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.
You’ve been toying with a deliciously dark story idea but need professional direction before and during the writing process. Or you’ve drafted pages you’d like an opinion on before continuing your work.
Perhaps you’re nowhere near a polish; your manuscript needs evaluation and suggestions on the story level before you finalize writing.
Could be you’ve finished a short story, novelette, novella, or novel. Bravo! Now it’s time to polish your work for submission or self-publication. But, if you’re honest with yourself, you’re not so good at it.
Although you’ve done all you know to improve your dark fiction, you remain under-published—you’re still not getting those acceptances you long for. Or, if you’ve self-published, reviewers complain about mistakes in your writing. Cringe.
Is your writing as good as it could be?
Hey, we all know getting published is tough. But is the quality of your storytelling—or the way you write—prompting rejection?
If so, you could benefit from the services of a seasoned professional who specializes in editing dark fiction.
Why hire an editor?
You need editing:
When you don’t know what’s wrong with your writing or how to fix it
To give your readers an optimal reading experience, one that brings them back for more
What’s wrong with my writing?
If you’re just getting started writing dark fiction, you’re perplexed about why a manuscript isn’t working, or you’re less than stellar at self-editing, consider hiring a fiction editor. A qualified, professional editor can help you find what’s amiss in your manuscript, why it’s causing problems, and how to fix it.
As a teaching writer and editor, I’ll bring not only 35+ years of experience to bear on your project, but share the tools in my toolbox with you. This means I’ll review your work to identify areas for improvement and explain how to fix them—thus helping you become a better, more successful writer.
Why not give readers your best?
You also need editing because your readers deserve your best. Today’s discerning book buyers want stories that are engaging and error-free. (Just check the reviews of most self-published books, and you’ll see what I mean.)
Top-notch editing ensures you’re sharing the best version of your story—one that will entertain readers without distracting them with narrative blunders. A great story told well (free of grammar and spelling mistakes, of course) encourages repeat readers who’ll tell others about your work.
Are you ready for editing?
You are if the story you’re writing is important to you, and you realize you can’t do it on your own.
But first, let me ask…
Which of these 5 dark fiction writers are you most like?
Needs this kind of editing
I dig reading horror and have always wanted to write the kind of stories I love. If only I could come up with worthwhile ideas… I’ve tried writing stories from the few ideas I have gotten, but what I put on paper didn’t match the story in my head. I’m not sure if my latest piece has the right structure. (Heck, I’m not exactly sure what structure is. Or plot.)
Because I’ve been, well…, less than successful, I put off developing the few dark ideas I do get. I’d give my eye teeth to turn a dynamite idea into a finished story. Others have done it. How do I get there?
I’m what they call a pantser—somebody who writes “by the seat of their pants.” When a dark idea inspires me, I hit the keyboard to see where it takes me. But I’ll admit that my method, although exciting at first, honestly isn’t working so well. In fact, I’ve got a computer folder full of unfinished short stories. Ugh. I’d love to write a novel, but if I don’t finish most short stories, well….
How do I learn to write a story (or a novel—someday!) that jumps all the hurdles from start to finish? (Key word, finish.) Is there a way to “The End” for me?
I’ve written a lot of stories and even sold a few. Go, me! But those happy acceptances are unfortunately few and far between. I usually get form rejections—who doesn’t nowadays? But once in a while I’ll receive a personal note about flat characters, predictable plots, or faulty mechanics. I know I need help with sentence structure and grammar; those things aren’t my forte.
But is my story content complete and engaging? Are my attempts at structure and plot working for or against me? I don’t want to get a piece copy edited if my execution of story elements is flawed. That would be like polishing a turd. Help!
I’ve been placing stories regularly for a couple of years now. But not with the professional-paying markets I want to break into. (I need those markets so that my work reaches a larger audience, which, I hope, will pave the way to land an agent or a publishing contract—fingers crossed.)
My last story rejection recommended I pursue “sentence-level editing.” (Apparently, the magazine editor either didn’t want to do it or considered that whipping my story into shape would prove too much work for her tight schedule.) Ultimately, I’d like to learn how to fix my own problems. Can I get a leg up to the next level?
I’m a strong writer. (After twenty years of study and practice, that is.) With each piece of fiction I write, I spin a solid yarn and apply my skills to hone each paragraph and sentence into a form that communicates what I want to say. Some readers tell me I do a decent job of conveying tone and mode. But other reviewers complain about grammar mistakes and typos.
I don’t want one- or two-star reviews (ouch!) to sink my overall ratings—that jeopardizes sales! Trouble is, I went over that piece a dozen times, and I still didn’t catch everything. Grrr! To do better, I need a second pair of eyes.
Whether you’re one of the writers above, somewhere in between, or totally “off the charts,” so to speak, I’d love to help you become a better dark fiction writer.
Haven’t you spent enough effort writing stories that fall flat with readers or, worse yet, get dinged in reviews? It’s time to kiss your current plateau goodbye and advance your storytelling and writing skills. Maybe there’s a deadline you need to meet with the best story you can submit.
Good dark fiction isn’t just about story. Equally important are the clarity, readability, and style of your writing. After finishing a work of dark fiction, if you want to improve it, you need to concentrate on how you communicate your ideas. That’s where line editing comes in.
Can you do it all?
Examine how well your paragraphs and sentences fit together. Do they flow from one to the next? Do your words successfully evoke the tone you’re going for? Is your language precise and understandable, easy to read? Have you executed point of view consistently? Can you cut extraneous words and phrases? And catch those wrong words, overused words, junk words? Did you—?
Whew! Can you do all this—and a hundred other things to simplify and streamline your manuscript? If not, a line editor can.
What does line editing accomplish?
A line edit evaluates and enhances your writing style at the paragraph and sentence level. Line editors don’t scour your manuscript for mechanical errors like copy editors do. Rather, they focus on how you use language to tell your story.
Line editors analyze your writing line by line. They examine the building blocks of your story—chapters, scenes, paragraphs, sentences, clauses—to ensure these components work together.
During this stage, a line editor’s mission is to make your writing as clear as possible by looking at the content, style, tone, and consistency of your prose. Line editing is also called stylistic editing because it focuses specifically on your individual writing style.
The goal of a skilled line editor is to tighten your writing and make it sing.
What’s the difference between line editing and copy editing?
Line editors share certain attributes with copy editors: attention to detail and interest in how language works at the sentence level. But their tasks differ.
Although both line editors and copy editors work line by line, they look for different issues. Line editing focuses on your writing style; copy editing concentrates on the nitty-gritty of mechanics—spelling, grammar, syntax, and punctuation.
When you should hire a line editor
Line editing should take place after your story draft is complete. In fact, line editors prefer that you’ve done everything you can yourself and see no further way to improve your writing before you share it with them. (I’m one of them.)
If your manuscript has gone through developmental editing, line editing is the next step in the editing spectrum (link coming soon).
Tasks of a line editor
Line editors tackle many issues to make your manuscript better. Here are a few of them.
Restructure paragraphs and sentences to maximize comprehension, simplicity, and flow
Break up long paragraphs
Fix run-on sentences or incomplete sentences
Revise awkward sentences, split long sentences, streamline sentences with clauses and parentheticals
Catch misspellings, wrong words, double words, overused words
Flag POV errors and explain why and how they need to be rectified
Tighten dialogue and mend faulty attributions
What I typically do during line editing
During the course of a line edit, I may:
Point out inconsistencies in the story line
Flag scenes where the action is confusing or your meaning unclear
Query you in a manuscript comment about whether you’ve requested and received permission to include those song lyrics in your epigraph (you can’t use them for free, and if you use them without permission, you can be sued for copyright infringement)
Correct the spelling and capitalization of 7-Eleven and all trademarked names to protect you from legal action
Recast sentences that begin with There are and It is (no-nos, by the way)
Mark redundancies that repeat the same information in different ways
Indicate where tonal shifts occur
Eliminate confusing or unnecessary narrative digressions
Suggest changes you could make to improve pacing
Flag clichés and prompt you to use fresh phrasing
Vary sentence lengths
I also check for any discrepancies in your setting, plot, and character traits to ensure internal consistency. For example, if you wrote on page 29: “Derek scrubbed a hand over his blondcrewcut,” but on page 74 you wrote, “Derek tore at his long, brown hair,” I’ll bring it to your attention. Why?
Because readers hate such gaffes and will drop stars off their reviews of your book. As a writer striving for excellence, you don’t need that.
The cost of line editing
How much does third-party line editing cost?
Editing businesses usually advertise set per-word rates, sometimes with different prices based on turnaround time. On average, expect to pay $0.02–$0.04 per word (around $5.00–$10.00 per page).
The editing and proofreading service, Scribendi, lets you calculate the cost of editing based on your word count. (They lump line and copy editing together.) 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).
With Reedsy, line editing is lumped in with copy editing and costs about $0.02 per word, or $5.00 per page.
I line-edit for $0.02 per word, or $5.00 per page. If you contract for both line and copy editing or line, copy, and proofreading, I offer a discount. See Current dark fiction editing rates.
How we can work together
In addition to doing the edits, I will, if you want, talk through my edits and answer any questions you may have. See video consultation (link coming soon).
If you submit a clean, well-written manuscript, I may be able to do line editing in a single pass; but it will more likely involve two rounds between us. Editing, like writing, is an iterative process.
Need a line editor?
If you’re ready to take your writing to the next level, I’m here to support your goals.
If you need any kind of editing for your dark fiction manuscript, including line editing, check out The Editing Spectrum (link coming soon) and Dark Fiction Editing. I have decades of experience and can help you improve your writing. Then drop me a line about your current project. I can’t wait to hear from you!