December’s Cover Story

Proofreaders Are Not Mind Readers

Joseph Young


There are a number of very important steps on the way to publication of your book: writing the book (of course!), getting the book edited, working with your publisher on layout and design, and proofreading.


Some authors might be tempted, because of the bit of extra cost and a lack of information on what the job entails, to skip the proof of their manuscript. But after working in the small press world for 15 years, I can tell you that proofreading is a must!


Proofreaders are the last bulwark against errors that can easily creep up in even the best writers’ work. You may know all about the difference between “their” and “they’re” but you’d be surprised how many times the most seasoned writers make this mistake in the heat of writing.


A proofreader catches these small mistakes, whether errors in grammar, spelling, or a simple slip of the fingers on your keyboard. They also catch errors that can crop up in the layout of your manuscript, such as line breaks happening where they shouldn’t or two words getting crunched together.


Such mistakes can be embarrassing for a writer when a reader finds them in an otherwise finished and polished book. They can be costly too.


So, the proofreader does this last check for you, googling things like proper names and abbreviations, and making sure there is consistency throughout your manuscript, such as ensuring that when you use the word “boardroom” you always spell it that way, not “boardroom” sometimes and “board room” others.


Here are some simple things you can do to help your proofreader:


  1. Remember that although a good proofreader has an almost magical ability to spot errors in a manuscript, proofreaders are not mind readers. So, before you send your writing out to be proofed look for things a proofreader can’t catch. If you mention your Aunt Flow, they won’t know that it’s actually supposed to be spelled Flo. If you mention a book title but your proofreader doesn’t know it’s a book instead of the title of a paper, they might put the title in quotation marks instead of the proper italics.


Of course, proofreaders are used to asking questions of authors when they aren’t sure of things. “Do you really mean to spell it ‘Aunt Flow’?” they might ask. This isn’t done because they fail to recognize your authority and expertise as a writer, but just to make sure things are done right.


  1. Do a quick spell check before the manuscript is proofed. And maybe have a friend or colleague look it over beforehand too, for typos or what have you. As a proofreader it’s my job to spot mistakes but the more eyes on a piece of writing the better. A published John Grisham novel is likely to have an error or two in it, despite the fact that many, many people have looked it over. Mistakes have a way of getting through!


  1. Last but not least, be sure to establish good communication with your proofreader as well as your entire editorial team. You as the author might not ever directly interact with a proofreader—your publisher might stand in as an intermediary—but if you have questions about a change a proofreader has made, just ask! We can all do our best job to produce your book when the lines of communication are open.


Joseph Young has worked as a professional proofreader, editor, and writer for more than 15 years. He has worked with authors of many different types of writing, including novels, books of poetry, cookbooks, medical journal manuscripts, and academic white papers. He is the award winning author of the book of microfiction, EASTER RABBIT, and has widely published his fiction and articles in magazines, newspapers, and on the web. He lives in Baltimore, MD.