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The blurred lines of proofreading and copy-editing

Posted on 4th September 2016

I was recently asked to proofread a well-written piece of fiction. There were no spelling errors, a few erroneous commas and a bit of minor formatting to change but that was about all that fell into the traditional proofreading remit. However, the book was for an independent author and though I have written about a manuscript's ideal process flow and Lisa Poisso has got a clear diagram representing the process in more detail, I know that I often proofread fiction that has perhaps only been read by the author and maybe one or two other people.* It's then not uncommon for me to find issues in the 'final' file that should have been picked up earlier and this is where I throw caution to the wind for the confines of proofreading and make comments that really should have been dealt with at an earlier stage. In the recent bit of work, some examples included an issue in the plot where something happened and then appeared not to have happened, a phrase was used that really didn't seem to work, a brand name was used where it might have been easier to keep it generic, and there was a minor point-of-view query.

In these sorts of instances, I just make a note on the file for the author to review and, touch wood, so far, no authors have complained. I don't intentionally look for plot issues if I'm proofreading, nor will I keep crib sheets about characters or timelines, but if something stands out, I will add a query.

It thankfully doesn't happen often but I have also occasionally started proofreading a file, realised that there are too many issues to query and have suggested the author goes back up the chain, so to speak, and have pointed the author in the right direction to someone offering a critique or developmental editing, for example.

This doesn't mean it's OK to ask for a proofread and expect to pay that rate in the hope of actually getting a copy-editing service but hopefully shows that as long as there are no cost implications (in traditional publishing, making hefty changes at proofread stage can be expensive) and the author is happy to receive comments, the service can go beyond the traditional proofread.

* I contacted Lisa to confirm she's happy for me to link to her site and the only request was that I make it clear her flowchart refers to 'blind' proofreading and not proofreading against copy. It hadn't even crossed my mind to mention this as I haven't proofread against copy for any fiction clients and certainly not for self-publishers. For those who perhaps aren't clear about the distinction, put simply, 'blind' proofreading is where the proofreader is sent the manuscript and no previous versions. 'Proofreading against copy' is where the proofreader is sent the copy-edited file as well as the final file and they check that the amendments requested by the copy-editor have been implemented correctly, as well as checking no new errors have slipped through.

Written by Kate Haigh.