A lesson in proofreading
We live and learn. Not everyone can afford to pay $1000 to have his or her ms proofread. I thought that if 3-4 people, boasting a BA or an MA in the English Language, proofread my novel, my ms is likely to be free of all but, say, 3-4 errors, omissions or spelling mistakes. I was wrong.
Recently I had a series of disagreeable experiences. They all had to do with, so-called, ‘proofreaders’. The first was a fellow who claimed experience as a newspaper reporter. He ‘proofread’ my novel for $100, found a dozen typos, a few commas and other punctuation irregularities. Having paid him, I noticed that some 80 pages in the second part of the book had no corrective markings at all. Evidently he must have found my ms perfect. At least I thought so, until the next proofreader discovered another dozen little errors. I felt a mixture of joy and anger. I was glad the second reader found the errors, I was angry for having been taken for a $100. After a 3rd reader, a girl who claimed a Master’s Degree in English from a University and who claimed to be teaching English, met with similar success (i.e.: a dozen or so typos/commas) and cost me another $100, I went to print.
I should mention that an ‘editor’ had preceded all three ‘proofreaders’. While he (also a BA in English) had some seemingly good ideas, he was completely ignorant of the intricacies of the English language. He charged me $300. For a while I continued to make do with such amateurs, tolerating their ineptitude for the want of a competent editor or proofreader.
I do not count my friends who also read all my books, each picking up a mistake or two, doing their best. They didn’t charge me, of course.
And then I got lucky. I came across a lady in the USA who, in addition to editing a magazine, claimed to be a gifted proofreader. By then I was very sceptical, but, let’s face it, I had little to lose. I sent her a copy of my now published novel and, for a smile and a box of chocolates found 900+ mistakes. That’s almost 3/page. Her corrections included commas and other punctuation marks, spacing, spelling, grammar, tenses, hyphenation etc. She is now on my regular payroll. She’s a professional and refuses to accept any money from me until I am completely satisfied. I'm lucky. She costs me less than the bunch of BAs and MAs I hired in the past.
Now, this might not speak well of my own perspicacity––to have allowed so many slips in my ms. I write, however, intuitively, do a single rewrite, and pass it to editors/proofreaders. This, I thought, would enable me to write twice as many novels (it takes me approx. six months to research it, seven weeks to write, and twice as long to ‘rewrite’ 100,000 word novel). Of course, I don’t sleep much… In the past, a secretary would clean up the copy––now we tend to rely on a computer. Hence the number of errors.
The moral of the story is as follows. Do not encourage mediocrity by paying for work badly done. Friends are good to give you feedback on the story line but they are no proofreaders. Have a chapter done by a professional, then offer the pre-corrected version to whomever you wish to entrust the proofreading job. If they find 90% of errors found by the professional, pay them. Otherwise you will be sorry and, in the end, it will cost you twice as much money. And don’t ever kid yourself that you will find your own errors. Your eye will skim over them.
I should mention that since I went through the above experiences, I now find at least 3-4 errors in most books produced by big ‘famous’ publishing houses. No one seems immune from mediocrity that is creeping into our profession. But the amusing thing is that the more inept the proofreaders are, the more they scream to be paid for their pathetic services. It you withhold their fee, they turn rude, crude and vulgar. Rather like their ‘work’.
PS. This article had not been proofread. What you see is what I wrote. Good luck!