You’ve made the wise decision to have your dark fiction manuscript line edited and copy edited. Is it ready for submission or self-publication? Not quite. If you want to polish your prose to perfection, you’ll hire a proofreader.
What is proofreading?
Editing involves major changes to your story, its structure, and language, but proofreading is the final stage of the editing process, when a skilled proofreader fixes minor misspellings, typos, punctuation mistakes, formatting issues, and other inconsistencies.
Editing stages leading up to proofreading
The number one mistake writers make when hiring a proofreader is that they believe they need only proofreading when, in most cases, their writing would also benefit from a previous level of editing. (For a pictorial representation of the entire editing spectrum, see What Do You Need on the Fiction Editing Spectrum.)
Manuscript evaluation offers an educated opinion, in writing, about how your draft stacks up to published fiction standards. The editor evaluates and reports on such elements as structure, plot, pacing, characterization, point of view, description, setting, and more. Most importantly, a professional critique includes what you could do to sharpen these elements and make your story better.
Developmental editing evaluates the building blocks of a story, checking that they’re present and working well together. It ensures that your structure and plot are solid, characters well-drawn and motivated, point of view correctly executed, setting and description vividly drawn, dialogue rings true, mood and tone support the overall story.
Line editing enhances your writing style so that your language is clear, flows effortlessly, and reads well. Refining paragraph and sentence construction ensures that all the right building blocks are in place and maximizes the effectiveness of your ideas. Misspellings, wrong words, awkward phrasing, and more are corrected. Line editing tightens your writing.
Copy editing hones your writing style by correcting spelling, grammar, syntax, and punctuation errors; ensuring that your writing adheres to editorial style standards; clarifying the text by eliminating ambiguous or factually incorrect information; flagging continuity inconsistencies; and producing a smooth reading experience.
While line editors and copy editors correct inaccuracies and hone your writing style, they won’t catch every mechanical error. The proofreader’s job is to scour your manuscript and find any mistakes that may have slipped through the editing cracks. This means proofreading falls at the very end of the editorial process, after your manuscript has undergone both line editing and copy editing.
Make sure you’ve thoroughly revised and edited your work before you pursue the final stage of proofreading. (There’s no point spending time and money fixing minor errors if you might later cut entire sections or restructure paragraphs and sentences.) Only have your manuscript proofread after you’ve completed a final edited draft that you’re pleased with.
In fact, if you send a proofreader a manuscript riddled with grammar mistakes, difficult sentences, and convoluted paragraphs—things you’re unable to see but stand out like flashing neon to an editor—they may decline the job and recommend a previous editorial service.
Why is proofreading important?
A manuscript sprinkled with typos, grammar errors, or textual inconsistencies will derail readers from the fictive dream you’ve worked hard to induce. Proofreading is crucial because it enables your narrative to mesmerize readers without disruption.
Proofreading polishes your work with a professional finish. This is vital if you want agents or publishers to consider your work or, if you’re pursuing self-publishing, you desire to build a loyal readership. When readers encounter an unedited or unproofed book, they’ll probably assume you couldn’t be bothered to invest in your own work. If you skipped these essential steps and your work shows it, why would they read any more of your dark fiction?
Proofreading is indispensable because, if you omit it and readers encounter more than a few typos or grammar errors in your novel, any remaining errors will negatively affect their reading experience. Many disgruntled readers are willing to go out of their way to complain about slipshod editing and proofing in reviews of your work. Falling stars = dwindling sales.
In today’s world of self-publishing, proofreading is a nonnegotiable step in the editorial process. As in indie author, you may be looking for ways to cut costs and thus be tempted to proofread on your own. But indie books have grown in quality in recent years, raising the bar and increasing competition. Getting your work professionally proofread is now not only common practice but a necessity for success.
What does a proofreader do?
Proofreaders won’t overhaul your story content or provide in-depth feedback on your work. This is the job of previous editors (see What Do You Need on the Fiction Editing Spectrum?). Proofreaders arrive like Mary Poppins at the tail end of the editorial process to fine-tune and polish your edited work.
This means proofreaders won’t copy-edit your manuscript, making changes they’re not being paid to make. But a reliable proofreader will ensure that your manuscript is free from spelling, grammar, and other errors that could ruin the reading experience and discredit your writing—and you.
Proofreading for print publishing
In print publishing, proofreading is done after the manuscript has been laid out and a “proof” copy printed. This version is what a proofreader works on.
The proofreader’s job for print layout is to conduct a thorough quality check before the book goes into print production. They may compare the original, edited manuscript to the proof, making sure there are no omissions or layout errors. The proofreader checks line spacing and page numbering, and fixes awkward word or page breaks. If the proofreader encounters too many errors, they may return the proof to the copy editor for further work.
Proofreaders consider the entire book, not just the chapter text. They’ll check your epigraphs, acknowledgments, and dedication pages, as well as your table of contents—everywhere text appears.
Tasks of a proofreader
Although professional proofreaders possess a keen eye for detail, that’s not enough. They must also employ a reliable and repeatable method to detect every minor error in your text, from misplaced commas to misused words. They’ll also correct typographical and layout issues in print proofs, such as inconsistencies in font use or incorrectly spaced lines in a paragraph.
The following list is by no means exhaustive, but here are some issues proofreaders check:
- Words that sound alike—homophones (for example, they’re, there, their)
- Definite and indefinite articles (a, an, the)
- Prepositions and prepositional phrases
- Comma use
- Hyphens (-), en dashes (–), and em dashes (—)
- Capitalization of terms, titles, and proper names
- Treatment of numbers
- Formatting of dialogue
- Paragraph indentation and spacing
- Page numbers, headers, footers
Effective proofreading requires multiple passes, each round focusing on only one task.
Can you do your own proofreading?
The short answer is, “Yes, but.” The long answer explains why not.
Any kind of proofing you do yourself helps to produce a cleaner manuscript. Whatever gets your work closer to the finish line is a good thing.
But you, as author, being the only one to proofread your own work? I caution against it. No matter how sharp you are, you will skip over typos and issues you’ve seen dozens of times during revision because you’ve become used to seeing them.
So, relying on only your own proofreading isn’t recommended. You’re so accustomed to your text that you could miss mistakes. A professional examines your manuscript with fresh eyes and is less likely to skip over errors.
Bottom line: catch as many errors as you can, but don’t skip hiring a professional proofreader.
The cost of proofreading
How much does third-party proofreading cost nowadays?
Proofreading and editing businesses usually advertise set per-word rates, sometimes with different prices based on turnaround time. On average, expect to pay $0.01–$0.04 per word (around $2.00–$10.00 per page).
The editing and proofreading service, Scribendi, lets you calculate the cost of proofreading based on your word count. For example, an 80,000-word novel takes two weeks and costs $1602.86 (as of the date of this post). That comes out to $0.02 per word, or $5.01 per 250-word page. A 4000-word short story with one-week turnaround time costs $129.33 ($0.032 per word, $8.08 per page). With 24-hour turnaround, cost increases to $163.17 ($0.041 per word, $10.20 per page).
Reedsy proofreading costs about $0.015 per word, or $3.75 per page.
I proofread for $0.009 per word, or $2.25 per page. See Current dark fiction editing rates.
Do you need a proofreader?
Proofreaders are your last line of defense against errors in your work. When you’re ready to professionalize your manuscript, I’m here to help.
If you need any kind of editing for your dark fiction, including proofreading, check out What Do You Need on the Fiction Editing Spectrum? and Dark Fiction Editing. I have decades of experience and can help you polish your edited writing. Drop me a line about your current project. I’d love to hear from you!