Is My Novel Ready for Proofreading?
I love my job as a freelance proofreader, but sometimes authors make it very difficult for me to do my job effectively.
However brilliant your writing, however delicious your story, if there are too many errors and inconsistencies, you are asking too much of your proofreader to spot everything.
Here are a few examples of things that should have been removed by the author/developmental editor/copy editor prior to proofreading. Just in case you’re wondering, they are all products of my fevered imagination:
- A tear-jerking family saga opens with Davina playing with her five-year-old brother, Oliver, on the sprawling lawns of their darling papa’s country estate. When our feisty heroine rescues sweet young Oliver from his evil kidnappers two years later, he is ten years old. The hapless Oliver dies in a fire soon after his rescue, and (miraculously) reappears at Davina’s sumptuous wedding to Henrico a decade later.
- In the opening scene of a delightful chick lit novella, independent career girl Polly totters off to meet hunky Blake wearing a pair of Jimmy Chew’s. She jumps off a Central Line tube train at Sloane Square. (Tricky in those dubious heels and even more tricky because Sloane Square isn’t on the Central Line.)
- In a sci-fi/fantasy, the leader of the Heliopians may well fight with grit and determination throughout the thrilling spat with the Lunopians, but his name changes from Garvord to Gurvord and back again in the space of ten pages.
I have to be honest and say that it gives me great joy to catch these types of errors, but when a novel is littered with them it makes finding the typos, which are the bread and butter of proofreading, all the more difficult. Not only that but if your proofreader is charging you by the hour, you are in effect bumping up the cost.
While it is the proofreader’s role to spot and correct errors and inconsistencies, there are number of things you can do to avoid your manuscript being inundated with them:
- Choose whether you’re using US or UK (or insert your choice here) spelling and punctuation. If you’re going for a hybrid, then be clear about your choices.
- Punctuate speech correctly.
- Check that spelling and hyphenation are consistent.
- Use hyphens, en dashes and em dashes correctly, and delete double spaces between words and after punctuation.
- Look for over-used words such as “that”, “just” (my own pet over-used word), “only”, “really”, “very” etc. Actually this isn’t something that every proofreader will automatically look for, but eliminating over-used words will improve your writing no end.
If a proofreader has been searching through a whole novel for “ise” endings in order to turn them into “ize” endings, he or she may miss all the unfortunate slips in the following: “Davina realized he loved Henrico wit all here hat.” If a proofreader needs to correct every single comma and full stop in order to punctuate speech correctly, there’s a good chance he or she could skip over that missing open quote at the start of Garvord’s battle cry.
I can’t say this enough, so I’ll repeat myself. However good your proofreader is, he or she won’t be able to pick up every single error if there are too many of them. It’s a bit like looking for a letter on a messy desk. You can’t see it for all the other pieces of paper, chocolate bar wrappers, pens, pencils, coffee cups and cake crumbs. If you sweep away the crumbs, put the cups in the kitchen and the wrappers in the bin, there’s a better chance of finding the letter.
You may be thinking, what on earth is a proofreader left to do if I make all these corrections before I send my manuscript off? The truth is that most mortals, even if they do all of the above, still need to have their book proofread by a professional. My next guest post will be about why it’s so difficult to proofread your own work, and will include some of my favourite bloopers (all made anonymous to spare authors’ blushes).
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