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Do I Need A Proofreader, An Editor, Or Both?

Do I need a proofreader, an editor, or both?

Well, it depends on the level of help you need with your manuscript.

In an ideal world, the response would be both. However, many authors simply don’t initially have the funds for both, and often don’t understand exactly what they are getting for their money, or indeed the difference between proofreading and editing, especially as they overlap in many areas.

Let’s start with editing, as that’s the first step.

What should I expect when asking an editor to work with me?

Well, first of all, the editor will want to check exactly what you need. Many authors say they want their manuscript edited, but they actually only want it proofread. Editing is a bit of a minefield, as editors differ greatly on the services they offer and on what items they check for, and I don’t just mean the difference between developmental editing (also known as substantive editing or big picture editing) and copy-editing. Even within those terms, what you get for your money varies dramatically. It pays – pun intended – to check exactly which items are covered. On my website you’ll see that I list what each of my services cover pretty comprehensively. It’s important when hiring an editor to be sure they are the right type of editor for your requirements. Take the time to figure out precisely what you need, and explain it to them, so they know how best to help you.

Developmental editing

If you’ve written your novel, but you think your characters are too one-dimensional, and aren’t sure how to go about creating depth in them, then you probably require a developmental edit. If you have a great idea for a novel and have written what you can, but you’re not convinced, or need some help shaping your narrative, then again, it’s likely you need a developmental edit. Stumped over a particular section? Can’t find a way through? Writer’s block? A developmental editor can help you work through your issues, make suggestions and be a sounding board for what’s troubling you about your piece of work, as well as offering excellent suggestions on how to improve it. Authors might hire a developmental editor at different stages in the writing process. Some might have written a few drafts, others might only have the idea for a story, and have written only the outline and a couple of chapters, before they hit a stumbling block.

This phase of editing is often a series of edits, where you go back and forth like a ping pong ball with your editor, until you have an end result which pleases you both.

Other things a developmental editor will look at are:

Is the novel punchy enough? Does it have enough pizazz? Do the characters come to life? Are there any gaping holes in your story line? Is there enough action? Do you have sufficient conflict?

Your work is likely to be aimed at a certain audience type, so you have to ensure your dialogue is, too. Writing a novel featuring characters from the Women’s Institute whilst having them occasionally speaking as if they are rappers is both inconsistent and highly improbable!

Another favourite and one which confuses many is Point of View. If the story is being told from John’s viewpoint, then all of a sudden we have Emilia’s thoughts, we need to have a real break – a new paragraph for clarity. It’s all too easy when your creative juices are flowing to forget this and then miss it in the redrafts.

Sometimes as authors we get carried away. We say the same thing three different ways. We repeat ourselves. We harp on. Did you see what I did there?! Or, it might be that certain parts of the story add little to the plot. A good editor will help you get rid of any redundant material and make your novel more succinct.

A developmental edit will cover this and so much more. More posts on this on my website in the coming weeks, as it’s too much for one post to cover.

Overall, your developmental editor will tell you what works, and where there is room for improvement. On the other hand, if you’ve finished your novel, and are happy with its overall content, and really want someone to go through it line by line and suggest ways to improve what you’ve already written, then you probably want to have your work copy-edited.

What kind of mistakes might be corrected when a piece of work is copy-edited?

Continuity – well,  if you want to make sure that Bill doesn’t leave for university on Sunday, and later mention that he left on Tuesday, you need a copy editor. Or Isla’s holiday in France was wonderful, marred only by her delayed departure from Madrid Barajas airport – which is in Spain, again, a copy editor should pick this up. Do your headings say Chapter 4, Chapter 5, Chapter 5, Chapter 7?!

Sentence Structure – are your sentences almost a paragraph long? Does it take three reads before the reader has any idea what you’re talking about? Have you been introduced to a comma splice?!

Repetition – a proofreader won’t tell you if you’ve used the word ‘fight’ three times in a four sentence paragraph, or if you’ve started the last five sentences out of six with He/She. A copy editor will also tell you if you’ve repeated the same ideas elsewhere in the text, or if you overuse certain words. Some, like myself, will also point out if your work is riddled with clichés.

Legalities – this can be wide-ranging, particularly if your work is nonfiction. It covers anything which could leave you or the potential publisher of your work open to a lawsuit or libel action. This includes, but is not limited to, racist and obscene remarks, and don’t forget the all-important breach of copyright.

Consistency – spelling choices and hyphenating words. Sometimes there is more than one option, but once you’ve chosen one, you need to stick to it. The same is true if you’ve chosen to italicise certain foreign words. If you do it once, you need to stick with it throughout the text.

Fact-checking – it wouldn’t do to say Germany won the Copa América (the South American football cup).

Copy-editing can cover more or less than the items I’ve listed, but this is a general overview. It also includes many of the proofreading checks, like ensuring spelling, grammar, and punctuation are correct. The main difference in how these areas differ is that after your work has been copy-edited, you still have some work to do (apart from just checking you are happy with the grammatical and spelling corrections that your editor has made). However, bear in mind that in making the edits suggested, you need to be careful not to introduce new errors or typos. So whilst a copy-edited manuscript will indicate errors of grammar, spelling, and punctuation, only a final proofread can be expected to catch all errors.

What is proofreading?

Proofreading is the final stage before the novel is printed, or uploaded (if a digital version). Proofreaders check that your spelling, grammar, and punctuation are correct, and catch those infuriating typos. Some areas of proofreading and copy-editing overlap, but these four items are the mainstay of proofreading.

As an author speaking from my own experience, I can tell you that proofreading is a prerequisite. You’ve worked tirelessly on your novel. Do you really want to send your shiny new book out into the world, discover too late there are errors in it, and leave yourself open to bad reviews? Even authors who, like myself, are also editors and proofreaders, use their counterparts to check their novels. With my proofreading or editing hat on, I take delight in sniffing out errors in my clients’ work. In my own novels? Considerably more difficult to catch everything.

Most authors think ‘I can tell there from their, two from too, who’s from whose, I can proofread my own book’, but it’s amazing how many misspell accommodate, or harassment, or achieve, or put plurals when it should be a possessive and vice versa. Or what about when you miss a letter off with and end up with wit or that becomes hat? All too easy to slip through when you’re reviewing your own manuscript.

And not to mention those annoying little transpositions of words ‘put him at ease his’ instead of ‘put him at his ease’. Often authors don’t see them, as they know what the text is supposed to say, but a proofreader spots them straightaway because they haven’t read your book before. They don’t know what word is coming next.

Then there’s the misspelling of proper nouns – it’s incredible how many times we think we know how to spell someone’s name, only to discover it doesn’t have a double L or it’s McDonagh not MacDonagh. My personal favourite is when the character’s name suddenly changes halfway through – Sean becomes Shaun.

Beta readers generally help you find errors, but even they are not reading it in the same way as a proofreader. I had six beta readers for my second novel. They all noticed different mistakes – occasionally they overlapped, but if they, who didn’t write the novel, can’t see all of the errors, when that’s what they are specifically looking for, how are you, as the author meant to? The answer is, you aren’t and you won’t. Enter the proofreader!

Nothing screams amateur more than a novel littered with spelling mistakes and grammatical errors. To avoid being lumped in that bracket, you definitely need to have your novel proofread by a professional.

As a bonus, you generally learn from the errors you’ve made and had pointed out to you, and you don’t replicate them next time around. I know, I’ve done it, and it makes your work sharper and less onerous to edit and proofread in the future.

The bottom line is, although having your book edited and proofread won’t guarantee you book sales, (nothing does) it’s likely to make your book more attractive to the reading public and to have readers recommending your book to others, and coming back to read more of your books. Whichever service you opt for – developmental editing, copy-editing, or proofreading, choose a professional, and let them help you make your book the best it can be.

Fifteen Common Spelling Mistakes

Now we all know that people often get their and there mixed up, forget where an apostrophe should go with its/it’s and many confuse of and off. But, there are so many other words which writers have problems with. Today I’m going to give a few examples I’ve come across in the past few months. So, do any of these trip you up?

You might feint in fencing, but it’s a faint smile on someone’s face.

You could have a flair for writing, but it’s your temper which flares up.

We talk of someone’s personal effects, but how a death in the family affects you.

Famous artists might produce works of art on canvas, but politicians canvass voters.

The brakes on your car might fail, but you break a leg. And that means handbrake too.

I wonder what I’ll have for lunch today, as I wander around the park.

Lead has a few meanings, but in this instance I am talking about the verb. Often writers will write ‘lead’ as the past tense of ‘to lead’, when it should be ‘led’. I led him by the hand, but he knows how to lead.

He was prostrate on the bed, ruminating over the fact he had to go and see the doctor about his prostate.  (Prostate without the R is related to the prostate gland, whereas prostrate means lying down.)

You might find the baked beans in aisle 11 of the supermarket, but you reach the isle of Arran by ferry.

You’re a sight for sore eyes. The building site was just past the shops.

I had no idea he had put the TV on mute. Who does the most housework in my house is a moot point. (in the sense of open for debate)

She scolded her toddler for climbing on the table. He scalded himself with boiling water from the kettle.

It might seem like a no-brainer, but the following examples trip up even the most seasoned writer:

You sow your wild oats, but you sew a button on your shirt.

You don’t want to waste a precious moment of your writing time, but watch your waistline when consuming all those chocolate biscuits at your desk.

I’d like to lose a stone in weight, but hopefully I won’t have to wait for my sister’s wedding for a good excuse to do so.

That’s all for now, folks! Happy writing!



Italics, Quotation Marks or Capitals?

Italics, “Quotation Marks” or CAPITALS? Have you wiped the sweat off your brow yet?

It’s a minefield – truly.  As with most things in writing, one of the most important rules is to be consistent.  Often there isn’t only one way – as a future post on ellipses and suspension points (to laymen – the 3 dots) will show.

But for today, we’re talking about italics.  And the reason I’ve lumped quotation marks and capitals into the name of this post is because if you aren’t meant to use italics, apart from when you are using them for emphasis, you could well be using capitals or quotation marks.

Fact!  Most people tend to overuse all three.

But when should you use italics?  Did you like what I did there?

Well, I’ve already mentioned their usage for emphasis, although your prose (company plug!) should mainly be able to carry that off on its own, although not always.

Many writers, at least those who go to the effort of checking, frantically look up ‘italics’ on Google along with the item they are searching for, or they pick up a reference or grammar book when they are at the editing stage, just to be sure.  I don’t blame them.  In many cases there is more than one right answer.  However, I tend to go with the New Oxford Style Manual for British English and The Chicago Manual of Style for US English.  Even they don’t cover every eventuality.

But, I digress; let’s look at some examples of where italics should be used as per best practice.

This list is not exhaustive:

  • titles of books and magazines – Far From The Madding Crowd, Catch-22, Hard Times, Vogue
  • film titles – Dirty Dancing, Armageddon, Jaws
  • names of ships, aircraft, spacecraft and trainsHMS Beagle, Air Force One, Challenger, the Hogwarts Express
  • music album titles – Up To Now, Achtung Baby, Rattle and Hum
  • orchestral works – Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, Bach’s Violin Concerto in E Major
  • operatic works – Madama Butterfly, Turandot
  • paintings – Mona Lisa, The Creation of Adam, Starry Night
  • foreign words and phrases which haven’t been absorbed into the English language (my take on this is if it doesn’t appear in the Oxford English Dictionary, it goes in italics). But there’s a caveat – more on that later. Me llamo Susan. Non trovo la casa.
  • titles of plays – A Streetcar Named Desire, The Taming of The Shrew

But be careful not to put punctuation in italics unless it forms part of the title of the work/item. So those pesky commas, full stops and question marks afterwards should be in roman type.

Talking of roman type, if you want to emphasise something which is already in italics, perhaps for one of the above reasons, then the way to do that is to put the part to be emphasised in roman type.  Alternatively this can sometimes be conveyed by being put within quotation marks. Do you see now how difficult it is to talk about italics without talking about other punctuation types too?

And here are a couple of examples where italics are generally not used

  • song titles – are conveyed by quotation marks around them. “Rhythm is a dancer”, “Stay”, “Angel of Harlem”
  • band names – capitalised only – Snow Patrol, U2, Duran Duran (yes, you can see my musical tastes are not particularly up to date)

With regard to foreign words and phrases, it’s normally only on the first instance of using the foreign word that it’s italicised, unless the sense is still ambiguous in subsequent occurrences.  In addition, words like vol au vent and tête à tête are not italicised from the outset, as they are in the English dictionary and readily understood.

Another post will be coming soon on the delights of quotation marks.  Stay tuned!



To Hyphenate or Not To Hyphenate – The Eternal Dilemma

It’s the one thing I can safely say every writer I’ve ever known has trouble with, except those with photographic memories, of course.

Should a particular word be hyphenated, or is it one word, or even two words?

The answer isn’t always simple and sometimes it depends on the role of the word in the sentence. Is it acting as a modifier before the noun? If so, it will usually be hyphenated. But if the modifying expression comes after, protocol dictates they should be separate words:

an up-to-date dictionary


the calendar is up to date

Throw into the mix the fact that various leading dictionaries offer different spellings and it’s easy to understand why hyphenation is such a minefield for many writers.

Here are a couple of other instances where hyphens should be used

  • Numbers – eighty-three, seventy-four, twenty-seven
  • Points on a compass (although US usage differs somewhat) – north-west

And don’t confuse a hyphen and a dash – they are quite distinct and have different jobs to do.

Now for a little quiz! Ask yourself if these words are hyphenated, not, or potentially both.



cul de sac

four poster

ill at ease

nerve racking

low cost

boarded up

half cut

sixth form

well to do

well known

And to round off, horse-fly, horsefly or horse fly? I’ve added this simply as my Other Half has just taken a photo of one in the garden!

From a proofreader or editor’s point of view, unless it’s wrong or inconsistent, we won’t necessarily change it. In my own writing I still tend to hyphenate most words I’ve been brought up to recognise as requiring a hyphen, yet I know this practice is changing. English is evolving, or becoming more lax depending on how you prefer to look at it.

The most important thing of all is to be consistent!  Readers WILL notice if coal miner becomes coalminer halfway through, or indeed half way through! (for the record it’s coal miner and halfway).

So what are your thoughts on hyphens? Do they cause YOU headaches?




Qualities of a professional proofreader

I know, I know it’s been a while. Apologies, I’ve been very busy. I haven’t forgotten you all. Here’s a little post to keep you going. Enjoy!

Rest assured there will be many more posts and with more frequency.  Remember if you want to navigate around the site, just click on the drop-down menus.


Qualities of a good proofreader

OK, it’s a given that a good proofreader must have an excellent command of the English language, but what else does she require? (For the purposes of this post, let’s call the proofreader ‘she’ !)

– Her attention to detail must be exemplary.  Naturally she has to be able to spot that a colon should be used and not a semicolon, but if a glaring mistake escapes her, such as transposing two words, which do you think the reader is going to notice first? e.g. ‘Jimmy went to school 1993 in.’

– She is hawk-eyed, so notices things which slip through spell check like ‘gain’ for ‘again’, ‘whist’ for ‘whilst’, which are valid words in their own right, just not in your context.

– She exercises restraint and doesn’t overly intervene. She doesn’t change what’s correct, simply because it’s the way she would do something herself:

Hyphenation – nowadays there are often several ways to spell a word which in the past was generally hyphenated. Sometimes it can be two words or hyphenated, or one word or hyphenated, e.g. ‘on-line’ and ‘online’, ‘e-mail’ and ‘email’.

Whether it’s hyphenated or not can also depend on the word’s function in the sentence, e.g. lunch-time and lunchtime.

Then there’s the scenario where it’s simply one word or two, requiring no hyphen – dinner time or dinnertime.

If the proofreader doesn’t have a style guide from the author/publisher to work from, then she ought to check first of all if the author’s spelling of that word throughout the text is consistent, and secondly she should consider the author’s attitude to hyphenation as a whole throughout the work.

Punctuation – she doesn’t liberally pepper your work with commas, or other punctuation marks. Instead she amends them only when it’s necessary for the text to make sense.

– She remains true to the author’s style. If it’s a chatty, informal journal-type book, the proofreader doesn’t necessarily amend prepositions placed at the end of sentences, just to make the text grammatically correct, as this could make it stylistically wrong. Likewise if the novel is written in the first person, where the author’s voice should be heard in a particular dialect, the proofreader shouldn’t necessarily change words like ‘never’ to ‘did not’.

– Great communication skills are a prerequisite. If in doubt, she should query the item in question with the author, but never guess, as this could change the author’s meaning.

– She must have the ability to spot words used in the wrong context, such as ‘clamoured’ and ‘clambered’, ‘poured’ and ‘pored’, ‘affect’ and ‘effect’, ‘all together’ and ‘altogether’.

– Humility must play a part. No one knows everything. The best proofreaders have a good dictionary (Oxford English Dictionary or similar) and an equally good grammar reference book to hand, e.g. the proofreaders’ bible, The Chicago Manual of Style, and they’re not afraid to use them!

– She enjoys her work and derives satisfaction from identifying mistakes. Often she will spot errors in newspapers, TV subtitles, supermarket billboards and restaurant menus. It’s very difficult to switch off, you know!

– Oodles of patience is a must. Proofreading is a painstaking business, as we pore over every word written.  There’s no racing ahead to find out what happens next, no skipping the dull bits(!), we examine every single word – twice, as most proofreaders read through the entire text at least twice.

– The best proofreaders will take their time. Although it takes a little longer, printing off your work, marking up the errors, and then transferring the changes to their computer means more errors are captured. Reading through your work only online means mistakes can be missed. As an author, I know the value of printing off my novel and reading it through on paper. Errors seem to jump off the page!

This is not an exhaustive list, but instead should give you a flavour of the qualities a professional proofreader should possess. We have many more attributes: juggling, fire-eating – kidding!

However, bear in mind a proofreader is there to check your final version, (not your first or second draft) and you as an author will benefit most if you realise this. If you require assistance before your final draft, it’s an editor you need, not a proofreader.






Perfect Prose Services Launch

Hi, I’m Susan Buchanan. Welcome to Perfect Prose Services.

Yes, today’s the day – the site and my company are finally live.

I am now at your service to help you with your proofreading, editing, and translation requirements.

You’ll find some drop down menus under each title, so go on, have a look around and if you have any questions or would like to drop me an e-mail, you’ll find me at perfectprose2@gmail.com

Happy browsing