulative adjectives.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org