Why proofreaders are worth their weight in ... books
When you think of a proofreader, what springs to mind? Is it:
(a) a rather Dickensian-looking individual with glasses perched on nose, hunched over paper or screen whilst ferreting through copy in the eager anticipation of errors they can mark up with unrestrained glee? Or
(b) a more laid-back approach, the reader sprawled on a sofa and lazily digesting the latest project to arrive in their inbox, along with a large box of Celebrations? Or
(c) a combination of the two (if that's even possible)? Or
(d) someone with a very particular skill to offer, a highly trained eye, excellent judgement when it comes to making editorial decisions and who, quite frankly, deserves every bit of chocolate that comes their way?
You see, it's easy to underestimate the power of a professional proofread, perhaps especially if you're a first-time self-publisher who wants to get their book out there in the shortest amount of time with minimal production costs. Or if you've worked long and hard on your website copy and it's been checked and double-checked by Richard in Accounts, so surely it must be good to go.
Richard in Accounts is no doubt a first-rate reader, as may be your mum, your brother-in-law and your Great-Aunt Mildred, but being a good 'reader' isn't at all the same thing as being a good 'proofreader' and it's important to make that distinction.
Professional proofreaders have a lot of responsibility. They know they're being entrusted with other people's precious words. They are often the final link in the production chain. It's up to them to catch whatever errors have been missed; whatever inconsistencies have been overlooked. Their job is to spot and correct wrong spelling, punctuation and grammar mistakes; to make sure any house-style has been adhered to throughout; to check the right fonts have been used in the right places; to see that running heads are accurate, page numbers run consecutively, and that those in the list of contents reference the right pages in the text; to ensure the layout is correct in terms of spacing and alignment; to read not only for sense, but also to register the accuracy (or not) of every single word.
Proofreaders are trained to look for the tiny details, as well as to appraise the overall layout. It's not about snuggling up for a couple of hours for a comfy, relaxing read, or savouring the opportunity to indulge in a spot of unnecessary criticism. As with most jobs, it's actually hard graft. You have to concentrate, really concentrate. A lapse in concentration could mean a lapse in the ultimate quality of someone else's hard work. How frustrating to receive your freshly published book, or peruse your newly live website, only to find the errors that the lapses in concentration or the untrained eye allowed to slip through; the errors that your readership may well have already found and just can't resist highlighting on social media.
Competition abounds. To compete with the best, at the very least your work needs to be presented to its best advantage. Now, I'm not saying that proofreaders are infallible. No one's infallible. But good proofreading needs to be recognised as a skill that, quite rightly, should be properly charged for. Proofreaders really are worth their weight in books. Not a stack of cheap paperbacks. But beautifully produced, solidly bound hardcovers - with thick pages that smell downright gorgeous.
One of my books for children, Topz Gospels - Matthew, has been shortlisted in the UK Christian Book Awards 2016. To cast your vote, please visit http://christianbookawards.org/my-vote/ and give it a click!