Proof Reading Costs

No one should undertake the proofing of their manuscript lightly. Or perhaps at all.

novel writing: openings Proofing is a costly, time-consuming and highly skilled craft, which naturally makes it an expensive element in the publishing process. You can skim through galleys while listening to your favourite TV soap, but the idleness will show.

Proofing ranges from catching typos, through correcting grammar, shaping for clarity and emphasis, rearranging and rewriting of the whole manuscript, to complete ghostwriting from notes and interviews. Fees rise accordingly. The best favour you can do yourself is to get as much right as possible from the start. The reasons are obvious.

Firstly, proofreading is expensive, and an editor or publisher may simply be unwilling or unable to foot the bill.

Secondly, corrections spoil your script. Each sentence has its word-choice, rhythm and characteristic phrasing, and these sentences build the paragraph and then the article or book. These aspects represent your literary personality, why people read you, beyond the simple need for information. If proofing seriously changes those aspects then your personality is at risk. You will have to accept the corrections, and then rewrite, which is time-consuming and opens the door to more errors. Look, for example, at the examples in The Reader Over Your Shoulder (Random House, 1979). Alan Hodge and Robert Graves were experienced authors, but the charm of the originals disappeared in the rewrites.

Thirdly, editors do not relish undertaking major surgery on submissions. They don't have the time to do so, don't want to deal with the author's howl of anguish, and don't see why they must pay the same as for pieces that are. 1. on target and properly researched, 2. in the style suitable to the magazine, 3. slanted at the readership, and 4. of the length stipulated.

Fourthly, you'll never learn to write better until you see your efforts from a professional standpoint. The nonfiction article is probably the easiest to proof, but do decide, before putting pen to paper, on the conventions you'll use for spelling, punctuation and phrasing.

British or American English? They are quite different. Be consistent with abbreviations, references, use of ize/ise. Get yourself a guide (e.g. Style: Toward Clarity and Grace: or New Hart's Rules) and stick to the recommendations. The publisher may well have their own house style, but resetting can be done in minutes if the original is correct and consistent. If you decide to do your own proofing, then beware. You may read what you expect to find rather than what's actually on the page.

It's also surprising how much silliness can get through. Your minor character Dan in chapter 3 becomes Dean in chapter 23. Your heroine's mother, whose death your opening chapter so poignantly described in the foggy winter of 1980, has been dead a year when you provide a flashback in 1979. The careful reader will find many slips in published novels, even by well-known names in second editions. You need all your wits about you in fiction.

You may also be blithely unaware of your errors. The doubtful grammar, the clichés and overworked constructions that cause an editor to despair and take an early lunch may be just what you're most proud of. If they're too bad you'll have your work returned, or find what's published is nothing like your submission. Learn from the feedback. Not all editors are up to the mark — some are truly dreadful, missing the obvious and insisting on changes that have no grounds in correct English usage — but you must either accept with a good grace or submit elsewhere.

The advantages of doing your own proofing are equally real. In tightening the dialogue you may at last discover the 'voices' that have escaped you up till now. You may realize that some paragraphs are too long, some descriptions are overwritten, and that some sections lose momentum or don't bring out the conflict enough. The superficial proofing common today will miss these faults, or may even hide them, as you'll be too busy (or irritated) following the corrections on your MS to notice the bigger picture.

You should have your work proofed by an eagle-eyed, nit-picking third-party who works from what's on the page. If you're self-publishing and can't afford professional proofing, then consider:


Developing and Proofreading Skills by Sue C. Camp: clear and simple approach.

Self Editing for Fiction Writers by Rennie Browne and Dave King: excellent: editing as it should be.

Handbook for Proofreading by Laura Killen Anderson: includes step-by-step instructions and exercises.

Butcher's Rules: The Cambridge Handbook for Editors, Copy-editors and Proofreaders. C.U.P. Indian editions are cheaper.


Toward Clarity and Grace: Chicago Guides to Writing, Editing, and Publishing by Joseph M. Williams

New Hart's Rules: The Handbook of Style for Writers and Editors by R. M. Ritter: covers UK and US usage.

Software to pick up Vagueness, Cliché and Verbosity

StyleWriter. You'll hate what it throws up, but it's good medicine.

Audio Software

Reads your text out aloud, allowing you to hear the work cold, as a stranger would: see software listings.


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