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.

49 thoughts on “Five Ways to Spot the Wrong Proofreader!

  1. Thank you! These are really good points. “Custom-made software” … I’m not a professional proofreader, but I am a translator, and from that perspective … Well, it makes me cringe. As developed as technology is in our day and age, it simply cannot replace human intelligence.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Couldn’t agree more. Regarding the book I refer to, the most cursory of glances through spellcheck revealed lots of tiny errors – so much for their ‘custom-made software’, huh?! And I don’t even rely on, and hardly ever even use, spellcheck!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. As for the statement ‘human eye proofreading can miss errors and it’s slow’ – how long it takes isn’t the writer’s problem, is it? They’re paying for the job to be done properly, however long the person has to spend on it! Also, software won’t spot things like a word used in slightly the wrong context, or a capital letter that should be lower case, or a foreign word that should be in italics… the list is endless!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh don’t even start me on the list of things that a computer can’t spot! I refer you to my reply to the lady above. Yes, to proofread a book takes time. A lot of time, and proper concentration. It can’t be rushed. As you say, the length of time it takes isn’t the client’s problem!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Very interesting Julia, yes all makes sense. Spellcheck is fine, but it’s rather like mowing a lawn on a high setting – it makes a start on the job, the real work starts afterwards. And how about when the writer wants US spelling, but the original document was written in UK English? Useless spellcheck there.


  4. Julia.

    To prove your point about specialist software, a well-known software house has just sent me an email with a subject heading of ‘Writing can be extremely demanding’ that states:

    “If we know one thing (except English grammar, of course) it?s the hardships or writing. That’s why we designed our software to assist you with the technicalities.”

    Obviously this company doesn’t use its software on its own emails. If it’s selling software that “helps writers with the more tedious part of writing” isn’t it sensible to make sure there are no errors in the blurb?

    I think this outfit needs the services of a good (human) proofreader. Any suggestions?


    • Peter, if I had received that communication from them, I would have been falling over myself to write back to them and point out the error of their ways – I take it that you are intending to do so? Don’t they have anyone who looks at the emails before they go out, and who says, ‘Hold on a minute, chaps’? Please take them to task about it, they deserve all they get!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Julia, I have sent them a polite(ish) email suggesting their advertisement for writing software would be far more persuasive if it didn’t contain glaring typos. I await their response. Peter.


    • This gets worse, Julia. They can’t be bothered to respond to my email, but they have sent me the following gem:
      “Here at WhiteSmoke, we don’t pretend we don’t make mistakes. We know we make them, like everyone else ? that’s why all of our workers use our software to check their e-mails!”
      This just proves their software doesn’t work.
      Regards, Peter.


      • So, Julia, it’s really all your fault according to the WhiteSmoke website:

        “Even the most practiced grammar zealots can make the occasional error as a result of poor proofreading, and that is where WhiteSmoke comes in”

        Obviously special software is needed when the proofreader gets it wrong – and I thought it was the other way round. Silly me!

        (I’m not trying to provoke a war here, but …)


  5. Knowing how long it takes me to write a book, I can wait for however long it takes to proofread. May I say here, you’ve been the best proofreader I’ve had (sshhh! even being traditionally published and proofread) But better keep that quiet huh?


    • I wasn’t going to respond until I saw the request for thoughts on Grammarly. Don’t get me started! I’m not a professional writer — just a Blogger and former English teacher. I got my degree at UCLA in 1964. Evidently, much has changed since then in the use of commas. Grammarly is always telling me to get rid of the ones I put in and put some where they don’t seem to be necessary. Just now it told me “some where” (as used in my last sentence should be “somewhere.” It constantly points out such “errors.”

      It can’t tell what’s in my mind when I write complex sentences. It doesn’t understand that verb tenses and verb phrases don’t always follow the same rules. It doesn’t always catch on when you use a word such as “present” which can be used as more than one part of speech. What bugs me most is that Grammarly’s little circle sometimes sits on top of a word I need to see in order to do my own proofreading. It won’t budge. I would stop using it if it did not help me catch my own typos and make it easier to correct them. Anyone who follows all the program’s suggestions, though, will be embarrassed by what it gets wrong. One has to know enough about grammar and usage to know when Grammarly is wrong. I shudder to think of ESL students depending upon it to correct their mistakes.

      I have proofread a thesis or two for friends, but I certainly would not consider myself a proofreader for anyone but myself.


      • I perfectly agree, Barbara. It’s the same when you run a text through spellcheck and it makes perfectly laughable suggestions. When I said I looked at Grammarly, I meant that if I Google a particular point of grammar, it’s one of the websites that comes up, and I take a little look at it as I take a look at a few other ones. I see there’s been a misunderstanding somewhere, thank you for pointing it out.


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  8. Hi Julia. Do you know anything about this one (AutoCrit)? Sounds like a nervous disorder to me.
    Thanks, Peter.

    “Does anyone know anyone who has used AutoCrit? I have 4 manuscripts that I can’t really afford to pay to have edited (and it seems my books only sell at a 99 cent price point). I want to get these manuscripts ready enough to put up there. Thanks This is the link (”


    • I must say, Peter, that I’ve not heard of it before. I looked at their website, and to be honest I think it sounds like absolute nonsense. Firstly, I don’t see how it can possibly work, and secondly it’s not going to make a bad writer into a good one. I don’t, however, wish to be negative, so if anyone’s found it works for them, good luck to them; I’m just saying it looks like b*ll**ks to me!


  9. Hi Julia, What would you think of a website in which a cursory glance revealed the following gems?

    • Please contact us if you require I’m quote for any of our services, we aim to reply within …
    • Our word deletion service is tailored towards those whom are restricted by word limits
    • After your documents intense review …
    • Many modern businesses lack the value of it’s workers.
    • Select what ever suits your skill set or time frame …
    • Work as little or often as you like, when ever you like. All you needs is a computer and …

    You would probably recommend whoever is running this website to employ a proofreader. Then you see that they actually offer “professional proofreading and other editorial services to both business professionals and students including: proofreading, enhanced editing and paraphrasing” and they have “an extremely high error detection rate”.

    This company is “currently recruiting Freelance Proofreaders” so I thought I’d apply. I’m sure I could do a good job for them. My proofreading course teacher stressed the importance of verifying all hyperlinks. The application link took me somewhere completely different, so I didn’t apply. I think I’ll try somewhere else. Perhaps I’ll offer the proofreaders a proofreading service. They need it.

    Not a good advertisement for their services don’t you think?


    • Hilarious, thank you! One of my clients sent me an ad from a lady who advertised herself as a ‘proffesional proofreader’! Thank you, I enjoyed reading this.


  10. Hi, thanks you the size of Himalayan mountains. I received a call from someone who were posing themselves as professional proofreader. Alas! I lost £115 and the guy was just a thug, with no experience at all. Now I am looking for a proofreading company that is real and worth paying to. Any body got a clue please?


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