Monday, April 23, 2018

Quick Signs Your Proofreader is No Good

Part of the problem with successfully hiring someone is that you pretty much need to understand their job to figure out if they’re good at it. Writers only catch proofreaders’ negligence when they see something they know is wrong.

So what do you do if you’re not too familiar with grammar, spelling, and punctuation? Isn’t that what you hired them for?

With freelancers these days, literally anyone can become an editor, and many times it’s the people who don’t realize how little they know that have the confidence to put up their website. Just recently, as I shopped around for potential editors, I read through a webpage that was disgusting with errors. Previously, I spoke of a writer who believed his book was worth 25 dollars because he had been “professionally edited” by a school teacher. Over the course of six months he went from singing her praises to bitching about having to postpone his deadline to fix errors. Worse is when you get some nutcase who has unfounded quirky opinions on the way things should be done.

Not only is having a poor proofreader a waste of money; it can damage the work you’ve done.

So how does someone who can’t double check the editor’s work know that they’re not getting the best help they can?

“Author,” “editor,” and genres are not capitalized, save for some legal documents.

This is perhaps the most common error I see on the sites of freelance editors and small presses. To be fair, I’ve sometimes seen it in places like big time agents. However, a primary goal in getting a proofreader is to know you can trust them when you’re in doubt. If their job is to fix errors, their webpage should be an example of their precision and knowledge.

There are some exceptions, like standards in contracts, and of course if they consider it a title to something, like in a blog post. But if it’s in their mission statement or ‘About’ section, they should not be telling you, “I’m an Author and Editor specializing in Science Fiction and Fantasy.”

“Young Adult” and “New Adult,” may be capitalized because of the tendency to abbreviate, but overall, if you see this on the front page in a quick blurb they have to sell their proofreading skills, you might consider passing.

Punctuation goes inside the quotation marks.

I’ve seen this growing more and more in online material, (Buzzfeed and the like), but a fiction proofreader should know better than anyone that in most cases, punctuation goes inside the quotes, not after.

“Go away,” he said.

There are some creative reasons why you might choose otherwise—for instance, you’ll often see me put question marks outside of the quote if the quote itself was not supposed to have a questioning inflection.

“Do you really think that he’ll change his mind after saying, ‘I’m not going to prom with you’?”

So you may decide to give them the benefit of the doubt if you understand why they chose to go against the standard, but if it seems just like a generic, standard sentence, commas go inside the quotes.

They don’t have any professional credits.

It’s not an end all. Sometimes this might be desirable because they’ll charge less to get going. But if they’re starting with no experience to date, it’s possible (and common) that they actually don’t know grammar as well as they think. It’s suspicious that someone believes they can do something without having viewable rationale of why they’re good at it.

But more to the point, even for those who do have a comprehensive knowledge of proofreading might not understand the standards in the industry. Like the English teacher above, some people will get bizarre ideas like “it’s” isn’t a conjunction for “it has.” Pedantic criticism can be problematic in fiction.

Comma use.

Learning about the appropriate use of commas is difficult, especially because there is some room for creativity and play. The importance of commas is typically clarity, and sometimes it’s actually more useful to leave a correct one out than to clutter the sentence in creative writing. Plus, even the technically correct usage requires a certain amount of understanding of grammar to know when to apply it.

If you don’t know where commas should go, you can still read through the content on the proofreader’s site and ask yourself about its legibility. One ‘editor’ I just looked at had very clunky and confusing sentences, many of them brought on by missing subtle punctuation. Excessive use of them will also become distracting, even to an untrained eye.

Look for the obvious.

It shocks me the number of writers I see allowing themselves to get burned by freelance editors and indie presses who are obviously not skilled in their field. A quick look at their website can often bring out a whole slew of issues that no one could miss. Obviously, if they don’t care about the precision and professionalism of their own website, you can’t count on them doing a good job on your giant manuscript.

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