Five Ways to Spot the Wrong Proofreader!

You’re an author, and you’ve finished editing your book. You now want to find someone to proofread it for you – smart move! If you’re submitting to an agent/publisher, you want to give your manuscript every possible advantage. If you’re self-publishing, the last thing you want is reviews saying ‘good story, but it could do with proper proofreading’.

But how to find the right proofreader? There are so many out there to choose from, and you don’t know which ones are the best. I get so angry when I see hard-working writers being conned (yes, conned) by many of the new companies that have appeared since the boom in self-publishing, who make grandiose claims about their clear-up rate. Some try to lure clients in with low prices, but using their services might be a false economy if you then have to get the job done again by someone who knows what they’re doing. So how can you make an educated choice?

Here are some suggestions, based on my own experience and those of my clients. Please be careful before you spend your hard-earned cash.

  1. Web sites that claim to use ‘custom-made software’, whatever that’s supposed to be. I recently worked on a book that had previously been ‘proofread’ by a company that used this system. I found over 70 typos in the first half hour. The company’s website states that ‘human-eye proofreading can miss errors and it’s slow’. I say – there is no substitute for a good proofreader who’s spent years at their craft, you can’t cut corners!
  2. Check credentials! Sure, lots of people can produce various testimonials, but you want to make sure that these are from real authors whom you can contact, who can tell you about their experience with your potential proofreader. Don’t trust credentials that don’t give proper contact details.
  3. Those who base their reputation upon having taken a course in proofreading – oh dear me. Sure, we can all learn something every day, and anyone will learn one or two things from these courses; however, unless you can already do the job, based on experience and education (neither of which can be rushed) the course will not make you any more qualified to proofread someone’s book than anyone else with a basic knowledge of spelling and grammar. Also, these courses are not recognised by the publishing industry.
  4. Friends and family – listen, absolutely no offence meant to your best mate/mother/cousin/friend’s daughter, really! It’s always a good idea to get another pair of eyes to look over your manuscript. But, and it’s a big but, these people don’t have the right approach to your work; even if they think they are impartial, they can’t be. They may subconsciously not wish to offend you by finding too many errors, for example. Also, you can’t really criticise them if they mess up. One of my clients told me that his wife, who worked as a proofreader, had already gone through his novella; I found over 300 errors. I would say, don’t rely entirely on someone you already know, although the service is free. (I’ll make an exception if they earn their living as a proofreader and are doing you a favour, in that case go right ahead!)
  5. Those who make cut-price rates their USP. The standard of service should always be the most important factor when you choose your proofreader. A good proofreader knows his/her worth, and is confident that it is worth paying for.

I was prompted to write this post by my experience in Point 1. A client had paid money to someone who claimed to be able to do the job, and then he had to pay for it to be done again. I don’t think that’s fair.