For my book I'm planning to self-pub, I aim to hire a copyeditor / proofreader at some point.

The question is this: Should I do any proofreading myself, other than using a spell checker? Currently, my eyes hurt from trying to find small mistakes (things using 'their' for 'there' etc).

I'm wondering if there is any harm in just throwing the whole thing over to someone else?

Is there an advantage in me doing a typo edit pass myself? I mean, will it help reduce cost (as I've done a lot of work myself), or make the quality better (as 2 people have gone over the text)?

  • 1
    What these people usually can't catch is: did you say what you meant to say. Sometimes, reading text again from a more removed viewpoint of just fixing typos will cause something to jump out at you that might have slipped by when you were in the groove of knowing exactly what you meant and seeing it whether it was there or not. Believing is seeing.
    – Joe
    Jul 18, 2012 at 18:37

2 Answers 2


Nobody is perfect, not even proofreaders. But first, let's get some terminology straight:

Copyediting is a catch-all term for editors who revise, make changes and suggestions, and so on. Of course, as editors go along, we mark up any typos they find on the proofreading level. But it's not the focus of this pass. We'll catch as many errors as we can, but at this point, we're looking to make the work read better while preserving the writer's voice.

Proofreading is done after copyediting, with the intent of catching all errors that absolutely cannot make it into print. It should be a separate pass from editing, Since a writer has to accept or reject the editor's changes, this process can actually introduce typos. This is, of course, despite the fact that editors never make mistakes.

In the world of self-publishing and small presses, these two steps are often combined. This results in more typos.

The dirty little secret of the editing world is that, in any work that's long enough, despite our very best efforts, there will be typos that weren't caught. There will be places where someone made a last-minute change in the post-galley stage, or a proofreader simply didn't catch something. This is why writers with a large following often enlist the aid of readers to catch typos, often many of them at the same time. This is also the case with writers who are working with large publishing houses. I've even seen writers who will specifically ask readers who bought the hardcover to email in any typos they found.

So, if it's important to you that your work be as close to error-free as possible, I suggest always checking a proofreader's work. It's not insulting or a slight on their professionalism. Enlist the help of some friends who will go on a typo hunt. If you have the budget, hire a second proofreader.

Even if all you do is catch one or two typos, multiple layers of editing and proofreading is a big help and makes your book look more professional.

  • Yep, editor and proofreader here who will cheerfully echo what Neil says: by all means double-check my work. I will in no way be insulted. The goal is for the work to be right, not for me to be. Jul 17, 2012 at 17:24
  • That's nice Neil, but I was talking about doing proofreading myself before submitting to an editor- should I do anything myself, or just throw it over? Jul 17, 2012 at 19:20
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    You can do what you like, of course, but I'd proofread before sending it to the editor, as much as you can within reason. Your editor will make changes and catch any additional errors, but it'll be easier for the editor if you've cleaned things up a bit. I have one writer friend who regularly asks friends on FB to do a pre-editor proofing run. My estimate of the time it'll take to edit something is based on how long I take to edit a sample (usually around 10 pages). The cleaner the text is, the faster I can go. Jul 18, 2012 at 1:08
  • Cool. Makes sense. Can you please add this point to the answer? Jul 18, 2012 at 9:02

Generally speaking, this is a perfect job for a proofreader, so there's not much point in you trying to "double up" with a professional. There might be some minor cost difference if they charge by hour, but I would guess it to be negligible - the effort is less in fixing errors once found, and more in carefully going over the entire text, to find the errors.

Some provisos and qualifications, though:

  • If you're not 100% certain of the proofreader, definitely look again once he's finished and make sure he's done a reasonable job.
  • What shape is your ms. in, proofreading-wise? You'll only want to pay once, for one editing - on the absolutely final text. No point in paying for copyediting of something that might change entirely! However, before you get to that point, you will want outside feedback - writing groups, critique circles, feedback from friends, hiring an editor - and for them, you should have something that's not too riddled with errors. Critiquing a piece full of obvious errors is very tough; they're distracting and they give an amateur feel - even if they're sure to be corrected later in the process. So, if you've got a lot of minor errors, it's worth cleaning up on your own before any round of feedback.
  • Some writers just like their writing to be pretty clean, and put effort into keeping down blatant errors even when it's not strictly necessary. Obviously, this is a matter of personal preference. It certainly doesn't hurt - and many will say that basic concern for "correctness" correlates with good command of the language.
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    Proofreaders generally charge per hour, not per page, but they'll often say up front how many pages of [work foo] they can cover in an hour. Jul 17, 2012 at 16:28
  • @NeilFein: Ouch - me has no experience - fixed.
    – Standback
    Jul 17, 2012 at 17:22
  • No, I'm just clarifying what you said. They amount to more or less the same thing. Jul 17, 2012 at 18:06

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