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
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.
Ideation: This is generating a story idea. I do this purposely several times a week on Twitter. For example:
You open the front door to get the mail. In the mailbox is a severed hand. Who put it there and why. How do you find out?
Brainstorming: Great idea. (I’ll write it someday.) But it needs a little—okay, a lot—of work. Here’s where I go through a process of answering questions about my character and his or her goals. I do a lot of work before I tackle structure. After all, I need events and motivation to plot.
Plotting: I develop character arcs for all my major characters and conform the brainstormed material into classic story structure. More at How to Write Stories that Sell.
Outlining: Here, I sort the information into a sequential scene-by-scene list from which I’ll write. I like my ducks in a row so that when I plant my butt in the chair, I can write without interruption.
Drafting: Using my outline, I write from beginning to end, incorporating all the information from my brainstorming, plotting, and outlining. I use Scrivener to build my manuscripts.
Editing: After one or more days, I’ll print the draft and edit it, making sure all the necessary information is in place and that I’m using the best language to tell a story. I go through at least five drafts before I consider the story ready for the reading public.
Marketing: I now have everything beta read. (If you’re a published writer and are willing to beta-read my fiction, contact me.) After final changes, I submit it to markets. If I don’t place a work after a while, I publish it myself.
This is my process, and I hope to perfect it this year so that I’m regularly churning out story after story, novel after novel. Expect to see more published this year. If learning about my process has been helpful to you, please leave a comment. I’d like to know your process, too.
As a creative exercise in second grade, Teacher had her pupils write a story. “Be as creative as you can be, children.” I penned—penciled, rather—my debut horror fiction on a ruled school tablet. Teacher, ostensibly pleased with her prodigy’s genius (more likely concerned with a tow-headed eight-year-old’s mental health), passed my work to the elementary school principal. (“Children, ‘principal’ ends with P-A-L—the principal is your PAL.” Keep reading, and then decide…)
Unknown to me, Principal Sprunger, also the president of the local Lions Club chapter in Berne, Indiana, read my story to the men of our little Swiss community and then in good humor fined my father a dime because the preacher’s son had written such an “awful tale full of skeletons, witches, and blood.”
That is the story of money first changing hands in relation to my fiction. (That dime never found its way into my pocket. If it had, I would have biked down to the White Cottage and bought myself a small soft serve cone, for sure.)
I continued to write through elementary and high school. The Brookville, Pennsylvania, Jeffersonian Democrat newspaper printed our school newsletter, for which I’d written a grisly Halloween story. They decided to reprint my story in the town newspaper. This should have overjoyed me, but they printed it anonymously and didn’t pay me for it, either. Bastards.
I placed a short story and some poetry in Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s New Growth Arts Revue. I stopped writing for a few years, but started again when I envisioned a scene about a young man who had been shot in the stomach and stumbled into an alley to die. I developed this into my first suspense novel for the Christian market, WHEN THE MUSIC STOPS, long out of print.
After completing my master of arts in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University, I entered the publishing arena and compiled a trade paperback anthology of shorts based on the Ten Commandments. THOU SHALT NOT came out in 2006. It’s a great collection of horror and dark crime. Check it out.
I’ve placed a few short stories for pay in the past decade, but after hundreds of rejections, two years ago I decided to take a different route.
One of the reasons I’ve had trouble in placing my work, especially novels, is because they don’t cleanly fit into a genre slot. Why is this important? Because brick-and-mortar bookstores need to know where to shelve a book. So part of the writing-for-print-publication process is writing for a shelf spot. (And length requirements in genre fiction in part are based on how many books will conveniently fit in a cardboard carton for shipping.) I think that’s just ridiculous.
I had been working on a novel proposal for Dorchester Publishing/Leisure Books. But after the debacle with their selling ebooks without remunerating authors, I stuffed that idea down the disposal.
In a nutshell, since second grade, I’ve learned that publishing by the traditional route is inorganically restricted and highly improbable. The royalties paid (if they pay)… well, suck.
So I recently published my second novel, THE SIXTH SEED for e-readers and trade paperback. It cost me nothing to post it, and I’ve been selling downloads at a 70% royalty. And I can add meta tags with no concern for a shelf spot or how I will otherwise categorize “a dark paranormal fantasy fraught with suburban Pittsburgh horror—family drama with aliens.”
I followed the same path for DEATH PERCEPTION, my latest supernatural thriller tinged with horror and peppered with dark humor:
Nineteen-year-old Kennet Singleton lives with his invalid mother in a personal care facility, but he wants out. He operates the crematory at the local funeral home, where he discovers he can discern the cause of death of those he cremates—by toasting marshmallows over their ashes.
He thinks his ability is no big deal since his customers are already dead. But when his perception differs from what’s on the death certificate, he finds himself in the midst of murderers. To save the residents and avenge the dead, he must bring the killers to justice.
Don’t let a humdrum book description keep readers from clicking Buy Now. Here’s how to make your book sales copy work for you.
You work hard to write a good story, make an eye-catching cover, and format your material professionally. Then you upload it to your favorite sales portal, creating a page where potential readers can find it and, hopefully, buy it. But then there’s that empty field staring your in the face: Book Description.
Just rattle off a few general lines and click Save, right?
Not if you want readers to buy your work.
Why Your Book Description is Important
It’s easy for readers to click a link to find your book online. But there’s a process they go through to decide whether they’ll buy it.
First, they look at the cover and the title in search results. If these intrigue them, they’ll open your book page.
If the price is right, they’ll keep reading.
How many people like the book? More than a few thumbs up. Cool.
Are there any reviews? If not, that means either the book has been posted recently or—gasp!—it’s no good. (We’ll cover the importance of customer reviews at a later date.)
Let’s read the book description… Here’s a significant gate potential buyers pass through en route to a buy.
One or two paragraphs of sales copy determine whether the reader continues the evaluation process or moves on to some other writer’s book. If you’re an indie author, this is the first sample of writing that potential buyers see. If it’s not up to par, they won’t even read a sample of the work.
Unless it’s your mom clicking Buy Now, what you put in that book description is crucial to sales success.
A CHARACTER wants a GOAL because he is MOTIVATED, but faces CONFLICT.
A good book description includes these elements:
CHARACTER = Who
GOAL = What
MOTIVATION = Why
CONFLICT = Why not
Here’s how I used this template in my description for MAMA SAID:
On his thirteenth birthday, Buddy gets shipped up north by his religious mother, who can’t cope with his sister’s teenage pregnancy. Just as he resigns himself to spending the entire summer at Gram’s farm caring for kittens and cows, his bitter sister Brinda arrives, ending his peace and solitude. When her boyfriend Jackie shows up and turns his attentions to Buddy from his bride-to-be, Buddy must do what Mama said–or take matters into his own hands. Download the short story “Mama Said” now for the chilling conclusion.
CHARACTER = Buddy
GOAL = Experience peace and solitude
MOTIVATION = Escape from a stressful home and family situation
CONFLICT = Jackie shows up to torment him
And I hint at the crisis: Buddy must choose to do what his dysfunctional religious mother says, or take matters into his own hands.
The final line prompts the reader to take action: buy now.
You can play with these elements, mix the order. But you need them all for an effective synopsis of your work. Intrigue readers with the promise of some valuable entertainment in store for them, and they’ll be more likely to click Buy Now.
Let me know if you’d like an evaluation. Until then, prosperous clicks to you!