Proofreading: All You Need to Know

A few tips from Happydesigner proofreader, Nicola.

It’s a question a lot of writers ask: do I need a proofreader? What do they do?

Once you have written your masterpiece, and you finally type the magic words “THE END” at the bottom of the story, you may no doubt sit back and think, it’s done! I’ve finished! Well, by all means allow yourself a little victory dance. This is a fantastic moment and you should feel really proud of yourself. Finishing a book is a huge achievement, and you’ve done what many try to but don’t. However, once the victory lap of the office has been completed, what’s the next step? Well, the question to ask yourself is, “what do I want to do with my story?” If you are happy just to read and re-read it, then great. Go for it! However, if you want to try and make some kind of headway with it in terms of publishing then you need to start getting some thoughts together about what this means. We have already started putting together some blogs for you in this blog area to help navigate this rather bumpy path, but what is the immediate need? Not everyone will agree, but once you have had a chance to edit it a few times yourself (this is another blog in itself, but basically you need to make sure it’s shipshape in your mind. Nobody else can write the book for you, but it needs to be the best version of itself before you let it free) you can look at getting someone to proofread the story. Firstly, let’s look a little at editing your story yourself.

How do I edit my own work?

The important thing to remember when editing your own work is that it will never, ever be perfect. Certainly not in your eyes! But it will also probably still need to be looked over by professional eyes at some point to make sure it’s ready for printing. Now, the bit you can do requires two things. You need to have an open mind. It’s quite difficult to impress how important this is. There’s nothing worse than someone coming to a proofreader and then completely ignoring all the points and changes that they give you. A proofreader has been trained in their work; in the same way you wouldn’t tell a painter how to paint a room in your house, or the chimney sweep how to clean your chimney (and if you do, you’d better be the one working with them on the job!) you have to trust that a proofreader knows what they are doing. When I proofread people’s work I like to point out spelling, grammar and punctuation, but also like to add tips on the story and editing of the style. The second thing you need to do is to be brutal with your own work. Does a sentence read as a bit faffy? Bin it. Is it adding nothing to the story? Bin it! Here’s a bit of a made-up story below:

“Tom decided it was time to go to the shops. He had run out of juice again, after his children had visited, and he was desperate for an ice lolly, as well as some bread. What a day! He had done so much already, he had walked the dogs, he had made a lovely big breakfast and he had drunk three cups of coffee.”

This kind of writing not only takes up a huge amount of space and word count, it’s absolutely unutterably boring. It’s grammatically correct and the spelling is fine, but it needs some heavy editing:

“After a busy morning of walking the dogs and a cooked breakfast, Tom realised he was out of juice. His kids had been with him that weekend, so he had to stock up on other essentials too. It was a hot day, so the lure of an ice cream sent him to the car to head to the supermarket.”

It’s snappier, less boring and more economic. There’s probably more than could be stripped out, because not all of this is relevant. Are the dogs part of the story? Do they serve a purpose? If not, strip that bit out. Do we care if he’s had a cooked breakfast? Probably not. Let’s say the story is about a divorced dad who only gets to see his kids occasionally, and that’s the main conflict in the story:

“Tom nipped to the supermarket after dropping the kids off with their mum. They’d hoovered through all his food this time; even the dogs were out. Tom rewarded himself with an ice lolly too, as the day had turned hot.”

This lets the reader know about the divorce, the fact he has dogs for company and what the weather is like without all the preamble or dullness, or unnecessary facts. So you can edit your own work like this, but you do need to keep in mind: be open minded. Be brutal! Nobody else will know your story like you, which can be a blessing and a curse. You may find you are too precious with it, and that every part of it needs saving. After all, you crafted every word carefully. But this stage is vital, especially if you are looking to publish your work. A great place to start is to read other people’s books, especially if you have a publisher in mind. That way you’ll see what kind of styles they publish, and if they have a preferred editing method. One thing to remember is that if your work gets accepted for publishing, their in-house editor will work on the book for you. But you want it to look as professional as possible, as well as be the best version of the story or book that it can be, before it gets there. You’re more likely to grab a publishers’ attention with a book that reads well. Which leads us onto…

Is It Worth Paying a Proofreader?

So, if your book is picked up by a publisher they will usually have editors that they can use to sort out any kinks in your book. However, if you approach them with a book that requires little work, they’ll be much happier! Every minute worked on your book is money for them, and time they could have used to market or publish your book. Here at Happydesigner, the editing is also in-house. This is a bonus in many ways, not least because you don’t need to search for an editor!

But what if you want to self-publish? If you want to release it on one of the many self-publishing platforms you will want to make sure it has been properly edited and checked. This is when you’ll absolutely want an independent editor and proofreader (these are different, an editor will generally be more likely to suggest changes and make editorial decisions as well as proofreading, whereas a proofreader will check spelling, punctuation and grammar, for the most part).

Most people can check spelling, punctuation and grammar, especially with the help of something like Word. Those red squiggly lines are pretty unequivocal! But as we all know, it’s not the be-all and end-all. Sometimes even these aren’t accurate. For example, “she herd a noise” and “she heard a noise” are both correct on Word, but the first is incorrect. An external editor/proofreader will be able to pick up on these inconsistencies and help you to correct them.

One thing we see quite a lot here at Happydesigner is when people say their work has been proofread, and we later find out it was by a well-meaning friend or relative. With the best will in the world, unless that person is a proofreader or similar, it’s unlikely to have been checked to a professional standard. At the end of the day, it’s your work and you will be the one to enjoy it at the end of the process. But if you want the work to be the best it can be, bringing in a proofreader and/or editor (or if you’re working with us, working with our in-house team) is the best thing you can do to make your book the best, and something to be proud of! Remember: stay open-minded and be brutal with chopping out guff!

A few of my previous clients

happydesigner clients

  • "WOW! Love it! I'm so happy with what you've produced- and with so little input from me. FANTASTIC!!! THANK YOU” - Darren Pascoe: 'Red Rabbit Book'

  • “When we first contacted Sarah, Dainty Dizzy was a concept;  an idea to be shaped into a brand.  Sarah took this idea and illustrated it perfectly….and our brand look and feel was born.” – Dainty Dizzy

  • "Sarah quickly understood what I wanted to achieve and the look I was after. Sarah kept me informed and brought me into the whole process” – Darron Jon Love

  • "The logos are absolutely fantastic, they are spot on brief and are even better than we imagined!Paolo Pini, Step Up To Languages

  • "I hope my recommendation will persuade you to use Sarah! I cannot fault her, for her professionalism, enthusiasm and talent." - Michelle Hawkins, Director: The Flying DoDo

  • “Thank you, Sarah, for the amazing work you did on the illustrations for my book. Working with you has been so easy thanks to your enthusiasm, flexibility, support, professionalism and, of course, the amazing quality of your work." – Stuart Neath

  • “I am so happy that I found Sarah to bring my book to life. Sarah took the time to listen and really made the effort to make sure that I was happy and her brilliant designs translated the words of my book into a beautiful visual story." - Jodie Jackson

  • “I was so nervous ringing you as i've never done anything like this before, but you were so friendly and put me completely at ease.” - Donna Purvis

  • “Books arrived safely today- I am absolutely delighted with how they look – I can’t thank you enough – you’ve made my dream come true :)” – Jane Collins

  • "She has a keen eye for the quirky detail, she is punctual and a joy to work with. I simply cannot praise her enough.” - Clickety Books

  • Sarah really understood the brief right from the beginning and has been able to translate my ideas and mental images, that at times were quite specific, into magical illustrations that are better than I’d ever hoped. She has absolutely nailed it!” – Gareth Edwards

  • "Outstanding illustrator with exceptional talent. You couldn’t wish for a better artist, as it would be impossible to find. Such a spectacular gifted designer who is always happy!" - Rachel Lake

  • "Sarah understood what I was looking for and produced a fantastic logo for me.  She is very approachable and friendly – I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend her” Katie Jarvis, Fancy Prints

  • "These posters and flyers are perfect”
    - Julia G, Manager at the Truro branch of Pets at Home

  • “Sarah’s advice has been invaluable, she could have just illustrated my first attempt but knew there was more to be had from the story and pointed me towards the right help." – Darron Jon Love

  • Sarah is an extremely talented designer and illustrator. She has that rare gift of being able to find something in your business or character that you never knew existed" Craig Green

  • Sarah has a great insight into how to best produce a children’s book and is really helpful in getting you there! I really cannot recommend Sarah enough – brilliant designer, friendly and professional. The experience has been a great one!“ – Jodie Jackson
  • "Sarah is amazing - very fast at understanding the requirements, great pictures and never too much trouble. I recommend her wholeheartedly" - Fernando Caldeira-Saraiva
  • "Sarah loves her work, her friendly ‘can do’ approach is reassuring whether you’re on your first or tenth book."  – Darron Jon Love
  • “Sarah’s re-branding of my business has given it a much needed fresh and quirky feel. She provided us with an extremely friendly courteous and efficient service and injected an energy into the project, that only Sarah could.” – Discovery Leisure

  • “Sarah was lovely to work with and keen to make sure that the illustrations were a perfect match for the story. It’s obvious that she really cares about her work and wants you, the author, to be happy with the final results.” – Marion Adams

  • Sarah is professional, friendly and very knowledgeable, she delivered 100% with a new logo that was spot on! We can't recommend her enough!” - Lucy @ Get Active

  • "It's been great working with Sarah as our illustrator! She's been so great in taking all feedback on board and delivers work of the highest standard. Would 100% recommend :-)" - Michelle Gibbs, Doodle Dozen Series
  • "I can’t speak highly enough of Sarah! She has brought Roopert Snoopert to life in a way I could never have imagined.
    The illustrations are fantastic! Sarah keeps you update with progress from the draft stage right through to sign off." - Paul Micklewright