This year has been ... surreal. So much so that Merriam-Webster has named it word of the year.
So many things have happened that to most of us would have been unthinkable 12 months ago. We have had to say a premature goodbye to far too many talented people and hello to a strange new world of politics.
While not as earth-shattering as Brexit or a Trump presidency, things have also changed for me at a personal level in a way I did not at all envisage when the year was still new. And yet, it has all been of my own doing.
If you had told me back in January that by Christmas I would be successfully running my own proofreading business, I would have been shocked to say the least. I would have said I don't have the time, the confidence or the ability. Not to mention that it's an incredibly difficult profession to get into, especially for someone with no background in publishing.
To be honest, I started a course in proofreading as a hobby, a distraction, something to keep my brain ticking over while being a stay-at-home mum. I didn't plan or expect to go back to work for at least another year or two and certainly not as a proofreader. But thanks to my course tutor, who told me I absolutely was good enough, I began to think that this was actually a possibility. I might still have done nothing about it but, coincidentally, a short time later, an acquaintance posted an appeal for a proofreader to help her. I responded, and I did a good job. I haven't looked back since; I joined the Society for Editors and Proofreaders, set up my website and have spent every free moment building my business and honing my skills.
So, although I'm trepidatious about what the wider world has in store for us all in 2017, personally I couldn't be more optimistic.
Here's to a happy and healthy New Year for all my friends, family, colleagues and clients!
Write without fear
This month both amateur and professional authors all around the world have been taking part in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). Participants support, inspire and motivate one another throughout this challenge in which they commit to writing 50,000 words in just 30 days. That’s over 1,600 words a day.
When you're racing to meet a word count, it's easy to inadvertently introduce errors – sometimes catastrophic errors that will make it impossible for readers to enjoy your finished novel. However, you shouldn’t worry about this possible eventuality while you’re writing (you don’t want anything to disrupt your creative flow when you have a deadline to meet); there’s plenty of time to edit later.
Edit without mercy
When it comes to self-editing, it would help if you knew what you needed to look out for. Here are five of the most common mistakes which are most likely to ruin your novel.
1) Run-on sentences and comma splices can result in an amateurish, breathless style and are grammatically incorrect*: complete sentences should not run on into each other without punctuation, nor should they be separated by a comma unless the comma is followed by a connecting word. Choose the most appropriate solution for your sentences from the following options:
2) Badly punctuated dialogue can make your characters' conversations impossible to follow. The rules for punctuating dialogue are too lengthy to explain here, so this blog post is very helpful if you're unsure of them.
3) Continuity errors can leave your readers dazed and confused – for example, characters' names or appearances changing; or a character who is supposed to have died but who suddenly reappears; or a change in narration from first to third person.
4) Tense changes: If carefully done, mixed tenses can be effective; however, when done badly or in error then the only result will be to confuse your reader.
5) Factual errors: Check for technological and historical inaccuracies, such as characters using smartphones and Facebook in a novel set in 2001, or referring to the death of Princess Diana in a story set in 1995.
If you are planning to publish your novel, then checking your manuscript and eliminating these errors yourself will result in a more readable novel and save you money when your manuscript goes through the editorial process. That’s when it's time for you to put your feet up, give your eyes a well-earned rest and let an editor and proofreader take care of the finer points for you; then you will have a professionally polished novel of which you can be rightly proud.
Think you don't need a proofreader?
If you’re a business owner, you may well believe that you don't need to hire a proofreader, and that it would just be throwing money away. But, instead of looking at it as an unnecessary cost, you should see it as a necessary investment.
By not paying enough attention to your business’s written content, you could be unwittingly deterring potential customers. Hiring a professional proofreader can prevent this and so help your business maximise turnover.
In a recent discussion with friends on Facebook after I posted this article about the grammar police, all but one said that they don't publicly correct other people's grammar. However, they all said that poor grammar and spelling would negatively affect their decision to use a product or service.
The question I asked was, ‘How do you react when you read a website or promotional materials with grammar and spelling mistakes? Would it affect your decision to buy a product or service?’
‘… I don’t shop in places that put additional apostrophes in everything (carrot’s 50p) …’
‘I would definitely walk away from anywhere making basic errors.’
‘… poor grammar and spelling will result in less trust in a company ...’
‘I take a business less seriously if they make mistakes – it shows a lack of attention which I assume runs through every aspect of their service.’
The first important point to take away from my small poll is that mistakes in your written content don’t help build trust in you or your brand. The second is that it’s not just the grammar police (and you only need to pay a brief visit to online forums to see how many of them are in our midst) that you need to consider when estimating how many potential customers you could be losing. In a much larger poll than mine, in 2013, fifty-nine per cent of UK adults said that bad grammar and spelling on a website would make them reconsider making a purchase.
Perfecting your written communication will help to build trust with customers: it means you're a professional; you take your business and your product or service seriously. They will therefore be more likely to commit to purchase.
Let’s get down to business.
How much is an individual customer worth to you? How much business do you get from each, on average? If you considered that the mistakes in your language might be enough to deter even one customer, how much of a loss could that represent? Then consider the reality that it’s likely to be multiple potential customers.
How many do you think you could be losing from those who visit your website each day, never to return, or who read the promotional materials that you’ve spent good money on, only to immediately discard them?
Compare that potential loss with what it might cost to have your website proofread, for example. If you have never used a proofreader before, then, understandably, you might not have any idea how much this might be. My own fees for this service currently start from around £50 for a very simple website. (Take a look at mine for an example of what I would personally consider to be a simple website.) Proofreading of a promotional leaflet could cost as little as £25* (my current minimum fee). When you look at it from that perspective, perhaps the question should be: can you afford not to hire a proofreader?
How do you know if you can trust us?
I talked earlier about trust. If you’ve never hired a proofreader before, you might not know how to go about finding one you can trust to make sure that you are investing your money wisely. This blog post gives you some useful tips about what to look out for.
Over to you.
I’d love to hear from you with your thoughts on this subject, particularly if you have already hired a proofreader and found that it had a positive impact on your business. If you haven’t hired a proofreader before, do contact me if you would like to discuss how I could help your business.
*Price updated June 2018.
What you might have heard
If you’re considering hiring a proofreader for the first time, you might have discussed it with friends, family or colleagues to see what they think. Here are some typical examples of the kind of advice many people in your position tend to receive, followed by my response.
1. 'Don’t bother. All they do is check for typos and you can do that yourself.'
If that was all a professional proofreader had to do, then we wouldn’t spend hundreds of pounds and years of training to become fully competent. We also wouldn’t need to invest in dictionaries, style guides and other reference books and materials to assist us in our decision-making.
2. 'Even if you do let a few typos slip through, it doesn’t matter. No one will notice.'
They will. And when they do, they might just stop reading, and then all the time and effort that you’ve invested in your writing would have been wasted. I’m sure most people would forgive the occasional error – after all, nobody’s perfect – but anything more than that could be viewed as sloppy, and it wouldn’t be surprising if they then lost faith or interest in whatever it is you’re attempting to communicate.
3. 'You can always use spellcheck.'
Spellcheck can be useful, but it won’t help you when you’ve inadvertently used the wrong word; I recently came across the word ‘bondage’ which should have been ‘bonding’ – now that could have been embarrassing for my client!
4. 'No one worries about grammar anymore – language is evolving.'
Yes, language is always evolving; new words come and go all the time, and some even stick around. But that’s just vocabulary. Grammar rules do change as language evolves, but it’s a much slower process than the adoption of new words. In the meantime, the rules are there to ensure clarity and consistency in the way we communicate, which is crucial, especially in formal writing. Grammar rules are complex, and one thing is true: you don’t need to worry too much about grammar – let a professional deal with it on your behalf.
What do you think?
If you are still in any doubt as to whether you need a proofreader, then get in touch for a free quote and to see how I can help you improve your text.
I couldn't do my job properly without these
When I was a child, around the age of five or six, I used to write a lot of stories. I had Mr Men exercise books and filled one after another with ‘illustrated’ stories. When I was eight, I started writing a book called The Long-Lost Wizard (J.K. Rowling, eat your heart out). I never finished it, and I only wrote stories occasionally after that. It's odd because my parents, understandably, thought that I would grow up to become a novelist; however, that path lay ahead of my brother instead. Although he didn't write as much as I did while we were growing up, his preference for the darker side of storytelling was already showing itself even in those days (you can see a charming example below, which he left in one of my exercise books). In comparison, my stories almost always began with the words, ‘It is a sunny day…’. We weren’t exactly the Brontë sisters.
An example of Jeremy Dronfield's early work
In later childhood, the only writing I did voluntarily on a regular basis was to keep a diary, which I continued to do most years until the age of 30 when I gave up my job, sold my house and went travelling, and then I kept a detailed journal of my adventure. (I definitely have to get that typed up one day, if only for backup purposes.)
The only story I ever wrote in which the weather was inclement (and, yes, it would have benefited from being proofread)
Looking at them now, I find that most of my stories were actually an early form of diary-keeping: a story about playing with my friends; a story about going to the park; a story about going on a holiday or a school trip. Apart from The Long-Lost Wizard, my stories lacked imagination. So, instead, I discovered reading and lost myself in other people's imaginations and the world of books.
In the beginning it was mostly Enid Blyton’s stories of the Faraway Tree, the Secret Seven and the Famous Five. My brother encouraged me to have a go at The Hobbit, but I'm afraid I couldn't get past giggling at an illustration of Bilbo Baggins’ feet. Childish I know. Well, to be fair, I was a child.
I didn't just love the stories, though; I loved the books themselves: how they felt in my hands, the look of them; and not necessarily just because of an interesting cover, but because of how the words looked on the page: the layout, the font, how they worked with the illustrations (Bilbo Baggins’ feet notwithstanding).
As I got older, however, I started to notice when things weren't quite right. It wasn't always enough to spoil my enjoyment of a good book, but it would definitely distract me, throwing me out of the book and back into the real world with a jolt. I would keep going back to any error I found, and I would wonder how it had happened, and think what a shame it was, and that I'd love to be able to do something about it. But how? I had no idea.
I've had, shall we say, quite a varied career spanning 20 years, including mortgage admin, archaeology, and motherhood. It's motherhood which has at last propelled me into a career as a proofreader. I had to find something I could do from home. I had to bring some much-needed order into my life to offset the chaos that ensues after having a baby. And what better way than, finally, to gain some satisfaction by preventing errors from appearing in print or on screen? I might not have been able to fathom how to go about becoming a proofreader when I was in my teens and early twenties, but now in my early forties and with the help of the Internet, I have found it relatively easy to do so.
I quickly found out that the best course of action for me would be to take the Publishing Training Centre’s Basic Proofreading by Distance Learning course. And, oh, what satisfaction I discovered indeed when settling down with my red and blue pens to attack a page full of errors! I passed the course with merit. Only counting the weeks when I actually spent time working on the units and assignments, it took me around eight months to complete the course. Since then I’ve been busy setting up my proofreading business and finding my first clients. I wouldn't have been able to do this without the invaluable resources of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (of which I am now a member) and Louise Harnby’s books on business planning and marketing for editorial freelancers.
I feel I've finally found the job I was always meant to do. Although, even if I could, I wouldn't alter the path that led me to this point. Apart from the fact that I enjoyed every minute, the qualifications and experience I picked up along the way mean that I have both general and specialist knowledge that gives my clients extra confidence in my abilities to handle any work I undertake for them, because I am able to spot factual as well as grammatical errors.
So was I born to proofread? I don't think that would make a very good song title, but perhaps it's true all the same. I don't think I was born to be a writer in any case, apart from being an avid diary-keeper. Does that mean I'll make a good blogger? I guess we're about to find out...