This is a selection of common questions relating to editing and proofreading. Please choose an item from the list below, or scroll down the page. If you can not find what you are looking for, please contact me with your question.
- Why do I need a proofreader?
- Why do I, the author, need a copy-editor?
- Why do I, the publisher/company/organisation, need a copy-editor?
- How long will it take to proofread or copy-edit my book?
- How much does a copy-editor or proofreader cost?
- What does the copy-editor need to know?
- What does the proofreader need to know?
No-one should proofread their own work: because you know what should be on the page, that is what you see, even if there is an obvious error present. A fresh eye will not see the same pattern as you do, and will pick up the mistakes. A professional proofreader is also trained to keep changes from causing expensive alterations to page layout, so saving you and your company money.
You may have been creating your work over a long period. You know it well enough to recite parts of it from memory. How could anyone else make it better? Unfortunately, familiarity with your text may often keep you from seeing its flaws. You cannot sit down and look at it from the new reader's perspective. But a copy-editor can. More than that, while an ordinary reader may spot the weaknesses but not know how to improve them, a copy-editor is trained to remove infelicities of grammar, to correct spelling, and to re-order a flabby argument to produce one that is tight and cohesive. The copy-editor will also know how to mark up your text for publication, so that it has a smooth run through typesetting and proofreading.
Much of the previous answer is relevant here. A good copy-editor will also ensure that your company/organisation is shown in the best possible light. While few people can write well, many more can spot a poor publication and will assume that such publications are a fair indication of the competence of your company/organisation.
A basic rule of thumb for a straightforward publication is a proofreading rate of about 10 pages per hour with about 300 words per page. However, more complicated texts, or ones that have been inadequately prepared, could take twice or three times as long.
The time required for copy-editing is a great deal harder to quantify, since it depends so much on the state of the author's text, the author's ability to spell and use grammar, the number of facts to be checked, etc. A copy-editor will normally only be able to provide a rough estimate, based on the information you supply about the text and (preferably) a sample of the writing.
Be prepared for your proofreader or copy-editor to produce a revised estimate if they have read part of the copy and found it to be more problematical than originally thought.
Most reputable copy-editors and proofreaders set their minimum rates based on those of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders and the National Union of Journalists. You will be able to find people who will do editorial work for lower rates than these, but they may be untrained or inexperienced or both. Work may be carried out according to an hourly rate, or a fixed sum may be agreed for the whole project. Be prepared for your copy-editor or proofreader to contact you to discuss a revised fee if they find the work to be more problematical than originally thought.
When you send a job for copy-editing, include the following information:
- Enclosures: what exactly have you sent the editor as well as the text – photographs, illustrations, graphs, author's comments? Include a list of these things. Have all computer files been virus checked?
- List of outstanding material: if there is anything still to come, list it – and tell the copy-editor when to expect it.
- Tasks to be performed: give guidance about the depth of editing. Are you expecting minimal intervention, restructuring and/or rewriting, or something in between? Is the editor required to prepare preliminary pages, running headings, cover copy? Should electronic styles, codes, or tags be used?
- Important features: what is the target audience? Is the book in a series? Is there a house style or design specification? (If there is, enclose it.) Are there any exceptions to the house style? Is the work to be published in electronic form?
- Presentation and listing of illustrations: are labels on line drawings to be edited? Should photographs be scaled or cropped? If any are in copyright, has permission for reproduction been obtained? Are any acknowledgements needed? Is the editor required to compile a list of artwork? Who is to write any captions?
- Relevant background: are there any specific requests, for instance, from expert readers? Has anything been agreed with the author or publisher of which the editor should be aware? With whom should the editor liaise about queries? Be sure to give all contact details.
- Agreed fee, expenses, dates: what has been agreed for payment – an hourly rate? a page rate? a flat fee? If an estimate was requested beforehand, ask the editor, once they have seen the material, to confirm or revise it. Which expenses will be reimbursed – for example, postage, photocopying, telephone, travel, printer consumables? When is the edited material to be returned? Ask the editor to contact you immediately if any unforeseen problems come to light that might affect the schedule/budget.
- Administrative requirements: should the editor produce handover notes for the artist, designer, and/or typesetter? You should insure against loss or damage to the contents of anything sent to the copy-editor, such as original artwork (and that includes insuring items in transit). How long should the editor keep copies of electronic files and correspondence after publication?
When you send a job for proofreading, include the following information:
- List of enclosures and outstanding material (and date when this is expected to arrive).
- Tasks to be performed: are the proofs to be read against copy/previous proofs or 'blind'? Is the proofreader to differentiate editorial and typesetter's errors? Is the proofreader to collate their own and the author's proofs? Is the proofread to be carried out on paper or electronically? If electronically, are traditional proofreading symbols to be used or Acrobat's mark-up features?
- Important features: what is the target audience? Is the book in a series? Is there a house style/design specification? (If so, be sure to enclose it.) Are there any exceptions to the house style? Is the work to be published in electronic form?
- Illustrations: are labels on line drawings to be proofread? If any illustrations are copyright, has permission for reproduction been obtained? Do any acknowledgements need to be added (copyright owners sometimes require specific wording)?
- Relevant background: are there any specific requests, for example from the author? Has anything been agreed with the client of which the proofreader should be aware? With whom should the proofreader liaise over queries? Be sure to give all contact details.
- Agreed dates, fee, expenses: when are the proofs to be returned? What is the agreed fee (hourly rate with estimated hours/page rate/lump sum)? Which expenses will be reimbursed (for example, postage, photocopying, telephone, travel, printer consumables)? Ask the proofreader to confirm that they are happy with any estimates once they have seen the job and to contact you immediately if they find unforeseen problems that might affect the schedule/budget.
- Administrative requirements: you should insure against loss or damage to the contents – both at the proofreader's premises and in transit. How long should the proofreader keep copies of electronic files and correspondence after publication?