What do self-publishers need? The proofreader’s perspective

Monographer writes: In ‘Why not a master’s in editing?‘ I nominated some editors and proofreaders who consistently produced high-quality content on social media. One of them was Louise Harnby (@LouiseHarnby on Twitter). Recently I invited Louise to contribute a guest blog, which I am now delighted to host here. I will be publishing a review of Louise’s book, Business Planning for Editorial Freelancers, shortly.

Louise Harnby writes: With the boom in self-publishing, the number of enquires I receive from independent authors looking for a proofreader has increased markedly in the past couple of years. For the editorial freelancer, the self-publisher is a potentially lucrative market.

This proofreader, however, has a conscience. It would be easy for me to take the cash of every budding author who came my way. But in truth many of the indie books that I’m asked to work on are simply not ready for proofreading. Some of them aren’t even ready for copy-editing.

These texts would benefit instead from a professional critique by a development editor who assesses how the book works overall – with fiction, examples might include what its strengths and weaknesses are, whether the plot is structured well, the degree to which the different elements of the book support each other, and how the character point-of-view functions.

Even if the book’s in good shape structurally, a wise prior investment will be the hiring of a copy-editor – someone who can review the text line by line to ensure that it’s readable, logical, grammatical, that the style and format are consistent, and that any factual errors or legal issues are drawn to the author’s attention.

In the self-publishing market, the line between copy-editing and the final polish that a proofreader provides is often fuzzy. Many first-time authors know little about the editorial process and the term “proofreader” is often misunderstood as some catch-all function describing someone who will “sort everything out”. Getting a manuscript into a publishable state, however, requires a lot more than proofreading.

A lack of experience with regard to writing (let alone publishing, marketing and distribution) can leave indie writers vulnerable, with disastrous consequences: (1) they end up wasting money on a freelancing skill set that is inappropriate for their stage in the process and (2) the hard graft they’ve put into creating their book will be worthless because it’s still not fit for market.

I have therefore created a set of brief guidelines for first-time authors who ask me to proofread for them – information to help them decide whether they are ready to work with me.

The guidelines – available here – outline the various types of editorial input they might consider, from beta-reader feedback, to ghost writing, to substantive editing, to copy-editing, to proofreading. Then there’s a brief section on financial assessment that acts as a gentle reminder of how difficult it is to earn the kind of income stream that 50 Shades of Grey author EL James is enjoying (a lot of erotica lands in my inbox these days).

Next there’s a marketing summary that urges newbie authors to consider their promotion plan: ideas, tools and knowledge centres for the writer-cum-marketeer. Then comes a short overview of just a few of the distribution channels available for the self-publisher.

And, finally, there’s a short but comprehensive list of resources: links to books, blogs and online resource centres for writers (self-publishers and those considering submitting to agents or publishing houses).

Editorial freelancers have a moral obligation to ensure that the service they’re providing is appropriate. We can’t guarantee fame or financial feast. What we can do is guide potential clients down the right track in order to help them make good choices. For the proofreader, perhaps more than any other editorial service provider, this can mean sending clients elsewhere.

If that sounds like a tough call in a less than robust economy, take the long view. Providing a good service – the right service – leads to a good rep. And a good reputation is golden. I am indeed a proofreader for hire, but only if the writer is ready for me.

Website: Louise Harnby | Proofreader

Blog: The Proofreader’s Parlour

Twitter: @LouiseHarnby

For information about the different types of editorial intervention, visit the Society for Editors and Proofreaders’ FAQs and the Writers & Artists section on Editorial Services.

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