How to Become a Proofreader in 6 Simple Steps
Do your friends come to you to edit their essays and e-mails? Do you get annoyed when you come across even the slightest typo? Are you the type of person to read a paper five times over before finally handing it in?
If so, then you might turn out to be a perfect professional proofreader.
Proofreaders require a keen eye and attention to detail, just like any other editors in the publishing business. A proofreader’s work ensures that a manuscript is polished and ready to be read by the wider public, because their inspections are the last stage of the editorial process.
If you have a love for the written word and passion for reading (and re-reading!), then proofreading might be the career for you! Read on to learn more about how to become a proofreader in six simple steps.
1. Understand the scope of a proofreader's work
Proofreading is the last step in the editorial process. A proofreader’s responsibilities include double-checking (and triple-checking) works for errors and mistakes, such as:
- Typographical errors, or “typos”
- Inconsistencies in style or layout
- Awkward page and word breaks
- Missing punctuation and spelling mistakes
- Any other issues that might spoil the reading experience
So how does a proofreader's work differ from that of a copy editor, or a developmental editor? We quickly broke it down for you in this chart:
First things first: a manuscript always starts with the development edit. A developmental editor focuses on the “big picture” of a book, substantively editing that story's character arcs, plot development, and themes. Then the manuscript is passed onto a copy editor, who works on the sentence-level details of a manuscript.
Finally, the proofread follows the copy edit, and is the last major stage of the editing process before publication. Proofreaders are in charge of uncovering any and all mistakes that may have been missed or overlooked in the previous stages of editing. They are the vital “safety net” at the end that ensures that a book is up to professional standards and 100% polished before it's published.
💰 So how much does a professional proofreader make?
According to ZipRecruiter, professional proofreaders make around $25 an hour on average. As of 2020, that means that proofreaders can make up to $51k a year. With that said, proofreaders with more experience and expertise can command even higher fees, with top professionals making between $30 - $35 an hour. Professional proofreaders on Reedsy, for instance, can make anywhere between $600-1,000 for proofing a book manuscript.
2. Figure out your own proofreading niche
Now that you understand what a proofreader does, it's time to figure out where your skills fit into it all. Modern life is dominated by words and print, which luckily means that there’s a wealth of material for proofreaders to, well, proofread. The key to getting a leg up in this industry is to find your own niche. Professional proofreaders have a variety of niches to choose from:
- Website pages
- Blog posts
- Legal documents
- Court reports
Proofreaders who specialize in specific niches can build reputations and experience as editorial experts. That type of renown will come in handy for securing clients down the line!
Let’s take the world of book publishing, where proofreaders often work in certain genres that cater to their strengths and skills. Proofreading a fantasy novel, for instance, may demand sharp attention to the mechanics of an imaginary language. Meanwhile, a proofreader who’s working on a nonfiction book on WWII will be doing a lot of fact-checking.
Either way, that experience you gain in your proofreading niche is valuable. Your niche is your competitive advantage. Figuring it out and determining how you can use your knowledge base will help your career in the long run.
3. Hone your skills to perfection
Of course, it’s not enough to just be passionate about your niche or genre — otherwise, everybody would be proofreaders!
As mentioned earlier, proofreading requires personal investment and dedication to the written word, just like any other type of editing. But on top of that, you must hone your editorial skills if you want to excel as a proofreader. Proofreaders in particular need to have an eye for consistency, tireless work ethic, and willful diligence in their work. And, of course, they need to know their grammatical rules so that they can catch even the most minor mistakes!
With all that said, let’s get into it.
Know your style guides
Style guides are manuals that provide standard guidelines for the formatting and design of various documents. If you’re going to become a proofreader, you’re going to want to know them like the back of your hand.
Which style guides you learn, of course, depends on your niche and the types of texts you’ll work with. At the very least, you should acquaint yourself with the following styles:
- Chicago Style
- APA Style
- AP Style
If your niche is academic or scholarly in nature, you might also want to consider learning MLA and Turabian Style. Knowing these style guides will help you follow consistent rules whenever you’re editing a manuscript.
Practice, practice, practice
The best way for you to practice your skills is to read, read, read. But try reading as a proofreader — not as a mere reader. Whatever you read, scour it for errors, typos, and any formatting inconsistencies. Practice being a perfectionist.
Commit yourself to reading a book a week to train yourself to meet deadlines proactively. Find blogs, articles, and websites online and scrape the texts up and down for errors, mistakes, or stylistic irregularities.
By doing so, you’re training yourself for re-reading, double-checking, and triple-checking any work that comes across your lap — all part of the journey to becoming a better proofreader.
Test your proofreading skills
Now that you’ve studied up and practiced your skills, it’s time to test them out! There are tons of tests out there, ranging from multiple-choice quizzes to textual exercises, that are great for gauging your ability to find and recognize key errors and inconsistencies. For some quick tests, check out these sites:
4. Consider getting a proofreading certificate
Here’s the good news: an expensive certificate is not necessary for you to become a professional proofreader. However, accreditation can make securing clients and contracts much easier. If you’re new to proofreading and looking to gain the right skills for the job, then this might be a good path for you to take. A certification can help you hone your eagle eye and give you important practice with real materials.
There are many certificates out there that you can pursue. If you decide to get a proofreading certificate, it’s important to do your research and make sure you’re investing in a program that has appropriate resources, support, and recognition. Here are some good places to start:
5. Find proofreading jobs
Once you’re all trained up in the proofreading department, you’re ready to start finding jobs. But first, a word of warning: beginners in any editorial field often have to take low-paying jobs outside of their specialty or preferred genre. If you manage to weather that challenging stage, you’ll emerge on the other side with the skills — and, most importantly, the proven experience — to pull you through the rest of your proofreading career.
With that said, let’s take a look at what proofreading jobs are waiting out there for you.
Online proofreading jobs
When you start out as a proofreader, you may need to cut your teeth on freelancing sites like Upwork and Fiverr. While sourcing freelance work like this can be frustrating and tiring at times, it’s often a necessary step for building your résumé and gaining the experience necessary to make it as an editor.
If you’re wary of the low rates and scrappy gigs that Upwork and Fiverr offer, consider scouring social media sites like Facebook and Twitter for potential proofreading job offers. For example, Facebook has several copywriting groups that are free to join, where group administrators and members post open roles and contract openings every single day.
You may also want to explore marketplaces that are specialized for your field. Reedsy, for instance, is a proven marketplace for proofreading jobs in book publishing. The platform, which helps to link thousands of self-publishing authors with the best proofreaders in the industry, is simple to access (though rigorously vetted). You can sign up here to apply to become a professional proofreader on Reedsy.
In-house proofreading jobs
Although proofreading jobs generally vary from project to project in all cases, you can expect less flexibility (but more security) when you’re working an in-house job, which typically demands an hourly minimum and some regularity to your schedule.
Of course, there are always the big names in publishing that you can apply for, such as Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster. But remember that you will need to have lots of previous experience to hope to get a job like that. If you’re at an earlier stage in your career, it might be more realistic to contact local publishers first to see if they have any open internships or positions as an editorial assistant. Keep close tabs on individual publisher job boards, and don’t forget the job listings on Indeed and LinkedIn. You might also be better-suited to leverage other niches — for example, if you like chess, why not see if Chess Magazine is hiring for in-house roles?
6. Keep sharpening your skills and developing your résumé
Before you know it, you’ll start finding contracts and jobs with ease and commanding higher wages. But, don’t forget: keep building your résumé! Make sure it’s updated after each article you submit and blog post you publish. You want to always represent yourself and your work accurately — you never know when the next author looking for proofreading will come along!
Proofreading, just like any other editorial job, will come with its challenges. As a newcomer to the business, you’ll likely have to deal with low wages, competitive job prospects, and long (and unexpected!) hours.
But if you put your mind to it and really invest in your craft, then making it as a proofreader will be more than worth it in the long run.