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Blog > Understanding Publishing – Posted on May 9, 2019

What is Proofreading? And Can You Do It Yourself?

Whether you’re a student, a mechanic, a doctor, or a professional writer, you’ve probably come across proofreading in some form or another — though you might not be aware of it. So much of the work people do these days revolves around the written word. Mistakes in their writing can have a massive impact on their success — which is where proofreading comes in!

In this post, we’ll have a look at the ins and outs of proofreading, from the perspective of experienced proofreaders in the publishing trade.

What is proofreading?

Proofreading is the act of reading written work and marking any errors. These mistakes most commonly involve spelling, grammar, punctuation, and consistency.

In publishing, proofreading comes into play at the very end of the editorial process, after a manuscript has been corrected by a copy or line editor. The proofreader’s job is to comb through the document and look for any mistakes that may have slipped through the cracks. Regardless of how meticulous the writer and editor have been, there will almost always be errors when you’re dealing with a book of 80,000 words or more.

 

Is it just about spelling and grammar?

As well as highlighting where the writer has made spelling and grammar mistakes, a proofreader will look for consistency issues that could hamper the reading experience. This would include:

  • Ensuring that any web links go to the right webpage
  • Checking that the index matches the content
  • Confirming that the layout doesn’t fluctuate throughout the work
  • Making sure that the images have correct captions
  • Verifying that the copy adheres to the author’s chosen style guide

Proofreaders will not usually copy-edit, meaning that they won't make changes directly to the manuscript. Their primary job is highlighting potential mistakes, allowing the writer or editor to make the final decision.

What is a proof?

The ‘proof’ in ‘proofreader’ comes from the publishing term describing an early printed copy. Traditionally, typesetters would arrange letters tiles onto large plates. These plates would then be used to print pages of a book. But before they would start churning out thousands of copies, a ‘proof’ version would be sent to the publisher — who would then read it, looking for mistakes.

With modern digital publishing (and computerized printing methods), proofreading is now usually done on a computer — though some proofreaders still prefer marking up physical copies.

 

Can you proofread your own work?

Many writers can and do proofread their own work. Simply reading back something you’ve written will usually reveal typos and ungainly passages. In situations where your writing isn’t intended for a massive audience (for example, in an email to your boss), you can usually rely on an online spelling and grammar checker such as Grammarly to catch any major mistakes.

However, when it comes to a longer piece of writing meant for wider consumption — like, say, a book — there’s still nothing that can beat a trained professional.

Who should use professional proofreading?

In traditional publishing, every book will be proofed before it’s released to the public. If a reader were to find more than a handful of typos or grammatical mistakes in a novel, for example, it could negatively color their reading experience (and damage the publisher’s reputation).

In self-publishing, where independent authors often look for ways to reduce their costs, proofreading is becoming a non-negotiable part of the editorial process. As indie authors become more professional in their approach, the specter of the “poorly edited self-pub book” is quickly becoming a thing of the past.

Outside of trade publishing, proofreaders will often find work in areas such as academia, journalism, and even advertising. In some corporate settings, they can even be hired to check through slide decks before presentations.

How much does a professional proofreader cost?

Based on statistics from Reedsy’s marketplace, proofreading a book costs $10 per thousand words, on average.

Of course, this is only a ballpark figure and the final rate will depend on a number of other factors. For example, if the proofreader needs to cross-check the index, this would naturally escalate the cost.

In non-publishing industries, costs may also vary. A proofreader with a deep background in technical writing may choose to charge extra for their expertise, for example. But whatever the cost, you can be sure that getting a professional proofreader is worth it. They might just be the difference between a few frustrating typos and a perfectly polished piece.


Looking for a proofreader? Sign up for a free Reedsy account and browse through the best freelancers in the business.