Don’t Forget the Proofreading!

April 22, 2013

There’s hardly a topic more boring than proofreading, but you must proofread your stuff before you send it out to an agent (or, yes, to an editor).

So what is proofreading? It’s a mode of checking written work so that work is in its best form possible.

Proofreading benefits for you, the writer, are:

  • credibility
  • professional image
  • knowledge demonstration (of grammar, punctuation, spelling, capitalization, and format, genre, etc.)
  • stress reduction (you know you’re sending out a quality product, so you don’t have to stress over it–just move on to the next article or column or character, etc.)

Most writers would rather be creating than proofreading, so start by creating a positive proofreading environment with these steps.

  • Create a schedule that includes timelines, due dates, and reader (editor/agent/customer/etc.) expectations.
  • Figure out your best time (some are morning people, others night people, others afternoon), and block out proofreading time when you are most alert.
  • Eliminate distractions. Yes, you can turn off the phone, ignore email, or close your door and survive for an hour or so.
  • Focus on what you’re proofreading. That means you put away your other projects during proofreading.
  • Keep reference material within reach–if you only use online references such as dictionaries, grammar books, style books, etc., you must be disciplined to go back to proofreading once you’ve found the answer to your question online.
  • Work in comfort. If your chair isn’t the appropriate height or your lighting is inadequate, you won’t focus on proofreading until you get comfortable anyway, so why not start out that way?

Finally, here are some things you can do to get over proofreading monotony.

  • Change the time of day you proofread, but stay in your prime time (example: if your prime time is 6:00 am to 9:00 am, start at 7:00 one morning and 7:30 the next).
  • Eat lightly. Snacks can bolster your energy, but heavy meals can bog you down.
  • Change your work pace. If your goal is to proofread six pages every fifteen minutes, consider changing to three every ten minutes, then take a short break in between sessions.
  • If you’re backed up on proofreading, create criteria to help you prioritize. Could be deadline, could be payment rate, could be which project is shorter, could be which project you enjoy most. You decide how to give preference to your project(s), then use your criteria to keep proofreading moving.

Proofreading can be one of the most rewarding steps in your writing. Once you’re done proofreading, you’re ready to send your work out and move on to the next project. How fun is that!

Happy writing!



The Craft of Editing

June 29, 2010

Some writers think of editing as a necessary evil they have to deal with if they want to sell their writing. Others embrace working with their editors because they’ve had good experiences with editors improving the writing.

So what’s the difference? If an editor changes your writing to reflect the editor’s viewpoint or style preference, that’s not a good thing. If an editor comes to your writing with the reader in mind, you’ve got the basis for a good editing experience.

But editing is more than that. Editing also entails following standards–Chicago Manual of Style for books, Associated Press Stylebook for periodicals, and APA (American Psychological Association) for most academic work (although there are other manuals for academic work as well).

When you hire an editor, make sure you check that the editor you hire knows which manual to use and uses the correct one in editing your work. Anyone can say he/she is an editor. In fact, many writers hire English teachers/professors as editors. This may or may not be a good practice, depending on the teacher’s familiarity with when to use which manual. Just because someone knows a verb from a preposition doesn’t make that person an editor–it makes them knowledgeable in that one part of the craft of editing.

You also want to be clear about what type of editor you’re hiring. If you want grammar and punctuation edited, you’ll want to hire a copy editor. If you want content and clarity edited as well, you’ll want to hire a content editor. If you simply want someone to look for typos and check spelling, you’ll want to hire a proofreader.

All of these are part of the craft of editing. But, just as you don’t go to a pediatrician for cardiac care in the elderly, you don’t want to hire the wrong editing expert.

Connecting with an editor you can work with and who respects your voice can make or break your writing career. Whether you’re looking for someone to slash and burn your text down to bare bones (technical writers may be looking for this type of help) or creating fiction that requires an eye for content and timing and detail, you can find the right editor for you.

Happy writing!

What Makes a Good Editor?

April 6, 2010

When I teach my writing and publishing classes, I often get students who tell me they’ve always wanted to become a writer. I also get students who tell me they love finding errors in books and magazines when they read them. Then they tell me they think they want to become editors.

What makes a good editor?

A good editor is well read in many areas. To limit one’s expertise to one or two topics is to limit one’s ability to edit well to those few topics–at least if one wants to do more than edit for grammar or punctuation.

A good editor also needs to be adaptable. Authors have their own voices, and those voices won’t necessarily match the editor’s. Too often editors inflict their preferences on how to word something rather than accept the author’s wording. A good editor may suggest a better way to say something to make the writing more clear to the reader, but does not inflict his/her own voice onto the author’s work.

A good editor should be a bit compulsive. To be overly compulsive is to be disabling, but there’s merit in being compulsive about finding punctuation errors, incorrect word usage, and striving for clarity in writing.

A good editor understands the medium he/she is editing and uses the correct manual for editing that medium. For example, the book publishing industry uses The Chicago Manual of Style. Academia relies on the American Psychological Association (APA) for business and management, but on Modern Language Association (MLA) for other academic disciplines. Periodicals use the Associated Press Stylebook.

Finally, a good editor is self-disciplined. By that I mean a good editor understands the importance of deadlines and works to make sure every deadline is met. Sometimes that means shifting work priorities. Sometimes that means working long hours. Sometimes that means giving up lunch or a weekend event.

Whether you aspire to become an editor or are searching for an editor, you now have more information on what it takes to be good at editing.

Happy writing!