Have you ever been reading a really good book, lost in the story, and suddenly you were jerked back to reality by a typo? That’s why every author needs a proofreader.

What is proofreading?

Proofreading is all about checking the nitty-gritty detail. It’s a vital step in making sure your book is as polished as it can be before it goes out to your readers. A professional proofreader will spot things that had never occurred to you to question.

Editing focuses on improving the story, the pacing, and the phrasing. Proofreading is about technical accuracy – spelling, punctuation, grammar, etc. A good editor will help you iron out most of these issues, but there will always be a handful missed. Often, by the time an author and their editor are happy with the manuscript, they’ve been through it too many times to see the last little bits and pieces that need tidied up. If you understand the intent of a paragraph, that’s how you’ll read it, even if what’s actually written on the page is different; the human brain is very good at interpreting ambiguity and glossing over small inaccuracies.

What do proofreaders do?

Getting a proofreader to check over your manuscript will highlight all sorts of tiny little errors so you can fix them and make the finished book better. Proofreaders understand grammar on a deep level and can explain why a comma, full stop (period) or semicolon might all be a valid choice. We understand the difference between dialogue, quotes and reported speech. We can spot ambiguous sentences that might trip readers up.

Professional proofreaders also know about style guides. As a fiction author, you may never have thought about whether there should be spaces around your em dashes (or even what an em dash is) and style guides often disagree about it. There are many little things that could be correct several ways. Reading your book will be a better experience if they are consistent throughout your text. Whether it’s referring to a published style guide or your own preferred conventions, applying style ensures that consistency.

Proofreaders mark changes for you to check over. This might be in Word Tracked Changes, notes added to a pdf, or written on a print out with pen. It is important that you get the final say, because we don’t want to accidentally wipe out your voice. There may be two or three correct options to choose from and it’s not our choice to make. When you get your manuscript back it’s worth spending some time with it. Understanding the changes will improve today’s book and tomorrow’s new writing.

Even if you are an absolute grammar genius, it’s still worth getting someone else to proofread your work. Just to prove this is true even of professionals like me, this article had five changes spotted in proofreading.