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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.