Sunday, October 30, 2016

In Praise of Proofreaders by Mar Preston

We’ve all read bestsellers from the five major publishing companies containing errors that jerk you right off the page.  Misspelled words.  Words jammed together.  Missing words.  Not to mention formatting problems and grammatical goofs.

Yet you will look through a book with yellowing pages in vain for these errors.  I remember my mother and the librarian clucking their tongues over a proofreading error found in a book long ago.  Such errors were rarities.  What has happened?  

  • ·         Self-publishing
  • ·         Proofreading costs have risen

  • ·         Shorter attention spans

  • ·         Over-reliance on electronic proofreading programs


            The bottleneck that once existed between writer and publisher – the agent – no longer ferrets out writers who have not polished their work to a high gloss.  It is a hard lesson to realize that you cannot proofread your own work.

Proofreading Costs

            Costs for professional proofreading have risen and can amount to a significant fee, posing a particular problem for many self-publishing authors.  Proofreaders estimate costs by the hour, page, and word.  I’ve read estimates as high as 6 cents per word for fiction. 

Our Attention Spans

            Advertisers calculate that we now have only a 30-second attention span.  We flit like butterflies from one thought to another.  Proofreading requires a laser-like, sustained focus.

Electronic Proofreading Programs

            While proofreading programs such as spell-check provide a good place to start for an initial check of a document, people can develop a false sense of security using such programs.  A careful review by a patient, trained set of eyes is still needed.

Singing the Praises of My New Proofreader, Mary Goss

            I met Mary Goss a few years ago at a Sisters in Crime convention in Long Beach, which she was attending with author friend Dianne Emley.  She has proofread my last two novels, and I was very pleased with her meticulous work.  Over twenty five years of proofreading legal prose has trained her eye and honed her skills.  

            Mary’s advice to writers is to try to get a second set of eyes to read through your manuscript, as it is difficult to spot errors in one’s own work.  If you cannot afford a professional proofreader, find a detail-oriented person who has strong English skills and at least a slight case of OCD.  

            Find beta readers. These are people who have an interest in you and your work and want to see you do well. Beta readers are fans of crime fiction and willing to read the entirety of your best first draft. Beta readers are somewhat similar to your critique group members, but your critique group may have read Chapter IV seventeen times. Beta readers have fresh eyes. Anyone you can hornswoggle into doing this is valuable to some extent, but most valuable will be the reader who can catch glaring errors.

            Now I expect that Mary Goss may have a built-in level of concentration that may be superior to mine or yours.  She admits to a wee bit of OCD, but this quirky quality is a good thing in a proofreader.  She has likely honed her skills as a proofreader over the 25 years that she has been reading court transcripts.  Practicing a skill over decades certainly would make you better at it.

            Mary would like to expand her business to proofread more works of fiction.  Her contact info is:  iphone, 310-508-9476; e-mail,        

            As author Isaac Bashevis Singer has said, “A writer doesn’t die of heart failure, but of typographical errors.”


Check out my webpage for a boxed set of the first four titles in  "Writing Your First Mystery"


Linda Thorne said...

Oh, so true. Sometimes us authors are immune to our typos. I was working on my 2nd book today (started writing it a long time ago) and noticed that I described the dog's tail in the story using the word "tale." Of course, I know the difference, but I went back through my first drafts of this book, years ago, and found that it has been there, incorrect, all along. I didn't see it.
That is a big problem when proofing your own work. I will say that my publisher found a bunch before my first book was published; however, before I signed off on the final version I thankfully found labtop computer instead of laptop at the last minute and got it changed. I see such errors even in books by bestselling authors with big named publishers.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful--and I agree totally. And yes, in our own writing we see what we THINK we wrote. But, one interesting thing I have noticed--if I get so engrossed in a story I zip along, almost skimming, and then will rarely see a typo or grammatical problem.

I have two friends who read slowly, seeing and savoring each word. They found one problem each in the first two of my eight novels. Both were where necessary name changes throughout (yes, I had used search and find) missed one name. (In one case I had--unknowingly--used the name of my editor's daughter, hence the change. In the other, my protagonist originally had the name of the protag. in another recent novel from that publisher.) Does this mean those were the only two mistakes in those two novels? I can't trust that of course, but no one--including myself--has caught more. As for the other six novels--well how could they possibly be "perfect," no matter how many times edited?

Morgan Mandel said...

It's definitely necessary to have at least one or two extra sets of eyes checking over a manuscript. It's amazing how much can be missed by an author, since at times we see what our mind wants us to see, not what we actually typed.