If you're thinking about self-publishing a book, there 's something you need to know about prepping your prose before you go public: Proofreading is the last thing you need.
Begin on the starting blocks
When I say proofreading is the last thing you need, I mean it literally. Proofreading is the final stage in the editorial process prior to publication.
The self-publisher who moves straight from writing to proofreading is trying to win the race by starting on the finish line.
And unless you’re an extraordinary self-editor, you’ll be disappointed because it’s likely your book won’t be ready for market.
Retain control but mimic the mainstream
The beauty of self-publishing is the control you have over the process – you get to write the book you want on your terms. This means:
Still, the mainstream publishing industry knows a thing or two about producing books, and so they should – they’ve been doing it for long enough. And in their production world, proofreading comes last.
This isn’t because it’s less important than the previous stages of editing, or easier, or quicker, but because it’s the final quality-control check to pick up what the interior designer, copy-editor, line editor and even a developmental editor missed – anything from an inconsistent character’s name to a misplaced apostrophe, a missing page number to a misspelled word, a rogue paragraph indent to an incorrectly formatted reference.
This staged approach to editorial production, carried out by fresh, specialist sets of eyes, increases the likelihood that when the book hits the shelves – even the digital ones – most of the errors will have been fixed.
If you mimic the mainstream publishing industry when you self-publish, you reach for the same bar.
The different stages of editing
When it comes to the different stages of editing, things are complicated by the fact that there are no universally applied terms used within the publishing industry or by the thousands of independent editors and proofreaders. However, what the industry doesn't disagree on is the order.
Here's a framework to help you visualize the process:
This is the big-picture work that focuses on stuff like structure, plot, pace, narrative point of view and characterization. Terminology varies but look out for the following: developmental editing, content editing, substantive editing, story editing or structural editing.
This is sentence-level work that focuses on flow, form, readability and engagement. You might hear it called line editing or stylistic editing.
This is sentence-level work that focuses on correct and consistent spelling, grammar, punctuation and layout. It might include fact-checking, too. It’s usually referred to as copyediting.
This is the quality-control stage that picks up anything missed beforehand. This is where proofreading comes into play. If working on designed page proofs, the proofreader will also be checking that the layout matches the brief.
Be realistic: artistry versus wizardry
Some new writers think that hiring a round of proofreading will be enough to make their book ready for market. It comes as a shock, not least to the wallet, when they realize what mimicking the mainstream publishing industry will entail.
However, I promise you this – a proofreader will not be able to fix 14,000 spelling, punctuation and grammar errors, strengthen the narrative arc, and omit all the wordiness – all in one pass – and hand the file back to the writer with a guarantee of perfection attached to the invoice.
8 tips for self-publishers on a budget
Here are some ideas that will help you make the tough decisions. Click on the image to save and download your own copy of the infographic.
Last but not least … the proofreader
One pass is not enough. Proofreading is an essential part of the self-publishing process, but it’s only one part. Staged editing isn’t cheap – ask any mainstream press – but it’s the surest way to professional self-publishing that turns discerning readers into fans.
And fans won’t just buy this book; they’ll buy every book you’ll ever write.
Louise Harnby is a fiction copyeditor and proofreader who specializes in helping self-publishing writers prepare their novels for market.
She is the author of several books on business planning and marketing for editors, and runs online courses from within the Craft Your Editorial Fingerprint series. She is also an Advanced Professional Member of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders. Louise loves books, coffee and craft gin, though not always in that order.
Visit her business website at Louise Harnby | Proofreader & Copyeditor, say hello on Twitter at @LouiseHarnby, or connect via Facebook and LinkedIn.
If you're an author, take a look at Louise’s Writing Library and access her latest self-publishing resources, all of which are free and available instantly.
'Louise uses her expertise to hone a story until it's razor sharp, while still allowing the author’s voice to remain dominant.'
'I wholeheartedly recommend her services ... Just don’t hire her when I need her.'
J B Turner
'Sincere thanks for a beautiful and elegant piece of work. First class.'
'What makes her stand out and shine is her ability to immerse herself in your story.'
'A million thanks – your mark-up is perfect, as always.'
All text on The Editing Blog and on the other pages of this website (unless indicated otherwise) is in copyright © 2011–20 Louise Harnby.
© Louise Harnby 2011/20
Want to thank someone special with the gift of editorial training? Find out more about my training gift vouchers.