Right off, let’s define the terms. “Proofreading” is usually thought of by people outside the publishing industry as what is actually editing. The editor works on the book at the manuscript stage, marking grammatical and spelling mistakes, querying inconsistencies and awkward phrasing and verifying facts, among other things. The proofreader works on comparing every word of the manuscript with every word of the proof, checking correct word breaks, making sure that all editorial changes were input, and making sure that elements of the work are placed according to design specifications.
Most know that proofreaders are not supposed to make substantive changes to a manuscript or go against the style sheet provided by the editor, but they do serve as an additional reader. The proofreader is expected to pick up any mistakes the others missed, as no one is perfect.
Proofreading vs. Editing
Proofreading is a tough job, even for someone with a good memory like me. It’s difficult to hold more than a few words in your head at a time without leaving out a comma or mixing up any of the words or details. For instance, if Mike is a balding man of 40 in chapter 6, he must still be a balding man of 40 in chapter 18. I have even come across sudden name changes that were not supposed to change. It was just the author’s oversight/error. It can be intensely time-consuming and tedious, but also very rewarding.
People often wonder how proofreaders manage to do so much in such a short time. It is hard to get a handle on exactly how each operates within his or her time frame. It seems each proofreader has his or her style and that is what makes it so useful across the board. Learning to proofread and edit is a skill that surely has great latitude. It can make one quite a hot commodity, as writers will never stop writing, and our expertise will always be sought after. I dare say this is a profession that is somewhat recession-proof!
The bottom line is to be appreciative of your proofreaders and editors! We are truly your last line of defense against mistakes in your novel. We want your writing to perfectly present you to your public.
Originally posted 12/24/2009 and happily updated 11/14/2017. Thanks for reading!