Kateproof offers an affordable and efficient proofreading service

A proofreader's take on reading for pleasure

Posted on 17th February 2016

In 2017, I decided I would try and make time to read for pleasure. I used to read a lot but I had got out of the habit so decided this was the year to get back into it. However, I never quite switch off from proofreading mode, and find myself wondering about the nuts and bolts of the text.

In the past few years, this perhaps distracted me from the story and meant I didn't really enjoy reading for pleasure as much as when I didn't spend all day proofreading and copy-editing texts. However, with my decision to try and read more, I also thought that I would refocus how I view these little dalliances with the day job and instead view it as Continual Professional Development. OK, so I don't mean I will offset the cost of books as a result but if I do get distracted when reading for pleasure, I can see it as a learning point rather than an annoyance.

After all, it's important for me to stay up to date in the world of publishing and reading certainly covers an element of that.

What sort of things do I notice?

For example, I find myself taking mental notes on how someone formats certain elements, such as line breaks. In print books, a single line space and no indent on the new paragraph is fine but in ebooks, that single line break sometimes isn't clear enough. Do ebooks then use more than one line space or perhaps insert some symbols into the one line to make it clearly a break?

The age-old question of what an author considers to be a speech tag also rears its head quite often, and it's something I regularly query with my clients. Can someone actually 'breathe' a sentence? How distracting is it when an author uses he said/she said all the time versus all manner of synonyms and alternatives? And how does the dialogue break if it's a non-speech tag? What sort of spacing is used, size of dash and location? I sometimes even look at these elements of a book before I read it, so that it doesn't distract me, but I enjoy looking at these aspects of the work and thinking about what I as a reader like.

Recently, I read a book that was inconsistent with breaks to dialogue and I found it distracting; I don't think I'd have minded any consistent approach to it but the lack of style made me wonder if something different was meant each time a new dash or ellipsis style was used. I think it was an error or oversight, not a stylistic preference, but thankfully the book was sufficiently good and the writing style entertaining that I won't hold it against the author (or the publisher, copy-editor or proofreader).

The wider picture

One of the advantages to reading lots is that many of the style guides that I use for my non-fiction work err on the side of prescriptive language: it's more black and white. I think fiction is less clear-cut, and the scope to play with language, style and format means that these generic style guides can seem too restrictive or rigid for fiction. By reading for pleasure, I get to see how spellings evolve (e.g. there seems to be a tendency to combine words and not use hyphens) and grammar too (e.g. whom is dying in modern fiction, even in some classical too – I sent a recent client a link to some Jane Austen text to show that even then, whom wasn't used in all instances where it might formally be 'correct').

Like all walks of life, money needs to be made and I am very aware of the financial pressures on publishers and self-publishers to get their books out there. I think there's a fine line between errors and random styles being an interesting aside but if editing and proofreading services are cut too far, these distractions will become too great for me and I'll have to put the book down and move on... After all, that was a lesson I learned as an adult: life is too short to have to finish a book you don't like. GCSE English literature might have made me finish reading something I didn't like, but I don't have to do that with reading for pleasure.

Written by Kate Haigh.