Sunday, 11 October 2015

Why You Need A Good Proofreader - Guest Post Julia Gibbs

You've finished the book, you've checked it for errors until your eyes are crossed. Your work is perfect... or is it? 

I'd like to give a very warm welcome today to Julia Gibbs. When I first 'met' Julia on Twitter, I actually thought her name was Julia Proofreader (her Twitter handle). It was only when I started to read some of her informative blog posts, that I realised proofreading was her profession not her surname! I am really pleased that Julia has managed to find some time out of her very busy day to answer my questions, so over to you Julia.

How long have you been a proofreader and what made you choose this profession?

At the risk of sounding clich├ęd, I didn't choose it, it chose me! I have always had my nose in a book from the time I learned to read, and I sailed through all English language and literature exams at school. I worked for some years for a firm of architects and found that everyone came to me for spelling and grammar advice; when the chief architect ruled that no document was to leave the office without being passed by me, I thought to myself, 'Hang on, I could do this for a living!' So to answer your question, I think I've been doing it for most of my life.

Are you a writer as well as a proofreader?

Good heavens, no! I don't know how you authors do it, I really don't. I could no more write a novel than I could run a marathon (PS, I don't run.) I can write blog posts, though, but I think my creativity expires after about a page and a half.

What’s the difference between a proofreader and an editor?

There is a difference between proofreading and editing fiction. Not every writer requires an editor, by the way, there is a minority who can edit their own work. Editors will perform services such as: suggesting cutting out characters; changing or omitting dialogue; changing the narrative arc of the novel; moving chapters around; various other suggestions that will in their opinion improve the book. I don’t alter the writer’s work apart from correcting it, although I will point out anomalies of plot if I notice them, and any other inconsistencies (this is copy editing, and goes above and beyond what a proofreader does, but I like to do it as well). I will also make other suggestions if, for example, I see a word or phrase repeated too often in a paragraph.

Why can’t we writers just edit our own work?

You can, if you like. Some writers (a minority, as I said) are capable of being sufficiently dispassionate to edit their own work. But nobody can proofread their own work. Here's why: when you read what you have written, you see what you expect to see. In a sentence of 10 words, the mind actually reads the 1st, 5th and 10th words, and then makes sense of the rest of it on its own. I've proofread books by authors who've been pretty confident that they've been through their own work thoroughly and reckon that I might, if I'm good, find 30 or 40 errors. I've found on average 600 and upwards. You'd be surprised, as were some of my clients, see what they say here: Happy Customers

Do you only need a proofreader if you’re self-publishing?

If you have been accepted by a publishing company, whether mainstream or indie, then they will provide a proofreader for you, as part of the service. However, I have recently worked for a client who had 6 novels published by Random House, and wanted me to check his work before he sent his latest book to them, as he thought he'd written it in a hurry. (He was right to do so, I found over 1,500 errors.)

What are the most common mistakes you see writers making?

Most errors are typos – that is, mistakes made through inattention while the writer is in creative flow mode, and not caused by ignorance of spelling or punctuation. And most of these are punctuation, with people not realising that they've missed out commas or full stops because they're focussing on their characters or story line. That's where a non-creative pedant like me is so necessary, you see!
Some of the spelling typos result in hilarious misunderstandings, and I am currently compiling a list of the funniest ones I've come across, so that I can put them in a blog post – with the authors' permission, of course!

How long does it take you to proofread an average length novel?

Depends on how many mistakes I have to correct. My clients' books run the full gamut, from a few changes per paragraph, to one or two per chapter. On the other hand, some people say to me, 'this shouldn't take you too long, it's already been checked by a few people, so there will be very few errors'. My reply is, 'yes, but I still have to read every word'! I only work on one novel at a time, so that I can concentrate on the plot and the author's particular quirks. I reckon it to take me approximately 10 days.

There are many people advertising proofreading services. How can a writer sort the good from the bad?

You're right, there are so many people advertising themselves as proofreaders these days, and many of them appear to have just started. I notice that I am followed on Twitter by newbie proofreaders every day. Here are a couple of blog posts I wrote, which I hope will be of help to anyone looking for a proofreader, and not knowing where to start:


So, as my final word, dear authors – take all the time you need when choosing a proofreader!

Thank you, Wendy, for inviting me to have my say. I did enjoy it.

You're very welcome. It's been lovely having you as a guest.

You can contact Julia through her website here or on Twitter here


33 comments:

  1. Fanstic interview, Wendy. I recently attended a webinar about editing my own work. To be honest it scared me to death! As you know, as a teacher we are well able to edit and proofread students work with little problem but doing our own is much more difficult due to being attached to every word. No matter how long I leave a piece, I still find it difficult to remain detached in order to analyse and make corrections on my own work. A skill I would like to improve.

    I will definitely be paying Julia's blog a visit.

    Have a lovely weekend.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My husband proofreads all my magazine stories before I send them. He's very good (has a practical engineers brain) but I'm sure that there are a lot of thing he misses. If I was ever to self-publish the novel I would definitely pay a proofreader to look it over.

      Delete
    2. Indeed, Nicola, it's editing/proofreading one's own work that is so difficult. I have to be extremely careful about my blog posts, tweets and emails.

      Delete
  2. I think we can learn to do some editing ourselves and we can spot some of our typos and silly mistakes - but agree that it's almost impossible for an author to spot every single error in our own writing.

    After reading a couple of books which had so many errors they seriously distracted from the story, I decided it was worth investing in proofreading.

    The person I use was reccomended on a writing forum I use and I've been very happy with the results.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Interestingly, the worst culprit for errors (four on one page) was in a traditionally published novel. Now that was worrying.

      Delete
    2. You're right, Patsy, best to use a proofreader who has been recommended, it's the best way.

      Delete
  3. What an interesting interview - thanks, Wendy and Julia. I enjoyed hearing about how Julia tackles her work. Proofreading is an essential part of the editing process and it's true - you can't always see your own mistakes. Typos in books are hugely annoying. I'm thinking of a novel published by one of the major publishers, which was not only littered with typos, but also at one point missed out half a sentence.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Maybe it was the same one I read, Susanna :)

      Delete
    2. I've just been re-reading one of Joan Collins's beauty books. It annoyed me to find typos and repeated sentences. Can't believe a trad pubbed book was put out with such errors!

      Delete
  4. A really interesting post. Thank you, Julia and Wendy.

    But - can I respectfully say that in my experience, and certainly for me, a good editor is really, really important (as of course is a proofreader). As writers, we are too close to our work to do a proper job. Or maybe it's just me?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Frances, and I think you're absolutely right about editors being as important as proofreaders.

      Delete
    2. Definitely - editor first, then proofreader.

      Delete
  5. I've worked with Julia and she is terrific. I love that writers have said that it shouldn't take long because they've already had it checked. So what is Julia supposed to do, ready every third paragraph? The most logical reason to use a proofreader is the science behind what we miss when we read our own work.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Absolutely, you'd be surprised how many times I hear that!

      Delete
    2. Thank you for your comment, Joe, and for sharing your positive experience of working with Julia.

      Delete
  6. As an editor and proofreader, I'm delighted to read this. One of my pet hates is when people ask me to proofread for 'grammar and spelling and anything else you spot'. Grr.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I cannot agree more..NO writer worth their salt can edit/proofread their own work. NOR should they try to,ButI'd also say, don't put your entire fayith in someobody else - always re-check. I have just had the horrendous experience of an editor who missed several plot holes in a mss, and then another who equally missed stuff, and then found typos in a so called digital page proof that was supposed to be proof read for errors. As a writer, WE are the ones who carry the can for any mistakes..even is it wasn't our fault!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Good advice, Carol - thank you.

      Delete
    2. Blimey, Carol, how very distressing for you, I really do sympathise. That's dreadful.

      Delete
  8. Thank you, Julia and Wendy for an interesting and thoughtful post. So true that it is impossible for a writer to proof read their own work - I cringe when I read old pieces that I thought were perfect but in reality were riddled with silly mistakes. A separate proof reader for your work is essential.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's amazing what we don't see isn't it, Tracy.

      Delete
  9. Absolutely, Carol - I think any book definitely needs going through by at least two people before publication.

    There are so many 'proofreaders' (note the inverted commas) around these days who are just trying to cash in on the indie publishing thing - they don't actually know what they're doing. It's about so much more than spotting typos and missed words (and some don't even spot all those); it's about understanding punctuation, too. I read a lot of indie books and the main problem I come across is proofreaders who don't know how to use semicolons. They're either missed, with commas used instead, or inserted randomly into every pause. You need proper experience and aptitude to do this, not just some little course - please see Julia's 'Good, Bad and Crimina' post above!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Glad you mentioned the semicolon. It irritates me so much when readers use the comma splice (hark at me!)

      Delete
  10. Great post, Julia & Wendy. So true about not being able to proofread your own work. Like you, Julia, I was elected chief typo buster at work where company presentations and documents were concerned, but I'd never attempt to proofread my own work. I once tried it on a few chapters as an experiment and it's spot on what you say about the mind only reading certain words in a sentence.

    Brilliant explanations and advice. Thank you! :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for your kind comment, Jan.

      Delete
  11. Just seen this post - completely agree that we can never properly edit our own work as we see what we expect to see!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Absolutely, Rosemary - I've been caught out on my blog posts a few times!

      Delete
  12. A great interview, Wendy and Julia. Thank you both. I agree with everyone who says it's impossible to edit our own work.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Proofreading is one job I just can't do. I've tried it and every time I think I've spotted up every possible mistake, I then pick the thing up and it falls open at one I haven't seen! :)

    ReplyDelete
  14. Proofreading is one job I just can't do. I've tried it and every time I think I've spotted up every possible mistake, I then pick the thing up and it falls open at one I haven't seen! :)

    ReplyDelete
  15. I've had this on hold for a couple of weeks as I've been too busy to read it. I am SO delighted I didn't just hit the delete key.I'm very faddy about spelling and punctuation and, though I wouldn't dream of undertaking the job of proofreading professionally, I have been happy in the past to help friends out when I can. It's incredibly time-consuming, as Julia says, but, as she also says, you have to read every single word if you're going to do it justice. An interesting post which I thoroughly enjoyed. Thank you both.

    ReplyDelete