Kateproof offers an affordable and efficient proofreading service

Proofreading service for fiction authors

Posted on 24th February 2017

I thought I'd start this post briefly by explaining what my proofreading service involves when I work for a publisher on fiction. In my experience, I've been sent a PDF of the file to proofread 'blind' (this means I don't get sent the copy-editor's file to compare it with). I then mark the PDF up for any errors in spelling, grammar, punctuation and format. I also check headers/footers and pagination but that's more or less it. On one occasion, I found an anomaly in numbers of characters in a car (at one point four people were mentioned and another five) so I raised this as a query but in theory, all these issues will have been dealt with in the numerous editing stages prior to the typesetter doing their work.

When I work for independent authors, the files have rarely been through the numerous editorial stages and even more rarely have they been typeset. This means that there are no cost implications in my amendments and queries in the Word file and my remit is often therefore expanded.

This is why it is essential for me to see a representative sample of a manuscript before I quote: I need to determine exactly what level of service is required, whether I think I am suitable for that job and how long I think the work will take before I provide a fixed fee quote.

It is important to note that it is rare for a book to go to one proofreading stage and be ready to publish; almost all successful books have been through various stages of critiques, edits and reviews.

Some examples of my proofreading service for independent authors

I have worked with independent authors who have agents and are still looking to sell their books to publishers. In these cases, the authors and their agents have usually edited the work extensively and I am sent a fairly polished manuscript, albeit in Word (i.e. not typeset or formatted). In these instances, my service is most akin to a proofreading service I offer publishers, focusing on the spelling, grammar, punctuation and format, but I have been known to provide my personal feedback on books in these scenarios, especially if I'm part of the target audience. Work for independent authors without agents but who have been through the editing and copy-editing process is also usually at this level.

I work with some authors who have been writing and publishing for years and either they self-edit or work with beta readers to help them finalise their stories. Again, I work on a Word file but my remit is a little wider, including the bread-and-butter elements of a proofreading service but also often picking up on language or plot queries, raising these issues in comments balloons and letting the author deal with them. This service might nowadays be called a proof-edit, combining elements of a copy-edit with a proofread but in one stage, with no final check. This requires the author to be confident that they can deal with the queries and implement changes without getting them checked again, or like I had with a recent client, any sections heavily changed can be re-sent to me to check again.

I also get queries from writers asking for me to proofread their work, but when I see the sample, it is clear that it needs to start higher up the chain as I like to say and I often recommend a manuscript critique or assessment or sometimes the use of beta readers. Though I am not a developmental editor and I don't offer critiques or assessments, if I see a sample and think work is required on the overall story, including points of view and tense, I will recommend that the author addresses those issues before the copy-edit or proof-edit. It is worth me highlighting here that a copy-edit is not an 'edit' – the latter is done by a developmental editor (sometimes called a substantive, structural or content edit) and is a completely separate process from the copy-edit.

How do proofreading and copy-editing services differ for independent authors?

Rather than reinventing the wheel, the FAQs on the CIEP's website have plenty of details about the differences between a copy-editing and proofreading service. Hopefully my simplified table below helps clarify what my service includes depending on the terminology.

Proofreading Proof-editing Copy-editing
Correcting spelling, grammar and punctuation Y Y Y
Consistency (e.g. spelling variations, hyphens, capitals, italics) Y Y Y
Formatting – checking/correcting inconsistencies Y Y Y
Formatting from scratch N Y Y
Suitability for audience, including word choice N Y Y
Dealing with repetition and wordiness N Y Y
Minor plot/character issues/inconsistencies but not overall story or structure N Y Y
Fact checking* N Y Y
Content and structure N N Y**
Legal issues*** N N Y
Will there need to be a further check after this stage? N N**** Y

Ultimately, there are so many approaches to writing, editing and self-publishing (or submitting to agents) that it's impossible for me to cover all possible eventualities in this post. I've had numerous exceptions over the years but this is a summary of the 'norm' and hopefully helps show a bit more about the services I offer.

* Fact checking in fiction can relate to issues such as dates/days matching, a reference to a political situation being correct or journey times from A to B being 'realistic' (within reason – if the book is science fiction and new transport means have been created, I obviously can't verify their speeds :-).

** This does NOT include developmental/structural editing so does not involve looking at the overall plot/story and the flow.

*** I am not a lawyer and do not have a background in libel/defamation law. I will point out potentially contentious text but all responsibility rests with the author.

**** It depends on the work done and number of queries. My service is a one-stage process, but it might be that a final proofread is still required.

Edited in March 2020 after the Society for Editors and Proofreaders became the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading.

Written by Kate Haigh.