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  • [Reality Check] – Proofreading is NOT an option
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[Reality Check] – Proofreading is NOT an option
Written by
Zetta Brown
February 2015
Written by
Zetta Brown
February 2015

Publishing has never been easier than it is these days, and it's because of the growing popularity (and acceptance) of self publishing. But just because things have gotten easier, it doesn’t mean things have gotten better.

There’s still a lot of subpar work being produced and published. Sometimes it’s the author’s lack of writing skill that is to blame, but sometimes the failure comes during the production process.

Generally speaking, the process when it comes to publishing is: write, edit, proof, publish—where the last part consists of things like cover, typesetting, etc. But a lot of times I have encountered authors who have some deadline, which they have set for whatever reason, and they simply must get their book out by then. Usually it’s a date where the author wants to do something or has an event to attend, but sometimes (and I find this happens with self-published authors) they are simply in a rush to have their work on sale.

In this rush, one step tends to get pushed aside for the sake of all others, and that step is PROOFREADING. While proofreading may not be as expensive as other forms of editing, it is worth the expense. Proofreading and proofreaders deserve respect. Why? Because:

  • Proofreading is just as important as developmental editing and line editing.
  • Proofreading is tedious.
  • Proofreading takes time.
  • Proofreading takes knowledge and skill.
  • Proofreading can save your name and/or reputation (I’ve flagged potential libel issues in manuscripts).
  • Proofreading requires a fresh pair of eyes to pick up what you have missed.
  • Proofreading is MANDATORY.

If that doesn’t impress you, how about this: Proofreading can cost you a lot of time and money if it’s not done, or not done correctly.

The Proof is in the Pudding

It is only fair that I admit to a few of my own proofreading gaffes because, as humans, we are all guilty of it—self published and publisher alike. Even those giant corporate publishers are run by humans.

The first one happened several years ago, when we were publishing a memoir. I had sent the author their final proof, which included their biographical information. The author signed off on everything and the book went into production. The book was released on time and several of the author’s friends purchased the book.

So imagine my surprise when I got an e-mail from the author, who was in a panic because her biographical information was incorrect—almost embarrassingly so. Why do I say “almost?” because there was a reference made about her marital status that wasn’t entirely correct. I won’t go into detail, but if the author had proofread the ENTIRE document as requested, the error could have been picked up.

We gave the author the option of correcting the error, which would require taking it out of production after just being released, or leave it alone. The author chose to leave it alone because only a handful of people would know the difference.

Moving forward, we had an author inform us that they had received a letter from a fan, and although it was complimentary, the fan listed some minor errors they had found. We were just as grateful as the author for this information because they were things that several pairs of eyes had missed. The book had been out for some time so it was no big deal to take it out and make the corrections.

But when it happened again to another book—after it had been released—I realized there comes a point when things have to stop. It takes several people to produce a book, and when you have to delegate and entrust people to do things, you hope (expect) them to do it.

I’ll accept some of the blame because there were a few issues with quality control that had to be corrected, but the author has to shoulder some of it too. They should have taken the time to really scrutinize the final proof and flag any mistakes. That is the whole point of the exercise.

Quality control begins with you as the author.

If you are uncertain of your own abilities, enlist or hire someone to do it on your behalf—whether you're signed with a publisher or not because proofreading post-production is too late. But here are a few things you can do to make your publishing efforts a little easier:

Set Your Standards

Read my blog post about how to do this.


Have a Style Sheet

The purpose of a style sheet is to make your manuscript consistent when it comes to formatting (margins and tab settings), grammar, and punctuation. You can create your own style sheet by picking your favorite writing references and creating a document that lists how to deal with the things that trip you the most.

Standardizing these areas can help your productivity if/when you submit your work to various places because you no longer have to stop and worry about if it’s correct. Obviously you should follow your publisher’s style sheet (aka “house style”) if they have one. There are houses that don’t have a set style, but that’s an issue for another post.

So authors, don’t skimp or gloss over the proof you are given by your publisher or printer. Take the time to go through everything—from the title page to the last index page.

The Cost of Proofreading

You have got to understand that there is a cost involved when mistakes and oversights are made. It costs money to have something corrected, reformatted, and re-released into the distribution chain. And if that doesn’t bother you, think of it this way. If your book has to be taken out of distribution—that means no one can buy it. You could be losing money.

Your Public Awaits?

We all hope that readers will flock around and wait with cash or credit card in hand to buy our work, but let’s face it: the reading public is fickle. WE are fickle. If it’s not there when we need it, we’ll move on to something else. The world is not waiting to read your book. Let me repeat that.

The world is NOT waiting to read your book.

If it was, you would have pre-orders in the millions (or billions) and all this stuff about marketing and promoting you’re being told to do would be a waste of time. Thousands of books are published every day. What makes you so special? Do yourself a favor and take the time to go over your final proof.


Pobody’s nerfect. I’ve said it before. Yet there are people out there who want to publish books that are 100% error free. I applaud them for having such a dream, but I tend to be realistic and accept the fact that I’m human, just like everyone else.

An “error” in one person’s eyes may not be an error in someone else's opinion. Language changes over time, punctuation "rules" can change over time, and there are variations and exceptions.  For example, I’m a huge fan of the Oxford Comma, but other people are not. Both variations are acceptable, but an OC fan may consider the variation an error.

Color or colour? Both are acceptable, but some may consider the other an error—depending on where they are from.

So striving for 100% perfection doesn’t make sense to me. What does make sense is taking the time—and spending the resources you have available—to produce a product that is as clean and “perfect” as you can get. But if you’re only going to rush through it just to meet the supply of your demand, why did you go through the trouble at all?

Why rush out a product that bears YOUR name and represents YOUR brand?

A dozen minor “errors” in a manuscript of 50,000 words or more can be forgiven versus one major error that can cast a shadow over the entire document. But a thousand errors in a story can be seen as sloppy. Pick your battles.

Just don’t pick a battle when it comes to proofreading, or you may lose the war.


Got a [REALITY CHECK] about the publishing life to share? If you would like to be a guest on my blog, please friend me on She Writes with a message! :) 

If you like this post, then stop by Zetta’s Desk for editing tips and “Zetta’s Reference Desk” where she features a writing reference book every week.

©2015. Zetta Brown is an editor and the author of several published short stories and the erotic romance novel Messalina: Devourer of Men. She also provides editing services through JimandZetta.com.

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  • Marsha Browne

    The ring of truth, all the way through. Thanks for posting this -- it's certainly well worth the time it will take for writers to read it and consider the consequences of of not having a set of proofreading eyes (a set not controlled by the same brain that wrote the thing in the first place) go through the manuscript before it's printed. The point you make about branding and reputation is definitely true. I can't even tell you how much it disappoints me to discover typographic or grammatical errors -- unintentional ones, that is -- in books I've read. 

    As writers, we have to remember that while attractive covers and publicity drive initial sales, the reading experience is what drives future sales of the current book. Kudos to you for pointing this out in such a clear, useful way.

  • Zetta Brown

    Hi Jane,

    I must have misinterpreted what you said. Sorry! My bad!

    If indie authors can afford to pay for additional editing and proofreading services, it can be a good investment. But I know a lot of authors can't, and if that's the case, they can try to find someone they trust with good grammar and punctuation skills to help for free. Hopefully, the final result is a good one. I've heard of authors getting their former English teachers to proofread or edit for them. 

    Sometimes, it's the blind leading the blind. For example, if an author doesn't know what a comma splice is--and their editor or proofreader doesn't know either...the result can be messy.

    Here's a case in point. I have a four real estate books by a certain author. The first three were published by a large publishing house, but the fourth was self-published--in a bad way. The author credited his wife for her "expert" proofreading job, but this book is FULL of improper comma usage that it makes it hard to read if you're a person who has some knowledge about comma usage, but if you don't, you won't notice or care.

    I guess the author decided he'd make more money self publishing rather than going the traditional route, but the final product of his effort was such a low quality, if it wasn't for the fact that I knew he was talking sense based on his previous books, I would write him--and his advice--off. He tarnished his own brand by cutting corners. 

  • Jane Hanser


    I don't know that we are disagreeing because I notice that you offer editing services. So you obviously think that editing is important. Yes, you said you found two errors in a traditionally published book. That would be exactly my math: I think 12 is too many and 2 would be passing - something that I would see and also do see in traditionally published works.  I'm also not dismissing the book - one of my favorite books was brilliant but was so full of punctuation errors it made it difficult to read and I was waiting for an opportunity to communicate that to the author, when he passed away... The book could have been used in any college course in American history, business, etc.,speaking as a former college instructor, but was too full of errors for that venue.  Also, we indie writers need reviews, we have to go from reviewer to reviewer to seek them, and an excess of errors is going to be noticed by many reviewers.

    You're basically saying, in your post, that a writer should spend the money to have his work edited. I'm not disagreeing at all.  If the writer wants to put out a quality book in the whole sense of the word, and editing takes another outlay of money, it has to be spent.

  • Zetta Brown

    Hi Jane,

    Some readers feel that any error/typo/whatever that jolts them out of the story means the book/story/author/publisher has failed. That's their right, so who am I to complain. I'm willing to give the benefit of the doubt before I dismiss an entire book or author because of it. 

    As an editor and publisher, yes, I'm going to do what I can to produce an "error-free" document, but I rely on humans to help me and mistakes happen. It hasn't stopped some of our books from being nominated (or winning) awards. For me, there's a difference between sloppy writing/editing/proofreading and simple errors made by humans. The way I determine it is consistency. Is the error consistent or was it simply overlooked.

    A book can be well edited and it is still possible to find errors. It doesn't matter if you're indie or Big Six published. I just read a book published by a NYC publisher and noticed 2 typos. As an editor, I'm sensitive to things like this, but many people are not. I'm not saying you have to be an author or editor or proofreader to notice an error because you never know who is reading your work. 

    If you're only publishing ebooks, it's easier to take down and re-upload revisions, but there's still a cost, and that cost is your time. Not all authors place a value on their time, but they should. It takes time to fix the error and re-upload to your distribution channels. With POD and traditional publishing, there's a definite cost to making revisions.

    Recently, I've read several short stories available through Kindle Unlimited and I see a LOT of errors as a result of poor writing skills; errors that a skilled editor and/or proofreader should see and correct. But I know for a fact that many of these authors don't use editors or proofreaders. They just want to churn titles, throw them up on Amazon and (try to) get paid. They have created disposable pen names so they can churn the stuff out, but the funny thing is that some of these people are gaining a following despite of their writing skill--or lack of.

    Some of these authors will continue to produce work full of errors because they don't know any better--yet. They are still on a learning curve and will improve over time. But some authors will never care. The ironic thing is that ALL of them are still creating a brand and image for themselves, for better or worse.

  • Jane Hanser

    My opinion is that once your book is published, even a dozen errors is too many... It's about 10 too many. And do you know how easy it is to have a dozen errors?

    With a dozen errors, somebody reading your book is bound to notice it. People who have read your book don't want to tell you they notice the errors - but they do, especially if you have friends who are themselves pretty literate. As soon as you mention that you have some and are working on a new version, they say 'Oh, yes and I noticed a few errors myself."

    The best review you can get also mentions that your book is "well-edited." As an indie writer, that is a badge!

    I've sent revised versions up to CreateSpace about 7 or 8 times now and I'll keep doing that if necessary. The thing also to learn is DON'T order too many copies at a time, because you may find yourself with stock that, once you know the errors are there, you'll be embarrassed handing them out, sending them out for review, or putting on the shelf of a book store with whom you hope to create a more lasting relationship.

    Zetta is correct.. Those books now represent you, and you have to set your writing- including the editing - up as being top shelf.

  • Zetta Brown

    Hi Carol,

    Unless they state otherwise, you can negotiate how you pay editors, proofreaders, etc. Some may do a flat fee per project, some may charge by the hour, some by word count, some by the page. Personally, I'm flexible and can work it any way except per page. You can cram a lot onto a single "page" by changing margins, font size and so on.

    But set a budget beforehand and that may help you decide what you can afford and who can work within your budget. 

  • Carol Kurtz Walsh

    Thank you so much for this important post.  I have just interviewed a copy editor, and am not clear how they typically charge -- by the book, number of words, or hours spent?  

  • Cassandra Black Blogging

    Good post!

  • Zetta Brown

    You're welcome, Cate. Don't get me wrong. No one should take a sloppy approach to their writing, but there comes a point when you've got to realize you have done your best with what you've got. However, if you're given an opportunity to have a final say, final input or whatever, and you blow it off, well...

    Kristine Kathryn Rush is a very prolific and successful writer, and she's written a wonderful blog post about "perfection." It's long, but it's a must read, in my opinion. :)