There are a lot of misconceptions about proofreading concerning what it means and what a proofreader does. Most often, it is confused with copyediting because the responsibilities of a copyeditor and the responsibilities of a proofreader closely overlap. If explained in simple terms, however, proofreading is easy to understand. Quite literally, it refers to reading the proof of a book, so first, you have to understand what a proof is.
A book’s manuscript refers to a book written on plain, 8 ½ by 11-inch paper, most often double-spaced, during the process of writing. Similarly, a proof is what the book is called after it’s been typeset, meaning an interior designer/formatter has designed the book and set all the text into a file. This file will then be saved as a PDF; it is the one that the author uploads into the self-publishing site as the “interior file” to be printed. It doesn’t matter whether the book remains in a PDF format or if it has been printed, the term proof is used for both. Some proofreaders will even look at the book both electronically and physically to ensure that they don’t miss anything. Because of this, it’s highly recommended that the proof is printed (a proof copy is ordered) so that the proofreader can use it for markup (writing directly in the book) and for the author to see for themselves.
What Does a Proofreader Check?
A proofreader will pay special attention to proper names, numbers, and foreign words, as these are problem areas. They will also mark anything that the copyeditor has missed, such as spelling, grammar, punctuation, or factual errors. Note that a proofreader will not be looking for errors in tone or syntax like a copyeditor or line editor does.
A proofreader will go through your proof line by line to make sure that the formatting is correct. This means that the starting paragraphs are all flush left, the indented paragraphs are all the same, the chapter numbers and/or titles are consistent, and so forth. They will also check for consistent margins, alignments, type size and spacing, recognizing widows & orphans, ragged edges, etc. In non-novel books, formatting includes the style and numbering of heads, citations, tables, figures, and illustrations.
Errors Incorporated by the Designer
Designers are human and are prone to making mistakes like everyone else. This is very rare, but sometimes they might incorporate a mistake into the book during the design process. Designers are careful to only copy and paste your text, but small errors are still possible.
Proofreading is by far the cheapest service in the editing industry, but that doesn’t mean that the average author is skilled enough to do the job. While some people opt to do their own proofreading to save money, there are always going to be things that they miss. The items mentioned above are only a few of the duties that proofreaders perform, and I can tell you now that they are an invaluable set of eyes on your book.
As an author, it’s fair to say that you know less about the process of making a book than those in the editing industry. They have been professionally trained, so don’t feel bad if they use terms that you’re unfamiliar with. I encourage you to ask about anything that you don’t understand. I say this because an author asked me the other day “what exactly is a style sheet?” because they are used in various parts of the book editing and design process.
A style sheet is the blueprint of your book. It’s what tells your editors and designers how your book should be put together. It discusses broad topics (such as the dictionary, the font, the way italic or numbers are handled in text) to the smallest details (specific words you’ve made up and how they’re used). The style sheet is usually based on a house sheet; big publishing companies base everything they publish from the same template and make changes for each book. If you’re self-publishing, you can start your style sheet from scratch, or rather, ask your copyeditor to make you one; it’s almost always included in their services.
Your freelancers will build up the style sheet together. Your copyeditor will add the dictionary and the individual words, and your designer will add the formatting rules. Once the designer is finished, that’s where the proofreader comes in. They won’t add anything to the sheet; instead, they’ll use it as they’re checking everything over, so be sure to provide it to them!
What Does a Proofreader Cost?
As I said, a proofreader is the least expensive of all the editing services. On Reedsy, it will cost you about $15.00 CDN per 1000 words, but it can be as low as $5.00/1000 words. Be sure to look over your potential proofreader’s portfolio and ask for a sample reading so that they know more about the problem areas of your proof, and as a way to properly vet them.
Something that some proofreaders do is combine their services with copyediting for a cheaper combined price (about $22.00/1000 words on Reedsy rather than $21.00/1000 and $15.00/1000 separately). It is possible for an editor to do copyediting and proofreading for the same book, and it’s a win-win for both the editor and the author. It guarantees the editor the work, and the author doesn’t have to pay the costs twice to separate people.
*Please note that getting a combined service doesn’t mean that the editor will only go over it once. It means that they’ll perform the copyediting duties, then wait for the book to be typeset before performing the proofreading duties. That way, they’ll be able to see the document in two forms (before and after design) and there is a break in between so they’re less likely to miss errors.
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