Proofreaders – the Good, the Bad and the Seriously Dodgy

I’m writing this piece for the benefit of all self-published authors, or those choosing a publishing company, as I’m becoming increasingly aware that, sadly, advice about making proofreading (and editing) choices is very much needed.

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Firstly, if you’re not sure about the difference between editing, copy editing and proofreading, you might like to read this short piece: Editing, Copy Editing, Proofreading

Now, let’s help you in your search!

Who is the best person to proofead my work?

Okay – you’ve finished your novel/novella/short stories, and would like to publish on Amazon for Kindle, or another website.  You’re fairly confident your work is as good as you can make it, but you’d like an impartial, qualified third party to check it for those little errors that you know you may have missed, especially as you’ve read over your work many times and still keep noticing mistakes.  You don’t want any reviewers saying things like, ‘a good book spoilt by typos and punctuation errors’.  So you look around for a proofreader.  You Google, you compare prices, you ask around on Twitter.

Unless money is no object, which is for most people not the case, you have a limited budget to spend on the production of your book, and certainly don’t want to waste your money. There are many great proofreaders and editors out there – I know quite a few.  There are also, unfortunately, two kinds of bad proofreaders: the Cowboys and the Inept.  Beware of them!

The Cowboys

These people will take your money and do little if anything for you.  At worst, they just run your work through spellcheck.  I would call them thieves, because they take your money under false pretences.  I’ve seen some horrifying results of dealing with Cowboys, first hand, from the experience of authors I’ve met online, or worked with.  These are just a few:

  • A short story that started with a missing apostrophe in the first word
  • A 15,000 word novella that had supposedly been proofread 3 times, in which I subsequently found 222 errors
  • A novel which had been through the hands of both an editor and a proofreader – but I found 94 errors in the first 8 pages
  • My client whose 3 books had previously been published by an indie publisher with a very smart website – he came to me because he kept getting reviews complaining about punctuation and spelling errors. I found a few hundred errors in each book. I won’t mention the name of the publishing company, but it’s available upon request!

No proofreader is infallible (everyone can miss one or two errors), but my poor clients had been conned out of their money by people who had no intention of doing a proper job for them.

classy-owl

 

 The Inept – almost as bad!

There are, I’m afraid to say, growing numbers of these. Some are quite frankly hilarious and devoid of credibility, such as the lady I saw who advertised herself as a ‘proffesional proofreader’. Some of them, sad to say, are intentionally deceptive, some are just misguided, but the end result is the same:

The person who loses out is YOU.

Many of the Inept are looking for a way to make money in ‘indie author land’, and have observed the growing demand for proofreaders/editors now that the self-publishing market is increasing on a daily basis.  Some consider themselves qualified because they have a reasonable grasp of the English language, or because they write a bit themselves.  Still others have been on ‘proofreading courses’, which should carry a government health warning, in my opinion.  The pyramid starts here, with the course providers who rip-off the aspiring proofreaders; I feel sorry for the people who spend money on such courses, thinking it will help them earn money.

baby-seals

 

Beware the proofreading course!

Some of the courses promise their students guaranteed work (which is impossible), or that they can earn X amount of money per hour.  Many courses teach and examine their students on all those clever little proofreading symbols, now pretty much obsolete in the proofreading business, which is now almost exclusively done online – even within journalism.  I have yet to hear of one that mentions Track Changes, which is the tool a proofreader in today’s e-world needs.  Track Changes enables the proofreader to make changes online, and the author to accept or reject the amendment.  The idea of a proofreader sitting there with a paper manuscript and blue pen, arduously covering the pages with symbols, is years out of date.  One course I investigated recently actually states ‘most proofreading and copy editing is done on paper’, which is just a downright lie.

My other gripe about these courses is that having completed one (and thus being able to wave about the piece of paper saying they’ve passed the exam) doesn’t mean a person has the grammatical knowledge and experienced eye required for proofreading – or, similarly, the understanding of the market and experience of publishing required for editing.  Editing courses (often run alongside the proofreading ones) are usually very brief, but in traditional publishing, people don’t become fully-fledged editors without literally years of full time experience at a more junior level.

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A word about editing – my sister is a prolific indie author who edits her own work and says the following: “Over the past three and a half years I have written 14 novels, 1 novella, many short stories, and over 150 blog posts.  I have never had a book review that calls into question my grammar or punctuation skills, but can see now that my first efforts at DIY editing were not as successful as my later ones.  Adequate editing takes real experience; I read articles about it by those more experienced than myself, observe how traditionally published books are presented, and learn all the time – I’m currently editing a friend’s first novella, but I still wouldn’t consider myself qualified to charge people money for what I can do.  I’ve heard many horror stories from author friends who’ve entrusted their work to so-called editors, and ended up with something worse, not better.  One writer friend told me she’d had many of her delightfully worded sentences replaced by others that were not even grammatically correct.  Doing a brief course will not teach you how to recognise superfluous detail, clichés of plot, narrative and dialogue, ‘clunky’ sentences and the frequently found wrongly assigned dependent clause if you can’t already identify them, any more than doing a creative writing course will make you a good writer if you have no basic talent.”

As there are so many proofreaders and editors out there, and the internet is a big place, I’d like to make some suggestions to help you find the right proofreader for you.

  •  Don’t be lured in by flashy websites.  Advertising blurb doesn’t guarantee results for the customer!
  • Some of the websites sound very impressive – but some have just taken the wording from the sites of experienced proofreaders/editors, in order to sound as if they know what they’re doing.
  • Read the testimonials with care.  They should be from writers who have published work including the proofreader/editor’s changes (or at least presented CVs and student essays!).  You’ll be paying out money to this person – make sure that others have happily done so before you.  Some of the more unscrupulous actually fake references.  There is a site called Writers Beware, which every writer should follow, co-founded by author Victoria Strauss, which ‘outs’ the con merchants:

Writers Beware

  • So, how do you check out the genuine?  Easy!  A tried and tested proofreader will have a selection of testimonials, with the names of many clients you can contact via Twitter or Google.  You should be able to read a sample of their work online; virtually all writers publish via Amazon, and it is possible to read a sample of every book on sale, by using the ‘Look Inside’ feature.  I do realise that a proofreader who is just starting out will not have page after page of testimonials; everyone has to start somewhere, and many start off by working on a friend’s novel, as practice.  If you are thinking of giving a chance to someone who has just started out in the business it’s important to …
  • … ask the proofreader to give you a free sample, i.e. work on just a few pages of your text, so you can see if what they do is up to the standard you’re looking for.  A proofreader or editor has to be the right ‘fit’ for you!  When you get the results back, if you’re not sure, ask someone for a second opinion.  One of the best ways to make your choice is simply word of mouth – ask more experienced writers who they use.
  • Please don’t expect a good proofreader to be immediately available to work on your book. Anyone worth their salt will be booked up a few weeks in advance, so try to plan (as much as the creative process allows, of course) to set the process in motion before your book is ready to go to the proofreader.
  • Lastly, a word of advice to aspiring proofreaders – please, please ask around before splashing out money on these courses.  There may be some good ones around, but the qualifications offered by many of them are not recognised by the publishing industry.  Your most important qualifications will be a very, very sound knowledge of the English language (by which I mean more than just being able to spot a superfluous apostrophe!), an eagle eye, and a love of your work!

And finally, I’d like to relate to you a cautionary tale from one of my regular clients, looking for a proofreader before she met me. Here is what she says:

“I posted a job on eLance.

I advertised for a proofreader for an anthology. Since most job applications on eLance are copypasted, “Dear Sir, I have read your job description carefully and am the best person for this job because I have the required skills and experience” without the applicant so much as reading the job description, I always post a test question. Those who don’t answer the question won’t be considered.

I decided to set a simple test.

I explained that I was looking for a proofreader who could work in both British and American English. I wrote:

‘To check that you have read the job description and have the required skills, please tell me how you would correct this sentence: When autumn turned into winter, the travellers learnt about the judgement.

(The word ‘autumn’ signals that it’s meant to be British English. And the sentence is in perfectly correct British English. So a proofreader should leave it as it is.)

Uh-uh. This was an eye-opener. I was immediately inundated by applications – about fifty in the first few hours.

Quite a few people announced that they were top professional proofreaders, fully familiar with both British and American English… and then they proceeded to correct the sentence to, When autumn turned into winter, the travelers learned about the judgment.

Quite a few came up with a mishmash of British and American: When autumn turned into winter, the travellers learned about the judgment.

They even offered the correction in the same breath as declaring their competence regarding British and American English. I’m a leading expert in British and American English, and I have pleasure informing you that the correct version of the sentence is: When autumn turned into winter, the travellers learned about the judgment.

Out of the fifty, only two deduced that the word ‘autumn’ combined with all-British spelling signalled British English.

It gets worse. Several rewrote the sentence, changing it completely to improve the style. Winter had finally arrived, and the travelers were informed about the judgment.

It’s shocking to think that a proofreader might do that to a work of fiction, ruining the author’s voice, and it’s worrying because an editor might simply accept the Track Changes without realising what the proofreader had done.

In my job description, I even said that I didn’t want the proofreader to do any style edits. But really, no proofreader should rephrase an author’s work. (A copy editor may make suggestions, but a proofreader should not, let alone change things unasked.)”

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

 

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70 thoughts on “Proofreaders – the Good, the Bad and the Seriously Dodgy

  1. Yes, I agree with everything you say Julia. There used to be adverts in the quality papers promising that a pass from XXX college meant you were guaranteed work. Wicked, because earning good money, in your own home, suits so many people, so they’re tempted to spend money on the bogus course.

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    • Exactly – how could they possibly guarantee you work? As I said, we all learn something new every day, and I’m sure I could learn a thing or two from these courses – but they wouldn’t make me a good proofreader if I wasn’t already one!

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  2. Great article, as someone considering training to be a proofreader, are there any courses you would be able to recommend or books that I could use for research purposes please?

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    • Thank you, I’m glad you liked it. As I said in the article, I don’t know all the courses out there, so I can’t possibly recommend – I only warned against the ones I know about, which are absolutely not worth the money, and which I consider rip people off. You can Google and find out reviews of the various proofreading courses, I’m sure that would help. And books for research purposes – again, there would be a whole library full! I don’t know your history, so I wouldn’t presume to dictate your next step, but I would suggest the first step would be a qualification in English language, i.e. an A Level or some such. And you should be very well read, and get a lot of practice! I would certainly suggest that you proofread a novel or two free of charge at first, to get some practical experience. Hope there’s something here that helps you.

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      • Thanks Julia for your reply. I appreciate that there is such a vast number of courses out there that it would be impossible to recommend just one. I shall continue with my research 🙂 My degree is in English Literature, have worked as a legal secretary previously and read and review books for my pleasure. In fact I just read a book for review that made me want to cry with the number of mistakes in it. I adore words and reading so hoping to retrain for a new career that makes the most of my passions. Thanks again 🙂

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    • Louise, can I butt in here? I was talking to a lady who’d done one of these courses and spent ages learning all her proofreading symbols – I found on Google, for her, a tutorial about Track Changes. I know I found it quite easily, so if you google it you’ll probably find it too. It might be a good idea to have a look at it, and learn how to use it. I’d definitely reiterate Julia’s advice about practising on friend’s stuff, too – I think it’s the way to find out if you’re going to be good at it! There are all sorts of things the ‘inept’ miss out on, too – like spotting when there should be a hyphen in certain words, or when something is one word or two. I always need tons of them correcting when my stuff is proofread! Hope it works out for you 🙂

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      • Oh butt away Terry – I am grateful for all help and advice! That sounds an excellent plan. I remember trying to use track changes in my previous work as a legal secretary and despairing at it so I could certainly do with brushing up my knowledge! Thanks for your help.

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      • Thanks for your reply, Terry. And Louise – you sound as if you are well on your way, best of luck to you, I’m sure you’ll be a terrific proofreader. You’ve got to love it, you see!

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  3. Great article. I recently went over a friend’s book which had been through the hands of not one but three of these cowboys. I ran out of fingers to count the number of errors I found. Am sharing the article on Twitter and Facebook, particularly in a group I run on Facebook called Book Group – Read, Write, Review, Discuss

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    • Thank you very much, Lesley, for your input and for sharing my post, I am flattered. I think it’s just terrible that some would take people’s money for what is at best an inadequate service. Apart from the deliberate conmen, authors should also beware of the ‘Inept’, who are just not very good but still charge the same as those who are much more experienced at it! I shall look for your Facebook Group and participate!

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  4. Great post. I see a lot of the same, Julia. The worst example was one poor chap who had paid out over a grand for a `professional` edit, published his book on Amazon, and suffered a flood of low-scoring reviews. Not only had he been massively overcharged, but I found over 1000 punctuation/grammar errors, as well as plot holes and continuity errors.
    Writers – before parting with your hard-earned and allowing an editor’s grubby paws on your work:
    1 – check out the testimonials
    2 – check out the reviews/samples of the published books
    3 – ask for a free sample edit

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    • You get this alot with writers who are trying to get editing/proofreading work to subsidise book sales, John. One friend pointed out to me this, yesterday: the proofreaders/editors you want are the ones who do just that, not try to fit it in between their own writing. The people who do it as a JOB! I think if anyone is going to hire a writer/editor, the first thing to do is to check out their own books, and see how well they manage to edit themselves….!

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  5. I just looked at your interview with Wiz Green, and I saw that Val Poore had commented, and written this: “…. by the way, I’ve also done one of those useless online courses that tell you about proofreading marks that no one ever uses these days. The only useful thing it taught me was about making a style sheet for the people that proofread for me!”

    Just as reiteration….!

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  7. An excellent post, Julia, and very timely, too. As an editor/proofreader offering services to independent authors, I hear about and see, all-too-often, egregious examples of authors who have been taken for a ride by these unscrupulous cowboys and incompetents. I take great pride in my work, and my clients can attest to the lengthy pains I go to, to ensure their books are as good as they can possibly be. It’s not about the fee – as my rates leave me working serious hours for small revenue LOL – it’s about taking pride in putting out quality writing.

    I have to say one trend that really concerns me is the apparent abomination of the comma in American teaching establishments. All too frequently I hear or read comments such as, “My professor would fine us a dollar for what he/she considered to be every unnecessary comma.” Or, “We were always told that commas just make your writing appear broken up and disjointed.” Given these attitudes, it’s hardly surprising that so many writers need intensive proofreading.

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    • Thank you, Ashen, for your insightful comments. Regarding commas, I pointed out to one person that she didn’t use enough commas, and showed her where I’d put them in. Her next manuscript contained too many, so I had to take some out! I think many people just weren’t taught properly at school, so that’s where we come in, we all have our areas of expertise, and I wouldn’t know where to start, to write a novel. It’s always nice to hear from a fellow proofreader who understands taking the work as seriously as I do.

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  8. GREAT article!!!
    I could not agree more. After three very intensive years in this industry and many books published with what you called a moderate success ;-), I’m prepared to sign under every single word of what you wrote, Julia.
    It is so frustrating to watch new authors making these mistake (and I admit making my share of those in the beginning, too), or to ran into zealous readers, or reviewers, or other writers, who tend to notice more grammar mistakes than the others, which makes them assume they could be passable editors or proofreaders. They don’t even bother to take the fake-courses you mentioned. They just offer their services, for admittedly very little money, and they honestly think they can do the job. Which leaves the author, little money invested or not, to deal with the consequences later on, to face the avalanche of bad reviews that will follow them for years, even after they had proofread their works professionally at some point (happened to me with my first book, even today – *sigh* – as sometimes people buy books and it takes them years to get to read them, and then a perfectly proofread book gets an occasional bad review, because it was purchased when it was still in bad shape years ago. Oh well…).

    Anyway, thank you for this post, Julia. I will be sure to spread it everywhere I can 🙂

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    • Thank you so much for your indepth comments, Zoe. As you will guess, I agree with everything you’ve said! Every author makes mistakes. My experience is that even the most educated and literate author will make between 300 and 800 mistakes in an average sized novel. How can this be? you may think. Believe me, it’s true. So that’s why proofreaders are needed for every writer. And I’m sorry about your bad experiences in the early stage of your career. You’re right, almost as bad, in fact sometimes I think as bad, are the people who think they can proofread but can’t really do the job. It takes a lot more than passing an English exam at school, or maybe having written a bit oneself! It takes years of experience, an enormous amount of knowledge, and a particular kind of pickiness that can be annoying to one’s friends, but invaluable in one’s career! I thank you very much for spreading my blog around. Julia

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      • Oh Zoe, Zoe, you’re so right. Writers who think that because they’ve written a couple of novels, are slightly more eagle-eyed than their mates, know about split infinitives and have sussed out about not using too many adverbs, that this qualifies them to charge people hundreds of pounds for editing. I’ve heard some right horror stories! Yes, bloody unfortunate about your very early experiences, but at least the people who know how good a writer and how professional you are, are in the vast majority!

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  9. I’ve been in the situation where I have picked out hundreds of obvious errors and inconsistencies in one of my Dad’s books – after he had paid over $1000 for proofreading services. Even worse, the proofreader was recommended to him by someone in the publishing business. I was so furious that he had been ripped off.

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    • That is just terrible, I’m so sorry your dad had that dreadful experience, I have heard similar. I call these people criminals because they steal your money. Almost as bad, sometimes, are the people who think they’re capable doing the job but aren’t. Best of luck to you, and thanks for your comments!

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  10. I am not yet at the stage in my writing where I need a proofreader. I thought I could become a proofreader to provide some income while I completed my novel, so I took a proofreading course. I didn’t need any training to spot the numerous errors in the course manual. The email I got at the end of the course said, “Congratulation n completing the course so successfully”.
    The course implied that, with my newly-qualified status, writers and publishers would be clamouring to use my services. But where are they? Your article, whilst great for writers, offers little hope for new proofreaders, classing us all as rogues of the worst kind (can you say ‘cowboys’ these days – isn’t it a bit sexist?) The term ‘closed-shop’ springs to mind.
    Everyone makes mistakes. The SfEP advocates ‘zero-tolerance’, but its online proofreading course contains errors. The article above contains “… ask if the proofreader to give you a free sample,” and “Vindicatin indeed!”
    Apologies – no offence intended.
    Gripe over.

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    • Hi, Peter, and thank you for making these points – proof that we all need a proofreader indeed! I was absolutely not classing all new proofreaders as rogues, not by any means. If you look again, you will see that I encourage writers to give new proofreaders a chance, and that I state from the outset that there are many great proofreaders out there. I was just trying to help people avoid paying money to the wrong ones. My advice about proofreading courses was intended to be helpful to those considering paying hard-earned cash, that sometimes they can ill afford, for them; as you say, your course implied that you would easily find work from publishing companies, and you have found this not to be the case. Proofreading isn’t a closed shop. I was a self-starter, and you could be too. You clearly know what you’re about, and I wish you all the best in finding those clients!

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  11. Thanks for replying, Julia.
    I’m sorry, my rant was just a reflection on my grumpy mood at the time, and was not very professional. I realise you are not branding all untried proofreaders as rogues, although I’m sure many of them probably are.
    The first proofreading course I took, and the society’s course I’m taking now, both concentrate on the BSI symbols to mark-up hardcopy. It’s as though neither has heard of OCR; and with MS Word 2013, I can open and edit PDFs directly. Now you tell me that nobody uses the old mark-up system. (My laminated copy of the BSI symbols does have one use however; it is perfect for putting under a glass to capture and then release the bees and wasps that regularly come to see me at work.)
    Your closing comments have given me the confidence to carry on proofreading (was Sid James in that one?). Thank you.

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  12. Thanks very much for getting back to me, Peter. I’m not surprised that you’re miffed about the course you took; I was just trying to warn people a little, after what I’ve heard from some people. Many fairly untried proofreaders are very good, of course, and we all have to start somewhere. Unfortunately, there are also individuals whose aim is to con others, they will always abound in any growing market, and this includes of course those who set up certain editing and online publishing companies that charge a fortune and do a bad job. The horror stories I related in my post were true, and just a handful of those that have been told to me, which is a great shame. There’s plenty of wheat to be separated from the chaff, and it’s pretty easy to do so! So, Carry on Proofreading – from Hattie Jacques!

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  13. Hi Julia. Thank you so much for the information you have provided in your article. I am one of those new proofreaders who is just trying to make a name for myself in the Indie business as a proofreader/editor. I’m currently doing one of the dreaded courses using out of date symbols. I’m doing this along-side editing for authors. I’ve completed seven full length books and am about to start another one for a final proofread. At the risk of sounding modest, I am good at what I do and I don’t charge the earth as I am building my business at the moment. I am going to complete the course as I would like the qualification behind me even if I will never use the symbols again. I absolutely adore reading and it is my one true pleasure and escape from every day life. Again, many thanks for your advice. Emma

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    • Thank you very much for your comment, and of course I wish you all the best. Nothing wrong with saying you’re good at what you do, if it’s the truth! We proofreaders have to have confidence in our experience and knowledge.

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  14. Thanks for another informative article, Julia. I received an A in a Copy Editing and Proofreading course (a required course in a Creative Writing Certificate University program I just completed), but do I think this qualifies me to copy edit or proofread even my own work? Not a chance! It taught me how difficult this task is and that I need to hire a professional. Thank you for your tips on finding one who is truly qualified.

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    • Sorry, just butting in here! Diane, you can probably do more than you think, and I do think you can edit your own work but it takes experience to get it right (I’m the sister in the article, by the way!) – but proofreading? No, you need to hire a professional every time. Recently, Julia looked at a book that had just been proofread by one of these people who have taken one of those dodgy courses, and it had TWELVE errors still in the ‘Look Inside’ bit on Amazon, alone!

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      • Dear Julia,
        I mentioned earlier that I had completed an online proofreading course. I am in the process of writing a book, and the same company offers a number of creative writing courses. The online blurb states that to be a writer I would need some essentials: note book … type writer. I can pay for: someone to type it for me, an advertisement, a website, someone to look over a contract … but no mention of a proofreader or editor. So the course I was sold was not necessary if I don’t need these last two – thanks.
        When I was told I’d probably want to get “some stationary” I decided this was going nowhere. A course of HRT for the author of the blurb will be recommended – Homophone Replacement Therapy.
        I will not be enrolling.
        Best regards,
        Peter.

        ________________________________
        Peter Buxton

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  15. I’m an editor/proofreader (freelance now after many years in-house expreience) and agree with much of what you say. I just wanted to add that I would advise any would-be proofreaders, especially anyone hoping to work for publishing houses as well as self-publishing authors to familiarise themselves with Adobe tools as well as MS track changes. I use Adobe on a daily basis (far more than track changes) for marking up typeset pdfs for editing. In addition, I’d suggest that people learn something about web-based XML software such as Entry Editor, which allows text to be arranged hierarchically, moved in chunks etc. It’s difficult to describe to someone who hasn’t seen it, but it’s used by many publishers (especially in non-fiction) to edit and store text, and facilitates remote working.
    As for old-school text mark-up, it is true that it is used more rarely these days, and it’s very unusual for publishers to send out large batches of printed proofs to freelancers. However, it’s still useful to be familiar with the terminology, particuarly if you’re involved in editing/reading anything at the later proof stages, as typesetters/editors may still use some of the terminology in their comments. For quick paper edits (and I agree that these are few and far between these days, certainly for freelancers), all the editors I know would still use these marks. Obviously, if you are planning on working exclusively for self-publishing authors it may not be an issue.

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    • Thanks a million for your extremely useful contribution to these comments! I agree with you about the use of Adobe to edit pdfs, I’ve come across that a couple of times whilst doing work for companies, (although for individuals it’s always Word/Track Changes). As you’ve probably seen from my post, I’m not an editor, I don’t have the relevant experience to edit, but I can see how the software you suggest is invaluable. It’s really good to hear from someone with your wealth of experience, thanks again.

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  18. I recently started working for publishing houses doing proof reading and occasional copy editing. An awful lot of my proofs are on paper. I’ve been doing this for 9 months now, and every single one has been paper, bar one pdf that was an anglicization copy edit.

    It’s not the same for everyone. Thanks for the warning about the courses, though. Think I’ll invest that cash in going back to University.

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    • Oh yes, of course, if you work for a publishing house then your work will be on hard copy. The thing is, I’ve had feedback from many people who’ve done these courses and been given the impression that it will be fairly easy to then find work in a publishing house. I don’t think it is very easy after all! I work for indie authors and indie publishing houses, mostly, (and also some work directly making changes to web sites) and all of that is on Word docs. Thanks for your comment!

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  19. Great write up! I appreciate the time it must have taken to create the article.
    I found the hardest thing is proofreading my own work. I had to read my novel eight times after it was finally completed to catch all the booboos, and I’m still not sure that I got them all. I never knew that there were proof leaches out there, but I’m not surprised. In looking for an agent, I came across several con artist wannabes and several publisher’s, both asking for dollars.

    Speaking of the difficulty in proofreading ones own work, “Who is the best person to proofead my work?” is missing an R. I write that, but I have probably missed several in this post.

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  20. Hello Julia. I would very much like to become a proof reader and would welcome any advice you would share with me about how to begin the process. I have a BA in History and won a writing proficiency award. Ilive in London Ontario Canada. I look forward to hearing from you. Thanking you in advance. Mary Empey
    P.S. I went to university as a mature student so I bring age and wisdom with me and excellent spelling and grammar skills.

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    • Hello, Mary, nice to hear from you – ah, age, wisdom and excellent spelling and grammar, surely we are a prize amongst women! I can’t advise you of how to get work with publishing houses, but as far as the self-publishing community goes, I would suggest you proofread a novel or two free of charge, whether for a friend or someone you ‘meet’ on Twitter. That way you can get your eye in and find out your strengths and weaknesses. Also, the author can tweet nice things about you! Good luck, Mary. If you’d like to email me any time, I’m here: juliaproofreader@gmail.com

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  22. Wonderful article! Really educational. My friend did one of those “newspaper advertised” proofreader courses, and when I was a single parent looking for work I asked her about it – “It was a total rip off, “she said, “And I’ve not had one job from it.” And you’re right – they’re presented as an ideal way for the relatively competent in English and grammar who need (or want) to work from home to make money. I blame the companies, though, not the students, who are only guilty of being naive.

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    • Thank you for your comment. I feel sorry for the people who pay money for these courses. They are naive, of course – where exactly do they think the work is going to come from? I think those companies are charlatans.

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    • Yes, you still have to advertise yourself and get a website or at least a blog, and do loads of networking on Twitter, and try to persuade someone to give you your first job – that’s the hard bit, not the course! Unfortunately the whole self-publishing thing is now seen as an opportunity by so many to rip people off – and not just the writers, but the people who think they can become a competent proofreader by doing a short course, too. I blame the companies, too – and thank goodness you were saved from making the same mistake!

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  23. Great article.

    I have a friend who had a publishing deal but fell out with the editor and decided to self publish. I supportively bought a copy and started to read it. I noticed a few typos but ploughed on. Then I noticed the plot inconsistencies…

    So I went back to the beginning with my editor’s hat on. 500+ typos, plot mistakes, continuity errors, etc. later I sent him an urgent email with my documented list. He was suitably horrified as it had been ‘checked’ by somebody else. I suggested he withdrew the book until he fixed the errors. He said he would but didn’t.

    He had a proper tantrum when somebody left him a 1-star review, with the reviewer suggesting he’d accidentally released his first draft.

    I’ve not offered to read anything else even as practice (for me) as I would find it extremely frustrating if I discovered that I was associated with something potentially so poorly constructed and despite my best efforts it was still released ‘as is’ (note: we’re not talking stylistic disagreement here, we’re talking about characters disappearing, places changing location, times of day changing mid-description. I did suggest that, perhaps, the original editor was on to something).

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    • Oh dear, John, what an unpleasant experience for you, I am sorry! Maybe your friend should have paid someone with a good reputation to edit then proofread, which he probably would have valued more than gratis help. And I quite understand about not wishing to be associated with something badly constructed, it’s a fine line we walk sometimes. The whole episode sounds like a nightmare for you.

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    • Yes, perhaps he ‘fell out with’ his editor because he was unwilling to accept that he had written something very amateur that needed sorting out….! Such people are best steered clear of 🙂

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  24. Can’t edit, won’t edit if I can help it. Can’t proofread, won’t proofread, if I can help it. Leave it to the professionals, I say. But choose wisely. Oh, and by the way, Julia, thank you for the wonderful work you did on my book. Only found out about you by pure coincidence but so glad I did.

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      • Julia, having worked for the last month on editing my next traditionally published book,I would have liked it to have been proofread by you but they have their own proofreader. (and shush – I’ve just checked and found some errors – oh dear.)

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  25. Dear Judith, if you are to be traditionally published, then of course they have their own proofreader, and I am very pleased for you. Occasionally I’ve lost a client because they get a publishing deal, and of course I could not be more delighted for them, because it’s the best way to pass on a client! (And they’re bound to find some errors, because there ain’t no such thing as an author who can proofread their own work, as you know I never tire of saying!)

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    • You’re so right – I think authors are too near their work to proofread as well – only speaking personally of course. I found Indie publishing so hard with the one I did. I take my hat off to Indie publishers – writing/ formatting/ editing – found it so hard.

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  26. I’ve worked with Julia before and I’ll never work with another as long as she’s in business. A friend and successful author whose books I really enjoy recommended her. I think that’s about the best way to ensure you’ll get quality service.

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