Let’s consider the title of this post for a moment: perfection and proofreading. You might imagine that these two would have a good relationship with each other. In fact, a pretty close one, wouldn’t you think? Look, there they go now, walking down the street, hand in hand. They’re such a good match … hell, they’re made for each other!
Except, there’s a problem.
It turns out perfection is a very demanding partner to be with. Proofreading tries hard, so very, very hard to please perfection. Sometimes, everything works out just fine. They have a happy time together, laughing and hugging and … well, you can fill in the rest. But then there are the other times, the times when proofreading fails to pick up on something about perfection. It might seem only a small thing at the time, a little detail but … well, proofreading just missed it, that’s all. Perfection’s mood darkens. Proofreading feels guilty. They stop talking. Finally, they agree to stop seeing each other for a while.
But guess what? Perfection has a long look in the mirror. Perfection begins to think about all the good things proofreading did while they were together. All those nice things like boosting perfection’s image and esteem. Okay, proofreading didn’t get everything right 100% of the time, but perfection knew how hard proofreading tried and, most importantly, knew that without proofreading, perfection didn’t get anywhere near to living up to the name.
So before you know it, perfection and proofreading are walking down the street again, hand in hand, laughing and hugging and … (cue strings … picture fades to black … The End).
“Yeah, right … nice story,” you might say, “but I’ve just written a masterpiece, a five hundred page period bodice-ripper (with elements of fantasy, sci-fi, crime, police procedural and … yeah, I think that’s everything) and I want it to be perfect. If I’m paying for a proofread, don’t I have a right to expect that?”
Yes, of course. After all, you may be parting with a considerable amount of money for the service. But perfection in proofreading, that is, catching everything – and I mean everything – can be very difficult to achieve, especially if a proofread or proof-edit (the two services I offer) is effectively the only edit taking place.
We, as readers, occasionally encounter books by famous authors published by major companies which contain the odd typo in the finished product. I would hazard a guess that most of us, apart from tutting to ourselves momentarily, are not unduly disturbed by these errors unless they start to mount up significantly. Consider, though, that these books, depending on the budget allocated, may well have gone through several stages of editing: at the very least, a developmental edit, a line edit and/or copy-edit, and a proofread (not to mention the author’s input along the way).
So what should you expect, as an independent author, let’s say, if your budget only allows for one round of editing/proofreading? Does that mean your work will still be riddled with errors once it’s been worked on? And doesn’t all the above just sound like someone getting their excuses in early?
Firstly, every editor and proofreader starts out wanting exactly what you want for your project – 100% perfection. Not one of us wants any errors to get through, and on those rare occasions when anything major does, then it’s always, always embarrassing to us as professionals.
I still wake up in a cold sweat about the first mistake I made on my first job – failing to spot a spelling error IN THE VERY FIRST WORD IN THE TITLE! It was unpaid work, done as a favour for a friend just after I’d started my proofreading training, and, mercifully, he was very forgiving. But it’s out there still, somewhere … aargh.
Rest assured, most proofreading slips are not as painful as that one and are much more likely to be relatively minor oversights that, as long as they aren’t too numerous, won’t disturb the average reader.
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, one has to consider how much the editor or proofreader may be putting right in working on your project. Over the course of a 70,000 word typescript, a proofreader may well have to make hundreds if not thousands of small adjustments and corrections. As readers, all this work is invisible, but without it – all that work done “under the bonnet” – an author’s work might lay itself open to all manner of snarky comments in online customer reviews. Lord knows, there’s any amount of pedants out there only too happy to put the boot in whenever they’ve spotted a misplaced apostrophe, a rogue comma or a misused semi-colon. That’s not a good look for any book trying to make its way in the world.
In the end, it’s always beneficial to have your work overseen by an editing professional. If you can afford more than one round of editing, so much the better. But even if you can’t, your work is going to end up in substantially better shape after even just one proofread from a qualified professional than winging it yourself with spellcheck and a once-over from Auntie Flo “who’s very picky about spelling and that”.
Proofreaders are a bit like goalies. They keep clean sheet after clean sheet and then one day in the 89th minute, after playing a blinder, making save after save, they make a mistake that leads to a goal and that’s what everyone remembers. Not the striker with two left feet who’s missed chance after chance, not the manager who’s subbed off the team’s best player at a crucial moment.
So what’s the answer? Simple. Hire a qualified editing professional and you’re much more likely to be playing in front of Gordon Banks. Sadly, Aunty Flo is much more likely to be Loris Karius (sorry, Liverpool fans).
David “Safe Hands” Seaman Jon Turner